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National

  • Nadal is still in the hunt

     PARIS (AP) — Maybe, just maybe, Rafael Nadal was a tad vulnerable, the thinking went before this French Open.

    He had lost three times on his beloved red clay already this year, more defeats than he ever had on the surface before heading to Roland Garros.

    Then came an admission, after the Grand Slam tournament's third round, that his back was bothering him and slowing his serves.

    Well, leave it to the eight-time French Open champion's upcoming quarterfinal opponent — 2013 runner-up David Ferrer, one of the men who beat Nadal on clay this spring — to set the record straight.

    "Rafael," Ferrer said, "is always the favorite."

    Nadal certainly looked the part in the fourth round Monday, when he won 18 points in a row during one stretch en route to beating 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 for a record 32nd consecutive victory at the French Open. That broke Nadal's own mark of 31 and moved him a step closer to a fifth straight title in Paris.

    The No. 1-ranked Nadal, now 63-1 for his career at the tournament, has won all 12 sets he's played in Paris in 2014, dropping a total of 23 games. He was asked whether he would have preferred a more taxing encounter by now.

  • Safety is still issue for youth

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called Thursday for more robust research into youth concussions, saying there remains deep uncertainty over both the scope of the troubling issue and the long-term impacts on young people.
    “We want our kids participating in sports,” Obama said as he opened a day-long summit on concussions at the White House. “As parents though, we want to keep them safe and that means we have to have better information.”
    The summit signaled an effort by Obama to use the power of the presidency to elevate a national conversation over youth concussions. The White House brought together representatives of professional sports leagues, coaches, parents, young athletes, medical professionals and others for the event.
    Obama, an avid sports fan and father of two daughters involved in athletics, highlighted millions of dollars in pledges and other support from the National Football League, the National Institutes of Health and others to conduct research that could begin to provide answers and improve safety.
    Among the financial commitments is a $30 million joint research effort by the NCAA and Defense Department and an NFL commitment of $25 million over the next three years to promote youth sports safety.
    The president said additional research needs to also be combined with a broader recognition of the need to take the matter seriously.

  • Westbrook scores 40 in win

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook is picking up where Kevin Durant left off.
    Durant hasn’t shown the same consistent excellence in the postseason that earned the Thunder star the MVP award after the NBA regular season. Westbrook has picked up the slack, making a case for being Oklahoma City’s best player in the postseason.
    Westbrook had 40 points, 10 assists and five steals in Oklahoma City’s 105-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night that tied the series at two games apiece.
    The guard has been doing similar damage throughout the playoffs, averaging 26.6 points, 8.1 assists and 7.5 rebounds in 17 postseason games. In one stretch, he had three triple-doubles in five games.
    “Just his focus on every possession on the defensive end and his poise on the offensive end — I think that’s what’s fun to watch,” Durant said. “People outside of our team don’t really look at that type of stuff, but that’s something we can definitely build on as a group, is watching him wreak havoc on the defensive end and offensively, playing with such patience.”
    Tuesday’s performance matched the second-highest playoff point total of Westbrook’s career, falling short of the 43 he scored in the 2012 NBA Finals.

  • Is Nadal still tops at Roland Garros?

    PARIS (AP) — For once, not everything seems so obvious heading into the French Open.
    Yes, Rafael Nadal will still be favored by most to win the clay-court Grand Slam tournament yet again. He is, after all, 59-1 for his career at Roland Garros, winner of a record eight championships.
    Still, if the 2014 tennis season to date is any indication, there could be some surprises in store when play begins in Paris on Sunday. So far, there already was one new major champion, Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open. And there has been a rather egalitarian feel to the spring clay circuit, with nine winners at nine tournaments.
    The three top men in the ATP rankings — No. 1 Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Wawrinka — each claimed a Masters title on the slow red surface, including Djokovic’s victory over Nadal in the Rome final last weekend. That gave Nadal three clay losses in a season for the first time since 2004, when he was all of 17 and yet to make his French Open debut.

  • Spurs romp to win in Game 2

    SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have been here before.
    Tony Parker scored 22 points, Danny Green added 21 on seven 3-pointers, and San Antonio used a dominant third quarter to pummel Oklahoma City 112-77 Wednesday night and take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
    The Spurs were in the same position in 2012 before the Thunder won four straight to capture the series and stun a Spurs team that appeared to have its best days behind it.
    Well, San Antonio is back in the conference final with a commanding lead, wiser and even older.
    “I know after the game, nobody is very happy in the locker room,” Parker said. “Everybody is very focused, and we respect that team. We know they’re very capable of a comeback, and they did that against us in 2012. We’re just very focused and nobody is satisfied.”
    Game 3 is Sunday at Oklahoma City, where the Thunder will try to bounce back from the worst playoff loss in franchise history.
    “It definitely doesn’t feel good, and it shouldn’t,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “I hope our entire locker room doesn’t feel good. You shouldn’t feel good. We got our butts kicked.”

  • Duncan, Spurs roll to Game 1 win

    SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs were not going to believe Serge Ibaka was really injured until the Oklahoma City Thunder took the court in the opener of the Western Conference finals without their athletic big man.
    Their skepticism was unwarranted.
    Ibaka is indeed injured and Oklahoma City needs to find a way to replace his defensive presence against San Antonio.
    Tim Duncan had 27 points and the Spurs took advantage of Ibaka’s absence to score more than half their points in the paint, beating the Thunder 122-105 Monday night in the opener of the best-of-seven series.
    Tony Parker did not appear limited by a hamstring injury, adding 14 points and 12 assists in 36 minutes in San Antonio’s first victory over Oklahoma City this season.
    Parker and coach Gregg Popovich both said earlier they weren’t sure if the Thunder would actually be without Ibaka, who injured his left calf in Oklahoma City’s series clincher against the Los Angeles Clippers.
    “Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he’s not coming back,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
    That’s bad news for Oklahoma City entering Game 2 on Wednesday.
    San Antonio had 66 points in the paint and shot 58 percent from the field in the win.

  • California Chrome is cleared to wear nasal strip for Belmont

    NEW YORK (AP) — California Chrome beat out an idiosyncratic racing rule — by a nose.
    The colt is back on track for his Triple Crown try after an only-in-New York equipment ban appeared ready to put a kink in his Triple Crown try at the Belmont Stakes.
    The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner was cleared to wear the nasal strip he has worn all through a six-race winning streak that has set him up for a chance at horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown.
    New York racetracks have a rule prohibiting any equipment not specifically approved by stewards, and nasal strips were not on their list. A statement from the New York Racing Association and the state’s Gaming Commission on Monday said the track’s three stewards unanimously agreed to lift the ban.
    The strip worn by California Chrome during his six-race winning streak is thought to assist airflow through the nostrils — something that should come in handy June 7 for Belmont’s grueling run.
    “I think it opens up his air passage and gives him that little extra oomph that he needs, especially going a mile and a half,” trainer Art Sherman said. “Any time you can have a good air passage that means a lot for these thoroughbreds.”

  • California Chrome will be the favorite at Preakness Stakes

    BALTIMORE (AP) — Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome was made the odds-on favorite at 3-5 on Wednesday for the Preakness Stakes, and he drew an inside post position in the 10-horse field that includes a filly for the first time in five years.
    Trained by Art Sherman and ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome will break from the No. 3 post, which has produced 10 winners in the previous 138 runnings of the 1 3/16-mile race, the last being Prairie Bayou in 1993.
    “Three is fine with me,” Sherman said. “Most of the speed is on the outside of me. If they go, they go, I can tuck in right behind them without any problems. I think my horse will perform.”
    So does California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn, who dared to look ahead.
    “One race at a time,” he said, “but I’m still thinking Triple Crown.”
    If California Chrome wins on Saturday, next up would be the Belmont Stakes on June 7. Only 11 horses have swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont and none since 1978.
    California Chrome brings a five-race winning streak into the Preakness, having won that many by a combined 26 lengths. Still, his overwhelming odds surprised Sherman, a 77-year-old trainer who has never had a colt this good.

  • Still much to be done before World Cup

    SAO PAULO (AP) — It’s all coming down to the final 30 days.
    Brazil had seven years to get ready for the World Cup, but it enters the final month of preparations with a lot yet to be done.
    Three stadiums are still under construction, some of the temporary structures needed for matches are delayed and it remains unclear if all cities will have time to organize the mandatory fanfests.
    It’s already known that not all infrastructure will be completed no matter how much organizers rush before the June 12 opener. The government acknowledges that communications inside stadiums won’t be perfect, unfinished airports remain a concern and there are widespread threats of violent protests by Brazilians complaining about the billions of dollars spent to organize the tournament.
    Brazilian officials guarantee everything will be fine. FIFA remains concerned.
    “Everything will be in place for the World Cup in Brazil to be a success,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Tuesday. “The stadiums will be ready, the airports will be ready, we are guaranteeing public safety.”
    Jerome Valcke, secretary general for soccer’s governing body, says there’s no time to waste.
    “I would not say it’s not ready, but it’s not finished,” he said recently.

  • Boston behind Derby horse Wicked Strong

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Wicked Strong has a built-in fan base for the Kentucky Derby. Like the entire city of Boston.
    The colt named in honor of the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings figures to be among the favorites for Saturday’s race. He’s got the credentials, having impressively won the Wood Memorial at 9-1 odds.
    Wicked Strong is owned by a Boston-based partnership that has pledged to donate 5 percent of any money won by the bay colt during the Triple Crown series to the fund set up for the bombing victims.
    “It’s a neat thing,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “Might be an extra force that will help us, if you believe in that kind of stuff.”
    Does Jerkens?
    “Sometimes you do,” he replied. “Things seem to happen like that for some unexplained reason.”
    Wicked Strong began racing with the name Moyne Spun. Donald Little Jr., who heads the Centennial Farms partnership, didn’t like that moniker and decided to rename the horse with the marathon bombings in mind.
    His first thought was Boston Strong, but the name was already taken. So the new name became Wicked Strong — giving it a linguistic Boston twist.