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    Serena Williams begins return to tennis this week

    (FILES) This file photo taken on January 28, 2017 shows, Serena Williams of the US posing with the trophy following her victory over Venus Williams of the US in the women's singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Former world number one Serena Williams will make her much-anticipated competitive return with an exhibition match on the final day of the Mubadala exhibition event on December 30, tournament organisers announced on December 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Greg Wood / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USEGREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images
    File/Greg Wood /AFP/Getty Images
    Serena Williams, who gave birth Sept. 1, last played in January when she won the Australian Open.

    Serena Williams is returning to competition with an exhibition match Saturday in Abu Dhabi against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

    Williams has not competed since winning the Australian Open last January while she was pregnant. Williams gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. on Sept. 1. She married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in November.

    Williams will face Ostapenko at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the first year that women will be taking part, tournament organizers announced Sunday. Williams, 36, has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, a record for the professional era. She is expected to compete for her 24th at the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 15.

    Azarenka stalled by custody dispute

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    A continuing custody dispute has prevented two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka from resuming her tennis career at the ASB Classic in Auckland from Jan. 1. Azarenka notified tournament organizers that she will be unable to play the tournament for ‘‘personal reasons.’’ The former world No. 1 has not played since Wimbledon in July because she cannot leave California until a dispute with her former partner, Billy McKeague, over the custody of their son Leo is resolved. Azarenka has been given a wild card into the Australian Open.

    Colleges

    Miami loses first game

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    Buoyed by a staunch defensive effort and gritty play down the stretch, New Mexico State got a defining win for the basketball program Saturday night in Honolulu. Zach Lofton had 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists, and AJ Harris and Sidy N'Dir had 10 points apiece as the Aggies knocked off No. 6 Miami, 63-54, in the Diamond Head Classic semifinals, leaving only three undefeated teams in Division 1.

    New Mexico State (11-2) beat a ranked team for the first time in 10 seasons, leaving Villanova, Arizona State, and TCU the lone undefeated teams.

    ‘‘We don’t get many opportunities like this to play highly ranked teams on a neutral court,’’ coach Chris Jans said. ‘‘And when you have those opportunities you've got to take full advantage of it and I couldn’t be more proud of the group of guys than I am right now.’’

    New Mexico State took the lead for good with 3:43 left in the first half on a baseline drive by Johnathon Wilkins to make it 23-21. Miami (10-1) cut it to 54-53 on Bruce Brown Jr.’s two free throws with 1:25 remaining, but Lofton made a deep 3-pointer from the right wing to make it a two-possession game.

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    ‘‘It just came down to toughness,’’ Lofton said. ‘‘Our team showed toughness.’’ DJ Vasiljevic led Miami with 15 points, Brown had 13, and Dewan Huell 10.

    Appalachian State blanks Toldeo

    A swarming, opportunistic defense fot Appalachian State was the catalyst for an impressive 34-0 victory over Toledo on Saturday night in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Mountaineers (9-4) won their third straight bowl game since making the complete transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.

    The Rockets (11-3) came into the game averaging nearly 40 points per game, but fell behind early and looked completely overmatched. They managed just 146 total yards while turning the ball over four times.

    ‘‘When we get a little bit of a lead, that’s when we’re really dangerous,’’ Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said. ‘‘Once we get that lead and our defense has their bearing straight, the other team starts forcing the ball down the field and that’s when we get turnovers.’’

    Appalachian State’s defense had improved during the season’s final few weeks, giving up just 10 points per game in wins over Georgia State, Georgia Southern, and Louisiana-Lafayette. The performance against the Rockets was even better.

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    Linebacker Anthony Flory led the Mountaineers with eight tackles and intercepted a pass in the first quarter that helped shift the momentum. The Mountaineers’ offense had a good night as well, especially on the ground. Jalin Moore, who was the game’s most valuable player, ran for 125 yards and a career-high three touchdowns to lead a running game that finished with 327 yards. Senior quarterback Taylor Lamb, who was starting his 49th straight game, threw for 131 yards. It was the second straight year the two programs had met in the postseason.

    Appalachian State beat Toledo in a hard-fought 31-28 victory in the Camellia Bowl in 2016 just a few hours up the interstate in Montgomery, Ala.

    Baseball

    Suzuki, 44, not done yet

    Ichiro Suzuki, who became a free agent in November when the Miami Marlins declined their option to sign him for the 2018 season, still hasn’t given up hope of remaining in Major League Baseball. Suzuki, 44, was quoted by Kyodo news agency on Saturday as saying: ‘‘I feel like a big dog at a pet shop that hasn’t been sold. Of course, I want to play baseball next year.’’

    Suzuki, who has 3,080 hits in MLB, was in his hometown of Toyoyama to attend the closing ceremony of the Ichiro Cup youth baseball tournament. He was asked if there was any possibility of him returning to play in Japan if he isn’t offered an MLB contract.

    ‘‘When you use the word possibility, there are many things . . . it means anything is possible as long as it’s not zero,’’ Suzuki said.

    Miscellany

    Lakers’ Ball to miss out

    Lonzo Ball has a sprained left shoulder and will sit out of the Lakers’ game against Minnesota on Christmas night. The team said an MRI revealed the sprain that Ball sustained in the second quarter against Portland on Saturday night. He played through it and finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists. The rookie guard is averaging 10.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 7.1 assists for the 11-20 Lakers . . . Southampton forward Charlie Austin will miss three games after accepting a Football Association charge for violent conduct. The FA announced that Austin had argued that the suspension — for kicking Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl — was excessive, but that his case had been rejected. Lossl was left with a bloodied face and a suspected broken nose following the incident in Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw at St Mary’s Stadium. Austin, who scored his fifth goal in five starts before departing with a hamstring injury, avoided punishment for the incident during the match, but has now been banned. Austin netted the opener midway through the first half, but was substituted in the closing stages with a hamstring complaint and Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino confirmed he is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of the festive schedule regardless. That, and the ban, means Southampton’s top scorer will miss the club’s next three fixtures — away to Tottenham and then Manchester United — with a home match against Crystal Palace on Jan. 2.