Djokovic faces Verdasco test in Australian Open first round

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE Defending champion Novak Djokovic will launch his bid for a record seventh Australian Open title with a mouth-watering first round match against Fernando Verdasco.

Spaniard Verdasco knocked compatriot Rafa Nadal out in the opening round last year at Melbourne Park and had match points against Djokovic in their recent clash at the Qatar Open.

Peterhansel takes Dakar lead after tending to stricken rider

Peugeot's Stephane Peterhansel took back the overall Dakar Rally lead from team mate Sebastien Loeb on Thursday after regaining time lost in tending to stricken Slovenian bike rider Simon Marcic when they collided on the 10th stage in Argentina.

Marcic broke a leg in the collision along a riverbed during the 10th stage from Chilecito to San Juan, the longest of the rally after a landslide forced cancellation of Wednesday's section.

The outcome could have been much worse, however, with the rider going under the car.

Magical 59 gives Thomas early five-shot lead at Waialae

Long-hitting American Justin Thomas started and finished with eagles to fire a sizzling 11-under-par 59 for an early five-stroke lead in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii on Thursday.

Taking advantage of ideal scoring conditions at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Thomas became only the seventh player to break 60 on the PGA Tour after he also racked up eight birdies and a lone bogey.

Sizzling Thomas joins elite 59 club at Waialae

Red-hot Justin Thomas became only the seventh player to break 60 on the PGA Tour, and the youngest in that elite club, with a superb 11-under-par display in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii on Thursday.

Just four days after clinching his third PGA Tour title at the SBS Tournament of Champions on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the 23-year-old American rolled in a 15-foot eagle putt on his final hole, the par-five ninth, to card a 59.

Real claim record with last-gasp draw against Sevilla

MADRID Real Madrid set a Spanish record of 40 matches unbeaten in all competitions after they came back from two goals behind to snatch a 3-3 draw at Sevilla with a last-gasp equaliser from Karim Benzema in the King's Cup on Thursday.

Real trailed 3-1 in the 77th minute of their last-16 second leg tie but captain Sergio Ramos reduced the arrears from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute after Matias Kranevitter had pulled down Casemiro in the area.

Pirelli expect fewer pitstops in new-look F1

By Alan Baldwin

BIRMINGHAM, England Formula One fans can expect to see fewer pitstops this year and faster, more aggressive-looking cars, according to tyre supplier Pirelli's motorsport head Paul Hembery.

"The (tyre) degradation (wear) levels will be reduced substantially compared to the past," he told Reuters at the Autosport International show on Thursday.

Nine mountain challenges await Vuelta riders

MADRID Complaints from many riders that the Vuelta a Espana has included too many punishing climbs in recent years fell on deaf ears as organisers unveiled another demanding route on Thursday featuring nine mountain finishes.

While the opening stage will take place outside Spain for only the third time, with riders setting off in Nimes, France, on Aug. 19, other aspects of the three-week race will concern those taking part.

The penultimate stage will require riders to head up to Angliru, Spain's toughest single climb in the northern region.

IOC strips Chinese trio of Beijing Games gold medals

BERLIN Three Chinese weightlifters were stripped of their 2008 Olympic gold medals on Thursday as the International Olympic Committee sanctioned eight athletes for doping offences in re-tests of the Beijing and London 2012 Games samples.

The IOC said it had disqualified Cao Lei, who won gold in the women’s 75kg weightlifting event, Chen Xiexia, winner of the 48kg event and Liu Chunhong, the 69kg gold medallist from the Beijing Games after testing positive for prohibited substances.

Everton confirm Schneiderlin deal

LONDON Everton have completed the signing of midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United for a fee that could rise to 24 million pounds, the Merseyside club said on Thursday.

The 27-year-old France international was signed from Southampton for 25 million pounds in 2015, but became a peripheral figure under United manager Jose Mourinho, making only eight appearances this season.

He said in a club statement that he was relishing the prospect of being reunited with Everton manager Ronald Koeman, with whom he worked for one season at Southampton.

Big-hitting McIlroy one shot off the pace at SA Open

JOHANNESBURG World number two Rory McIlroy marvelled at his long hitting off the tee after producing a fine five-under-par 67 to finish one shot behind leaders Trevor Fisher Junior and Keith Horne after the first round of the South African Open on Thursday.

McIlroy carded seven birdies and two bogies at the Glendower Golf Club in his first European Tour event of the year, so honouring a promise to tournament host Ernie Els to play in the second-oldest national open in the world.