A’ja Wilson, center, of the Las Vegas Aces, led the team to an 18-4 record and the top seed in the upcoming WNBA playoffs. She was named AP Player of the Year on Tuesday. Mike Carlson/Associated Press

A’ja Wilson has been the cornerstone of the Las Vegas franchise since she was drafted and took her game to another level this season, earning her The Associated Press WNBA player of the year honors. The former No. 1 overall pick three years ago led the Aces to an 18-4 record during the shortened season and the top seed in the WNBA playoffs that begin Tuesday in Bradenton, Florida.

“She knows who she is, she knows where she’s going,” said Las Vegas Coach Bill Laimbeer. “She knows that she’s in charge, and she’s responsible for our team. She has taken this upon her shoulders.”

The 6-foot-4 Wilson, who turned 24 last month, averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocks this year for the Aces and views herself as a more all-around player now.

“I feel like I’m a more complete player now then when I first got into the league,” Wilson said in an online interview. “Even when I may not be shooting the ball well, I can find other ways to help my team win.”

Alyssa Thomas had 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, DeWanna Bonner added 23 points and 12 boards, and the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun beat the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky 94-81 in the opening game of the playoffs.

Connecticut will play either third-seeded Los Angeles or No. 4 seed Minnesota on Thursday in another single-elimination round.

TENNIS

ITALIAN OPEN: Novak Djokovic’s first match since being defaulted from the U.S. Open will come against local wild-card entry Salvatore Caruso in the second round of the Italian Open.

The 87th-ranked Caruso defeated American qualifier Tennys Sandgren 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) Tuesday in the opening round at the empty Foro Italico, where fans are being kept away because of the coronavirus pandemic. Caruso saved a match point late in the third set before closing it out after nearly three hours on a steamy 32 degree Celsius (90 degree F) day.

The top-ranked Djokovic, who had a first-round bye, said Monday that he learned “a big lesson” after he was thrown out of the tournament in New York for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic beat Caruso in straight sets in their only career meeting in the third round of last year’s French Open.

In other matches on Rome’s red clay, U.S. Open quarterfinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov both won in straight sets. Also, Argentine qualifier Federico Coria, the younger brother of 2005 Rome runner-up Guillermo Coria, beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 7-6 (5). Coria will next face local favorite Matteo Berrettini, the No. 4 seed.

In the women’s tournament, Katerina Siniakova rolled past three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1; and last year’s French Open finalist, Markéta Vondroušová, held off a comeback from Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Also, Coco Gauff won her first Tour-level match on clay, sliding into her shots like a veteran in beating 34th-ranked Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3. But the 16-year-old American also hit three consecutive double-faults to hand back an early break in the second set before regaining her composure to seal the victory in 1 hour, 21 minutes.

Gauff said she had good results on clay as a junior and noted that she spends a lot of time on the surface at the French academy run by Patrick Mouratoglu, Serena Williams’ coach.

“I’ve been going there since I was 10,” Gauff said. “So I’m quite used to the red clay.”

AUTO RACING

NASCAR: Daniel Suarez, who landed a ride two weeks before the season-opening Daytona 500, will not return to Gaunt Brothers Racing next season and is seeking a new team for the third time in three years.

Gaunt Brothers said Tuesday it was a mutual decision for the Mexican driver to leave the team. Suarez will finish the year in the No. 96 Toyota Camry.

“I’m extremely thankful to my entire Toyota family for everything they have done for me, especially this year,” Suarez said. “I will always be grateful to them for having my back.”

Suarez has struggled with Gaunt Brothers, which is in its first full season of Cup competition. The team failed to make the Daytona 500 and Suarez is ranked 31st in the standings.

INDYCAR: Sebastien Bourdais will return to IndyCar with A.J. Foyt Racing in a full-time job for 2021 that begins with the final three races of this season.

Bourdais, a four-time champion, had been scheduled to split the No. 14 at Foyt this season with both Tony Kanaan and rookie Dalton Kellett. The schedule was decimated by the pandemic so Bourdais, who was supposed to drive the first three races of the season, has yet to turn a lap in competition.

“We waited with anticipation for most of 2020 to put together a deal for 2021,” Bourdais said Tuesday. “I’m really happy that I’m running the last three races of the year – it is great for us to get an early start on next year.”

Bourdais is currently in his native France preparing to run the 24 Hours of LeMans this weekend. He scrambled to put together a sports car schedule this season when he learned late last year that Dale Coyne Racing was not bringing him back for 2020.

CYCLING

TOUR de FRANCE: German rider Lennard Kamna won the first Alpine stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday after pulling clear of a group of breakaway riders on his way to the ski resort of Villard-de-Lans.

The 24-year-old Kamna, who rides for the Bora-hansgrohe team, made his decisive move on the penultimate ascent to drop former race leader Julian Alaphilippe, Richard Carapaz and Sebastien Reichenbach, three rivals with a strong pedigree.

The favorites for the overall title, including yellow jersey Primoz Roglic, rode in the peloton some 15 minutes behind Kamna, who was not a threat in the general classification.

Kamna was part of a group of 15 riders who broke away from the peloton early in the 164-kilometer (102-mile) trek.

Among them, Frenchman Quentin Pacher also tried a solo escape but his effort was short lived as he was easily caught and then dropped by Alaphilippe, Carapaz, Reichenbach and Kamna. Carapaz, the Giro d’Italia champion, made Alaphilippe and Reichenbach crack with a couple of biting attacks but could not respond when Kamna countered before the summit.

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