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Venus Williams wins singles, loses doubles with Serena

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ROME (AP) Singles was the easy part for Venus Williams on Monday. The difficult part came with younger sister Serena in doubles.

After Venus comfortably beat CoCo Vandeweghe 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the Italian Open, the Williams sisters lost to Andreja Klepac and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia 6-1, 7-5.

It was the first time the sisters played doubles together since the 2014 U.S. Open. They are preparing for an attempt at a fourth Olympic gold medal in doubles in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t play our best at the same time,” Venus said. “That’s not typical. Usually one of us is playing well. That helps the team a lot. Two of us are playing well, it usually goes our way.”

In other first-round matches, Sara Errani was slowed by physical problems in losing to Heather Watson of Britain 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, and Lucia Safarova of the Czech Republic defeated former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-2.

On a rough day for the home players even in the men’s tournament, Fabio Fognini of Italy was beaten by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-1, 7-6 (2).

Also, Milos Raonic overcame two breaks of his serve to get past Italian wild card Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Raonic will next face Nick Kyrgios, who eliminated Salvatore Caruso, another Italian wild card, 6-1, 6-2.

Seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew due to a muscle problem and was replaced in the draw by fellow Frenchman Lucas Pouille. He doesn’t have much time to recover before the French Open, which begins in two weeks.

“It’s not something good to be a little bit injured before this event,” Tsonga said. “I hope I will have the chance to recover.”

The big four – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal – are all entered.

Playing two matches in one day could have been particularly taxing for Venus, who has Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that can cause joint pain and sap energy.

“I haven’t done that in a long time. But I knew what was going to happen going into it. Even if you get tired, you have to try to ignore it. I felt OK,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll have that problem for two weeks in the French. That would be an awesome problem to have.”

Venus won the singles title at the Foro Italico in 1999, and is playing this clay-court event for the 12th time.

“I imagine that on the clay I have a little bit more advantage, just having played more matches on clay,” 35-year-old Venus said after facing fellow American Vandeweghe for the first time. “That helped a lot.”

Top-ranked Serena has a first-round bye. A three-time Rome champion, she’ll open against 51st-ranked Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany on Tuesday.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

No. 1 seed Angelique Kerber gets upset in the first round of the French Open

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Angelique Kerber is the first women’s No. 1 seed to lose in the French Open’s first round in the Open era.

Kerber lost 6-2, 6-2 to the 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.

Makarova broke Kerber’s serve twice in the opening set and did so again in the second, racing into a 3-0 lead.

Kerber appeared to get back into the match when she recovered one break but the German immediately dropped her serve again.

There was another rapid exchange of breaks before Makarova sealed the result on her first match point with a forehand down the line after recovering from 40-0 down.

Kerber now has just two wins from her past four tournaments.

French Open 2017: 30 is the new 25 in men’s tennis right now

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PARIS — The very top of men’s tennis has never been this old.

For the first time in the history of the ATP computer rankings, which date to the early 1970s, the men sitting at Nos. 1-5 are all 30 or older, the latest sign that the current crop of stars has enviable staying power.

It’s also the latest reason to wonder when a new face will emerge among the elite, because there eventually will come a point – yes, there really will – when the group that was once known as the Big 3, then came to be called the Big 4, and now is considered by some to be a Big 5, is no longer running the sport.

With the French Open starting Sunday, No. 1 Andy Murray, No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and No. 4 Rafael Nadal (No. 5 Roger Federer is skipping Paris) all have designs on another major trophy. But could someone such as Alexander Zverev, who just turned 20 last month, or the supremely talented – and supremely enigmatic – Nick Kyrgios, 22, or Dominic Thiem, 23, make a breakthrough for the up-and-coming kids?

“We’re probably coming to the end of one of the greatest eras of tennis that, certainly, I’ve ever seen,” ATP Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode said, “and what we need to do as a sport is look to the next generation of players.”

Federer is 35, Wawrinka is 32, Nadal turns 31 on June 3, and Djokovic and Murray turned 30 this month. That quintet has won 46 of the last 48 Grand Slam titles, a dozen-year stretch of dominance.

Zverev’s victory over Djokovic in the Italian Open final last weekend might have symbolized coming change. Zverev was the first man born in the 1990s to win a Masters 1000 title, the youngest champ since Djokovic about a decade ago.

That title also pushed Zverev into the top 10, making him the youngest member since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008.

“It’s nice … for the tour, as well, to have a few younger guys, few younger girls, as well, to be able to play at the top,” said Zverev, who is German. “As I said many times, unfortunately for tennis and unfortunately for the spectators, the top four cannot play forever. So it’s good that younger players are starting to get through.”

So then the question becomes: Why has it taken so long?

Why does someone such as former player and coach Brad Gilbert, now an ESPN commentator, say, “Today’s 30 is like 25 used to be,” as he did this week? Why have these 30-somethings had such staying power? And why is it taking so long for newcomers to make a mark?

There is a similar situation in women’s tennis, where Serena Williams has kept winning Grand Slam titles into her 30s and is the oldest No. 1 in WTA history. Current No. 1 Angelique Kerber was the oldest woman to make her debut at that spot.

“Tennis has changed in the last 15 years … since they slowed down surfaces and there is not much difference in speeds of the surfaces,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach. “You rarely have many easy shots now. You have to work the points much more, and one of the consequences is you need to be physically much better and able to play long rallies.”

He points out that when Wimbledon’s grass courts, for example, used to play much faster than they do now, a player could succeed there hitting aces by the dozen and going for one winner after another, because “you don’t need the same maturity and understanding of tactics” that are required today.

Gilbert points to Andre Agassi – a man he used to coach, and who is assisting Djokovic during this French Open – as an inspiration to the current old-timers still in charge.

“It used to be, you turned 30, you were completely on the downside of your career. A lot of these guys can remember Andre making a deep run at 2005 at 35 years old. I think that was the turning point in belief, that guys could play a lot longer,” Gilbert said. “You’re seeing Tom Brady be the best quarterback in all of football, maybe ever, and he’s approaching 40, which is dinosaur for a quarterback, but not anymore. Athletes are pushing the envelope all year round. There’s no offseason. Offseason is for more training, diet, technology.”