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23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams skips practice ahead of doubles match that will mark competitive return

Serena Williams skipped her arranged practice session at Eastbourne with late notice on Monday as the 23-time Grand Slam champion prepares to make her return to competition after a year away.

Williams trained at a nearby club over the weekend and was expected to have an on-site session at Devonshire Park ahead of playing doubles with Ons Jabeur. Their first match is set for Tuesday versus Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova.

Williams, 40, who hasn’t competed anywhere since she was injured in the first round of Wimbledon last year, was awarded a wild card for singles at the All England Club.

Jabeur stated it was “unbelievable” to have been asked by Williams to be part of her journey back to competition at the Wimbledon warm-up. “I’m a good secret keeper — yes, I’ve known [since] before the French Open,” said the No. 3-ranked Jabeur, who arrived at Eastbourne after winning the title in Berlin on Sunday.

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“Many players were jealous because I’m playing with her. Honestly, Serena is Serena. She is a legend and always will be.”

Jabeur said she is hoping to learn “even like 2% from it.”

“Now I’m joking with other doubles players,” she said. “I was like, ‘If you have minus 20 grand slams, don’t even ask me to play doubles with you anymore.'”

Jabeur has pulled out of the singles at Eastbourne following her run to the title in Germany and will play only the doubles. Still, she’ll likely be kept busy this week given her partner.

“I cannot wait to see her; I haven’t seen her yet,” Jabeur said of Williams. “Hopefully we will get together and talk a little bit and see, because I’m really pumped. I want to win this doubles and why not win the title here, you know?”

Among those to advance in the singles Monday were three qualifiers — Donna Vekic, Kirsten Flipkens and Lesia Tsurenko — and a wild card in Britain’s Jodie Burrage. American player Alison Riske was beaten by Magda Linette of Poland 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-6 (4).

In the men’s event, sixth-seeded Alex de Minaur of Australia started his title defense by beating Cristian Garin 6-3, 6-3. Two Americans — fifth-seeded Reilly Opelka and seventh-seeded Frances Tiafoe — lost in the first round on Monday.

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Buffalo Bills to match Chicago Bears’ offer sheet to guard Ryan Bates, GM Brandon Beane says

The Buffalo Bills will match the offer sheet offensive guard Ryan Bates signed with the Chicago Bears last week, general manager Brandon Beane stated Monday at the NFL’s annual owners meetings.

The Bills had until Tuesday to match the offer sheet Bates signed with the Bears.

“We’ve kind of pondered that and worked through it. And obviously we’re tight on the cap, but we are going to bring Ryan back,” Beane said.

The deal is for four years, per a source, and the first two years are fully guaranteed.

“I just found that out. It stinks. But that’s part of the RFA process,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said. “So we’ll adjust and we’ll keep adding players. It’s out of your control. It’s just part of the deal where you put your best foot forward and we did. We came strong, and that’s given back to their team and it’s up to them whether they want to match it. It is what it is. We’ll adjust like everything else.”

Bates, 25, had free-agent visits with the Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots last week, after the Bills offered an original-round tender of $2.4 million. With the Bills, Bates will compete for the starting right guard spot. Rodger Saffold III was signed in free agency and is expected to start at left guard.

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The team also re-signed offensive lineman Ike Boettger to a one-year deal Monday.

Boettger started 10 matches at left guard for the Bills last year before tearing an Achilles versus New England in Week 16. Bates came in for Boettger when he went down with the injury.

“It’s really important for us to be strong up front, both lines, Ryan’s a versatile player,” Beane said. “He can actually play all five spots, but most importantly, he’s been a center, guard he’s filled in, and we thought when he had his opportunity this year, he did a heck of a job starting the last four regular-season [games] and then the two postseason games. It didn’t seem too big for him. You want to keep as many of those key pieces, he knows our system. He obviously knows Josh. RFAs are close to UFAs, but it was a deal that we felt we could match, and we plan to do that.”

The 6-foot-4, 302-pound Bates spent the past three seasons primarily as a backup for the Bills after he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019.

Because of injuries along the offensive line, Bates started the final three games of the regular season and two postseason contests, most of which came at left guard, and played 223 total snaps between left and right guard last season. He also has experience at center.

While injuries led to him taking the field, Bates maintained the starting job for the end of the season and the playoff run because of his performance alongside left tackle Dion Dawkins.

For the season, Bates had a 93% pass block win rate at guard, which hovers around league average, and a 59% run block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The Bills’ offensive line as a unit improved with Bates on the field. Quarterback Josh Allen was not sacked once over the final three games of the season and was sacked twice in the postseason.

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Novak Djokovic, ‘satisfied with my tennis,’ wins first match of his year as Dubai Championships begin

Novak Djokovic won his first match of the year when he defeated Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3 to open the Dubai Championships on Monday.

Djokovic couldn’t defend his Australian Open title last month because he was deported from the country for being unvaccinated.

The United Arab Emirates permitted him entry, and Djokovic cashed in at a tournament he’s won five times. The Monday crowd was glad to see him, as he was met with a standing ovation, complete with phone cameras flashing when he was introduced.

Djokovic responded with an emphatic wave before making his way to his position by the judge’s chair.

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Musetti took two sets off Djokovic at the French Open last year, but on a breezy Dubai evening, the Italian wild card couldn’t convert bags of break chances while trailing 3-1 in the first set and 4-2 in the second.

“I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and a half, three months,” Djokovic said on court.

“Of course, there were moments when I played great, there were moments when I made a couple of unforced errors in a row uncharacteristically. But it’s normal to expect that [in my] first match after a while.”

He next faces Karen Khachanov or Alex de Minaur.

Andy Murray won his first match in Dubai since his title run in 2017. He defeated Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-5 after nearly three hours.

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Jurij Rodionov drops Maxime Cressy at Dallas Open

Qualifier Jurij Rodionov of Austria beat sixth-seeded American Maxime Cressy of 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1 on Tuesday to advance to the round of 16 at the inaugural Dallas Open.

Paris-born Cressy was the first of the eight seeded players to lose his match. A former UCLA player, Cressy now lives in Hermosa Beach, California.

The only other seeded player on the courts was No. 7 Marcos Giron of Thousand Oaks, California. Giron, another former UCLA Bruin, defeated countryman Tennys Sandgren 6-4, 6-4. The former collegiate player at Tennessee has been ranked as high as 41st in the world.

“I knew I would have to play well. I did a good job playing well on the important points,” Giron said.

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The top four seeds, all Americans — No. 1 Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, John Isner and Jenson Brooksby — had byes to the round of 16. On Wednesday, fifth-seed Adrian Mannarino of France will play a round of 32 match and No. 8 Brandon Nakashima of the U.S. will play in the round of 16.

Just two of the seven singles matches went to a third set.

Qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany outlasted American Denis Kudla 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3 and will face Opelka on Thursday.

Wild card Jack Sock, a Nebraska native, defeated German Oscar Otte 6-4, 6-4. Sock next will play on Thursday versus Fritz, who reached No. 20 in the world last month.

Qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain defeated another German, Peter Gojowczyk, 6-1, 6-4, to advance to the round of 16 versus Giron on Wednesday.

Australian Jordan Thompson defeated Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 7-5, 6-3, and will meet Nakashima on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s final match went to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 6-4, 6-4 over American Mitchell Krueger. Nishioka will advance to meet the winner of Mannarino’s match versus American Steve Johnson.

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LeBron James, Anthony Davis reassure Russell Westbrook after his struggles as Los Angeles Lakers drop NBA opener

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook failed their first real test together, a 121-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors on opening night, but they found some common ground.

All three of them have now lost in their Lakers debuts: James versus the Portland Trail Blazers in 2018, Davis versus the LA Clippers in 2019 and Westbrook versus the Warriors on Tuesday.

While James (34 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) and Davis (33 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks) outperformed Westbrook, who had a team-worst plus/minus of minus-23 in 35 minutes and finished with eight points on 4-for-13 shooting and four turnovers, their bigger impact might have come in the postgame locker room, lifting up their new teammate.

“I told Russ to go home and watch a comedy,” James said. “Do something that can put a smile on his face. He’s so hard on himself. I told him, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s one game.'” It was similar to a pep talk James gave to Davis when their first match together in Los Angeles also didn’t go their way.

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“My first time, I sat next to LB, he looked at me, and he said, ‘You’re fine, this is Game 1,'” Davis recalled. “He’s laughing. He’s joking on the phone. And I’m like, ‘Why am I upset then?’ And I kind of just went with the flow. And it’s the same thing with Russ. And I told him the same thing. ‘I’m the same way you were.’ We said some things to him, and he smiled and things like that, so I expect him to be better in the game Friday.”

If Westbrook broke out a grin in the locker room, it was gone by the time he reached the media room for his postgame interviews.

“We talked” was all Westbrook would say about the conversation with Davis and James.

His entire media session lasted less than three minutes as he kept his answers as brief as possible.

James, who has often stated that experience is the greatest teacher, was hopeful that Westbrook would glean some perspective from the ordeal.

“I just don’t want him to be so hard on himself,” James said. “That was the one thing that I hoped to get through to him, don’t be so hard on himself. Go home and you’re going to see three babies that he has that might be asleep, but they’ll put a smile on his face. He has a beautiful wife and family. So at the end of the day, you go home and you’re really like, ‘OK, that was not that bad. It’s really not that bad.'”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged the tricky spot Westbrook finds himself in.

“Him more than anybody, it’s going to be an adjustment period,” Vogel stated. “He’s coming into our culture, our system. He’s the new guy, and he’s got to find his way. It’s difficult, when you’re used to being the guy who has the ball most nights, to be able to play off of others like Bron and AD. So it’s just a little bit different for him. He’s going to be great for us, but it’s going to be an adjustment period.”

While Westbrook looks to grow within the group, James is urging him to be the player he was before he came to Los Angeles — an uber-confident nine-time All-Star, Olympian and former league MVP.

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Team USA rebounds from back-to-back losses with blowout of Argentina

Team USA stabilized itself by putting together its most complete match of its Olympic preparation schedule, defeating Argentina 108-80 on Tuesday night.

After back-to-back losses that saw the Americans struggle with offensive execution and defensive stamina, they showed more traction on both fronts 12 days before their Olympic opener in Tokyo.

“I thought we sustained our [stamina] pretty well,” Team USA manager Gregg Popovich said. “Against Australia we competed well, rebounded, played defense, ran the floor and had good pace for a half and then it dissipated for a half. Tonight, we maintained that pretty much throughout the game. Hopefully that’s a sign we’re getting better.”

Kevin Durant, the unquestioned engine of the national team’s offense, had shown some rust after taking some time off following the Brooklyn Nets’ seven-game series loss last month in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Like many of his Team USA teammates, he looked a little flat in the first two exhibitions, which both ended in unexpected defeat. He was just 10-of-26 shooting in those defeats to Nigeria and Australia.

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Durant came out with a purpose Tuesday, swishing a 3-pointer on the game’s first possession.

He scored eight points in the first quarter and ended with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

It was a similar story for Bradley Beal, who shot just 38% and averaged just seven points in the first two games while trying to regain rhythm. Beal made his first four shots, two of them 3-pointers, and ended with 17 points for easily his best game of the exhibitions.

“A sense of urgency is what we’re kind of preaching,” Beal said. “Today we got better, but there’s still a lot more we can improve on. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Despite it being the second game of a back-to-back and a comfortable victory, Popovich played Beal 30 of the game’s 40 minutes in an attempt to help him round into form.

Popovich cited conditioning as a reason the Americans faded down the stretch in the two losses. After a heavy calendar for most of the players over the previous 12 months, players taking time to rest was expected after their seasons ended, but it seems to have contributed to the slow start.

Tuesday’s game also featured a strong performance from Zach LaVine, a late addition to Team USA who has been building a case for more playing time this week. LaVine was in Popovich’s starting lineup for the Jayson Tatum, who sat out to rest a sore knee, and made a statement with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.

“Somebody’s got to take Tatum’s place,” Popovich said. “So you choose one, simple as that.”

LaVine, who has had more time off as the Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs, is one of the players who seems to be in better rhythm. He had a spectacular highlight dunk in the fourth quarter, rising over a defender and slamming it despite a foul.

It must be said the Argentinians, who came in ranked No. 4 in the world after taking the silver at the 2019 World Cup, were the weakest team the Americans have yet faced. They are 0-3 in the games at Mandalay Bay this week and are an older team. Former NBA player Luis Scola, who is 41, led them with 16 points.

A better test for Team USA’s development will come Friday in a rematch with the Aussies. It will come after two days off to allow for some practice and film work.

“The last thing we want to do is overwork people to the point where we get injuries, but the first priority is we have to get back in shape,” Popovich. “We’re going to continue to work hard like we need to. … Without the condition we can’t get this done.”

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Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. vows he will return from torn ACL stronger than ever

Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. has worked hard to reach the stratosphere of Major League Baseball. A day after suffering a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee, Acuna vowed to work harder than ever to stay there.

“The only thing I can say is that I’m obviously going to put maximum effort to come back stronger than ever,” Acuna said via Braves interpreter Franco Garcia during a Zoom call on Sunday. “If was giving 500 percent before, I’m about to start giving 1,000 percent.”

Acuna suffered the injury during Atlanta’s 5-4 triumph over the Marlins on Saturday when he landed awkwardly on the warning track while chasing a fly ball struck by Miami’s Jazz Chisholm Jr. Acuna grabbed at his knee in agony while Chisholm circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

The match was delayed for more than 10 minutes after Acuna initially tried to walk off the field but was unable to do so under his own power. As he was carried away on a cart, cameras caught an emotional Acuna tearing up after what turned out to be a season-ending injury, though he says he did not initially know that was the case.

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“I knew something was wrong,” Acuna said. “I guess I didn’t understand the severity of it, until the doctor told me about it later on. Nothing I can do about it now. I can’t control things I can’t control.”

Late Saturday, the Braves revealed via social media that Acuna had indeed suffered a complete tear of his ACL and would undergo surgery.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Acuna is expected to miss nine to 10 months, which would put him in jeopardy of missing the start of the 2022 season.

However long it takes, Acuna vows to come back as good as he was when he went down.

“I think I’m a patient person and I think that’s going to work in my favor,” Acuna said. “Continue to work hard, trust the process of the rehab. Just continue to work hard. You get out what you put in.”

Acuna did not discuss a timetable regarding his eventual return, saying that his surgery has not yet been programmed. For now, he is preparing to go, as planned, to Colorado for the All-Star Game, where he would have started in the outfield for the National League.

“(Being selected) means a lot to me,” Acuna said. “In that same sense, those fans who went out and voted for me, they deserve it as much as I did. I wouldn’t be here without them.” Before his injury, Acuna was putting up another stellar campaign that had him positioned for a run at his first MVP award.

He leads the Braves in batting average (.283), homers (24) and stolen bases this season (17), and leads all big leaguers with 72 runs scored.

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James Harden’s return for Brooklyn Nets short-lived due to ongoing hamstring tightness

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden played just four minutes before he was ruled out for the remainder of Monday night’s 114-112 victory versus the New York Knicks because of right hamstring tightness.

Harden’s brief return came after he missed the Nets’ past two games while dealing with the same tightness.

Before the match, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash stated Harden would not be on a minutes restriction and the team would monitor him throughout the night. “We definitely don’t want to wear him out,” Nash said before tipoff. “So we’ll try our best, which is very difficult to do sometimes. We’ll try to limit his minutes if we have the opportunity.”

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Nash reiterated both pregame and postgame that the imaging on Harden’s hamstring did not reveal structural damage, so the team looked to him and its training staff to decide when he felt well enough to play.

“So who knows — this may linger, it may be all behind us like we thought it was before the game,” Nash said. “But it’s just one of those things where the scan is clean, the strength tests are clean but he feels something, so we’re going to err on the side of caution.”

The Nets were already without Blake Griffin (injury maintenance), Kevin Durant (hamstring strain), Tyler Johnson (knee soreness) and Landry Shamet (ankle sprain).

Nash said that he does not anticipate playing Griffin in both halves of any remaining back-to-back games.

Harden, one of the frontrunners for league MVP, entered Monday’s game averaging 26.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 11.2 assists for the Nets.

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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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Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry ‘still sore’ from tailbone bruise, out vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry will miss Tuesday night’s match versus the Philadelphia 76ers because of a tailbone bruise — the third consecutive game he will sit out after suffering the injury in Wednesday’s victory over the Houston Rockets.

“He’s not going to play [Tuesday],” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Monday’s practice.

“He did not practice today. He’s still pretty sore. And so we’re going to continue to list him as day-to-day, but still sore today and went through some activities in the training room, strengthening, and movement-wise. And he’s not ready to go … I talked to him today, he just said “It’s still sore.'”

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Curry, 33, suffered the injury after tripping over a riser and falling hard on his tailbone after taking an off-balance 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter Wednesday.

Despite the setback, Kerr stays optimistic that Curry will be back on the floor soon.

“It’s not something we’re concerned about,” Kerr said. “But it’s obviously going to take more time.”

Kerr did say there was an opportunity that young big men James Wiseman and Eric Paschall could play in Tuesday’s game after missing close to a week because of COVID-19 protocols. They have missed three straight games.

“Eric and James could possibly play [Tuesday],” Kerr said. “They were not allowed to practice today. We are hopeful that everything goes fine with their testing, which it has been, but they have to complete another couple of tests, and if they do then there’s a chance they’ll be available [Tuesday] night.”

Veteran big man Kevon Looney was back at Monday’s practice after missing Saturday’s game because of COVID-19 protocols. Looney stated he had a false positive and the rest of his tests have come back negative.

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