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Ashleigh Barty edges Kristina Kucova after saving match point at Miami Open

Because of canceled flights, it took Ashleigh Barty 45 hours to travel from her native Australia to Florida for a tennis tournament.

Her stay at the Miami Open will be longer than that, thanks to an incredible comeback Thursday.

The top-ranked Barty rallied from a big third-set deficit and overcame a match point to win her opening match versus qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

“Matches like that are extremely fulfilling, knowing you’ve done the work over an extended period to get just over the edge,” Barty said. “That was a really tough one today, and I enjoyed every single second of it.”

Barty, who won the most recent Miami Open title in 2019, trailed 5-2 in the final set. In the next game, she faced a match point, which she saved by ripping a weak serve for a winner.

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Barty fell behind 0-40 serving in the final game but again rallied against Kucova, a Slovak ranked 149th.

Barty closed out the triumph with a service winner and then tapped her temple with her index finger, a gesture of tribute to her mental fortitude.

“We never give up,” she said, “no matter what we’re feeling.”

Playing away from Australia for the first time in more than a year, Barty won despite an unreliable forehand. She whacked 40 unforced errors on that side, but she compensated somewhat with 15 aces.

Barty acknowledged that jet lag and the time difference between Miami and Australia made the match a challenge.

“You kind of forget how much it can take out of you,” she said. “But you have to accept that’s the way it is. It worked in my favor this morning — I got to watch some Aussie football back home.”

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Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman ‘nowhere close’ to retirement after 2020 opt-out

Back with the Washington Nationals after sitting out last campaign because of COVID-19 concerns, Ryan Zimmerman said Thursday the time away made him realize he is nowhere close to being ready to retire at age 36.

“I missed the game a lot,” Zimmerman said during a video call. “I missed what it takes to prepare every day. As you get older, there’s more and more you have to do to get ready, but I missed all of that, as well.”

The two-time NL All-Star was one of the first players to opt out in 2020. The father of a newborn son, and the son of a mother with multiple sclerosis, Zimmerman decided the safest course of action would be to not play amid a pandemic. There were other factors he contemplated, including whether he would need to change his pregame and postgame routines.

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“Was it really worth it for me to risk injury to myself, the health of my family, at the time, for a season that was 60 games? Who knows if people really thought it was going to make it through? If people thought it was going to count as a real season?” Zimmerman stated.

“I don’t really second-guess or wish I would’ve played.”

Arriving in Florida this time around — he brought his wife and three children — raised new questions.

“You just didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I was going to be the weird guy wearing a mask in the grocery store,” Zimmerman said. “… I think a lot more people are more aware now — obviously of themselves, but I think of other people, as well.

Hopefully if anything positive can come out of this, maybe we’ll start caring about other people more, which would be nice. But as far as being down here now for two weeks, I feel a lot more confident than I did flying down here.”

Zimmerman, the first amateur draft pick in Nationals history in 2005, is expected to be the backup to free-agent addition Josh Bell at first base.

“He’s faced all the guys I’m going to face this year,” Bell said. “He knows all the umpires, he knows all the zones, he knows the division more than anyone else on this squad.”

Washington’s first exhibition match is Sunday versus St. Louis, and Zimmerman hopes to appear in more Grapefruit League games, but fewer innings. “He’s the face of this organization — and he will be for a long time. He really will be,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “To have him back here, have him in that clubhouse, talking to the young players, it’s awesome.”

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Free agent Corey Kluber to throw bullpen session for interested teams next week

Free agent Corey Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who has been derailed by injuries over the past two years, is on calendar for a normal spring training and will throw for interested suitors next week.

Kluber will conduct a 30-pitch bullpen on the morning of Jan. 13 at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where the 34-year-old right-hander has spent half his offseason, his agent, B.B. Abbott of Jet Sports Management, told ESPN on Monday.

Kluber established himself among the game’s most dominant starting pitchers while with the Cleveland Indians from 2014 to 2018, winning 83 games, posting a 2.85 ERA and averaging 218 innings per season.

But he suffered a fractured ulna bone in his right arm on a comebacker in early May 2019, then strained his oblique as he neared a return in late August.

The Texas Rangers traded for him four months later, then watched him suffer a season-ending strain of his teres major muscle — near his right shoulder — 18 pitches into his Rangers debut on July 26, 2020.

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The Rangers declined their $18 million option on Kluber’s contract near the end of October.

Kluber was cleared to resume throwing shortly thereafter and has since thrown three bullpen sessions, Abbott said. He is expected to throw off the mound once more and receive a final MRI within the next nine days.

Kluber’s showcase comes amid a slow-moving offseason, particularly for pitchers.

Of the 30 starters who made up Kiley McDaniel’s top 120 free agents in early December, only seven have committed to teams for 2021 — two of whom did so by taking the qualifying offer.

In a time when teams are especially concerned about pitcher workloads coming off a shortened season and owners are hesitant to spend with another season without fans in attendance, Kluber can provide an established track record at a discount rate.

The risk, however, is obvious — Kluber has accumulated only 36⅔ innings over the past two years.

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Celtics will go as far as Brown and Tatum carry them

A few weeks before the NBA postponed its season in March, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum dropped 41 points at Staples Center in a last-possession loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After the game, LeBron James awarded the NBA’s ultimate seal of approval when he posted on Instagram a shot of himself and Tatum, with each looking intently at the court as they waited to check in to the nationally televised matchup.

“That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!! Keep going,” James wrote as the caption, adding the hashtag, “#YoungKing.”

Although any narrow loss is dispiriting, a further signal that Tatum is poised to be one of the preeminent stars of his generation is happy compensation. Nearly six months later, the Absolute Problem leads a team that is once again in the Eastern Conference mix, as the Celtics have continued their forward momentum since breaking ground on their rebuild in 2013.

They’re on their third All-Star point guard in that span, steady veteran Kemba Walker, but they have a largely young roster without the age and experience of Milwaukee or Toronto.

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The Celtics are still developing, still refining their roles in an evolving offense and, in the occasions of their pair of dynamic wings, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, still learning which tools to leave in the toolbox.

They’re rounding into form, and Tatum might find himself on an All-NBA team as soon as this summer.

The extent to which the team can accelerate that growth will likely determine the Celtics’ postseason fortunes.

Now 2-2 in the Orlando, Florida, bubble after a 149-115 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics have established over the course of the season that they do a lot of things well — not surprising for a team that ranks in the top five in offense and defense.

As with any squad, there are natural tension points. This is a good thing because team-building and improvement — both individual and team — are accomplished in large part by problem-solving.

The Celtics’ uneven performance during the first week of the bubble is of limited concern. Walker continues to work his way back from a knee injury — he sat out Wednesday night’s back-to-back — and Stevens emphasized after Tuesday’s loss that the careful management of Walker’s minutes in Orlando is a reflection more of caution than concern.

The front office’s objective in accumulating a trove of draft picks over the course of their rebuild was always simple, even if their procurement was complex: Turn those assets into championship-caliber stars. With Tatum and Brown, the Celtics are making good on that goal. The summer of 2020 will be the biggest test yet.

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76ers Ben Simmons ‘effective 100%’ for restart of season

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said Ben Simmons’ back is “effectively 100 percent” as they prepare to head to Florida for the NBA restart at Disney World.

“He’s good to go. He’s put in a tremendous volume of work for me to be able to confidently say that,” Brown said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“As you search for silver linings with this pandemic and the way things have shaped up, it would be hard-pressed for me to find something more obvious than this: It’s enabled Ben to reclaim his health. He’s good to go, and we look forward to watching him with what I’m told is effectively 100 percent health.”

Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA match since Feb. 22, when he suffered a back injury early in the first quarter versus the Milwaukee Bucks. However, after months of speculation, it appears the Sixers can expect to have Simmons available when they resume their season on Aug. 1 versus the Indiana Pacers.

In addition to the positive report about Simmons’ health, Brown said none of the Sixers have tested positive for the coronavirus and none have opted out of going with the team to Orlando for the restart.

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He said he’s also very pleased with the shape that Joel Embiid is in.

“Let’s start with the respect and applause I give him for putting in time. There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “Forget what he has actually done in the gym for a minute, just go to the man hours and consecutive days and the amount of days he has put in over the past few months. I’m proud of him, I respect him. He needed to do it. We understand the impact he can have on our team.”

After he unintentionally collided with Markelle Fultz and suffered a facial fracture two years ago and then dealt with illness and flu-like symptoms throughout a second-round loss to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors last year, the Sixers are hoping Embiid will be fully healthy and ready to go for the playoffs.

Brown said the team has a plan in place to ramp up Embiid’s activity. “We’ve got a three-week runway to deliver him to the regular season,” Brown said. “I’m looking for Joel to come in in as good of shape as he’s been in since I have coached him. I think the three weeks we have together is an inverted sort of luxury we haven’t had. I’m excited for Jo to get back into this and show what he has been doing the last few months.”

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Nets DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie say they tested positive for Covid

When the novel coronavirus pandemic first struck the NBA, four members of the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for COVID-19. One of them was Kevin Durant, but he and the other three unnamed members of the team have since been cleared of the virus and are symptom-free.

However, Durant (right Achilles), Kyrie Irving (right shoulder), Nic Claxton (left shoulder) and Wilson Chandler (opting out) will not be available for the Nets when the NBA resumes the 2019-20 campaign at Disney World in Florida at the end of July.

And Brooklyn will now be down more players – potentially even without its leading scorer for the bulk of the season.

DeAndre Jordan announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would not be playing during the resumed campaign, and Spencer Dinwiddie told Shams Charania of The Athletic he has tested positive for COVID-19.

d would not be playing during the resumed campaign, and Spencer Dinwiddie told Shams Charania of The Athletic he has tested positive for COVID-19.

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“Over the past few months, I have been diligent about protecting myself and others from COVID-19 by following all designated protocol and quarantining,” Dinwiddie told The Athletic.

“I was ready and prepared to rejoin my teammates as we were to be an early entry team in the resumed season. I flew private to return to New York, passed multiple COVID-19 tests over my first several days in New York and was able to participate in a couple practices within the first week.

“Originally, we were supposed to be one of the teams to enter into the Orlando bubble early, but training camp got switched back to New York and unfortunately I am now positive.”

Dinwiddie has shown symptoms of the illness, “including fever and chest tightness.” As a result, he’s uncertain if he’ll participate in the league’s restart: “… it is unclear on whether or not I’ll be able to participate in Orlando,” he said. 

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Ravens’ Lamar Jackson working out with Antonio Brown

Last year, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson drew attention for his offseason work with teammates Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore.

On Wednesday, his company was a little more famous.

In an afternoon session in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — county seat of his native Broward County — the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player worked out alongside Ravens wide receiver and close pal Marquise “Hollywood” Brown; Alabama wide receiver and future first-round pick Jerry Jeudy, another Broward County native; and, most notably, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, a cousin of the Ravens’ Brown.

Responding to a tweet Wednesday showing Antonio Brown catching passes from Jackson, the Ravens star tagged the six-time All-Pro wide receiver and stated that they would do it again.

Brown, 31, a free agent, missed most of last campaign after two ugly departures.

The Oakland Raiders, who voided the guaranteed money in his contract after Brown missed nearly all of training camp, cut him in early September when he requested to be released.

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After quickly signing with the New England Patriots, Brown was named in a lawsuit by his former trainer, who alleged that he had sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions. Less than a week later, another woman accused him of sexual misconduct.

The Patriots cut Brown after just one game, and the NFL started an investigation into the allegations against him.

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brown and Jackson have been active this week. On Tuesday, Brown appeared in social media posts alongside former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson and Antonio Brown at his cousin’s Florida gym. On Wednesday, both Brown cousins and Jackson worked out on a football field in what Jeudy told “The Rich Eisen Show” was Fort Lauderdale.

It could be their last public workout for a while. On Wednesday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The order will go into effect at midnight Thursday and last for at least 30 days.

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