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Andy Murray handed Australian Open main draw wildcard with Brit hailed by tournament chief

Andy Murray has been awarded a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open. A five-time finalist in Melbourne, the former world No 1 has not played the event since 2019, when he announced that he would likely be playing his last tournament and retiring over his hip injury.

The three-time Grand Slam champion has since made a comeback from a hip resurfacing surgery he underwent shortly after, and now goes into 2022 full of confidence following a successful end to the season.

Murray has been granted a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open, which kicks off on January 17.

It will be his first showing at the season-opening Major since 2019, when he broke down in a press conference and admitted it could be his last tournament, following two years of struggle with a hip injury.

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After losing a thrilling five-setter to Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round – a match that sounded like it was the last of his career – Murray underwent a hip resurfacing surgery just weeks later, having a metal joint put into his hip.

The former world No 1 then came back in doubles at Queens Club in June of that year and won the title alongside Feliciano Lopez, later captivating his first post-op singles title at the European Open in October 2019.

Murray was then unable to compete in the 2020 edition of the event known as the ‘Happy Slam’ due to a pelvic injury, and missed the tournament again in 2021 after testing positive for Covid and being unable to find a “workable” quarantine.

He will finally make his long-awaited return to the site of his premature retirement next month, after being given a wildcard into the main draw.

Currently ranked at world No 134, the Brit would have needed multiple players ranked above him to withdraw before gaining entry himself. Following the news of his wildcard, the five-time runner-up thanked tournament director Craig Tiley and the organizers.

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Rams return Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but questions remain for defending No. 1 defense

With the promise of an improved offense, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense is preparing for an encore performance.

Last season, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey spurred the unit to the top of the NFL.

Both star playmakers return after a 10-6 campaign that resulted in divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. So does outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract after a career-best campaign in which he tallied 10.5 sacks.

But gone is defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who inherited a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency and improved it to first in his only season before departing to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach. Enter defense coordinator Raheem Morris, who held the same post last season with the Atlanta Falcons for five games before being promoted to interim head coach.

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Morris takes over a defense that permitted a league-low 18.5 points in 2020.

He is expected to maintain what Staley installed, including the base 3-4 scheme, but will add some of his own wrinkles to shape a unit that can propel the Rams to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said at his introductory news conference when asked about taking over the league’s top-ranked defense. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”

Last season, the Rams ranked No. 1 in passing yards permitted per game at 190.7. They ranked No. 3 versus the run, allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game.

However, there’s room for improvement, especially at creating turnovers. The Rams forced 22 turnovers last season, which ranked 10th, and intercepted 14 passes, ranking 12th.

Entering the NFL draft last month, Rams coach Sean McVay said the Rams did not have any glaring holes that needed to be filled. Along with Donald, Ramsey and Floyd, the Rams also return cornerback Darious Williams, whose coming off a breakthrough season that included four interceptions, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former sixth-round pick who is entering his third season as a starter.

But some of their key playmakers have departed.

Four defensive starters left this offseason, including veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers — who was traded to Detroit — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.

The Rams used five of their nine draft picks to select defensive players: South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones, Texas A&M defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell, Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV and Concordia-St. Paul outside linebacker Chris Garrett.

“You look at each of them and there’s a vision that we have for them and how they fit, how they provide value for a football team,” said McVay, who’s entering his fifth season as coach.

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