Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

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Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Maria Sharapova said it felt like "forever" since she last played a match without pain, although she didn't hang around long on Hisense Arena to enjoy the experience. Finally recovered from a left ankle injury she sustained in September, the Russian reeled off the first eight games in a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Gisela Dulko on Tuesday. "I couldn't wait to start," the 2008 Australian Open champion said. "It's just nice to go into a match you know that you're going to compete again at such a high level in front of so many people, especially a place where I've won before." Sharapova said the ankle, which forced her to pull out of a planned tuneup event in Brisbane, was no longer troubling her. She may only be 24, but Sharapova is playing in her ninth Australian Open and the three-time Grand Slam winner said she is experienced enough to cope with not playing any matches coming into a major tournament. Since a breakthrough win at Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova's career has been punctuated by a series of injuries. She was out of action for nine months until May 2009 after right shoulder surgery. Now, her focus is on being as healthy as possible when the major titles are on the line. "I'd rather come in feeling good physically than feeling like I played a lot of matches," she said. "It's more important to me than anything. "I've been on the tour for many years, played enough tournaments, I just want to be as ready as I can for the big ones." ------ BROTHERLY LOVE: Rift? What rift? Andy Roddick believes that talk of tension between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been completely overblown. Earlier this week, Nadal criticized Federer in the Spanish media for not doing enough to push the players' demands for changes to the men's game, allowing others to "burn themselves" to make conditions better for everybody. The Spaniard later apologized for airing his disagreement with Federer in public. "Those guys have been the model of a respectful rivalry in sports, so for it to be represented any differently is unfortunate," Roddick said Tuesday after his first-round win at the Australian Open. "I think this is all new territory for us. I think, if anything, it probably taught us that we have to choose our words very wisely right now when talking about it because it is a sensitive issue." The players held a meeting on Saturday to discuss their concerns about the tour, which include the length of the season, the number of tournaments players are required to enter, and the prize money at Grand Slam tournaments. Roddick says there's no "quick fix" to the problems, but he believes the players have a unity they lacked before. "It is fascinating to see how it will play out," he says. "You know, I think as the product, I don't think we should underestimate our leverage in this game, especially if we do have one voice." ------ U.S. REVIVAL: Sloane Stephens says there's no need for hand-wringing over the future of American women's tennis in the post-Williams era -- the kids are going to be all right. The 18-year-old Florida native, who hit a career-high ranking of No. 89 last fall, moved into the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain. Four other American women are also through to the second round -- Serena Williams, Christina McHale, Vania King and Jamie Hampton, a qualifier ranked No. 144 who had only won one WTA-level match coming into the Australian Open. "When (the Williams sisters) stop playing tennis, there'll be someone else to take their spot," says Stephens, who also reached the third round of the U.S. Open last year. "You're kind of like searching for someone to be there right now and I don't think that's going to happen. But there's a lot of us, so who knows who could break through." She says now that a few of the younger Americans have broken into the top 100 -- McHale (No. 42), Irina Falconi (No. 81) and herself -- there's more competition among them, which will only make them better in the long run. "Definitely when we have camps and we're practicing together, it's serious, it's no joke. On changeovers, it'll be ha-ha, hee-hee, but when it's time to play, it's like, OK, I'm going to cut you." Just because they're starting to come into their own, though, doesn't mean they're not still in awe of the elder stateswoman of the tour: Serena. Stephens was so star-struck at a recent tournament, she almost didn't say hello. "She was really nice," Stephens says. "I don't think she knew who I was." ------ VETERAN RIVALRY: Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt have been on the ATP Tour a combined 24 years, but surprisingly, they've only played each other 13 times. The two veterans meet in the second round of the Australian Open after each won on Tuesday. There are many similarities between the players: career records (Roddick is 589-197, Hewitt 551-205), titles (Roddick has 30, Hewitt 28), prize money (Roddick has 20 million, Hewitt 19 million). Roddick, however, has a 7-6 edge in their head-to-head record -- and he has won the last six times they've played dating back to 2005. He's also ranked 16th and Hewitt has slumped to 181. Still, Roddick expects a close match. "I've won the most recent meetings, but I think out of the six that I've won, four or five have gone the distance," he says. "We always have a bit of a war." For that reason, the match could well be scheduled during the evening session on Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt was part of the latest finish in Australian Open history four years ago, closing out victory over Marcos Baghdatis at 4.33 a.m. "I don't really want to have too many of the Baghdatis matches again," Hewitt said. "Go home and McDonald's is already open on the way home for breakfast."

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Fast Break Morning Update: Scott Darling leads Blackhawks to win over Blues

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Sunday:

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

White Sox pitchers headed for World Baseball Classic look sharp in win over Rockies

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

White Sox: Happy with progress, Brett Lawrie tries to clear final hurdles

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Kurt Busch steals a monster of a win in Daytona 500

Michigan State gets big win to boost tourney hopes, while Wisconsin loses for fourth time in five games

 

 

 

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling found out at 8 a.m. Sunday that he was starting for an ailing Corey Crawford. Considering he did this back in December for a few weeks, adjusting quick for one game was fine.

"It's kind of my job," Darling said.

And Darling, once again, did his job.

Darling stopped 30 of 32 shots and Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 games. They're one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who made their splashy trade-deadline move in acquiring Martin Hanzal on Sunday. But the Blackhawks, thanks to veterans regaining their form, a top line finding its rhythm and youth consistently improving, are just rolling right along.

"We had a great start to the game. I thought Darls was excellent all night, great stretch there in the last 10 minutes where we fight through some tough shifts, particularly in the last couple of minutes in our end. But good win," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at the nice plays on the goals, it was kind of a comparable ending to the outdoor game: tied and about the same time they scored, we scored (tonight). Big two points for us."

Jonathan Toews scored his 16th of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winning goal with 5:20 remaining in regulation. Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks already knew they'd be without Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) for at least a day or two when they found out Crawford couldn't go this morning. As Quenneville said Darling was strong once again, denying the Blues all but twice (a 2-on-1 goal from Magnus Paajarvi and a power-play goal from Alex Pietrangelo).

Toews and Kane (power-play goal) staked the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead early before the Blues tied it in the second. But late in the third period Anisimov took the feed from Artemi Panarin to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead.

"I saw the puck all the way. It was easy to pick up," Anisimov said. "When you don't see the puck at the last moment and it comes, it's hard to receive and prepare for the next move. But I saw it all the way. Easy to prepare for the next move."

Speaking of next moves, do the Blackhawks make any more before the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, following the acquisition of Tomas Jurco, that he'll keep talking and listening but likes the group he has right now. If Bowman's made moves it's for what the Blackhawks have needed, not because of another team's trades. The Blackhawks like what they have right now. Winning nine of 10 and continuing to trend in the right direction, they should be careful not to disrupt what they've got going.

"I think we're, as we've said lately, trending the right way. We're playing solid. I think all four lines are contributing in every which way," Toews said. "I love our group right now. Everyone is getting better individually, contributing more and more and it's a lot of fun to see the way we're playing right now. We know that the ceiling is way higher and we can keep getting better too."