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Djokovic could face Federer in Wimbledon semifinals

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LONDON (AP) Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are used to facing each other in the Wimbledon final. It won’t happen for a third straight year, though.

Federer, the seven-time champion seeded No. 3, was placed in Djokovic’s top half of the Wimbledon draw on Friday. That means top-ranked Djokovic could face Federer in the semifinals as he bids for a fifth consecutive major title and the third leg of a calendar year Grand Slam.

The second-seeded Andy Murray got a more favorable draw, with No. 4 Stan Wawrinka placed in the bottom half as his potential semifinal opponent.

In the women’s draw, defending champion and six-time winner Serena Williams could have a quarterfinal matchup against Roberta Vinci, the Italian who stunned her in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year and ended her bid for a calendar year sweep of all four major titles.

Djokovic has beaten Murray in the last two Grand Slam finals – the Australian Open and French Open – and goes into the grass-court tournament starting on Monday as a strong favorite for a 13th major championship. Another title would put him only four behind Federer’s record of 17.

Possible men’s quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic, Federer vs. Kei Nishikori, Wawrinka vs. Dominic Thiem, and Murray vs. Richard Gasquet.

Djokovic, a three-time Wimbledon champion who holds all four Grand Slam titles, will play Britain’s James Ward in the first round.

Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon winner, will face fellow British player Liam Broady in round one.

Federer, playing in his 18th Wimbledon, will open against Argentina’s Guido Pella.

Djokovic could face American Sam Querrey in the third round and David Ferrer in the fourth. Raonic, a big-serving Canadian working with John McEnroe, could provide another stiff test in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic is the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously since Rod Laver in 1969, and the first to win the first two majors of the year since Jim Courier in 1992.

Murray defeated Djokovic in straight sets in the Wimbledon final three years ago, but has not won a major since. He won the Queen’s Club grass-court tournament last week for a fifth straight time and has Ivan Lendl back as a coach.

Wawrinka could meet former semifinalist Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. The free-swinging Argentine has been beset by injuries and will be making his first appearance at Wimbledon since 2013.

Perhaps the most intriguing first-round men’s matchup has young Austrian star Dominic Thiem vs. 32-year-old German Florian Mayer. It will be a rematch of their semifinal last week in Halle, which Mayer won in straight sets.

In the women’s draw, Williams could face third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals, with French Open winner Garbine Muguruza in line to play No. 4 Angelique Kerber.

Potential women’s quarterfinals: Williams vs. Vinci, Radwanska vs. Belinda Bencic, Kerber vs. Simona Halep, and Muguruza vs. Venus Williams.

Serena Williams will open her bid for a seventh Wimbledon title against a qualifier or lucky loser to be determined.

Since losing to Vinci at the U.S. Open, Williams fell to Kerber in the Australian Open final and to Muguruza in the French Open final. She is one away from equaling Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

Williams’ possible route to the final could see her face Christina McHale, Kristina Mladenovic and former top-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova before meeting Vinci and Radwanska.

Muguruza, who lost to Williams in last year’s final, has an intriguing opener against Camila Giorgi.

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.”

Nadal leads Djokovic, Murray, Thiem on French Open odds

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The overarching presence of Rafael Nadal, who has won a record nine times at Roland Garros, has inflated prices on the other top men at the French Open.

Nadal is listed as a better than even money -125 favorite on the French Open men’s champion board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Spaniard has won 17 of 18 matches on clay this year and will not have to worry about longtime nemesis Roger Federer, who’s saving himself for the grass and hard courts. The event begins in Paris on Sunday.

While Nadal is undoubtedly the most consistent clay-court player in the world, many threats loom. Novak Djokovic (+300) might be ready to come out of his lull now that he has swapped out his support staff, bringing on Andre Agassi as a personal coach. Nadal and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw, so either would benefit if the other falls prey to an upset.

Dominic Thiem (+900) could also be undervalued, given that he defeated Nadal in the Italian Open, one of the tune-ups for the French.

Top seed Andy Murray (+900) has not won an event on clay this season and his place on the tennis betting lines might reflect the notion that some bettors will always go for a big name with a track record of winning Grand Slams. In terms of someone who is coming into the tournament playing well, Stan Wawrinka (+1000) has had an impressive run at the Geneva Open after having so-so output for most of the clay-court season. Wawrinka is also a recent champion, having won in 2015.

It seems like it is just a matter of when 20-year-old Alexander Zverev (+1400) will win his first Grand Slam singles title. Zverev turned heads when he extended Nadal to five sets in a third-round defeat at the Australian Open in January, and he defeated Djokovic in the Italian Open final to become the youngest player in 10 years to win an ATP Masters event.

As far as the women’s champion board goes, Simona Halep (+450) has top odds but is battling an ankle injury. World No. 1 Angelique Kerber (+1600) has also been inconsistent throughout the season. Young Ukrainian Elina Svitolina (+700) is an intriguing possibility by virtue of her results (four singles titles already in 2017) and her strong return game, since the soft clay at Roland Garros dictates having longer rallies.

Garbine Muguruza (+900) is the defending champion, but it’s a little glaring that she has not reached a Grand Slam semifinal in three tries since that 2016 breakthrough.