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Update January 2018


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Update January 13-14, 2018

Asia leads Europe by 1 point after first day of EurAsia Cup

Li Haotong of China watches his shot on the 8th hole during the four-ball matches of the 2018 EurAsia Cup golf tournament at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Friday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) — Asia bucked the odds and led defending champions Europe 3 1/2 to 2 1/2 after the opening day of the EurAsia Cup on Friday.

With Asia holding the lead on a day of constant drizzle, Li Haotong earned the biggest cheer for the men in red after he birdied the final hole of the final fourball match for he and Nicholas Fung to force a draw against Europe's Bernd Wiesberger and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Asia seeks its first win in the third EurAsia Cup.

"I don't want to ever sound cocky with a team like Europe, and I'm not going to get cocky, but it's a great start," Asia captain Arjun Atwal said.

"I noticed that every single pairing was comfortable with each other. That was my main goal this week, to just go out there and have fun."

Asia trailed heavily on the first day of the previous competitions in 2014 and 2016, and lost the first match at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club when Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat and An Byeong-hun 4 and 3.

But the Asians leveled through Kang Sung-hoon and Poom Saksansin, who overcame Henrik Stenson and Alexander Levy 5 and 4.

Kang and Poom started with eight successive birdies and went five up in the first seven holes. They secured victory on the 14th hole to send a surge of confidence through the Asian team.

Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green kept up the momentum to beat Thomas Pieters and Thomas Fitzpatrick 2 and 1.

Green, who clinched the Asian Tour Order of Merit last month, clinched the match with two birdie putts in the final three holes to give Asia its second point.

Europe drew level when Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton brushed aside S.S.P. Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri 5 and 4.

But Asia went back in front thanks to Hideto Tanihara and teenager Phachara Khongwatmai, who beat Alex Noren and Paul Dunne by two holes.

Captain Thomas Bjorn promised Europe will return stronger in the six foursome matches on Saturday.

"I suspect that we'll go out tomorrow and be ready to play, and foursomes is a very different game," Bjorn said.

"We feel like we knew we could find ourselves in this position, and we knew this Asian team is very strong and very much ready to play."


Billie Jean King backs calls to rename Margaret Court Arena

Billie Jean King, former ladies singles champion holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup during a press conference ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia Friday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

John Pye

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — Billie Jean King thinks one of the main venues at the Australian Open should be renamed because of Margaret Court's comments about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

King, a trailblazer for equality and diversity in tennis, said she had initially been a proponent of having Margaret Court Arena named in 2003 in recognition of the 24-time Grand Slam singles winner's contribution to the sport.

"I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community — I'm a gay woman — about the LBGTIQ community," King said at news conference Friday. "That really went deep in my heart and soul.

"I personally don't think she should have (her name on the stadium) anymore."

King is attending the Australian Open for the first time in eight years, marking the 50th anniversary of her win over Court for the Australian title.

King said if she was still competing, she wouldn't play on Margaret Court Arena. King said she wouldn't promote a boycott of the stadium, but encouraged players to "seek their own heart and mind" before making a decision.

Organizers have recognized the American tennis great as the Australian Open Woman of the Year and launched its "Open4All" initiative to promote equality, diversity and inclusion to coincide with King's visit.

King, one of the original professionals in women's tennis and winner of 12 major singles titles in the Open era, said she had regularly met with Court at tournaments in the years since they retired after "we grew up together playing each other."

The 75-year-old Court, who holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles across the amateur and Open eras, is a Christian pastor who lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Court's negative comments about gay people before Australia voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage were heavily criticized last year. Court also has called transgender children the work of "the devil."

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles winner, wrote an open letter last year criticizing Court and recommended that tennis officials rename the arena after another Australian great, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

King said she lobbied on Court's behalf after Melbourne Park's center court was named for Rod Laver in 2000. Her show court was recently upgraded to add a roof and bigger capacity.

Court is a regular at the event, but is not attending this year's Australian Open, which starts Monday.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said Court had a standing invitation to the season-opening major, and would be welcome in the future as she had been in the past.

He said there had been "conversation" among stakeholders of Melbourne Park regarding the issue, but there was no process in place to change the name of the stadium. He said Tennis Australia — a tenant at the venue — would take the lead of the government on the issue.

In 2006, the U.S. Tennis Association named the site of the U.S. Open, located in a public park in New York, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

King said she wished Court was in Melbourne so they could continue the conversation.

"You can have discussion around it. I would be very welcome to Margaret," the 74-year-old King said. "It's really important if you're going to have your name on anything that you're hospitable, you're inclusive, you open your arms to everyone that comes. It's a public facility."


Russian skier waits for Olympic invite in clean Alpine team

Russia's Pavel Trikhichev competes during the first portion of an alpine ski men's World Cup combined race in Wengen, Switzerland, Friday, Jan.12. (AP Photo/Shin Tanaka)

Graham Dunbar

Wengen, Switzerland (AP) — Placing second in a World Cup race on Friday, unheralded Russian skier Pavel Trikhichev looked a candidate for an Olympic medal next month.

Now he needs the International Olympic Committee to let him try.

Four weeks before the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Games, an IOC panel is assessing which Russians to invite that have not been tainted by doping and the 2014 Sochi Olympic scandal.

Trikhichev said after his career-best result he will be good to go to South Korea.

"It's not possible to have doping in Alpine skiing," Trikhichev said in English at a news conference after being runner-up in an Alpine combined event at storied Swiss venue Wengen.

He meant that technical skills demanded by his sport could not be gained with chemical help.

"So I am sure Russian (Alpine) athletes are totally clear," said Trikhichev, whose more famous teammate Alexander Khoroshilov has been an elite slalom racer for four years.

The Sochi scandal led the IOC to disqualify 43 Russian athletes for links to a state-backed doping program for their home Winter Games. No Alpine skier has been implicated, and 42 appeal cases are being processed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport this month.

Still, the weight of cases in cross-country skiing, biathlon, bobsled, luge, skeleton, women's ice hockey and speed skating has left Alpine skiers like Trikhichev at risk of missing the Olympics.

The IOC panel has not detailed every criteria for joining the "Olympic Athlete from Russia" team.

Trikhichev suggested Friday each athlete should have passed at least five doping controls in the past year.

"I have for the last half-year (done) eight doping tests so it's no question for me," said the 25-year-old racer, who joined the international World Cup circuit in 2013. "We should wait for (a) decision from IOC."

The IOC has promised to publish the official OAR team list before the Jan. 28 entry deadline.

Raising his sights after Friday's race, won by Frenchman Victor Muffat-Jeandet, Trikhichev said he will now target top-10 finishes instead of top 15.

His previous best World Cup result was 16th, in giant slalom, and his best in four Sochi Olympic events was 24th in super-combined.

"I do my job," he told international media. "I am concentrating on World Cup and not Olympics because Olympics is so far (away) still."


Angelique Kerber wins 8th match in a row, into Sydney final

Angelique Kerber of Germany celebrates her win over Camila Giorgi of Italy in their women's semifinal singles match at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Sydney (AP) — Angelique Kerber won her eighth consecutive match of the new season, coming from 3-1 down in the final set to beat qualifier Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3 to reach the Sydney International final on Friday.

Kerber, a former No. 1 and the 2016 Australian Open champion, won all four singles at the Hopman Cup and now all four in Sydney en route to the final.

She will face Ashleigh Barty, who beat Australian compatriot Daria Gavrilova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the other semifinal.

In a match that included 11 breaks of serve, Barty needed just one in the third set.

"It's nice getting a bit of confidence going into our biggest tournament for us," Barty said of next week's Australian Open.

Gavrilova's frustration with her serving were evident in the ninth game of the set when, soon after leveling at 4-4, she double-faulted twice and received a code violation for smashing her racket.

In men's semifinals, Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev booked a spot in the final by upsetting fourth-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Medvedev will next play Australian 18-year-old Alex de Minaur, who defeated Benoit Paire of France 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.

The 167th-ranked de Minaur, who will play his first ATP Tour final on Saturday, advanced to the Brisbane International semifinals last week.


Update January 12, 2018

Federer, Djokovic drawn in same half for Australian Open

Defending men's singles champion Switzerland's Roger Federer prepares to serve during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia Thursday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

John Pye

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — Roger Federer found himself in a slightly awkward position before the Australian Open draw.

Just being there.

A few minutes later when the formalities were completed, Federer found out how difficult defending his title could be after landing in the same half as six-time champion Novak Djokovic.

"This is not normal," Federer told a crowd of hundreds of fans before the draw on Thursday at Margaret Court Arena. "I don't like usually going to draws because they freak me out. I don't want to know who I play other than just seeing the sheet at the end and knowing who my first-round opponent is."

First up, the 36-year-old Swiss will play Ajaz Bedene of Slovenia. He also has No. 7-ranked David Goffin, Juan Martin del Potro, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic in his quarter.

There's a potential semifinal against Djokovic, who is aiming for a record seventh Australian Open title but is seeded 14th as he returns from six months on the sidelines with a right elbow injury.

Djokovic is in the same quarter as the Zverev brothers — fourth-seeded Alexander could meet older brother and No. 32-seeded Mischa in the third round — 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, and No. 5 Dominic Thiem.

Federer beat Rafael Nadal in the final here last year on his return from six months on the sidelines and is seeded No. 2 as he bids for a 20th Grand Slam singles title.

Djokovic had a contrasting 2017, starting at No. 2 but losing in a second-round upset at the Australian Open and not playing again after Wimbledon. It was the first year since 2009 that Djokovic didn't reach at least one Grand Slam final. He delayed his return until two exhibition appearances this week.

Top-ranked Nadal will open against Victor Estrella Burgos, has a potential fourth-round match against John Isner, and No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov in his half of the draw. He followed his run to the final in Melbourne by winning the French Open and U.S. Open, splitting the Grand Slam honors with Federer for the year.

Serena Williams has opted not to defend her title four months after giving birth to her first child, leaving the women's draw open.

Her sister Venus, who lost the all-Williams Australian Open final last year, has a tough opener against Belinda Bencic — who combined with Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland last week — and is also in the same quarter as U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens.

Top-ranked Simona Halep opens against Australian wild card Destanee Aiava, has a potential second-round match against 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, and is in the same half as Garbine Muruguza, the Wimbledon champion.

Third-seeded Muguruza is in a difficult quarter containing former Australian Open champions Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber, and U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian title and reached three other finals at Melbourne Park, missed last year's tournament during a 15-month suspension after a failed doping test here in 2016.

The five-time major winner finished 2017 ranked No. 60, meaning she missed out on a seeding for the Australian Open and could face 2016 champion Kerber in the third round.

"There's no easy way to get to the top," Sharapova told the crowd at Margaret Court Arena before the draw. "You always have to beat the top players in order to get to the top."

Organizers defended the decision to invite Sharapova to appear as the representative for the women's draw, with tournament director Craig Tiley saying the sanction was over and the 30-year-old Russian was there as a former champion.

Sharapova said after a long time out she had to be patient coming back to the tour, but was still confident of returning to the top ranking and winning major tournaments.

"The drive, I still have it. I certainly will hope I put myself in that position," Sharapova said. "I put a lot of expectations on myself because I have been there, and I have delivered in those moments. I expect to continue to do so."


Sainz wins stage, reduces Peterhansel's lead in Dakar Rally

Driver Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz, both of Spain, race their Peugeot during the 6th stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally between Arequipa, Peru, and La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Jan. 11. (Andres Stapff/Pool Photo via AP)

La Paz, Bolivia (AP) — Spaniard Carlos Sainz won the sixth stage of the Dakar Rally on Thursday, putting a small dent in the overall lead of his Peugeot teammate Stephane Peterhansel of France.

Sainz finished the 313-kilometer (194-mile) stage between Arequipa, Peru, and the Bolivian capital of La Paz in 2 hours, 57 minutes, 36 seconds - finishing 4 minutes, 6 seconds ahead of second-place Peterhansel.

The overall lead of defending champion Peterhansel is now 27:10, with Sainz in second place and Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke in third, 1.20:41 off the pace, at the wheel of his Toyota.

In the motorbike race, Honda rider Kevin Benavides of Argentina has the overall lead after finishing second, 30 seconds behind stage winner Frenchman Antoine Meo, riding a KTM.

Benavides is now 1:57 ahead of fifth-stage leader Adrien van Beveren. The French Yamaha rider lost time with a fifth-place finish in La Paz.

The Dakar Rally will have a rest day on Friday, before resuming with stage 7 on Saturday from La Paz to Uyuni, Bolivia.


LeBron James, Cavs routed again, Raptors romp 133-99

Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright goes up for a basket past Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade and guard Isaiah Thomas during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 11, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto (AP) — LeBron James and the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers absorbed their most-lopsided loss of the season when they were routed by the Toronto Raptors 133-99 on Thursday night.

The Cavaliers have dropped six of eight dating to a Christmas Day loss at defending champion Golden State. James scored 26 points in this loss, while Isaiah Thomas missed his first 11 shots.

After losing to Minnesota 127-99 on Monday night, the Cavaliers fell by an even bigger margin. Toronto's 133 points were the most by any Cleveland opponent this season, and marked the third straight game that Cleveland has allowed at least 127.

Fred VanVleet scored a career-high 22 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and a season-high 18 rebounds and the Raptors overcame the absences of two starters.

C.J.Miles scored 16 points, Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell each had 14 and DeMar DeRozan 13 for the Raptors, who were without point guard Kyle Lowry (bruised tailbone) and forward Serge Ibaka (suspension).

CELTICS 114, 76ERS 103

LONDON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds and Boston overcame a 22-point deficit to beat Philadelphia in the eighth NBA game played in England.

Jaylen Brown added 21 points, and Marcus Morris had 19 points and eight rebounds to help the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics extend their winning streak to seven games.

JJ Redick had 22 points and hit five 3-pointers for Philadelphia, but the 76ers were unable to take advantage of their fast start as the Celtics' NBA-best defense tightened at O2 Arena.

Joel Embiid had 16 points, and fellow All-Star hopeful Ben Simmons added 15 for the 76ers.


Wierer wins biathlon WCup, Crawford claims first podium

Dorothea Wierer of Italy competes during the women's 15 km individual competition at the biathlon World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Ruhpolding, Germany (AP) — Italian biathlete Dorothea Wierer shot cleanly to win the women's 15-kilometer individual race for her first World Cup win of the season on Thursday.

Wierer finished in 41 minutes, 29.0 seconds, beating Kaisa Makarainen of Finland - who missed one target on her 35th birthday - by 12.7 seconds and Rosanna Crawford of Canada by 21.2.

"I felt really confident about my shooting in the last weeks," said Wierer, whose last win was at Canmore, Canada in February 2016.

Crawford also shot cleanly as she claimed her first ever podium place.

"Not something I was really expecting this season," the Canadian said.

Ukrainians Yuliia Dzhima and Valj Semerenko finished fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Darya Domracheva.

Belarus teammate Nadezhda Skardino's seventh place was enough to win the individual crystal globe after her first place in Ostersund, Sweden.

"It was my dream, and now it's one dream less in my life," Skardino said. "I'm very happy."

Overall World Cup leader Anastasiya Kuzmina finished ninth, 1:32.3 behind with three missed targets.

After 11 races, Makarainen cut the Slovakian biathlete's lead to 25 points with 11 events to go.

Makarainen was presented with a small cake and urged to make a wish for her birthday as she blew out the candle.

"Can anybody guess what it might be?" the Finn joked.

Kuzmina leads on 454 points, ahead of Makarainen on 429 and Wierer on 378.


Update January 11, 2018

Peterhansel extends lead in Dakar; Loeb, Villas-Boas out

Driver Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret, both of France, race their Peugeot during the 5th of the 2018 Dakar Rally between San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 10. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Arequipa, Peru (AP) — Stephane Peterhansel extended his overall lead of the Dakar Rally after winning the fifth stage on Wednesday.

The Frenchman, a 13-time Dakar champion in all categories, won the 266-kilometer (165-mile) stage between San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa in Peru in 2 hours, 51 minutes, 19 seconds.

Peterhansel's Peugeot teammate, Sebastien Loeb, was forced to abandon the race after an injury to co-pilot Daniel Elena.

Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke of Toyota finished the stage 4:52 behind Peterhansel.

In the overall classification, Peterhansel leads Peugeot's Carlos Sainz, who ended fourth on Wednesday, by 31:16.

Ten Brinke is 1:15:16 behind Peterhansel.

Earlier Wednesday, soccer coach Andre Villas-Boas abandoned the race. The former Porto, Chelsea and Tottenham manager, who was making his debut in the rally, felt back pains after his car crashed against a sand dune in the fourth stage.

In the motorbike race, Spain's Joan Barreda Bort of Honda clocked 3:19:42 to win the stage, but Frenchman Adrien van Beveren of Yahama still leads the overall classification despite a disappointing fifth place on Wednesday. Honda rider Kevin Benavides of Argentina is 1 minute behind Van Beveren after five stages.

In the truck race, defending champion Eduard Nikolaev won the stage in 3:37:12. The Kamaz driver leads the overall classification by 58:05 over Federico Villagra of De Rooy.

The rally leaves Peru and enters Bolivia on Thursday, bound to the country's capital La Paz.


Wenger manages Arsenal in cup semi while sitting with media

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, center, looks out from the press box during the English League Cup semifinal, first leg, soccer match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Wednesday, Jan. 10. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Rob Harris

London (AP) — Cramped into the Stamford Bridge media tribune was an unfamiliar occupant leaping to his feet, bellowing disapproval and kicking seats in frustration.

It's not surprising Arsene Wenger was so exacerbated. After all, he was managing Arsenal in a League Cup semifinal.

Wenger was forced a dozen rows back from the Arsenal bench at Chelsea on Wednesday while serving the second game of a three-match touchline ban for misconduct toward a referee.

Wenger was more animated at times than his team on the pitch as the strain of playing five games in around two weeks caught up on both teams as they labored to a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

The London rivals only met a week ago, although that draw was a 2-2 Premier League thriller. And they will face off again in two weeks to complete the League Cup semifinal at the Emirates Stadium when Wenger is due to be back in the dugout.

While Chelsea's Antonio Conte was in the customary managerial position patrolling the touchline on Wednesday, with his players close by to receive direct instructions, Wenger was reduced to occasional exacerbated shouts.

For once the media didn't have to strain to listen to Wenger's howls. Every groan and muttered remark was in full earshot, every shake of the head clear to see and the benches reverberated from his kicks.

"What?!" Wenger shouted after Chelsea were awarded a free kick in the first half when Eden Hazard went down under Hector Bellerin's challenge. The French manager sprung out of his seat at the start of the second half when Danny Welbeck was penalized for fouling Moses.

And for the manager who bemoaned last week that "referees get away" without facing English press criticism, his targets were at close quarters. Not that Wenger interacted with the media during the game, while flanked by a security guard and coach Jens Lehmann at the end of a long row of seats.

"It was frustrating," Wenger said later in the media room. "But the position was quite interesting because I was close to the bench and not too high up."

If the sight of Wenger watching his own team play from the press box was unusual, so too was Alexis Sanchez being on the bench.

Wenger's biggest call came before the match — dropping his star forward and only sending down instructions in the second half for the Chilean to be brought on.

It was a decision, Wenger insisted, that had nothing to do with Sanchez being targeted by Manchester City in the January transfer window.

"The team selection had nothing to do with the transfer market," said Wenger, who has been willing to sell defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin to Valencia this week.

Sanchez can leave for free when his contract expires in June.

"I want him to stay for longer," Wenger said, optimistically trying to avoid being drawn into a discussion over a potential sale.

Would Sanchez have made the difference on the pitch from the start? Both teams were lacking the attacking sting to find a breakthrough in this stalemate.

Chelsea did look more likely to take the lead but were wasteful twice with headers. At the end of the first half, Fabregas nodded tamely straight at Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. Midway through the second half, Andreas Christiansen headed off target.

"We must be more clinical," said Conte, whose side also drew 0-0 at second-tier Norwich in the FA Cup on Saturday. "We have to improve with all the players, not only the strikers.

"When you have the chance, you have to score."

There was a blow for Arsenal when Jack Wilshere, who was handed the captain's armband to cap a recent resurgence in an injury-blighted career, limped off after spraining his left ankle.

"It's a shame to lose him when he's in such good form," Wenger said. "It was by blocking a shot that turned his ankle. It was his good ankle."

Wenger said Wilshere will miss Sunday's Premier League game against Bournemouth. The midfielder could be back for the final part of January's Arsenal-Chelsea trilogy on Jan. 24.

"To play three times in three weeks (against Arsenal) is very strange," Conte said. "But it's simpler to prepare the game because you know the team."

The League Cup is the only domestic competition Wenger hasn't won in more than 21 years at Arsenal. It also offers his only prospect of domestic silverware this season, since Arsenal's FA Cup defence ended at the first hurdle at Nottingham Forest on Sunday and the team are sixth in the Premier League.


Djokovic returns from injury layoff with dominating win

Novak Djokovic. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Justin Bergman

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic played his first competitive match in six months on Wednesday, a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Dominic Thiem at the Kooyong Classic. He couldn't have been happier — or more impressive.

It was apparent early on that Djokovic was back to full court fitness. He stopped quickly, abruptly changed directions and stabbed at a full-stretch volley that whizzed past Thiem for a winner.

He then turned and beamed. Djokovic was back after the longest injury layoff of his career and he was clearly enjoying himself on the court again.

Wearing a compression sleeve on his right arm to protect his troublesome elbow, Djokovic dominated the fifth-ranked Thiem in an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic, a key tune-up event for next week's Australian Open.

Still smiling afterward, Djokovic said he'd had doubts whether he'd be ready to play the first Grand Slam of the year, but the win over Thiem was a major confidence boost.

"Obviously, I was waiting for this moment for six months to get out on the court and play a match," he said. "Also, I got a great opponent today, the No. 5 in the world, so it was a fantastic test for me to see where I am."

Djokovic, who had been sidelined with the elbow injury since a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon last year, initially planned to play in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi and then a tournament in Qatar to start the season, but withdrew from both due to lingering pain in his elbow.

He still traveled to Melbourne hoping to be fit to play in the Australian Open, where he's won six of his 12 career Grand Slam titles. Despite playing pain-free on Wednesday, he said he's still taking it "day by day."

"I don't want to be over-confident," he said. "Obviously, I'm very, very happy with the way it went today, but I don't want to say it's 100 percent. I'll say that when I start a tournament and when I get to actually feel that it's 100 percent. For now, I'm in the (Australian Open) and let's hope with God's grace that everything will be fine in the next five days."

Djokovic displayed few signs of rust after his lengthy time away from the game, hitting penetrating groundstrokes deep into the corners, moving extremely well and volleying with precision.

He also unveiled a more compact service motion intended to put less pressure on his elbow that resulted in three aces in a single game against Thiem in the first set.

Perhaps the biggest change was his more relaxed mood on the court — a major contrast to his demeanor during his recent slump from late 2016 to mid-2017 when he struggled in the majors and lost his No. 1 ranking.

Freshly confident, Djokovic will now head to Melbourne Park with the aim of replicating Roger Federer's feat at last year's Australian Open, when the Swiss star returned from his own six-month injury layoff and surprisingly won the title.

"Luckily for me, I'm here," Djokovic said. "So glad to be back and so nice to start in a country and a city where I have the greatest memories."


Celtics, 76ers meet in London as NBA plays again in England

In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) shoots against Utah Jazz's Ekpe Udoh during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Sam Johnston

London (AP) — When the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers play Thursday in London, they'll both be looking to leave a mark on the league's global stage.

For the teams, that's the obvious payoff.

It'll also provide a reminder of the league's future.

A number of the players — including Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid — set to take the court at the O2 Arena are also likely to appear in February's All-Star Game, some surely going to be bolstered by votes they get from those fans in London and watching worldwide. And the amount of young talent that will be on display makes this the most hotly anticipated matchup of the eight regular-season games that have taken place in England.

"I'm appreciative of all fan votes. I'm just a fan of basketball, a fan of sport and now I get to mark off my bucket of playing at the O2 Arena," said Irving, who is averaging 24.1 points per game to lead the Celtics to a 33-10 start and the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I can't wait for that experience and to have the opportunity to come here to Europe and especially London and to grow the game of basketball for the NBA."

After the first round of fan voting for this season's All-Star starters, which NBA followers from all over the world can participate in online, Irving led his nearest challenger among Eastern Conference guards by more than 500,000 votes, leaving him all but assured of a starting spot in Los Angeles on Feb. 18.

While the Celtics have exceeded expectations after losing free-agency acquisition Gordon Hayward to a horrific ankle injury on the opening night of the season, the 76ers have struggled to maintain consistency.

Still, Philadelphia (19-19) is very much in contention for a playoff berth, a marked improvement on recent years. The team's development plan, or "The Process" as it was known, is finally bearing fruit.

A healthy Embiid is the main reason why.

Drafted in 2014, Embiid missed his first two NBA seasons with foot injuries and managed just 31 games last season. Thursday will be his 30th appearance this season and he is averaging 23.8 points per game.

The gregarious 23-year-old is third among Eastern Conference forwards in fan voting, but he is aware a big performance in London could elevate his chances of holding onto his spot.

"I'm a winner, I'm competitive but at the same time it's also for the fans," Embiid said. "I want to have fun, I always do have fun on the court and then I play better when I have fun. I'm going to play team basketball and try to put on a show too."

Another factor in the 76ers' improvement has been the play of Ben Simmons.

The 21-year-old Australian point-forward, a leading rookie of the year candidate, could also become an All-Star.

"That would be amazing," said Simmons, who's currently just under 50,000 votes off a starting place. "I honestly don't know what I would say about that but it would just be amazing. I'd be blessed."

The next voting update comes out following Thursday's game, with polls closing Monday.

However, 76ers coach Brett Brown said whether Simmons or Embiid is voted into the All-Star game really won't prove anything.

"There's a difference between popular and championships and that's my version of a star," Brown said. "Are you able to get your teams to win and win championships? This is the challenge, for Ben and Joel, that's my mission for them."

The good thing for Embiid and Simmons, they could do both.


WWE wants UFC star Rousey to jump from octagon to ring

 

Ronda Rousey. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Dan Gelston

Los Angeles (AP) - UFC star Ronda Rousey's next fight could come in a WWE ring.

WWE executive Paul Levesque, better known as wrestling superstar Triple H, had dinner with Rousey in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, again fueling speculation that UFC's biggest female star could leave the octagon for a career in sports entertainment.

"We are talking to Ronda, as we've been for a while," Levesque told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. "She has a lot of things going on. We have a lot of things going on. But we have a great relationship with her, a very friendly standpoint for a long period of time now. It was great to catch up with her."

Rousey, once the most dominant fighter in mixed martial arts, has not competed since she suffered a 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 in December 2016. Rousey (12-2) lost two straight bouts in 13 months and took a hiatus that saw her branch out into other forms of entertainment.

Rousey, who adopted the "Rowdy" nickname from WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, is a big wrestling fan and has made guest appearances at WWE events. She notably stood side-by-side with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as they fought off the villainous Triple H and his wife and fellow executive, Stephanie McMahon.

The Rock raised Rousey's arm in celebration at the end of the segment held at WrestleMania in 2015. Rousey has since appeared in the stands at events for WWE's developmental system, NXT.

Rousey and fellow UFC fighters Marina Shafir, Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke were known as the Four Horsewomen — a tribute to the nefarious Ric Flair-led Four Horsemen stable of the 1980s and '90s. Baszler has signed with WWE and wrestles in NXT.

The WWE recently announced it will hold its first women's Royal Rumble match (an over-the-top-rope battle royale) at the Jan. 28 Royal Rumble pay-per-view in Philadelphia. The match would be a splendid time to showcase Rousey in her WWE debut if she can break free from her film commitments. Rousey could also lead her Horsewomen against a WWE faction at WrestleMania on April 8.

Or, it could just be buzz designed to keep Rousey in the news and give the WWE a publicity boost as it heads toward its biggest four-month stretch of the year.

"We have nothing to announce at this time," Levesque said. "But she's a huge fan of what we do and she's incredibly interested in what we do and the opportunities that lie there. We're fans of hers and incredibly interested in what those opportunities could be with us. But there's a lot of things to walk through. We're talking. We're having conversations."

UFC President Dana White was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Levesque was in Los Angeles to speak on a Television Critics Association panel.

Rousey refused to comment when approached by TMZ, only saying, "I enjoy fine dining."

But it's clear that the Rousey-wrestling connection appeals to WWE.

"I'd love it," Levesque said.


Update January 10, 2018

Shiffrin wins WCup slalom, extends winning streak to 5 races

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes during an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Flachau, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

Eric Willemsen

Flachau, Austria (AP) — Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin used a frenetic final run to stretch her winning streak in 2018 to five races at a women's World Cup night race on Tuesday.

Shiffrin became the first female skier to start a calendar year with five straight wins, eclipsing the previous best mark by Swiss standout Vreni Schneider in 1989.

For the first time this season, Shiffrin was not leading after the opening part of a slalom. After a run in which the American struggled for rhythm throughout, she trailed first-run leader Bernadette Schild of Austria by 0.37 seconds.

But on a course set by her coach Mike Day, the defending overall champion was back to her best and posted the fastest second-run time to beat the Austrian by 0.94.

Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was 1.43 behind in third.

"My timing, my feeling, my rhythm was so much better than in the first run," Shiffrin told The Associated Press. "Actually, the biggest change was just my mindset. It was a nerves' thing. If I am a little nervous or anxious, my timing is off, then it can make everything look really terrible."

Less than five weeks before the Olympic slalom in Pyeongchang, the American called her recovery in the final run "a really big step for me."

"This was the first time that I was coming from behind in the first run and I had to make a statement," she said. "That was really important for me, a really big checkmark on the way to the Olympics because when we are there, anything can happen, and I want to be mentally prepared for all those possibilities."

Schild lost her first-run lead but still celebrated with both arms up after crossing the finish line.

The Austrian was on a World Cup podium five times before, most recently in Killington in November, but has yet to win a race.

"I grew up in Saalfelden, nor far from here. So this is really a home race for me. It was amazing for me," Schild said. "I didn't feel pressure, the audience gave me energy."

The previous time she led a slalom after the opening run, in 2013 in Courchevel, she lost her advantage to her older sister Marlies Raich. Now retired, Raich holds the record for most slalom wins (35) on the women's circuit. Shiffrin's win on Tuesday was the American's 30th in the discipline.

The Austrian women's team has been waiting for a slalom win since Nicole Hosp triumphed in Aspen in 2014.

Shiffrin celebrated her 41st career win, matching the record for most World Cup wins by a 22-year-old skier, set by Annemarie Moser-Proell in the 1970s.

"She is such an amazing name, legend in ski racing," Shiffrin said about the Austrian great. "A lot of people say you can't really compare (the eras) and I agree with them. It's incredible, nevertheless. I wasn't thinking about the 41st victory, I was just thinking, you know, ski this one like this is going to be that last one you'll ever ski."

It also was the 200th win for the U.S. ski team in the 50-year history of the women's World Cup. Only Austria (372) and Switzerland (301) have won more races. Shiffrin and four-time overall champion Lindsey Vonn together have added 119 wins to the American total.

Shiffrin went further ahead in both the overall and the slalom standings as her main rivals, Slovakia's Petra Vlhova and Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, failed to finish their first runs.

After 19 of the season's 38 races, Shiffrin has amassed 1,381 World Cup points. Four years ago, that amount would have been enough for the overall title as Anna Veith won it with a total of 1,371.

After seven races in 13 days, Shiffrin will skip the next World Cup — speed events in Bad Kleinkirchheim this weekend — to rest and have more time for training.


Man City grab 2-1 lead vs Bristol City in League Cup semis

Manchester City's John Stones, right, challenges for the ball with Bristol City's Bobby Reid during their sides’ English League Cup semifinal first leg match at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, Tuesday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

Manchester, England (AP) — Sergio Aguero netted in stoppage time to give quadruple-chasing Manchester City a 2-1 victory over Bristol City in the first leg of their English League Cup semifinal on Tuesday.

Despite leading the Premier League by 15 points, Man City were given a stern test by the second-tier visitors who took the lead through Bobby Reid's penalty in the 44th minute.

After Kevin De Bruyne's well-worked 55th-minute equalizer, Man City had to wait until the substitute Aguero headed in Bernardo Silva's cross to ensure Pep Guardiola's side has the edge going into the second leg in two weeks in southwest England.

Bristol attacked with pace and confidence and Joe Bryan, who scored a spectacular goal in the quarterfinal win over Manchester United, was often leading the charge at Etihad Stadium.

Hordur Magnusson's long throw-ins also proved troublesome for the hosts to handle.

Man City were not at their incisive best with Aguero on the bench and Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane switching roles across the attacking line.

Openings did come, however, with Sane twice bringing goalkeeper Frank Fielding into action and De Bruyne also having a shot tipped over.

Ilkay Gundogan also missed the target twice and Silva badly miscued in front of goal as Man City couldn't find a breakthrough.

Then before halftime, Man City defender Eliaquim Mangala lost the ball to Josh Brownhill. Reid took up the attack and was brought down in the area by Stones.

Bravo did get his fingers to the resulting spot kick but the goalkeeper could not keep out Reid's firm strike.

That spurred Man City into life and Sterling looked set to level before the break when he lifted over the advancing Fielding but Aden Flint scrambled back superbly to head off the goal-line.

Bravo launched the quick break that led to the equalizer with a pass that found De Bruyne in a huge amount of space.

The Belgian did not pass up the invitation and charged the length of the field before exchanging passes with Sterling and thumping home the leveler.

Fielding needed to save well to repel Sterling before Sane shot wide.

Bristol City sat back, getting bodies behind the ball at every opportunity to cling on for a draw. It almost worked but Aguero had the final say on the night two minutes into stoppage time.


Ellington lifts Heat to 90-89 win at Raptors

Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington (2) passes the ball away from Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira (92) as Raptors coach Dwane Casey watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 9, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto (AP) — Wayne Ellington made a go-ahead driving layup with less than a second remaining, and the Miami Heat stopped Toronto's 12-game home winning streak with a 90-89 victory over the Raptors on Tuesday night.

It was the only basket of the second half for Ellington, who finished with 15 points.

Goran Dragic had 24 points and 12 rebounds as Miami extended its season-best winning streak to five. Bam Adebayo had 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds and Hassan Whiteside collected 13 points and 15 boards for the Heat, who had dropped their previous five visits to Toronto.

The Raptors were without point guard Kyle Lowry after the three-time All-Star bruised his tailbone during Monday's overtime win at Brooklyn.

DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points as the Raptors lost for the first time in six games and failed to break the franchise record for consecutive home victories.

TRAIL BLAZERS 117, THUNDER 106

Oklahoma City — C.J. McCollum had 27 points and seven assists, and the Trail Blazers beat the Thunder in the opener of a four-game trip.

Shabazz Napier added 21 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 20 points and eight rebounds for Portland, which moved past Oklahoma City into second in the Northwest Division standings with its seventh win in its last nine games against the Thunder.

Portland has won four of five overall despite playing most of that stretch without star guard Damien Lillard, who sat out for the seventh time in the last nine games with a left calf strain.

Russell Westbrook had 22 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds for Oklahoma City, which has dropped four of six.


Kerber beats Venus Williams at Sydney International

Germany's Angelique Kerber plays a backhand to Venus Williams of the U.S. in their women's singles match at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney, Tuesday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Sydney (AP) — Former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber won her sixth consecutive match of the new season, beating second-seeded Venus Williams 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday in a Sydney International match delayed for two hours by a thunderstorm.

Kerber, who dropped to No.22 following a poor 2017 season, needed to save two match points before beating Lucie Safarova in three sets on Monday. She won four consecutive singles matches at the Hopman Cup last week.

Williams was playing her first match in Sydney since winning the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

"I say goodbye to 2017 and I'm really happy that the new year's beginning," Kerber said.

Former champion Agnieszka Radwanska ended Johanna Konta's defense with a 6-3, 7-5 win. The fourth-seeded Konta was playing her first match since retiring from her Brisbane International quarterfinal last week with a hip injury.

The Sydney-born Konta said she had no pain during her near two-hour match.

"Actually, it was good," Konta said. "So that was a really positive thing for me today, that it held up fine and I recovered well from that."

Former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur won her first-round match, beating Carina Witthoeft 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

In men's first-round play, Australian teenager Alex De Minaur followed up his semifinal appearance at the Brisbane International last week, including a second-round upset win over 2016 champion Milos Raonic, with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Fernando Verdasco.

Leonardo Mayer had a 7-5, 6-3 upset win over eighth-seeded Mischa Zverev.


Japan kayaker banned for 8 years for spiking drink of rival

Japan's Yasuhiro Suzuki is shown competing the 16th Asian Games in Shanwei, China in this November 2010 file photo. (Kyodo News via AP)

Tokyo (AP) — A Japanese kayaker has been banned for eight years for spiking the drink of a rival so he would fail a doping test.

Yasuhiro Suzuki drugged his key rival Seiji Komatsu at the Japan championships in September.

Suzuki spiked a drink with an anabolic steroid, causing Komatsu to fail a doping test, the Japan Anti-Doping Agency said on Tuesday.

The Japan Canoe Federation began investigating after Komatsu tested positive but denied ever taking drugs.

After Komatsu tested positive, Suzuki admitted putting a muscle-building supplement containing the banned steroid methandienone in his drink.

Suzuki was hoping to qualify for the 2020 Olympics at home. But he will also miss the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

The incident is Japan's first case of an athlete failing a doping test due to deliberate contamination, according to the Japan Anti-Doping Agency, which handed down the eight-year ban.


Update January 9, 2018

South Africa beat No. 1 India by 72 runs in 1st test

South African bowler Morne Morkel celebrates the wicket of Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara of India on the fourth day of the first test between South Africa and India at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, Jan. 8. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Gerald Imray

Cape Town, South Africa (AP) — South Africa beat top-ranked India by 72 runs in the first test on Monday, bowling out the best side in the world for just 135 on the fourth day at Newlands.

India's defeat on a seam-friendly surface in Cape Town underlined the doubts over the No. 1 side's ability to win on green strips away from home, although neither side’s batsmen really profited on the testing track.

South Africa seamer Vernon Philander sealed a low-scoring game with his 6-42 in the second innings, hastening India's demise when he took three wickets in four balls to end the game.

India were chasing a target of just 208 to win, but came unstuck against South Africa's quick bowlers on the kind of fast, bouncy pitch the Indians would have been expecting to be tested on in South Africa. India made 209 in the first innings, while South Africa scored 286 and 130.

"We need to show more character with the bat, there's no question about that," India captain Virat Kohli said.

Philander's career-best figures in India's second innings were backed up by two wickets each from fellow quicks Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. South Africa were also a bowler down, with Dale Steyn ruled out for the rest of his comeback series by a left foot injury he sustained on day two at Newlands.

India are ranked No. 1 in tests by a wide margin after nine straight series wins, but only one of those series victories came outside Asia. Six of them were in India.

Kohli's departure in Cape Town — one of Philander's six wickets — began a slide of four quick wickets before tea as India crashed to 82-7. Ravichandran Ashwin made 37 to hold up the South Africans. But his dismissal, also to Philander, set off another collapse and India went from 131-7 to 135 all out.

Philander took two wickets off the last two balls of the game to end it as South Africa's decision to pick four fast bowlers and sacrifice a batsman on a tough batting strip ultimately paid off, although it was a close call after South Africa were shot out for just 130 in their second innings at the start of the day.

Captain Faf du Plessis referred to the tactic as a bit of a gamble.

"We're a team that's prepared to take risks to win games of cricket," du Plessis said.

Fighting to justify their No. 1 ranking, and playing their closest challengers in the rankings, India face more fast surfaces in Centurion, near Pretoria, and Johannesburg in the last two tests. Even with Steyn out, Philander, Morkel, and Rabada form a formidable pace attack for South Africa.

"They create relentless pressure," Kohli said. "It's something we have to counter. Maybe we have to come out and be more positive."


Video replay helps Brighton oust Palace in 1st use in FA Cup

Brighton & Hove Albion's Glenn Murray, 17, celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game against Crystal Palace during their English FA Cup Third Round match at the AMEX Stadium in Brighton, Monday Jan. 8. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

Brighton, England (AP) — Brighton striker Glenn Murray benefited from the first use of video replay in competitive English soccer when he nudged the ball over the line with his knee to secure a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on Monday.

Referee Andre Marriner was seen listening to instructions in an earpiece in the 87th minute after Murray got on the end of Uwe Hunemeier's header. Some television replays were initially unclear whether the ball brushed against Murray's arm before falling into the net.

Neil Swarbrick, a video assistant referee, was assessing footage of the third-round game at a control room in west London as part of international trials of the new technology that will be used for match-changing incidents.

"It wasn't my arm," Murray said. "The VAR would have pulled me back if it was ... I just needed to get something on it and luckily I did. I got my hip or my knee on it."

Bakary Sako leveled for Palace in the 69th minute when he struck the ball from distance in off the post, canceling out Dale Stephens' first-opener opener.

Murray's winner on the south coast set up a fourth round meeting a second-tier side Middlesbrough.


Al-Attiyah wins 3rd stage of Dakar, Peterhansel tops overall

Driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, of Qatar, and co-driver Matthieu Baumel, of France, race their Toyota during the third stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona, Peru, Monday, Jan. 8. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

San Juan de Marcona, Peru (AP) — Nasser Al-Attiyah won a second stage three days into the Dakar Rally on Monday to remain a contender in the world's toughest rally.

Al-Attiyah dominated the almost 300-kilometer third stage through and over sand dunes in the Ica Desert to rise to third place.

The two-time champion from Qatar won the opening stage on Saturday but lost time on Sunday because of two flat tires. He endured another flat tire not long after the start from Pisco on Monday but fixed it quickly and still blew away the field en route to San Juan de Marcona.

Al-Attiyah was just under eight minutes behind overall leader and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel of France. Countryman Cyril Despres, the stage two winner, was second, about three minutes behind.

Nani Roma, the 2014 champion from Spain, rolled his car a kilometer from the finish. Though he still managed to cross the finish line, he was taken to hospital with reported neck and head injuries.

In the motorcycle race, British rider Sam Sunderland won the stage to lead overall.

His cause was helped when Joan Barreda, who dominated the second stage, missed a turn and had to double back. He finished almost 28 minutes behind Sunderland.

Sunderland won by more than three minutes on Monday from Kevin Benavides of Argentina.


Murray undergoes hip surgery, hopes to be back for Wimbledon

Great Britain's Andy Murray is shown in this Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — Andy Murray underwent surgery on his right hip on Monday and said he hopes to be back playing in time for Wimbledon.

The former No. 1-ranked Murray, a three-time major winner, has not played a competitive match since a quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon last July. His current ranking is No. 19.

Murray has been told to expect a 14-week recovery period and he is targeting a return to the court by June.

"I underwent successful right hip surgery at the St. Vincent Hospital in Melbourne," Murray wrote on his Facebook page. "I'd like to thank Dr. John O'Donnell and all of the staff for looking after me. I look forward to returning to competitive tennis during the grass court season. Thanks to everyone for all the well wishes and support over the last few days. I'll comeback from this."

The 30-year-old Murray, though, accepts he will have to reduce his workload on court.

"I'm certainly not going to be putting in the same amount of tournaments and effort to try to get to No. 1," Murray told British media. "I'll certainly be more considered in the amount of tournaments I play, even though I play a conservative schedule anyway in comparison to most of the players on the tour.

"I'll be playing a reduced schedule, and then focusing more on trying to win major events and big tournaments rather than trying to achieve certain ranking goals."

Murray said he can get himself back to "95 percent of my best."

"I believe that's enough to compete at the highest level," he added. "No question."

Australian media reported Tuesday that Murray has been in touch with O'Donnell since 2008, when his right hip first started to bother him. The two men have met six or seven times in Melbourne since, usually around the time of the Australian Open.

"I've known him since I was 20, 21 years old," Murray said, "and I decided he was the right person to do it."


Update January 8, 2018

Brees, defensive stand, help Saints survive Panthers, 31-26

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Freeny, right, sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Brett Martel

New Orleans (AP) — Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina's late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game on Sunday.

The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.

"We wanted it more," Jordan said. "I mean they've been to their Super Bowl, let 'em go to another one next year. We want our run."

Brees' touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going.

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen — who did not play in the teams' previous two meetings — Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed.

Olsen had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, the other a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.

But Newton was also sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and David Onyemata. The sack by Onyemata came as Newton tried to spin away from Tyeler Davison and slammed his head into Onyemata's chest. Newton was checked for a concussion, but missed only one play before returning to the game.

"We had to finish out the game and put it on our defense, put it on me, put it on our secondary, our D-line," Jordan said. "I mean, everybody responded the way we were supposed to."

Still, the Panthers were in striking distance for the win after a failed gamble by Saints coach Sean Payton, who elected to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining. He hoped to run out the clock on Carolina, which was out of timeouts. It backfired when Brees' pass as he scrambled to his right was intercepted by Adams, giving Carolina the ball at its 31 with 1:51 to go.

"This win is special," Jordan said. "They came back late in the fourth quarter, made this a game."

INJURIES

Panthers: Newton missed one play — a failed third-and-long — while being evaluated for a concussion after Onyemata's sack. Cornerback Daryl Worley briefly was placed in the concussion protocol but also cleared to return during the game.

Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a left shin injury. His replacement, Senio Kelemete, later needed help off the field for an undisclosed injury.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Begin their offseason.

Saints: Move on to play at Minnesota in the NFC Divisional playoffs.


Dominant Australia push toward big victory in 5th test

Australia's Shaun Marsh celebrates making 100 runs against England during the fourth day of the fifth Ashes test match in Sydney, Sunday, Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Keiran Smith

Sydney (AP) — On one of their most dominant days of the summer, Australia set up a 303-run first-innings lead before declaring at 649-7 and then tore through England's top order to close in on victory in the fifth test and a 4-0 Ashes series win.

After the Marsh brothers scored centuries to lead Australia into a commanding position, the bowling attack claimed four wickets to leave England floundering at 93-4 at stumps, still 210 runs behind, in oppressively hot conditions Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Skipper Joe Root was unbeaten on 42 and Jonny Bairstow was 17 not out at stumps, as England tried grimly to prevent a collapse reminiscent of their last appearance at the SCG in 2014 where they were bowled out in 31 overs to complete a 5-0 series loss.

"In many ways the last few days have summed up our trip," England assistant coach Paul Farbrace said. "It's been exceptionally tough, we've come up against a team that is playing very good cricket but the one thing that we've been talking about is making sure we keep on fighting and battling."

Resuming at 479-4 on day four, already with a 133-run first-innings lead, the Marsh brothers combined for a 169-run partnership and each raised their hundreds in the first session.

The feat meant Shaun and Mitch Marsh became the first Australian brothers to combine for a century partnership since Stephen and Mark Waugh put on 197 together in the fifth test at The Oval in 2001.

"To be out there with Mitch, to both get our test century today for Australia, being out there and sharing each other's emotions when we got to our hundreds, was an extremely happy moment," Shaun Marsh said. "It'll certainly be a day that we won't forget."

Mitch Marsh was the only wicket to fall in the morning session, bowled by Tom Curran (1-82) for 101, the delivery after reaching his century. Shaun Marsh was run out for 156 after lunch.

Tim Paine (38 not out) and Pat Cummins (24 not out) combined for a late flurry of runs before Smith's declaration midway through the afternoon session.

After nearly 14 hours and 193 overs in the field, England's second innings started poorly, losing Mark Stoneman (0) lbw to Starc (1-17) in the third over.

Stoneman reviewed the decision but replays showed the ball was hitting leg stump and the out decision was upheld, meaning England lost one of their two reviews early in the innings.

The blow was very nearly doubled the next ball as Cook edged to first slip, but the chance was dropped by Shaun Marsh to spare the opener, who had just become the sixth player to tally 12,000 test runs.

Only Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs), Ricky Ponting (13,378), Jacques Kallis (13,289), Rahul Dravid (13,288) and Kumar Sangakkara (12,400) have more test runs than the 33-year-old English batsman.

But Cook's reprieve was short-lived as Lyon (2-31) produced a perfect ball to clip the top of off stump and remove the veteran opener in what may well be his last tour of Australia.

Inside two overs James Vince survived a referral for caught behind and a near miss in the slips, before Pat Cummins (1-12) had the batsman edging to slip again and Smith grabbed a catch at the second attempt.

Root batted bravely for the cause, including being hit twice by Starc, with the second blow needing a lengthy stop in play while the England captain's right index finger was treated by medical staff.

England team officials confirmed after play that the finger injury was likely not serious and the captain would resume batting when play resumes Monday.

Lyon did get another deserved breakthrough when he trapped Malan on the back leg for five. Malan's review was unsuccessful as England slipped to 68-4 and batting through the day will be increasingly difficult for the English batsman on a day five SCG wicket.

"I think (Lyon) is the key tomorrow," Shaun Marsh said. "The wicket is definitely suiting his condition, especially with the left handers he'll come into play."


Arsenal's FA Cup defence ended by 2nd-tier Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj celebrates scoring his side's first goal of their English FA Cup Third Round match against Arsenal at the City Ground in Nottingham, Sunday, Jan. 7. (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

Rob Harris

Nottingham (AP) - Long protected at Arsenal by FA Cup glory, Arsene Wenger endured his earliest elimination Sunday when his team’s title defence ended at managerless, second-tier side Nottingham Forest.

The decision to rest stars backfired as a 4-2 collapse saw Arsenal knocked out in the third round, when Premier League teams enter, for the first time since Wenger took charge in 1996.

"It hurts even more because it's a competition we love," said Wenger, who has lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons and is the 145-year-old competition's most successful manager with seven triumphs.

While Wenger has endured a Premier League title drought since 2004, success in soccer's oldest cup competition has helped the Frenchman to gain new contracts.

The manner of the loss in Nottingham was mortifying for Wenger, who was forced to watch from the stands as he started a three-match touchline ban for misconduct toward a referee.

"They were sharper than us," Wenger said, "more incisive and more dominant in the challenges."

Eric Lichaj was the match-winner with two goals for Forest, who are 14th in the League Championship and without a manager since firing Mark Warburton a week ago.

After Lichaj headed in Kieran Dowell's free kick in the 20th minute, Per Mertesacker quickly leveled but the American defender was on target again just before halftime. Rob Holding's weak headed clearance fell straight to Lichaj, who brought the ball down with his chest and unleashed a dipping volley into the far corner of the net.

"My wife told me that if I get a hat trick any time during the year, then I get a dog," Lichaj said. "So I was trying to get the penalty."

There were two in the second half. Ben Brereton extended Forest's lead in the 64th after Holding tripped Matthew Cash.

Although Welbeck pulled one back — seizing on goalkeeper Jordan Smith losing his grip on the ball — Arsenal conceded a second penalty. Mathieu Debuchy challenged former Gunners defender Armand Traore from behind and Kieran Dowell netted from the spot in the 85th.

With a two-goal cushion it should have been a calm conclusion for the hosts, but Joe Worrall was sent off three minutes later for a sliding tackle on Chuba Akpom.

It was too late for Arsenal, who rested Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, to mount a comeback.

And Forest secured a victory that revived memories of their heyday under Brian Clough.

The modest central England team stunned soccer from 1978 to 1980 when they won the top flight and then back-to-back European Cups. But Forest, who reached the FA Cup final in 1991 when they lost to Tottenham, have been out of the Premier League since 1999 and only avoided relegation to the third tier last season on goal difference.

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TOOTHLESS WEST HAM

While West Ham avoided being eliminated at Shrewsbury, midfielder Josh Cullen did have a tooth knocked out.

And the 0-0 draw means West Ham will have to face the third-tier side again with a replay at the Olympic Stadium after struggling in their third game in five days.

Cullen had a front tooth inadvertently kicked out by Shrewsbury midfielder Abu Ogogo as they both went for the ball in the 75th minute. The tooth was recovered from the turf, while a bloodied Cullen was cleaned up on the touchline before returning to the action.

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KANE DOUBLE

Like West Ham, Tottenham struggled to breakdown a third-tier side but they did find a breakthrough after 63 minutes against AFC Wimbledon.

Harry Kane made up for Tottenham's profligacy by scoring twice inside two minutes. And Jan Vertonghen netted from 30 yards in the 71st minute to seal a 3-0 victory at Wembley Stadium — the site of the final being used as the north London club's temporary home this season.

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LEEDS UPSET

Hours before Arsenal's shock loss, fourth-tier side Newport knocked out Leeds, who are 53 places higher in the league ladder in the second-tier Championship.

Leeds led through Gaetano Berardi's ninth-minute strike but Newport leveled through Conor Shaugnessy's own-goal in the 76th and Shawn McCoulsky's 89th-minute header sealed a 2-1 victory.

Leeds finished with 10 men after Spanish forward Samuel Saiz was sent off in stoppage time for spitting at Newport midfielder Robbie Willmott.


Kyrgios beats Harrison to win Brisbane International title

Nick Kyrgios of Australia plays a shot against Ryan Harrison of the U.S. during the men’s final at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Nick Kyrgios won an ATP title on home soil for the first time with a commanding 6-4, 6-2 victory over Ryan Harrison at the Brisbane International on Sunday night.

It was a fourth title for the enigmatic 22-year-old Australian, and his first since 2016.

Harrison had five breakpoint chances in the first set but couldn't convert, and third-seeded Kyrgios bounced back to get the decisive break in the seventh game and took control with a mix of unorthodox shot-making and pure power on his serve.

He closed with his 17th ace.

"It's a good feeling. As the week went on, I started serving better and hitting the ball better," Kyrgios said. "There was pressure on me today because I was the favorite and most people expected me to win, so I was proud of the way I handled that expectation and pressure."

Kyrgios had trouble with his left knee during the tournament, and needed to change the tape on the joint late in the first set of the final. After that, he appeared to move more freely and didn't expect it to trouble him at the Australian Open beginning Jan. 15.

His best run at an Australian Open was a quarterfinal exit in 2015. Kyrgios is hoping to improve on that after a confidence-boosting performance in Brisbane, where he beat defending champion and No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals.

"For me, that's just confidence not only mentally but physically as well, and battling and fighting hard," he said. "It's good to see the work I was doing in the offseason is paying off. But pretty happy with my performance today."


Olympic champ Shiffrin dominates slalom for 40th career win

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes during an alpine ski women's World Cup slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Sunday Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

Eric Willemsen

Kranjska Gora, Slovenia (AP) — Shortly after winning her 40th career World Cup race on Sunday, overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin drew praise from one of her main rivals for "taking the sport to another level."

Beaten by 1.64 seconds in a slalom on the Podkoren course, Frida Hansdotter had mixed feelings about the American's dominance.

"It's frustrating, but it is also good for the sport," said the Swede, the only skier other than Shiffrin to win the season-long World Cup slalom title in the past five years.

Shiffrin has won 20 of the last 25 slaloms she competed in, and finished on the podium in four of the other five races. Her 29 slalom wins in total leaves her six short of the record set by Austria's Marlies Schild.

"She is super fast," Hansdotter said. "All of us want to ski faster than her but she is on another level. We need to train harder and ski faster."

The Olympic slalom champion certainly was fast while taking a 1.47-second lead in Sunday's opening leg, which Shiffrin called "maybe the best run of slalom I have ever done in a race."

It was the fourth straight slalom race where Shiffrin held a first-run lead of more than a second, a huge margin in a sport often decided by hundredths of a second.

"I let it go down the hill and I am really, really happy with my skiing that run," said Shiffrin, who also triumphed in Saturday's giant slalom on the same course. "I am always looking to do the skiing that I do in training. That feels really good, it's confident, it's flowing. The surface is incredible and froze overnight so it's just so much fun to ski."

Shiffrin posted the third-fastest time in the final leg and beat Hansdotter once again, while Wendy Holdener was 1.87 behind in third for the Swiss skier's 13nd career slalom podium without winning — a World Cup record.

"Sometimes it's frustrating but it is still a good fight," Holdener said.

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, the only skier to beat Shiffrin in a slalom this season, was 2.18 behind in fourth.

The result put the American level with Sweden great Ingemar Stenmark for the number of World Cup victories before turning 23.

Only Annemarie Moser-Proell won more races (41) at that age, and Shiffrin can match the Austrian great's record at a night slalom in Flachau on Tuesday.

"I have so much fun skiing today," said Shiffrin, who has won seven of the last eight races, including all four in 2018. "I feel so like in a good place, it doesn't feel like I am dreaming, it doesn't feel like it's something crazy that's happening. It just feels like I am skiing really well and I am starting to feel that in the races more and more."

Her two wins this weekend easily earned Shiffrin the Golden Fox Trophy, which adds the slalom results to those of Saturday's GS.

It was another confirmation that Shiffrin, initially excelling in slalom, has become a consistent winner in both technical disciplines.

"That's huge, that has been one of my goals since forever," Shiffrin said. "So it's so cool now that I can be a contender for the win in both slalom and GS."

Shiffrin's triumphant run has seen her lead in the overall standings increase to 721 points over second-place Holdener, while she leads Vlhova in the slalom standings by 235 points.

Not that she will take anything for granted because, as Shiffrin said, "there are quite a few who have the ability to win. It's still competition."


Day 2 of Dakar Rally puts France's Despres in the lead

 

Driver Cyril Despres and co-driver David Castera, both of France, race their Peugeot during the first stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally between Lima and Pisco, Peru, Saturday, Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Pisco, Peru (AP) — Frenchman Cyril Despres of Peugeot won the second round of the Dakar Rally on Sunday and took the overall lead of the race.

The third-place finisher in last year's race finished in 2 hours, 56 minutes and 51 seconds for the 195 miles (267 kilometers) around Pisco, in Peru. He finished ahead of two French teammates, with a 48-second lead on Stephane Peterhansel and 3:08 in front of Sebastien Loeb.

Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, who won the first round, ended nearly 15 minutes behind the leader in fifth.

Despres leads the overall classification by 27 seconds on Peterhansel.

Sunday's race was marked by a series of accidents, including one that affected American driver Bryce Menzies of Mini. Menzies was unharmed by the crash.

In the motorcycles race, Spain's Joan Barreda Bort of Honda clocked in at 2:56:44 to win the second round. France's Adrien van Beveren of Yamaha finished second once again, 2:54 back. Austria's Matthias Walkner of KTM was third, 4:24 behind the leader. Overall, Bort leads with 2:30 on Van Beveren.

In the truck race, Russian Eduard Nikolaev of Kamaz, the defending champion, won with a time of 3:24:23. He finished 3:25 ahead of Argentina's Federico Villagra. Overall, Nikolaev leads Czech Ales Loprais by 5:38.

On Monday, the Dakar Rally will move on to San Juan de Marcona, also in Peru.


Update January 6-7, 2018

Serena opts out of Aussie title defense

Serena Williams is shown with the Australian Open tennis championships women’s singles trophy in this Jan. 28, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Dennis Passa

Melbourne, Australia (AP) - Serena Williams' decision not to defend her Australian Open title four months after giving birth to her first child had nothing to do with merely being able to play at Melbourne Park.

The seven-time Australian Open champion confirmed Friday she wouldn't attempt to defend the title she won here last year, saying she wasn't convinced she could win it.

Williams played in an exhibition tournament last weekend in Abu Dhabi to test her match condition, and indicated after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko that she might not travel to Melbourne.

"After competing in Abu Dhabi I realized that although I am super close, I'm not where I personally want to be," Williams said in a statement Friday. "My coach and team always said 'Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way.' I can compete - but I don't want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.

"With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I've decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year."

Williams was pregnant when she won at Melbourne Park last year, her Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, in September.

Williams didn't drop a set while winning last year's title, and her victory helped her regain the world No.1 ranking.

The 36-year-old Williams needs only one more major title to equal the all-time record held by Margaret Court, who won 13 of her 24 Grand Slam titles before the Open era began in 1968.

Three women have returned after having babies to win Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era, including Court and fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won the 1977 Australian Open seven months after giving birth to daughter, Kelly, and added her second Wimbledon title in 1980.

Kim Clijsters returned from retirement after having a daughter, Jada Elle, in February 2008, and won the 2009 U.S. Open in her third tournament back.

Williams' withdrawal came less than 24 hours after fellow former world No. 1 Andy Murray withdrew from the men's event with a chronic hip injury.

Other star players, including top-ranked Rafael Nadal, six-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, also are dealing with injuries.

Williams last year beat older sister Venus in the final. In terms of total years, it was the oldest Grand Slam women's final in the Open era —Williams sisters combining for 71 years, 11 months.

Venus has returned and is playing in Sydney next week to prepare for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 15.

Serena will sit one out, but is promising to return in future.

"The memory of last year's Open is one that I will carry with me, and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again," she said. "I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open."

Tournament director Craig Tiley said Serena Williams waited as long as she could before letting organizers know she wouldn't be able to compete.

"I've been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the 11th hour to make her final decision," he said. Organizers later announced that French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky had also withdrawn after failing to recover in time following surgery on her right hand in September.

With Serena Williams out, the women's singles title at Melbourne appears to be wide open. No. 1-ranked Simona Halep and No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki are bidding to win their first Grand Slam singles titles.

Also in the mix will be No. 2-ranked Garbine Muguruza, last year's Wimbledon winner, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stevens and Venus Williams, who will be aiming to win her eighth major singles title at the age of 37.


Australia 193-2 at close on day 2, in reply to England's 346

Australia's David Warner bats against England during the second day of the fifth Ashes cricket test match in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Keiran Smith

Sydney (AP) — Usman Khawaja eased toward his first century in more than a year as Australia reached 193-2 at stumps on the second day of the fifth Ashes test, 153 behind England's first innings total of 346.

After some big hitting by England's lower order earlier Friday, Australia had an early setback before half centuries by David Warner and Khawaja helped place the team strongly in their push for a 4-0 series victory.

Australia went through Friday's last session without losing another wicket with Khawaja, nearing his first test century since November 2016, unbeaten on 91.  Captain Steve Smith contributed an unbeaten 44 to the 107-run third-wicket stand.

Khawaja struggled early to find any rhythm, particularly against spinners Moeen Ali and Mason Crane, but survived to raise his 50 off 107 balls just after tea with a six straight down the ground off Ali.

"We know how well he's been hitting them all summer, he just hasn't got that big score to get him away," said bowler Pat Cummins, who took 4-80 in England's first innings.

"His play against the spin today was really great, he used his feet really well, I think I saw a reverse sweep there at one stage so he's always evolving but he always looks like he knows his game really well."

Smith scored his 6,000th test run in his 111th innings, joining West Indies great Garfield Sobers as the second-fastest to reach the mark. Only Don Bradman reached 6,000 runs quicker, from just 68 innings.

"He's obviously played very well and he's scored a lot of runs, but he's only human as well," said Crane, who bowled well in his first test despite not yet taking a wicket. "It's awesome to be bowling against some of the best players in the world, that's why we play the game."

England resumed at 233-5 and lost their last specialist batsman, Dawid Malan (62), early in the morning session to a spectacular one-handed catch by Smith at second slip off Mitchell Starc (2-80).

Australia spurned easy opportunities to thwart England's rally, including two dropped catches in the space of four balls to give both Curran (39) and Moeen Ali (30) reprieves.

"It's actually not a great 'seeing' ground here, said Cummins, who dropped Curran off spinner Nathan Lyon. "I know that's not a great excuse but sometimes you just don't pick them up that well, but both should have been taken."

Ali's second chance was brief, however, with Cummins (4-86) having the allrounder caught behind soon after to leave England at 294-7.

Broad and Curran, playing just his second test, combined to guide England past 300 and kept swinging the bat in an entertaining 41-run partnership, before Curran popped a catch to Bancroft at short leg off Cummins.

Broad made 31 off 32 balls with a boundary and two sixes before mistiming a sweep shot to be caught by Smith off Lyon (1-86).

Crane was the last wicket to fall, run out in his test debut, just minutes before the scheduled lunch interval.

Australia won the first three tests convincingly to regain the Ashes, and the fourth test was drawn last week in Melbourne.


FA Cup: Van Dijk grabs derby winner on dream Liverpool debut

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk reaches for the ball during the English FA Cup Third Round match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield in Liverpool, Friday, Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Steve Douglas

Liverpool (AP) — It couldn't have gone any better for Virgil van Dijk on his Liverpool debut.

Signed last week for 75 million pounds as the world's most expensive defender, Van Dijk scored an 84th-minute winner against Everton — Liverpool's fierce local rivals — in front of the storied Kop stand at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup on Friday.

"Playing at Anfield for Liverpool is a dream for every player," the Netherlands defender said after the 2-1 win in the 230th Merseyside derby. "To score a goal is even more special."

Manchester United also left it late to qualify for the fourth round, with in-form midfielder Jesse Lingard and striker Romelu Lukaku scoring in the final six minutes of regulation time in a 2-0 victory over second-tier Derby County at Old Trafford.

The third round continues across Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Here's a closer look at Friday's two games as English soccer's two most decorated clubs advanced:

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VAN DIJK'S DREAM START

Kevin Keegan, Michael Owen, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah are among those to have scored on their Liverpool debuts.

Add Virgil van Dijk to the list.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said the center back wasn't "fine-tuned" following his big-money move from Southampton and he wasn't even going to start him until the morning of the match, when he changed his mind.

Van Dijk looked a bit rusty with the ball at his feet but was commanding in the air throughout, no more so than when he leapt in front of Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford at a corner to head the ball into an empty net.

"I think something like that is quite special," Klopp said.

James Milner put Liverpool ahead in the 35th minute by converting a penalty, contentiously awarded after Adam Lallana fell to the ground after Mason Holgate placed his hands on the chest of the Liverpool midfielder.

Everton barely threatened in the first half but were much more dangerous after the break, equalizing through Gylfi Sigurdsson after a counterattack following a Liverpool corner.

The most explosive incident in a typically high-octane derby came just after Milner's goal when Holgate shoved Roberto Firmino into — and over — the advertising boards. A clearly unhappy Firmino vaulted back onto the field and sprinted toward Holgate, swearing in Portuguese, and was lucky that referee Bobby Madley stepped in between them to intervene.

Holgate then became aggrieved, and appeared to complain to Madley that he had been verbally abused by Firmino. Madley spoke to his the fourth official, before play continued.

Liverpool haven't lost to Everton in 16 matches — a club record — and Everton's winless run at the home of their great rivals extended to 21 games, dating back to 1999.

___

LATE SHOW AT OLD TRAFFORD

Jesse Lingard's latest scintillating strike for Man United came as Jose Mourinho's team looked set to be taken to a replay.

In the 84th minute, Lingard teed himself up and smashed home a swerving volley for his eighth goal in 10 games. He spent time on loan at Derby in 2015.

Lukaku added a second in the 90th minute when he controlled Paul Pogba's long clearance on his chest in midfield, played a one-two with Anthony Martial and scored with a powerful strike.

A quarterfinal exit in the League Cup and a 15-point deficit to leaders Manchester City in the Premier League has placed extra importance on the FA Cup for United, who fielded a strong lineup.


India's progress checked in 1st test vs South Africa

Indian bowler Hardik Pandya appeals for an lbw against Faf du Plessis on the first day of the first test between South Africa and India at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, Jan 5. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Gerald Imray

Cape Town, South Africa (AP) — India's progress was checked late on Day 1 of the first test in South Africa on Friday, with the tourists 28-3 at stumps and 258 runs behind on a tough batting surface.

India lost both openers and captain Virat Kohli as they tried to limit the damage in the 11 overs faced before the close.

Top-ranked India had rattled South Africa's batting lineup in the first skirmishes of a three-match series between test cricket's top two teams. South Africa, who were 12-3 and in similar trouble at the start of the day, battled their way to 286 all out in their first innings.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar's early blitz of seam bowling gave the Indians a promising start in another quest for a first series win in South Africa.

Kumar, who finished with 4-87, sent back Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in the first five overs of the series-opener. A middle-order century stand between AB de Villiers (65) and Faf du Plessis (62), and a lower-order rally pushed the South Africans near to 300.

India's batsmen also struggled on the green surface in Cape Town. Murali Vijay went for 1, Dale Steyn returned to test cricket for the first time in over a year to dismiss Shikhar Dhawa for 16, and Morne Morkel had Kohli for 5 with the first ball he bowled.

Cheteshwar Pujara, on 5 not out, and Rohit Sharma, yet to score, took India to the close.

"I would say it's even," Kumar said regarding the balance of power in the match.

Those 11 overs at the end of the day gave an early glimpse of the battle that's predicted to define the series between the two teams: India's vaunted batting lineup against South Africa's fast bowlers.

The Proteas picked four of those quick bowlers for the opening test, allowing Steyn, out for over a year with a right shoulder problem, to join Vernon Philander, Morkel and Kagiso Rabada in the four-pronged pace attack.

Steyn had a wicket in his first spell back as Dhawan had a swipe at a short-pitched delivery and sent a catch swirling high up into the sky. Steyn took the catch off his own bowling.

India's quicks had the first say, though, as Kumar exploited the generous bounce, swing and seam movement at Newlands that is normally designed to play into South African hands. He forced Elgar to edge behind with the third ball of the game, trapped Markram lbw with one that swung, and also had Amla caught behind.

South Africa were saved by de Villiers and du Plessis, and a solid contribution from their middle to lower order. Wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock hit 43 off just 40 balls, and the tailenders all chipped in.

"Obviously quite an intense day, but coming off after 6 o'clock, we are very happy," South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein said. "The guys fought hard. Those runs down there at the bottom, especially in tough batting conditions, really are vital."

Kumar was India's best bowler, but debutant seamer Jasprit Bumrah and allrounder Hardik Pandya made two crucial breakthroughs after lunch. With the du Plessis-de Villiers partnership threatening to completely spoil India's early progress, Brumah bowled de Villiers for a memorable first test wicket.

Pandya worked hard for du Plessis' wicket, seeing an ultra-close lbw decision turned down via the decision review system before, two balls later, he forced an edge behind to dismiss the South African skipper.

Du Plessis' exit was greeted by a running, fist-pumping celebration by India skipper Kohli.

Kohli's own dismissal at the end of the day, when he nicked a short ball from Morkel, provoked an equally rowdy celebration from the South Africans.

That intensity in the field may characterize a contest where India, clearly the best team in the world after nine straight test series victories, are under scrutiny as they almost always are to prove they can win big series away from home. Of those nine successive series wins for India, six of them have come in India, and just one has been achieved outside Asia.


Dimitrov helps rival, then advances to semis

Kyle Edmund of Britain falls to the ground with an ankle injury in his quarter final match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Grigor Dimitrov hurdled the net to check on the welfare of his rival and then help him to a courtside chair for treatment. Two games later, the defending champion had secured his spot in the Brisbane International semifinals.

Top-seeded Dimitrov beat Kyle Edmund 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Friday to set up a meeting with No. 3-seeded Nick Kyrgios, who rebounded for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over former finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov.

It was Dimitrov's show of concern for Edmund that brought the crowd to its feet at Pat Rafter Arena. At 4-4 in the third set, Edmund tumbled to the court, clutching his right ankle with both hands.

Dimitrov leaped over the net from his side of the court and raced to help Edmund as he writhed in pain behind the baseline at the other end, giving the British player a hand to get up and then helping him limp to the side of the court.

"At the end of the day, health above all (matters). It's very unfortunate what happened," Dimitrov said of Edmund's injury. "I've seen this too many times. I know the feeling. I really hope he gets better.

"In the last two games he wasn't at his best. I just had to find a way again."

Asked if he was concerned about injuring himself as he crossed the net, Dimitrov said it was something he didn't think twice about.

"It was just such an instinct for me," he said. "I didn't think, 'OK, I'm just going to go around the net, or I'm going to go that post.' It was just like such a natural instinct for me to go and jump over.

"I do it sometimes at practice just for fun and all that, but obviously it was different circumstances today."

Earlier Friday, Kyrgios had his left knee heavily taped but didn't appear to be hampered as he worked his way into the match after dropping the first set in 22 minutes.

Teenage wild-card entry Alex De Minaur followed up his upset victory over Milos Raonic with a routine 6-4, 6-0 win over Michael Mmoh to reach his first tour-level semifinal. The 18-year-old De Minaur will play Ryan Harrison, who led 7-6 (6), 4-2 when Denis Istomin retired from their quarterfinal match with a hip strain.

"There were a lot of nerves coming into this match. It was a big opportunity for me," De Minaur said. "But I came in here a little more level-headed (than the Raonic match), had more time to play, and was able to play my best tennis."

The women's final will feature No. 3-seeded Elina Svitolina against Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Svitolina rallied to beat defending champion Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 7-5, and Sasnovich reached her first tour-level final with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 semifinal win over seventh-seeded Anastasija Sevastova.


Update January 5, 2018

Aussies take 2 late wickets; England 233-5 at stumps on day 1

England's Joe Root pulls the ball against Australia during the first day of the fifth Ashes cricket test match in Sydney, Thursday, Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Keiran Smith

Sydney (AP) — Australia's pace attack took two late wickets with the new ball to reduce England to 233-5 at stumps and wrest back control on a dramatic first day of the fifth Ashes test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

After winning the toss and batting after a two-hour rain delay, England slipped to 95-3 before skipper Joe Root and Dawid Malan shared a 133-run partnership that frustrated the Australian bowlers for most of the evening session.

But with the sun setting and the new ball in hand, Mitchell Starc had Root caught by Mitch Marsh at square leg for 83 in the penultimate over and then Josh Hazelwood had new batsman Jonny Bairstow caught behind with the last ball of the day.

"It was great to get the late reward as a bowling group for our hard toil," Australia allrounder Mitch Marsh said.

"Two three-hour sessions really took it out of us, certainly in that last hour, it felt pretty long. So to get those two wickets was great for our confidence and we've got a two-over new ball tomorrow, so hopefully we can get stuck into them."

Root, in particular, appeared disconsolate as he left the field after batting for 4 1/2 hours and in sight of his first century of the series, after scoring three 50s in the first four tests. The England captain now has converted just 13 hundreds from 48 half-centuries.

"I thought Rooty played fantastically well up to that point, the second new (ball) is always a challenge," Malan said. "Unfortunately he clipped that to square leg and if it was two or three yards to left or right it would have been four and everybody would have said 'great shot'."

Despite riding his luck at times including being dropped by Steve Smith at slip and nearly run out in the space of two Nathan Lyon overs, Malan was not out 55 at stumps and will need to stay at the crease with the lower order to give England any hope of salvaging one win in the series after surrendering the Ashes with losses in the first three tests.

"Losing these two wickets has put us back a bit, but there's still no reason why if we can't get through that new ball tomorrow we can't get to another 150 runs," said Malan, who has a century and three 50s in his debut Ashes series.

After the first session was lost to passing showers, Australia's quick bowlers made early inroads into the top order after lunch with Pat Cummins claiming the first two wickets, having Mark Stoneman (24) and James Vince (25) caught behind.

Alastair Cook, who scored an unbeaten 244 in the drawn fourth test in Melbourne last week, continued his good form in Sydney, reaching 39 before being trapped lbw by Hazlewood, just five runs short of being only the sixth player to tally 12,000 test runs.

Hazlewood pinned the veteran opener on his front pad and had the initial not-out decision overturned by the TV umpire on review to leave England at 95-3 and the majority of the near 45,000 Sydney Cricket Ground crowd delighted.

Only Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs), Ricky Ponting (13,378), Jacques Kallis (13,289), Rahul Dravid (13,288) and Kumar Sangakkara (12,400) have more test runs than the 33-year-old English batsman, who will likely get another opportunity to reach the milestone in the second innings.

Each team made one change from the fourth test, with England handing leg-spinner Mason Crane his debut for the injured Chris Woakes, and left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc returned from a heel injury to replace Jackson Bird for Australia.


Hip problem forces 5-time finalist Murray out of Aussie Open

Andy Murray is shown in this Dec. 29, 2017, file photo.
(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

John Pye

Melbourne (AP) - Andy Murray needed only a couple of days in Australia to realize the hip problem that has kept him out of competitive tennis since Wimbledon was not going to improve in time for the season's first major.

The five-time finalist withdrew from the Australian Open on Thursday, two days after pulling out of a tuneup event in Brisbane before his first match.

Confirmation of his absence came hours after Kei Nishikori announced that he, also, wouldn't have enough time to fully recover from a torn wrist tendon before the Australian Open starts Jan. 15 in Melbourne.

Murray was preparing to leave Australia at the same time as injured former champions Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were on the way to Melbourne.

"Sadly I won't be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete," Murray said in a statement. "I'll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon."

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said he understood Murray's early decision.

"We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he's done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer," Tiley said. "This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it."

Former No. 1-ranked Murray, a three-time major winner, has not played a competitive match since a quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon last July.

In a heartfelt social media post earlier in the week, the 30-year-old Murray contemplated surgery as an option after failing to overcome the pain with rest and rehabilitation.

In the lengthy Instagram post, Murray said he'd worked hard on the conservative option of rest and rehabilitation but was now having to consider alternatives.

"Obviously continuing rehab is one option .... Surgery is also an option but the chances of a successful outcome are not as high as I would like which has made this my secondary option and my hope has been to avoid that."

Murray spent 41 weeks at No. 1 in the rankings until last August, but slipped to a year-end No. 16 because of his prolonged absence from the tour.

"I would give anything to be back out there. I didn't realize until these last few months just how much I love this game," Murray posted "It's quite demoralizing when you get on the court it's not at the level you need it to be to compete at this level.

"Sorry for the long post but I wanted to keep everyone in the loop and get this off my chest as it's really hurting."

Djokovic, who has beaten Murray in finals four times as he collected his six Australian titles, posted a statement on his website saying he wasn't sure he'd be able to play at Melbourne Park.

A right elbow injury has kept him off the tour since July. He plans to play in two exhibition tournaments in Melbourne next week before deciding.

Top-ranked Nadal, who lost last year's Australian final to Roger Federer and went on to win the French and U.S. Open titles, has been struggling with a right knee problem and withdrew from the Brisbane International this week, delaying his return until an exhibition tournament next Wednesday.

There's also doubt over Serena Williams' title defense. Williams, who was pregnant when she won the Australian title — her record 23rd singles major in the Open era — and gave birth to her daughter in September, played an exhibition in Abu Dhabi last weekend and said she wasn't sure if she'd be able to play in Melbourne.

Williams said after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko: "I don't know if I am totally ready to come back on the tour yet. I know that when I come back I definitely want to be competing for championships."

Tiley said he was in daily touch with Williams' management.

"I still believe she will be," in Australia, Tiley said. "She has made it very clear to me ... she'll do everything she possibly can to be here."


Son saves Spurs with long-range equalizer against West Ham

Tottenham's Son Heung-min, left, fights for the ball with West Ham's Pablo Zabaleta during their teams’ English Premier League match at Wembley Stadium in London, Thursday, Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Rob Harris

London (AP) — When Harry Kane is enduring a rare spell of frustration in front of goal, Tottenham can always turn to Son Heung-min — as creator or scorer.

Son was taking the plaudits on Thursday — rather than the team's top-scorer — after the South Korean unleashed a thunderous long-range strike to rescue a 1-1 draw against West Ham.

Showing no signs of exhaustion after completing a second match inside 48 hours, Son spared Tottenham from embarrassment in the 84th minute by canceling out a similarly breath-taking strike from Pedro Obiang.

In his last nine games at Tottenham's temporary Wembley home for the season, Son has now been involved in 12 goals — scoring seven and providing five assists. Not a bad return for a player who Tottenham looked set to sell in 2016 after less than a year in north London.

Little wonder manager Mauricio Pochettino is now recognizing the value of a player he acclaims for being "so humble" especially for "accepting the headlines are always for Harry or others."

Son's 10th goal of the campaign in all competitions allowed fifth-place Tottenham to slightly close the gap on Liverpool in the fourth Champions League qualification place to three points at the climax of a packed festive Premier League program.

This was a London derby completely dominated by Tottenham — while lacking the ruthlessness required in front of goal while entrenched in West Ham territory.

"This type of game you push, you push, you force, you create, you have chances to score and it's impossible to score," Pochettino said. "Only that sometimes you need some luck to open the game."

That came for West Ham in the 70th minute of a London derby where Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had little to do until he was foiled by Obiang blasting from distance into the top corner with his team's only shot on target.

"There was surprise and disbelief when we took the lead because Tottenham had so much of the ball and so many shots," West Ham manager David Moyes said.

"It was a brilliant strike, it really was," Moyes added. "I haven't really seen him do it in training yet, I got to say, (but) he really pulled one out and it put us in a good position."

West Ham moved two points clear of the relegation zone as the Premier League, which has seen 30 games in the last 10 days, takes a pause for FA Cup and League Cup fixtures over the next week.

In the FA Cup third round on Sunday, Tottenham and West Ham both face third-tier teams. Tottenham host AFC Wimbledon and West Ham travel to Shrewsbury.


Defending champions Dimitrov, Pliskova advance in Brisbane

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic plays a shot in her quarter final match against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

John Pye

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Grigor Dimitrov had to save two match points before getting his Brisbane International title defense underway with a victory against Australian wildcard entry John Millman.

Karolina Pliskova kept her title defense on track with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over 2012 winner Kaia Kanepi, setting up a semifinal against Elina Svitolina.

The night matches Thursday went all the way, with last year's winners both having to come back from deficits.

Dimitrov won 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 in his first competitive match since winning the ATP Finals, but was pushed for 2 hours and finished after midnight.

The No. 3-ranked Dimitrov was broken in the last game of the first set to give No. 128-ranked Millman the lead. After an exchange of breaks midway through the second, the tournament's top seed had to produce two big service games to stay in the second-round match.

Dimitrov fell behind 3-0 in the tiebreaker, went on a four-point roll to get back in front, then had to scramble to save match points at 6-5 and 7-6 before converting his second set point to force a third.

"I thought I was out — he pushed me to the limit," Dimitrov said. "At moments like that, sometimes it just comes down to improvising. I played aggressive tennis and got rewarded for that.

"First match in about a month — I feel a little bit rusty, but at the same time I'm excited and trying to get into a rhythm."

Dimitrov's next match is a quarterfinal against Kyle Edmund, who had a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-4 win over Chung Hyeon.

Pliskova opened last season with victory in Brisbane and rose to the No. 1 ranking in July before finishing 2017 at No. 4.

She struggled against Kanepi's powerful ground strokes in the first set but started to find her range in the second and stayed on top in the third.

Svitolina secured her semifinal spot when Johanna Konta retired with a hip injury in the third set of their quarterfinal.

The third-seeded Svitolina won with a score of 1-6, 7-6 (6), 3-2, retired, having just held serve when Konta walked to the net and said she could no longer continue, two games after receiving treatment for a right hip problem.

Konta's exit came two days after No. 2-ranked Garbine Muguruza retired in the third set of her first match of the season after struggling with leg cramps.

Konta was unsure if she'd be fit enough to attempt a defense of her Sydney International title next week or what it would mean for her chances at the Australian Open, where she reached the semifinals in 2016 and the quarterfinals last year.

"I only know kind of the initial feelings of it, which is not always so trustworthy," she said of the injury. "So I don't feel too comfortable saying really too much.

"Hopefully it's nothing more than a low-grade strain and more muscle spasm."

Seventh-seeded Anastasija Sevastova beat Aleksandra Krunic 6-2, 6-4 to move into a semifinal against qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich, a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 winner over Alize Cornet.

Denis Istomin and Ryan Harrison set up a meeting in the men's quarterfinals. Istomin advanced 7-6 (5), 6-2 over Jared Donaldson and Harrison had a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 win over Yannick Hanfmann, who was a late addition to the draw after Andy Murray withdrew.


Hirscher wins slalom for 50th career World Cup victory

Austria's Marcel Hirscher reacts after completing an alpine ski, men's World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

Eric Willemsen

Zagreb, Croatia (AP) — Marcel Hirscher won a slalom on Thursday to match Italian great Alberto Tomba's tally of 50 men's World Cup wins.

The six-time overall champion from Austria became only the fourth male skier to reach that mark, also joining Hermann Maier (54) and Ingemar Stenmark (86).

On the women's circuit, only Lindsey Vonn (78), Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) and Vreni Schneider (55) have passed the 50-win milestone.

"I haven't been following Alberto's career very closely. For me the 'Sandmann' was more interesting back then," Hirscher quipped, referring to a character from a German-language children's TV program in the 1990s.

Tomba, who also won Olympic gold in slalom and twice in GS, won his last race shortly before retiring in March 1998, while Hirscher turned nine that month.

"I am very proud of this, definitely, but I am very thankful on the other side for being healthy all the time," the Austrian said. Hirscher quickly recovered from fracturing his left ankle in preseason training in August and didn't have to sit out a race because of the injury.

He would have missed the season-opening giant slalom in October but that race was canceled due to bad weather.

Watched by 11,000 spectators under floodlights on Thursday, Hirscher beat his Austrian teammate and first-run leader, Michael Matt, by 0.05 seconds. Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was 0.11 behind in third, with another Austrian, Manuel Feller, trailing by 0.79 in fourth.

"Zagreb is a unique race," said Hirscher after his fourth win here. "Standing in the finish area, seeing all the lights from the city, they are shining really bright up to the hill. It is something really special."

With his third slalom win and fifth overall this season, Hirscher stretched his lead in the overall standings to 94 points over second-place Kristoffersen.

The Norwegian got his seventh podium but is still awaiting his first win of the season. He led the race with only Hirscher and Matt still to come, and lost his temper and kicked a chair in the finish area as soon as Hirscher edged his time.

"When I am disappointed, I am not afraid of (showing) it. I am really disappointed with doing the mistake on the flat that makes it a third place instead of a win," said Kristoffersen, the Olympic slalom bronze medalist from 2014.

"I skied so good at the top and so good at the bottom, so this mistake is what makes me angry. I think, as an athlete, you are allowed to be angry, and then you let it go."

The result gave Hirscher his 114th World Cup podium, equaling the Austrian record set by Moser-Proell. Only Stenmark (155) and Vonn (131) have finished more times in the top three of a World Cup event.

Matt, the younger brother of 2014 Olympic slalom champion Mario Matt, posted the fastest time and led Hirscher by 0.21 after the opening run.

Chasing his second career win, Matt was the last starter in the final run and initially extended his lead over Hirscher to 0.60 seconds, but his advantage was only 0.17 at the final split time and he lost over two tenths in the finish section.

"The top section was really good, but the middle section wasn't that good so I lost lots of time there. The last five, six gates I didn't push enough," said Matt, who also finished runner-up in a city event in Oslo last Monday.

The men's World Cup moves to Switzerland this weekend for a GS and another slalom in Adelboden.


Update January 4, 2018

Bellerin rescues Arsenal by clinching 2-2 draw with Chelsea

Arsenal's Hector Bellerin, right, scores his side's second goal during the English Premier League match against Chelsea at Emirates stadium in London, Wednesday, Jan. 3. (Adam Davy/PA via AP)

Rob Harris

London (AP) — Hector Bellerin came to Arsenal's rescue in stoppage time to clinch a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in an absorbing Premier League encounter on Wednesday.

All four goals came in the final half hour of a game that left third-place and defending champions Chelsea 16 points behind Manchester City and Arsenal 23 adrift of the leaders.

The deficit would have been even worse for the sixth-place hosts had Bellerin not redeemed himself. The right back's challenge on Eden Hazard had allowed the Chelsea winger to cancel out Jack Wilshere's opener in the 67th minute.

Marcos Alonso fired Chelsea in front in the 84th with his sixth goal of the season, but wasn't as meticulous back on defensive duties in the second minute of stoppage time. A headed clearance went straight to Bellerin, who leveled with a half-volley.

Chelsea were still pursuing the winner in the third minute of stoppage time when defender Davide Zappacosta struck the crossbar.

Had striker Alvaro Morata not missed so many chances this could have been a third consecutive win for Chelsea. Chelsea are becoming reliant on Alonso for goals, with the left-sided defender the team's second-highest scorer behind Morata.

On the night when Diego Costa scored on his return to Atletico Madrid from Chelsea, the ferocious forward seems just what the champions have required at times.

Instead all Chelsea and Arsenal can realistically now achieve through the league is Champions League qualification. Even that could be beyond Arsene Wenger's side, with fourth place five points away.

Fortune wasn't on Arsenal's side against Chelsea.

Alexis Sanchez managed to hit both posts in the 16th minute — with the ball pinging from one side of the goal to the other without crossing the line. Then Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois blocked Alexandre Lacazette's low shot on the turn.

After Hazard and Alonso were denied by Petr Cech at the start of the second half, Courtois used his sprawling body to again thwart Lacazette.

Wilshere, who had been booked in the first half for a challenge on former Arsenal teammate Cesc Fabregas, was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card for diving just before scoring.

Wilshere stayed on the pitch and lit up the game by combining with Mesut Ozil before scoring an eye-catching goal, slamming a fierce shot off the left hand post and into the net. In an Arsenal career punctuated by injuries and a season on loan at Bournemouth, it was Wilshere's first league goal since May 2015.

Wilshere's good work was undone when Bellerin's high challenge on Hazard led to the equalizer from the spot.

"He's always very quick in the box," Bellerin said. "I saw the ball in the air and I tried to challenge for it. We both went for the ball at the same time."

Wenger was less diplomatic, calling it a farcical penalty.

"At the moment we have to face surprising decisions," Wenger said.

Cech was beaten again when Willian's cross-field pass reached Zappacosta on the right flank and a cross was aimed at Alonso, who got ahead of Shkodran Mustafi to turn the ball into the net.

But Bellerin still found time for his first league goal since last season.

"I'm happy with the goal but also happy with the reaction at the end of the game," he said. "It's non-stop football. We know whenever we play them it's always a hard game, there's always a lot of entertainment, always really hard, we work hard all week."


6-time champion Djokovic unsure of playing Australian Open

Novak Djokovic. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Howard Fendrich

Melbourne (AP) - Novak Djokovic is still not sure whether he will be able to play in the Australian Open, where he has won six of his 12 major championships.

Djokovic has been dealing with pain in his right elbow. A statement posted on his website on Wednesday says he will travel to Australia to participate in two exhibition events there next week.

After that, the statement says, "the decision will be made about his participation at the first Grand Slam of the season."

Djokovic, who is right-handed, cited the elbow problem on Dec. 30, when he withdrew from this week's Qatar Open, a hard-court tuneup tournament for the Australian Open.

That was supposed to be the 30-year-old Serb's final competitive preparation before play begins in Melbourne on Jan. 15.

He previously pulled out of a United Arab Emirates exhibition tournament.

Djokovic hasn't played in any tournament since retiring from his match in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July because of the elbow injury. At the time, he acknowledged that his right arm had been bothering him for more than a year but that he had decided against having surgery.

The extended absence dropped the former No. 1 player to No. 12 in the current ATP rankings.

Djokovic is hardly alone when it comes to high-profile men's tennis players dealing with injuries as the new season begins.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal, the runner-up to Roger Federer at the Australian Open last year, withdrew from this week's Brisbane International tuneup tournament because of a bothersome right knee. Nadal won the French Open and U.S. Open in 2017 to raise his major count to 16.

Three-time major champion Andy Murray, meanwhile, also pulled out of the Brisbane International and is considering having an operation because of a bad hip. Like Djokovic, he last competed at Wimbledon, nearly six months ago.

Since winning his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title at the 2016 French Open — becoming the first man in nearly a half-century with four in a row — Djokovic has made it past the quarterfinals at only one of the past six major tournaments, finishing as the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open.

A year ago at the Australian Open, as the two-time defending champion, he bowed out in the second round against 117th-ranked Denis Istomin, the first time Djokovic exited so early at any major in nearly a decade.


US skier Shiffrin takes slalom for 7th WCup win of season

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin, center, winner of an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom, celebrates with second-placed Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, left, and third-placed Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, Jan. 3. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

Eric Willemsen

Zagreb, Croatia (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin passed the 1,000-point milestone for the women's World Cup season on Wednesday after just 14 starts.

The Olympic champion from the United States took a slalom by a huge margin for her seventh win of the season, and 38th overall.

After skipping two speed races in Val d'Isere last month, Shiffrin leads the overall standings with 1,081 points after 16 of this season's 38 races. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, who didn't enter Wednesday's slalom, trails by 571 points in second.

If Shiffrin maintains her point average, she would finish the season by setting an all-time record of 2,567 points, easily beating the current best mark of 2,414 set by retired Slovenian standout Tina Maze five years ago.

"I don't know if I will ever be able to do that. It's not really one of my goals," the American said. "I also have so much respect for the season that Tina Maze had with so many points, it was incredible. There is a part of me that hopes that nobody ever beats that because she should really be remembered as one of the best ski racers of all time."

Shiffrin, who is the defending overall and four-time slalom World Cup champion, has won five of the last six World Cup races, including last week's slalom in Lienz where she led the field by more than a second after the opening run, a feat she repeated on Wednesday.

In the second run, Shiffrin defied strong winds and heavy snowfall to beat Wendy Holdener of Switzerland by 1.59 seconds. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was 2.11 behind in third, while Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, the only skier to beat Shiffrin in a slalom event this season, finished 2.24 off the lead in fourth.

"The second run was much closer," said Shiffrin, who started the final leg with a 1.41-second advantage. "The first run I was really, really aggressive. It seems like, maybe, I was more aggressive than everyone else."

After winning the Snow Queen Trophy, Shiffrin was handed a glass crown by Croatian great Janica Kostelic, though the jewelry dropped off her head and broke in pieces during the prize giving ceremony as the American struggled to open a champagne bottle.

In last year's race on the Sljeme hill, Shiffrin was eying a record-equaling eighth straight slalom win but straddled a gate early in her first run.

"I love racing here so I wanted to come back and have a little bit of redemption and ski aggressive," said Shiffrin, who also won the event in 2013 and 2015.

"If I am feeling really good with my skiing, I am confident and prepared, then I can go on the starting gate and really, really trust myself in my skiing," she added. "Then I can have these kind of runs that are really fun for me to do but it's really, really aggressive."

The result stretched Holdener's streak to 13 slalom podiums without a win, a World Cup record.

The Swiss skier has finished runner-up in the discipline seven times in total, and five times Shiffrin was the winner.

To Holdener, however, missing out on her maiden slalom triumph doesn't frustrate her too much.

"I try, and if it works, it works. If not, then nothing has happened. I still love to ski, I am happy to be here and fight with those girls," said Holdener, who did win a city event and a combined race in 2016.

A men's slalom on the same course is scheduled for Thursday, while the women's World Cup continues in Slovenia this weekend. Those races have been moved to Kranjska Gora because of a lack of snow and mild temperatures in Maribor.


Raonic upset by De Minaur in 2nd round at Brisbane

Milos Raonic of Canada plays a shot in his match against Alex De Minaur of Australia during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 3. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Former champion Milos Raonic lost in straight sets to 18-year-old Alex De Minaur in a second-round upset Wednesday at the Brisbane International.

Raonic, who won the Brisbane title in 2016 and reached the Wimbledon final that year, struggled to find rhythm with his usually booming serve in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to the Australian wild-card entry.

De Minaur pressured Raonic with his relentless service returns, made just one unforced error and only dropped serve once — when serving for the match at 5-2 — en route to the biggest win of his career.

The victory put De Minaur into a quarterfinal match against American qualifier Michael Mmoh, who upset No. 8-seeded Mischa Zverev 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

"It's going to take a while for me to believe what's happened just now," De Minaur said.

Raonic was playing his first match since October after taking time out to deal with injuries that also ruled him out of the U.S. Open last year, when his ranking slipped to No. 24 — 21 spots lower than his career-high finish in 2016.

"Heavily disappointed," he said. "I could have served better. I could have moved a little better. I could have found my way to the net a little bit better.

"I sort of played into his comfort zone. I didn't do enough to pull him out of it or, when I did, it would be only for a few points at a time. I wasn't consistent enough and that's sort of what cost me."

Raonic saved double break points in his first two service games in the second set, but was finally broken in the fifth game when De Minaur challenged a call on a second serve, got it overturned to win the point on a double-fault, and won the next two points on the back of some impressive returns.

De Minaur broke again in the seventh game and, after missing the chance to close out in the eighth, the former Wimbledon junior finalist held his composure to close out.

Asked how he unsettled one of the better servers in tennis, De Minaur said he threw out the playbook.

"I was just guessing really, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I tried to change my returning position a bit to try to throw him off a bit. He probably didn't have his best serving day, which helped me a lot. I took advantage of it — really proud."

Nick Kyrgios was the first into the men's quarterfinals, overcoming a knee problem to outlast fellow Australian Matthew Ebden 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Third-seeded Kyrgios called for a medical timeout after nine games and had further treatment two games later to have his left knee taped.

His movement appeared to be hampered but he still had too much for Ebden and set up a quarterfinal match against former Brisbane International runner-up Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-2.

Defending women's champion Karolina Pliskova beat Catherine Bellis 6-1, 6-1 in the night match to set up a quarterfinal against Kaia Kanepi, who beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 6-3.

Third-seeded Elina Svitolina had a 6-3, 6-1 second-round win over Croatia's Ana Konjuh and will next play fifth-seeded Johanna Konta.

Qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich earned a spot in the quarterfinals against Alize Cornet with a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 win over Anett Kontaveit.


Update January 3, 2018

Man City end festive program with 15-point lead in EPL

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the English Premier League match against Watford at Etihad stadium, in Manchester, Tuesday, Jan. 2. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Steve Douglas

Manchester, England (AP) — Pep Guardiola was eager to discover how Manchester City would react to seeing their long winning run in the Premier League come to an end.

A goal after 38 seconds — the quickest of the season — and a convincing 3-1 win over Watford on Tuesday was an emphatic response.

City ended their grueling, four-match festive program with a 15-point lead after 22 games. It could be reduced to 14 points if Chelsea win at Arsenal on Wednesday, but City are showing no sign of wobbling as they close in on a first league title under Guardiola.

Sunday's 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, which ended City's record 18-match winning run, tested the character of Guardiola's side. But the visit of out-of-form Watford to Etihad Stadium offered the perfect chance to bounce back.

Raheem Sterling gave City the lead inside a minute — he has now scored the earliest and latest goals in the league this season — before Christian Kabasele's own goal and a close-range finish from Sergio Aguero put City 3-0 up. Andre Gray grabbed an 82nd-minute consolation goal.

"We played really well," Guardiola said. "After dropping two points, we spoke about our reaction because big teams drop points, but not too much."

"I think the team showed a lot of good things today. After two days, it means a lot for us."

Here's what else happened on Tuesday:

___

LLORENTE'S RETURN

Fernando Llorente's first start for Tottenham came against his former club, Swansea. Almost inevitably, he scored.

The Spanish striker headed in the opening goal in Spurs' 2-0 win that lifted them to fifth place, four points off fourth-place Liverpool with a game still in hand. Dele Alli added the second in the 89th minute at Liberty Stadium.

Llorente's 15 goals last season were arguably the main reason why Swansea stayed up. He moved to Tottenham in the summer transfer window and has mostly had to settle for appearances as a substitute.

It was a third victory over the festive period for Tottenham, who play West Ham on Thursday.

___

DOUBLE FOR CARROLL

Andy Carroll scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time as West Ham fought back to win 2-1 against West Bromwich Albion, whose winless run stretched to 20 games.

Carroll had already equalized, canceling out West Brom's opener by James McClean, when he slid in to fire home Marko Arnautovic's low cross.

West Ham moved a point above the relegation zone and five points above West Brom. Only three clubs have endured longer runs without a victory in the Premier League than West Brom: Derby (32), Sunderland (26) and Norwich (21).

___

PALACE CONTINUE RECOVERY

Without a point or a goal after seven games, Crystal Palace are in sight of mid-table in the Premier League after a 2-1 win at Southampton.

Palace came from behind at St. Mary's Stadium, bouncing back from Shane Long's first goal in 11 months with strikes by James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic.

Palace moved up to 14th place, just three points off 10th-place Watford, and are much improved under Roy Hodgson since he came in as manager after four games of the season. Southampton are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.


Murray withdraws, Muguruza retires with cramps in Brisbane

Garbine Muguruza of Spain plays a shot in her match against Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 2. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

John Pye

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Andy Murray's long-term hip injury has forced him out of the Brisbane International, cast serious doubts over his participation in the Australian Open and has him contemplating surgery.

Former No. 1-ranked Murray pulled out of the Brisbane event after failing to practice Tuesday, two days ahead of his scheduled return to competitive tennis for the first time since July.

"I came here with every intention of making a strong start to the year, but sadly my team and I don't feel that I'm where I need to be just yet to compete at the highest level," the two-time Brisbane International champion said in a statement.

His withdrawal was confirmed hours after Garbine Muguruza, the Wimbledon champion and women's top seed, retired from her opening match because of leg cramps.

Muguruza fell to the court behind the baseline and had treatment on her legs before retiring from her opening match against Aleksandra Krunic while leading in the third set

Krunic rallied from 5-2 down in the second set, forcing the third in a tiebreaker, and earned a spot in the quarterfinals with a a 5-7, 7-6 (3), 1-2 retired result after almost 2 hours in humid conditions on Pat Rafter Arena.

"I don't really cramp a lot, so I'm actually surprised that today my body was like that," Muguruza said, adding that her calf muscles started to cramp early in the second set. "It's a shame because I always come here excited about the first tournament, and this one was bad luck, I guess."

Fifth-seeded Johanna Konta reached the quarterfinals with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Ajla Tomljanovic and Alize Cornet advanced with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

The Brisbane International had been Muguruza's only scheduled tuneup event before the first major of the season gets under way in Melbourne on Jan. 15.

The 30-year-old Murray is also undecided, planning to stay in Brisbane for a few days before deciding whether or not to contest the Australian Open or fly home.

Murray said he'd been trying to rest and rehabilitate the problematic right hip, but realized after some practice sets in Australia against leading players that he wasn't fit for competition and needed to reassess his options.

"Obviously continuing rehab is one option and giving my hip more time to recover," Murray wrote in an Instagram post. "Surgery is also an option but the chances of a successful outcome are not as high as I would like which has made this my secondary option and my hope has been to avoid that."

Murray, a five-time Australian Open runner-up, hasn't played a competitive match since his quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon and his ranking has slipped from No. 1 to No. 16.

He's not the only leading player trying to overcome injury, with top-ranked Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic also trying to recover in time for the Australian Open.

In men's first-round matches in Brisbane, U.S. qualifier Michael Mmoh beat Federico Delbonis 6-3, 6-4, Chung Hyeon upset fifth-seeded Gilles Muller 6-3, 7-6 (1), Kyle Edmund rallied for a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Denis Shapovalov and Denis Istomin beat No. 7-seeded Damir Dzumhur 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2.


Joe Root laments what Ashes could have been for England

England's Joe Root, center, walks onto the Sydney Cricket Ground during training for the fifth Ashes cricket test match against Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, Jan. 2. The test begins on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Sydney (AP) — England captain Joe Root wishes his own form was better on the field, and that his teammates' behavior was better off it.

The net result is that England go into the start of the fifth test at the Sydney Cricket Ground having relinquished the Ashes after Australia won the first three matches of the series.

Root, captaining England for the first time on an overseas tour, failed to lead the way with the bat, scoring 237 runs in the first four tests, including a drawn match last week at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The touring squad's behavior has also been a distraction for Root and coach Trevor Bayliss, who struggled to hide his frustration after the drunken actions of Jonny Bairstow and England A batsman Ben Duckett earlier on the tour.

Bairstow was involved in a head-butting incident at a Perth bar with Australian opener Cameron Bancroft, although both players downplayed the incident. Duckett poured a drink over the head of veteran fast bowler Jimmy Anderson and was suspended and fined.

Ben Stokes didn't even make the tour after a late-night incident in Bristol, England in September left him potentially facing criminal charges.

"I'd make sure no one is head-butting anyone, and people were more sensible off the field on the back of what happened in the summer," Root said Wednesday on the eve of the series finale.

"The way we've practiced and prepared, we've been excellent. It's just a shame there's been a few extra instances that could have been avoided. There's definitely stuff we'll have to take from this trip and make sure ... we don't make those mistakes again."

Root, only 11 tests into his captaincy, said he hoped to return as captain in four years when the Ashes is contested again in Australia. And he hopes a win in the SCG test might build confidence for that 2021-22 tour.

England were swept 5-0 on the 2013-14 tour to Australia, but regained the Ashes at home in 2015 and had been more confident heading into this series.

"It's really important ... that we can get a win and build on that for four years' time," he said. "It would mean a lot to me certainly to give a fairer account of how we've gone about this trip."

Root points out Australia captain Steve Smith's 604 runs, including three centuries, in the four tests has given the hosts the upper hand.

"I'm disappointed ... you see (Smith's scores), and you want to be the one doing it," Root said. "He's probably been the difference between the teams. Take his runs out of it, and we've been there or thereabouts to win. It's a little lesson to me on leading from the front."

Legspinner Mason Crane could make his test debut in Sydney. Paceman Chris Woakes has a side strain and will have scans to determine if he can play.

Bayliss hinted Crane would come into the starting XI, saying the fifth test was an opportunity to "look at some different people."

"There's maybe no time like the present to find out," Bayliss said.

Left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc could return to the Australian lineup after missing the Melbourne test with a right heel injury, although selectors may want to prefer to rest him to ensure he is fully recovered for the four-test South African tour in March.

Ashton Agar could join Nathan Lyon as a second spinner for the home side.


Thomas makes debut with Cavs, could start soon

Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaiah Thomas warms up before an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tuesday, Jan. 2, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Tom Withers

Cleveland (AP) — Isaiah Thomas is back on the court doing what he does best.

The All-Star point guard made his long-awaited debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, his first action since re-injuring his right hip on May 19 in the Eastern Conference finals.

With the crowd stirring, Thomas sat at the scorer's table before checking in to a loud ovation with 4:33 left in the first quarter of the Cavs' game with the Portland Trail Blazers.

It didn't take long for the 5-foot-9 Thomas to get involved in the action as he quickly picked up an assist on a pass to Jae Crowder, who came along with him from Boston in a blockbuster trade last summer.

Wearing his familiar headband and No. 3, the playmaker missed his first shot and got fouled on a drive to the basket. Moments later, Thomas dropped a 14-foot pull-up jumper to pull the Cavs within 28-25.

Then, Thomas drove the lane and scooped in a left-handed layup while being fouled, the type of play he perfected in Boston. As he picked himself off the floor, Thomas smiled as Cleveland fans cheered a play they hope to see many more times.

Thomas missed the Cavs' first 36 games while recovering from a serious hip injury that knocked him out of last season's playoffs against Cleveland. Thomas was traded to the Cavs during the offseason in the blockbuster swap for Kyrie Irving. He'll initially come off the bench for the Cavs, but could be starting as early as this weekend.

The Cavs are at Orlando on Saturday.

Coach Tyronn Lue said Thomas' minutes will be restricted as he works himself back into playing shape.

"Once the minutes restriction is off, once the back-to-back thing is off and he's able to play a lot of minutes, then it's going to be different," Lue said. "For now, we're just happy to have him back and see who works well together, what happens and just go from there."

Thomas has already been ruled out for Wednesday's game at Boston, where fans will undoubtedly welcome him warmly. Thomas carried the Celtics last year, playing with a heavy heart following the death of his younger sister.

Thomas was forced to be patient while he endured months of sometimes grueling rehab, a process he called his "slow grind" before he was cleared to play. Lue said Thomas is 100 percent, but he'll still need to prove he can take some contact.

"Once he hits the floor, gets banged and sees he has no damage or he's not hurting, I think that will help him get past the mental block of coming back, being out for seven months," Lue said. "I'll feel good because I know that he's 100 percent and I know that just mentally you have to get over it. I've been in a situation where I was out 10 months (following microfracture surgery) and I know I was scared when I first came back to play, but you know he's going to be OK."
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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Angelique Kerber wins 8th match in a row, into Sydney final


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FA Cup: Van Dijk grabs derby winner on dream Liverpool debut

India's progress checked in 1st test vs South Africa

Dimitrov helps rival, then advances to semis


Aussies take 2 late wickets; England 233-5 at stumps on day 1

Hip problem forces 5-time finalist Murray out of Aussie Open

Son saves Spurs with long-range equalizer against West Ham

Defending champions Dimitrov, Pliskova advance in Brisbane

Hirscher wins slalom for 50th career World Cup victory


Bellerin rescues Arsenal by clinching 2-2 draw with Chelsea

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Raonic upset by De Minaur in 2nd round at Brisbane


Man City end festive program with 15-point lead in EPL

Murray withdraws, Muguruza retires with cramps in Brisbane

Joe Root laments what Ashes could have been for England

Thomas makes debut with Cavs, could start soon

 



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