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Frenchman Gasquet faces Murray in French Open quarters

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PARIS — The wait had better be worth it for tennis fans when Richard Gasquet finally takes on Andy Murray in the French Open quarterfinals – weather allowing on Wednesday.

Since they won their third-round matches on Sunday, it has rained almost non-stop at Roland Garros, washing out Monday and most of Tuesday.

The second-seeded Murray munched on an energy bar as he watched No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s rain-interupted fourth-round match against No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on Tuesday. The Murray vs. Gasquet match was supposed to follow the conclusion of Djokovic’s match and then No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 18 Elina Svitolina.

Gasquet should be patient by now, having never previously reached the last eight at the French Open since first playing here in 2002 – just short of his 16th birthday.

Murray and Gasquet are both 29, and Gasquet was the more talented early on, winning their first two meetings in 2006 and 2007 – the year Gasquet reach the Wimbledon semifinals as a 21-year-old. He should really have won their next encounter, too, wasting a two-set lead in the fourth round at Wimbledon the following year.

After that, Murray’s trajectory went up – two Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal and seven other Grand Slam finals – while Gasquet’s form mostly stagnated, with rare highs being semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2013 and two years later at Wimbledon.

Murray has won their last five meetings – including in the fourth round of the French Open in 2012 – but Gasquet has taken confidence from an impressive win against No. 5 Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, Djokovic is looking to reach his 10th French Open quarterfinal. He’s never lost to Bautista Agut.

Neither has Williams against Svitolina, leading her 3-0.

Nor has No. 3 Stan Wawrinka against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and the defending champion leads the Spaniard 6-0 heading into their quarterfinal. Three of those wins are on clay, the most recent in the second round on his way to his victory at the Geneva Open.

That should give beleagured French Open organizers some hope those matches could be completed quickly as they face a serious backlog.

One of these is a potential fourth-round clash between No. 7 Tomas Berdych and No. 11 David Ferrer.

Ferrer, who leads 8-6 in their head-to-heads, will be 2-1 up when they resume in the first set; while Ernests Gulbis – a semifinalist here two years ago – is 3-0 up in the first set against No. 12 David Goffin of Belgium; and it’s one set each between No. 13 Dominic Thiem and Marcel Granollers.

WOMEN’S QUARTERFINALS: American Shelby Rogers could reach the semifinals before Serena and her older sister Venus Williams – who is also playing in the fourth round.

But Rogers, unseeded, must first get the better of No. 4 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who is determined to reach the last four after losing in the quarterfinals for the past two years.

Meanwhile, Samantha Stosur will be looking to reach the semis for the fourth time and the bad news for her opponent – Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria – is that Stosur has won all her three quarterfinals here. The 32-year-old Australian reached the final in 2010, losing to Francesca Schiavone.

WOMEN’S 4th-ROUND MATCHES: Three other women’s fourth-round matches are scheduled for Wednesday, with No. 9 Venus Williams taking on No. 8 Timea Bacsinszky. The seven-time Grand Slam champion leads Bacsinszky 2-0 – beating her two years ago at the U.S. Open and six years earlier at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Bacsinszky lost to Serena Williams in a tense semifinal here last year.

Also, Kiki Bertens faces No. 15 Madison Keys in their first meeting and No. 12 Carla Suarez Navarro plays Yulia Putintseva.

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.”