James Harden has apologised for the "drama" surrounding his exit from the Houston Rockets and wishes his trade to the Brookyln Nets could have been a smoother process.

Former NBA MVP Harden was moved to the Nets one month ago after playing more than eight seasons with Houston.

He joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in a star-studded roster, having played eight games early in the season with the Rockets.

Harden's desire to seek a trade had been public knowledge since the offseason but a drawn-out process followed until the 31-year-old was traded after a 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After that game Harden called the situation "crazy" and "something that I don't think can be fixed".

Harden was happy the Rockets ultimately granted his wish to move to Brooklyn, but regrets the acrimonious nature of his departure.

"Apologise for how it went down, but I guess I had to do what I had to do in order to get to where I wanted to go," Harden said to ESPN.

"And credit to Houston, they didn't necessarily have to trade me to Brooklyn. They could have traded me anywhere, but those are some stand-up guys over there. 

"And it ended up the right way, but just didn't like how that month or two played out."

Harden insists the circumstances of the weeks leading up to his Rockets exit did not provide a fair reflection of his character.

He added: "I don't like it at all because that's not who I am. The drama, the extra whatever you want to call it, the negativity for me. 

"I don't really like negative energy. That's draining. So I don't like how it necessarily happened.

"The front office knew where I stood and what I wanted. I feel like it could have happened a lot smoother, a lot easier, but it is what it is."

The Nets are 15-12, third in the Eastern Conference, ahead of Saturday's big game at the Golden State Warriors (14-12).

Harden leads the league with 11.0 assists per game in 2020-21, though his scoring average sits at 23.9 points, lower than what he recorded in any of his full seasons with the Rockets.

Ash Barty battled back to win both sets against Ekaterina Alexandrova and book a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open. 

The world number one triumphed 6-2 6-4 after one hour and 21 minutes on court, though there was no crowd present to cheer on the home favourite due to the five-day lockdown in place in Victoria. 

Barty admitted that, with fans having been allowed into Melbourne Park earlier in the tournament, there was a different – if not completely unpleasant – atmosphere to proceedings in the evening session on Margaret Court Arena.

"It's very strange, it changes the sound of the court a little bit," the Australian – who played with her left thigh heavily strapped having pulled out of doubles duty on Friday – said during her on-court interview.

"I love the crowd, but I love the sound the ball makes. It feels a bit like practice."

Barty lost her opening service game as she quickly fell 2-0 behind at the start of the contest, though she hit back impressively to take the opener against the 29th seed.

The 2019 French Open champion claimed six successive games, hitting just five winners as the policy of keeping the ball in play paid off thanks to 16 unforced errors from her opponent. 

Alexandrova was more consistent in the second set, leading to a break of serve that she quickly consolidated to make the score 4-2. 

However, the Russian was unable to cling on to her advantage and, when serving to stay in the match, let slip two opportunities to extend proceedings. Barty will next face Shelby Rogers, who knocked out 21st seed Anett Kontaveit in straight sets.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was full of admiration for the Utah Jazz after his Milwaukee Bucks were on the end of a 129-115 loss to the Western Conference leaders. 

The Jazz improved to 21-5 as four players racked up 25 points or more for the first time in franchise history, with Rudy Gobert (27 points), Joe Ingles (27), Donovan Mitchell (26) and Jordan Clarkson (25) all hitting the mark. 

It represents a sixth win on the bounce for the impressive Jazz, whose 26-game record is the best in their history. 

For his part, Antetokounmpo contributed 29 points and 15 rebounds, but Milwaukee (16-10) slipped to back-to-back defeats. 

However, the 26-year-old insisted there was no shame in losing to the best team in the Western Conference, showering his opponents with praise in the process.

"It's okay, it's nothing to be upset about. It will be hard, especially when you play the best team in the West," Antetokounmpo said. 

"They're moving the ball, they're fighting, they play for one another, they know their role. 

"Whatever they do, they are doing it hard. 

"It just looks fun. Like when I watch them play, it looks fun, it looks easy, it looks simple. 

"For sure, they look like us last year, and man, when you're at that point and you're playing with that confidence, you're hard to beat for sure."

Kevin Durant will make a long-awaited return to the Bay Area on Saturday as the Brooklyn Nets visit the Golden State Warriors in a mouth-watering NBA clash at Chase Center.

It is a game that pits the league's newest 'big three' (Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden) against a Warriors team led by Stephen Curry, whose incredible performances this season merit MVP votes.

But more significantly it is Durant's first road game against the Warriors since leaving them to join the Nets after the 2018-19 season that ended with Golden State losing the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors in a series that saw the 2014 MVP suffer an Achilles injury.

Having missed the last three games because of coronavirus contact tracing protocols, Durant has been cleared and will face the team with whom he won two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs, though Curry does not expect his former team-mate to treat the contest any differently.

Reflecting on Durant's time with the Warriors, Curry told a media conference: "Two championships, an unfortunate ending with injuries and not getting it done in the 2019 Finals, but it was some of the best basketball the world has ever seen.

"The ability to put that much talent and experience together and make it work, there was no guarantee it was going to work, and we figured it out and it was an amazing run."

Asked about the emotions of his return, Curry added: "Honestly, I don't know how special it'll be because it's not at Oracle [Arena] and there's no fans, so it's kind of weird that whole vibe.

"We've got a tribute video which he deserves, and hopefully it'll be a moment that he'll appreciate. But outside of that it is kind of weird to be honest, in terms of all the things that have changed since 18-19.

"If you ask him how he feels he'll probably say it's another game and I'm sure that's how it will be once the ball drops on Saturday."

TOP PERFORMERS

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

Curry has bounced back from a 2019-20 season lost to injury in utterly remarkable form.

He is averaging 30 points a game, the only other season in which he has done so was in 2015-16, when he was named the league MVP in a unanimous vote.

Curry is shooting 43.5 per cent from beyond the arc, having made 10 threes in Thursday's win over the Orlando Magic, which he finished with 40 points.

That his tally against the Magic was not close to his season-high is indicative of the level at which he is playing.

The six-time All-Star has a 62-point game and a 57-point game this season, and has topped 30 points on 10 other occasions. Curry is back, and he's back to his best.

James Harden - Brooklyn Nets

Harden may not be scoring at the same level as Curry but his impact this season is undoubted.

The former Houston Rockets star is sixth in the NBA in PAR (Points + Assists + Rebounds) per game with 41.8, so far justifying the Nets' blockbuster trade for his services.

He started the month with his fourth triple-double of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers and has four successive double-doubles since.

Whether it's as a scorer, facilitator or rebounder, the Warriors will have to do all they can to limit Harden's influence.

KEY BATTLE: CAN DRAYMOND STOP DURANT?

With the Warriors still without rookie center James Wiseman because of a wrist injury and DeAndre Jordan out for the Nets, Durant may have to matchup with Draymond Green at center.

In the absence of Wiseman, the Warriors have had to turn to small ball and play Green at the five, and his clash with Durant promises to be a feisty one, given they weren't afraid to get in each other's faces as team-mates.

One of Green's tasks will be to stop Durant from getting into the paint consistently. That is no easy feat, but the Warriors have had success stopping teams in that regard this season.

Their 43.5 points in the paint allowed per game are the sixth-fewest in the NBA. If Green and the Warriors can limit Durant's opportunities to get to the hoop, they will have a much better shot of pulling off the upset.

HEAD TO HEAD

Durant and Irving inspired the Nets to a blowout win over the Warriors to start the new season.

The Nets emerged 125-99 victors, Durant scoring 22 points and leading Brooklyn with a plus-minus rating of plus 26.

That game was illustrative of the massive changes both teams have undergone. It was Brooklyn's second successive win over the Warriors but they had lost their previous eight meetings with one of most dominant teams in NBA history.

The Utah Jazz continued their impressive NBA run with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Los Angeles Lakers extended their own streak.

The Western Conference-leading Jazz improved to 21-5 courtesy of a 129-115 victory over the Bucks on Friday.

Rudy Gobert (27 points), Joe Ingles (27), Donovan Mitchell (26) and Jordan Clarkson (25) all had 25-plus points for Utah, who have won six straight games.

Gobert also pulled down 12 rebounds in his double-double, while Ingles went seven-of-nine from three-point range, with the Jazz's 21-5 start their best 26-game record in franchise history.

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred for the Bucks with 29 points and 15 rebounds, but Milwaukee (16-10) slipped to back-to-back defeats.

The Lakers extended their winning streak to seven with a 115-105 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Anthony Davis (35 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) again led the way for the Lakers (21-6).

 

Mavs win fourth straight as Rozier shines for Hornets

The Dallas Mavericks won a fourth straight game with a 143-130 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Luka Doncic had a double-double of 46 points and 12 assists, while Kristaps Porzingis poured in 36 points. It marked the first time in NBA history a pair of foreign-born team-mates each had 35-plus points in a game, as per Stats Perform. Zion Williamson had 36 points for the Pelicans.

Terry Rozier's 41 points lifted the Charlotte Hornets past the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-114.

Kawhi Leonard posted 33 points as the Los Angeles Clippers improved to 19-8 with a 125-106 success over the Chicago Bulls.

Saddiq Bey had a double-double of 30 points and 12 rebounds in the Detroit Pistons' surprise 108-102 win against the Boston Celtics. He was the first Pistons rookie with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds since Grant Hill in 1995.

 

Misery for Wizards

The Washington Wizards dropped a second straight game, beaten by the New York Knicks 109-91. The Wizards shot at just 38.2 per cent from the field.

 

Porzingis in form

Porzingis went eight-of-13 from three-point range in the Mavericks' win, including hitting one from the logo.

Friday's results

Charlotte Hornets 120-114 Minnesota Timberwolves
New York Knicks 109-91 Washington Wizards
San Antonio Spurs 125-114 Atlanta Hawks
Dallas Mavericks 143-130 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Clippers 125-106 Chicago Bulls
Detroit Pistons 108-102 Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets 97-95 Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah Jazz 129-115 Milwaukee Bucks
Los Angeles Lakers 115-105 Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers 129-110 Cleveland Cavaliers
Orlando Magic 123-112 Sacramento Kings

 

76ers at Suns

The Philadelphia 76ers (18-8) take on a Phoenix Suns (15-9) team riding a four-game winning streak on Saturday.

Rick Carlisle praised Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis' "tremendous" chemistry after the Dallas Mavericks won a fourth straight game.

Doncic (46 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds) and Porzingis (36 points and seven rebounds) led the Mavericks past the New Orleans Pelicans 143-130 on Friday.

It marked the first time in NBA history a pair of foreign-born team-mates each had 35-plus points in a game, as per Stats Perform.

Carlisle hailed the pair after the Mavericks improved to 13-14 to sit 11th in the Western Conference.

"They're both great offensive players, they're both very unique, they fit together extremely well, their games complement one another extremely well," the Mavericks head coach told a news conference.

"The chemistry was tremendous. Balls were being delivered on time, on target, people stepping into shots in rhythm. It was great stuff to watch."

Despite their win, the Mavericks gave up 130 points to Zion Williamson (36) and the Pelicans.

While Carlisle knows what his offense is capable of, he is eager to see the defense improve.

"This is why I keep talking about defense and I know some of our guys are talking about defense. This kind of shot-making is great, is it always sustainable? Of course not. Not every team can keep up this kind of pace, but we'll certainly try.

"This is the reason you've got to have a defense that'll hold up on nights maybe when you don't have it going quite like this. With the way we can space the floor, the way we can penetrate the ball, the way we can shoot the ball, all those kinds of things, we're going to create our share of problems for teams with our offense.

"We've just got to keep working on the basics – transition, protecting the rim, closing out, contesting and rebounding, those are the main things."

Elina Svitolina said playing behind closed doors at the Australian Open felt "a bit disturbing" after having fans in attendance earlier in the week.

The Ukrainian fifth seed booked her spot in the fourth round in Melbourne with a 6-4 6-0 victory over Yulia Putintseva on Saturday.

But no fans were in attendance on Margaret Court Arena as Victoria started a five-day lockdown due to coronavirus.

Svitolina, who will face Jessica Pegula in the last 16, said she felt the difference.

"It was very different conditions. I played a night match at 7:00 with a good crowd. Now it was completely different. It was for sure a bit disturbing, I would say, in some ways sad," she told a news conference.

"But it is what it is. I had to accept. I had to have a good mindset, not thinking too much about that. I just tried to focus on my game."

Svitolina reached the fourth round in Melbourne for the third time in four years after mixing 18 winners with 20 unforced errors.

But the 26-year-old said the lack of fans meant the third-round encounter felt like a practice match.

"It feels like that. I actually had few thoughts about it today. It feels like this. I tried to convince myself that it's a grand slam and that we are playing an important match. I have to focus on my match," Svitolina said.

"But for sure there's some thoughts and there is I say some low moments that can sneak into the mind. It's what we have to deal with. I'm trying my best to do it."

Jordan Spieth continued his good recent form as a fast finish helped him into the lead at the halfway mark of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Spieth, who finished tied for fourth at the Phoenix Open last week, carded a five-under 67 on Spyglass Hill Golf Course in California on Friday.

The American started his second round on the back nine before four birdies on his final six holes lifted him into 12 under.

Spieth is winless since 2017, but the three-time major champion seems to be recapturing some form, with his 36-hole score of 132 his lowest on the PGA Tour since the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge.

The 2017 champion sits a shot ahead of Daniel Berger, who fired a six-under 66 on Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Henrik Norlander is at outright third at 10 under after shooting a 70 on Spyglass Hill.

Overnight leader Patrick Cantlay (73) slipped back into a tie for fourth alongside Tom Lewis (69) and Paul Casey (67), while Russell Knox (70) is at eight under.

Jason Day, runner-up in 2018, carded another 69 to be at six under, a shot behind Brian Stuard (71), Maverick McNealy (69), Cameron Percy (70), Nate Lashley (72), Tom Hoge (70) and Akshay Bhatia (73).

Day has endured a difficult start to the year, missing the cut in his two events to begin 2021.

Trevor Lawrence is confident the timeline for his recovery from surgery on a torn labrum will allow him to be back in time for his first NFL training camp.

Lawrence had a pro day at Clemson on Friday in which he threw for NFL teams ahead of April's draft, in which he is considered a lock to go number one to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He put himself through that workout, attended by Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, despite a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

Lawrence is now set to have surgery to correct that issue, but the prospect who is viewed by many as the best quarterback to come out of college since Andrew Luck in 2012 appears to have no concerns about being ready for training camp in July.

"Obviously, I've got to still continue talking to the doctors and see how the rehab goes, but I think I can throw in six-to-eight weeks after the surgery," he told ESPN. 

"And then looking at a four-to-five-month full clearance. But obviously, I'll be able to do stuff before then.

"But I'm just glad it's my non-throwing shoulder, so shouldn't be too bad. Just got to rehab really hard and work hard to get back.

"But I'm just excited to get that fixed and start that road to getting healthy."

Asked for his thoughts on his pro day, Lawrence replied: "I was pretty pleased with it.

"Obviously, like anything, you have some throws that you wish you could go back and hit a little bit better. But as a whole, I think it was a good day."

Novak Djokovic insists there is a real danger he may withdraw from the Australian Open, with an ultrasound on an abdominal injury planned for Saturday.

The eight-time champion at Melbourne Park pulled off a dramatic five-set win over American Taylor Fritz to reach round four, but it came at what could prove a high cost.

After battling through two tight sets to forge ahead in the match, Djokovic was jolted early in the third by a sudden "tear", as he put it.

Although painkillers allowed him to continue and fend off a Fritz comeback, the world number one might be advised by doctors that his race in Australia is run for this year.

He is due to face Milos Raonic on Sunday in round four, and the Canadian is a player that Djokovic holds an 11-0 winning career record against. This time Raonic could be gifted a walkover.

Explaining the injury blow, and what comes next, Djokovic said: "Everything was working fine for me, and then beginning of the third set I made this quick move on the return going to the forehand, rotating there, and I just felt a tear, I felt something happen.

"Went out for medical timeout when I was tested, evaluated. I have huge pain, I took the highest dose of anti-inflammatories possible.

"It did kick in end of fourth, beginning of the fifth when I actually started to move and I could actually start to rally with him from back of the court.

"Until that moment, it was only serve for me and kind of hoping and praying that I'm going to get an easy ball after my serve so I could just go for it. That's what I've done.

"I honestly don't know how I won this match. I'm very proud, at the same time sad and worried, because it's definitely something serious happening with my injury.

"I don't have much time to recover for the next match. Definitely not training tomorrow [Saturday]."

The 33-year-old Serbian would not want to risk worsening the problem, given he has plenty to play for over the rest of the year.

However, he is chasing grand slam success wherever he can get it, given he trails Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by three on the all-time list.

Djokovic's disqualification for hitting a ball that struck a line judge at the US Open last year was followed by defeat to Nadal in the French Open final, and now his luck may be out again.

Once the tests take place on Saturday, there should be a greater sense of clarity in Djokovic's mind.

Setting the scene for what should have been a relaxed day of practice but is now a crucial day in his championship, Djokovic stressed he hoped to be able to continue.

He said of his Saturday plan: "I'm coming here to evaluate more with the doctor and medical team, and do some ultrasound and understand what's really going on so that the doctor and medical team can prescribe best possible treatment and the only possible treatment that I could even have the slightest chance to go out in less than 48 hours."

Cal McNair still expects Deshaun Watson to remain the Houston Texans' quarterback despite continued talk over a potential blockbuster trade.

The Texans have been steadfast in their desire not to grant Watson's trade request, which came about as a result of frustration at the direction of the franchise and his lack of input in their search for a new head coach. David Culley eventually replaced Bill O'Brien.

However, the speculation has not died down and on Friday came reports that Watson has a list of teams by which he is intrigued.

The San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos are said to be on that list, along with the Miami Dolphins.

These latest reports came on the day that the Texans released three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, whom CEO McNair described as "unlike any player in our franchise’s history".

Asked about Watson by ESPN's Adam Schefter, McNair said: "There is a lot of misinformation out there, I'll leave it at that."

He added: "Today we want to focus on J.J. Deshaun. He is our quarterback, he is a Texan, and we expect him to remain a Texan. We'll leave it at that."

Watson, the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft, led the league in passing yards last season with 4,823.

He also averaged a league-high 8.9 yards-per-pass attempt, throwing a career-high 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions.

J.J. Watt's brilliant 10-year run with the Houston Texans has come to an end after the team released the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year on Friday. 

The decision came at Watt's request and continues an offseason of tremendous turmoil and upheaval for the Texans franchise.

The star defensive lineman, who turns 32 in March, had one year remaining on his contract and did not wish to be part of an extensive rebuild coming to a team that finished 4-12 in 2020. 

"The connection I have with the people of Houston is special, and I will never take that for granted because I know how rare it is. I just want you to know to know that I love you and I appreciate you," Watt told Texans fans in a social media message.

"I want to thank the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL.

"Thank you, Houston."

Watt had spent his entire NFL career with Houston after being selected by the Texans with the 10th overall pick of the 2011 draft, and his 101 sacks and 172 tackles for loss are far and away the most in team history. 

"Simply put, there has been no person in the past decade who has made a greater impact on the Texans organisation than J.J. Watt," Texans co-founder and Senior Chair Janice S. McNair said in a statement. "J.J.'s dominance on the field was unprecedented and resulted in countless moments that will go down in Texans history."

Watt earned his first NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season after recording a league-leading 20.5 sacks in 2012. He matched that total in 2014 while being named the NFL's top defender that season as well, then repeated the honour in 2015 after again leading the league with 17.5 sacks.

Injuries have lessened Watt's impact in recent years, however. He was limited to three games in 2016 by a herniated disc that required back surgery, and five in 2017 by a fractured left leg. The five-time first team All-Pro rebounded the following season with 16 sacks in 16 games, but missed eight games in 2019 after tearing his pectoral muscle.

Watt returned to play in all 16 games this past season and logged 52 tackles, five sacks and one interception.

The Wisconsin native is also renowned and lauded for his extensive charitable efforts in the Houston community. Watt was named the NFL's Man of the Year in 2017 after he raised over $40million through a social media fundraising effort to assist the city after it was struck by Hurricane Harvey.  

"Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love. J.J.'s impact on not only our organisation, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise's history," Texans CEO Cal McNair said.

"I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a 'see you soon'." 

Change has been rampant within the Texans' ranks ever since McNair fired coach and general manager Bill O'Brien in October following an 0-4 start. 

Houston hired former Patriots executive Nick Caserio to fill the GM role in January and tabbed ex-Ravens assistant David Culley to be their new head coach, though both moves were not without controversy. 

Deshaun Watson's lack of involvement in the hiring processes prompted the star quarterback to issue a trade request, and longtime team president Jamey Rootes resigned earlier this week to pursue outside opportunities.  

Fabien Galthie has promised France are prepared for whatever "chaos" they might encounter as they prepare to tackle Ireland in Dublin.

The thumping 50-10 win over Italy in Rome last week gave France a fast start to their Six Nations campaign, but they were always expected to win comfortably there, and taking on Ireland is a very different prospect.

Galthie has made two changes to his starting XV for Sunday's game, bringing in wing Damien Penaud and flanker Anthony Jelonch for Teddy Thomas and Dylan Cretin.

France are looking for back-to-back wins over Ireland in the Six Nations for the first time since 2010-11, having beaten them in Paris in October, but Les Bleus have lost five of the past seven encounters between the teams in the championship.

However, Galthie feels France are shaping up as an increasingly formidable force, saying: "You just have to look at the results. We won eight out of 10 matches."

The defeats in that sequence cited by Galthie came with 14 men at Murrayfield in last year's Six Nations, and in sudden death to England in the Autumn Nations Cup.

"In Scotland we lost following a red card and in London we lost in extra time. We are doing it the right way, we continue our march," Galthie said. "We will continue to make progress in many areas. We have a significant space for improvement.

"You have to be prepared for any challenge, anywhere and against anyone. You have to prepare to experience chaos with as much solidity as possible.

"This is what we prepare for without forgetting to face the unexpected."

Galthie believes Penaud may be an ideal physical fit for the task of stopping Ireland, and he said of Jelonch: "He has this ability to be tough in combat, moreover the more the intensity rises, the more he becomes dominant."

 

France: Brice Dulin, Damien Penaud, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Gabin Villiere, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Hassane Kolingar, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.

Novak Djokovic is unsure whether he will be able to play in the Australian Open fourth round after struggling with an abdominal injury in his five-set win over Taylor Fritz.

The world number one survived a huge injury scare to get past Fritz in the third round, winning 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic appeared to injure his abdominal region during the third set.

It was a match which started on Friday in front of a crowd and finished on Saturday without fans as Victoria went into a five-day lockdown.

Fritz appeared set to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time in his career, but Djokovic suddenly came to life in the fifth set.

Next up for Djokovic is Milos Raonic, who he has beaten in all 11 of their meetings, on Sunday.

But the Serbian is concerned by his injury and was unable to commit to saying he would be able to take to the court.

"I really don't know," Djokovic said when asked for his thoughts about facing Raonic.

"Right now, I know it's a tear, definitely, of the muscle so I don't know if I'll manage to recover from that in less than two days.

"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to step out on the court or not.

"I am very proud of this achievement. Let's see what happens."

Djokovic felt for American Fritz after his brave defeat and discussed what he had gone through during a contest lasting three hours and 25 minutes.

He continued: "I want to congratulate Taylor for a great fight. I'm sorry that he lost the match obviously.

"I don't know. I just tried to stay in there and I was hopeful that whatever is happening there is going to feel better.

"Towards the end of the fourth it started to feel better, third and fourth set I just served and couldn't do much on the return.

"I was just going for my shots, was hitting two first serves and it worked, it worked well.

"This is definitely one of the more special wins in my life. It doesn't matter what round it is and against who it is.

"Under these kinds of circumstances, to pull this through is definitely something I'll remember forever."

Novak Djokovic survived a huge injury scare to get past Taylor Fritz in the Australian Open third round - but his title defence could be in ruins.

The world number one and eight-time champion in Melbourne edged Fritz 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.

But the 17-time grand slam winner appeared to injure his abdominal region during the third set of the contest, which started on Friday in front of a crowd and finished on Saturday without fans as Victoria went into a five-day lockdown due to coronavirus concerns.

Fritz appeared set to reach the fourth round for the first time in his major career, but Djokovic suddenly came to life in the fifth set.

Next up for Djokovic is Milos Raonic, who he has beaten in all 11 of their meetings, but whether the Serbian is fit enough to play remains to be seen.

Djokovic told Eurosport he suspected he had suffered a torn muscle and that it was "in the clouds" whether he would be able to continue in the tournament.

Djokovic broke for 3-1 against Fritz and crucially dug himself out of a 15-40 hole in the seventh game, but a forehand into the net saw him fail to serve out the set.

Yet Djokovic was close to flawless in the tie-break, winning the first six points before closing it out, and then breaking to begin the second set.

That spurred Djokovic to win the second before the drama followed.

He took a medical timeout after the third game of the third set and then repeatedly required treatment on his abdominal region.

The injury seemed to be bothering Djokovic, who was broken after sending a forehand long in the eighth game, and Fritz closed out the set.

A struggling Djokovic was broken again in the third game of the fourth set before fans were forced to leave Rod Laver Arena ahead of restrictions being introduced in Victoria, but Fritz levelled the match.

Djokovic looked far healthier to begin the final set and he broke for 4-2 with a brilliant forehand winner after a baseline exchange, winning four straight games on his way to a post-midnight victory.

Data Slam: Djokovic's American dominance continues … just
Djokovic extended his winning streak against Americans at tour level to 17 matches. His last loss to an American opponent came against Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in 2016.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 52/53
Fritz – 62/45

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 15/5
Fritz – 24/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 4/9
Fritz – 3/12

Ireland will be without Johnny Sexton for Sunday's visit of France in the Six Nations after their captain suffered a blow to the head against Wales. 

Sexton underwent return-to-play protocols after the incident in the loss but has not been cleared to play. 

The news comes after Sexton hit out at a French doctor who claimed the fly-half had suffered approximately 30 concussions in his career, with neurologist Dr Jean-Francois Chermann subsequently apologising. 

Billy Burns will start instead for Andy Farrell's side, who lost 21-16 in Cardiff, with Jamison Gibson-Park also in the XV as scrum-half Conor Murray sits it out with a hamstring injury. 

The captain's armband goes to Iain Henderson for the first time, with the suspended Peter O'Mahony replaced by Rhys Ruddock following his red card in the Welsh capital. 

James Ryan also sustained a blow to the head in that game and, like Sexton, will be absent this weekend.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Billy Burns, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson; Rhys Ruddock, Josh Van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Will Connors, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.

 

Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza set up a blockbuster clash at the Australian Open, while Aryna Sabalenka cannot wait to face Serena Williams.

As Williams was tested before winning through, Osaka and Muguruza raced through their third-round outings in Melbourne on Friday.

Osaka and Muguruza dropped just seven games between them to set up what will be their first meeting, which will take place without fans in attendance as Victoria prepares to move into a five-day lockdown beginning on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns.

Sabalenka also progressed and will next face Williams, while Simona Halep cruised through.

 

OSAKA, MUGURUZA STORM THROUGH

Osaka, the three-time grand slam champion, brushed past fellow seed Ons Jabeur 6-3 6-2 in the third round.

The Japanese star, winner of the Australian Open in 2019, is looking forward to facing fellow major champion Muguruza.

"I've practised with her once, but it was on grass, and I was younger. It was maybe like a couple years ago," Osaka said.

"But I just remember being really impressed by her, and for me, I've watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open when I was younger, and I've always wanted to have the chance to play her. So for me, this is really exciting."

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's strong start to the Australian Open continued with a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Zarina Diyas.

"I don't think we've played each other before. Just looking forward for a fourth round, a good fourth round, playing the top players," Muguruza – who has lost just 10 games in the first three rounds – said ahead of facing Osaka. "I feel like that's always the right way, you know, a good sign. Just expecting a good match."

 

JOB DONE FOR SERENA

Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title remains on track after overcoming Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

In her 101st Australian Open match, Williams secured her 90th career victory in Melbourne. The 39-year-old also improved her overall slam record to 360-51 – Martina Navratilova (306-49) is the only other player to pass 300 wins in the Open Era.

Next up for Williams is Sabalenka, who was too good for Ann Li, winning 6-3 6-1 to reach a major fourth round for just the second time in her career and first in Melbourne.

The Belarusian seventh seed is not daunted by the task facing her when she meets the American for the first time.

"I want to get this thrill. Can I say thrill? I said it right. So it's going to be a thrill. But, yeah. I'm going to do everything I can," Sabalenka said.

 

HALEP THROUGH AS SEEDS CRUISE

Halep reached the fourth round in Melbourne for the sixth time with a convincing 6-1 6-3 win over Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Awaiting the two-time major winner in the fourth round is Iga Swiatek after the Polish 15th seed got past Fiona Ferro 6-4 6-3.

Swiatek thrashed Halep 6-1 6-2 on her way to the French Open title last year.

Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time after beating Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-4.

Up next for the Czech 19th seed is Hsieh Su-wei, who battled past Sara Errani 6-4 2-6 7-5 after two hours and 44 minutes.

Errani had won her previous three meetings with Hsieh in straight sets, including winning a set 6-0 - known as a 'bagel' in tennis parlance - in each of those victories.

It meant Hsieh, 35, had a simple plan against the Italian.

"I don't remember when I lose to someone but someone reminded me I eat the bagel every time so I said, 'Okay, I will try to not take any bagel today'," she said.

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