Getty Images

Defending champ Serena Williams at Wimbledon ready to play

Leave a comment

LONDON – Top-ranked Serena Williams hasn’t won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon a year ago, but the 21-time major champion appeared confident about her chances of retaining the title on the eve of the tournament.

“Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure,” said Williams, keeping her answers short at a pre-tournament news conference Sunday. “I feel good and confident.”

Williams surprised many by failing to win any of the last three Grand Slam tournaments.

She fell to Roberta Vinci of Italy in the 2015 US Open semifinal, Angelique Kerber of Germany in the 2016 Australian Open final and Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the French Open final earlier this month.

Instead of bemoaning those losses, however, Williams prefers to focus on coming back stronger.

“I think it’s important to learn from every loss that you have,” she said. “I think, in particular, throughout my whole career (I) have been able to learn a lot to come back a much better player.”

Williams enters Wimbledon maintaining her No. 1 ranking for what will be an impressive 300th week at the top.

Nevertheless, Muguruza, Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep are all positioned to oust Williams from the top spot by the end of Wimbledon.

Williams will play 148th-ranked qualifier Amra Sadikovic of Switzerland, a player she admits knowing nothing about, in the first round on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter who I play,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

When she captured her sixth Wimbledon trophy last year it capped the second time in her career she held all four Grand Slam titles in a non-calendar year. She first achieved that distinction in 2002-03.

“It was a great accomplishment to win four Grand Slams in a row twice in my career,” Williams said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s really awesome.”

Like Williams, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon without having played a grass court tune-up tournament.

Where the two don’t agree is in their attitude: Williams insists she feels no pressure to perform this fortnight, while Djokovic believes it’s impossible to escape those expectations.

“It’s always present. Pressure is part of what we do,” he said. “It’s inevitable to face this kind of sensation as a top player, being expected to do well and to go as far as last four at least in the tournament, or finals.”

Djokovic starts his campaign for a fourth Wimbledon trophy by taking on British wildcard James Ward in a first meeting between the two.

As tradition dictates, Djokovic, as the men’s defending champion, will open the Centre Court competition.

“It’s going to be the first match on the untouched grass,” Djokovic said. “That’s probably one of the most special tennis matches that you get to experience as a professional tennis player.”

Djokovic understands the emotions behind simultaneously holding all four Grand Slam titles, which he achieved upon winning his first career French Open title earlier this month.

Last year, Williams had a chance to win a calendar Grand Slam, but came up short at the US Open.

This year, Djokovic remains in contention to be the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to achieve a calendar Grand Slam having already won the Australian and French Opens.

Williams, for one, says Djokovic could be the player to get the deed done.

“He has every opportunity to do it,” she said. “I think he’ll get it easy. So he should be fine.”

That said, Williams is most interested in matches finally getting underway at this year’s edition of the tournament.

“I’m definitely ready to start playing at this point,” Williams said. “I’m kind of over practicing every day for two hours, then going to the gym for some time.”

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

Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”