January 12, 2009|By FROM SUN NEWS SERVICES

Phelps back in China to boost carmaker


The global economic slump has affected China's car market. But Mazda is counting on swimming phenom Michael Phelps to rev up the carmaker's bottom line. The Baltimore resident is back in Beijing - where he made Olympic history - to do TV commercials for Mazda, which is reported to be paying him more than $1 million to endorse the brand in China. It's believed to be the largest single sponsorship deal for a foreign celebrity in the country. Mazda vice president Yu Hongjiang said he was certain Phelps would help sell cars in China's growing car market. "We have very strong confidence in him," Yu said. "But there is no doubt this will be successful. ... Currently in China, nobody has the reputation that Phelps has." Besides filming commercials and doing photo shoots, Phelps is also slated to return to the Water Cube - where he won a record eight gold medals during the August Games - before he leaves China. "Hopefully I'll get a few workouts in before I go home," he said. "And then once I get back home it's time to get back in the water and really start to train for the next four years." He's expected to resume serious training before the month ends and is likely to work on some new events heading into this summer's world championships in Rome. Phelps said returning to China stirred emotions. "Driving around today on the roads - sort of seeing some landmarks I saw - really just brings back more and more memories," he said.

All-Star Young asks Rangers to be traded


The Texas Rangers are exploring trade options for five-time All-Star shortstop Michael Young at the player's request after he became upset about the team's plan to move him to third base. General manager Jon Daniels said last night during a hastily called conference call that the team has looked into trade possibilities but remains hopeful Young will remain in Texas. "Our desire is for Michael to play third base," Daniels said. "Obviously though, he's got to buy into what we're doing." The Rangers would like to move Young to third to make room for highly touted prospect Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus came to Texas in 2007 in the trade that sent Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) to the Atlanta Braves. Young, a career .300 hitter who has played nine seasons with Texas, earned his first American League Gold Glove award last season.

Injured Sharapova won't defend Australian title


Maria Sharapova's shoulder injury will keep her out of another big event - the Australian Open. Sharapova told the tournament yesterday that she will not be able to defend her title at Melbourne Park beginning next Monday. She also missed the Beijing Olympics and the U.S. Open because of the injury, and her recovery has been slower than expected.

Brisbane International:: Radek Stepanek came from a set down for a third straight match to beat Fernando Verdasco, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, for the title in Australia. The eighth-seeded Stepanek claimed his third ATP career title and first since Los Angeles in 2007. He celebrated his win with a comical attempt at on-court break dancing.

Sydney International:: World No. 2 Serena Williams overcame a glaring mistake by the chair umpire and a partisan crowd to win her first match of the season, a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-5 victory over Australian Samantha Stosur. Last year's U.S. Open champion was serving for the match at 6-5 and 30-30 in the second set when the chair umpire failed to notice an obvious let call when Williams' serve hit the net and fell into the serving area. Williams didn't bother to chase down Stosur's return, believing it to be a certain let. Stosur was awarded the point and went on to break Williams and won the ensuing tiebreaker. Williams fought off four match points in the 10th game of the third set before going on to win.

Hobart International: : Patty Schnyder was beat in the first round by Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-2, 6-4, in Australia. Schnyder received a code violation for unsportsmanlike behavior late in the second set for obscenities after an argument with the chair umpire over a line call.

Flames co-owner dead; Armstrong in Australia

et cetera

Daryl K. "Doc" Seaman, the co-owner of the Calgary Flames and part of the original group that brought the team from Atlanta, died. He was 86. The Flames confirmed Seaman's death but didn't give the cause of death. ... Coyotes defenseman Kurt Sauer was expected to be sidelined at least four weeks because of a lower-body injury.

Cycling: : Lance Armstrong arrived in Australia a few hours after his Astana team, and a few days ahead of when Tour Down Under officials expected him. The team will race in the UCI ProTour race, which starts Sunday and marks the seven-time Tour de France winner's return to professional competition four years after he retired.

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