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1 more for No. 22: Serena Williams powers to Wimbledon final

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LONDON — Serena Williams is once again one victory from her record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title after powering her way into the Wimbledon final.

In control from start to finish, Williams needed all of 48 minutes to overwhelm Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday in a semifinal that felt more like a training session.

Except Williams probably gets more of a workout when she practices.

“It’s never easy out there,” the No. 1-seeded Williams said in an interview with the BBC after leaving Centre Court.

Sure looked easy.

Williams’ serve was in fine form, reaching 123 mph and producing 11 aces against the 50th-ranked Vesnina, who was participating in her first major semifinal and trying to become the first unseeded woman to reach the title match at the All England Club in the Open era.

Williams won 28 of 31 points that she served, including the last 17. She compiled a 28-9 edge in total winners.

Since winning her sixth Wimbledon trophy a year ago to raise her career count to 21 majors, Williams has come quite close to tying Steffi Graf with 22, the most in the Open era, which began in 1968 (Margaret Court holds the all-time mark of 24). But Williams was surprisingly beaten by Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals last September, by Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final this January, and by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final last month.

Now Williams has given herself yet another chance to catch Graf.

“Obviously, I’m 0 for 2, so determined to get at least one this year,” Williams said.

She never gave Vesnina a chance to pull off the sort of semifinal stunner that Vinci did last year in New York, stopping Williams from completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf did it in 1988.

Jumping out to a big lead right away and never relenting, the 34-year-old Williams had Vesnina looking defeated after all of 12 points. That’s when, after sprinting for a forehand that landed in the net, the Russian leaned over, sighed and slumped her shoulders.

There would be plenty more of that sort of body language from Vesnina, a two-time Wimbledon runner-up in doubles who was to face Serena and her older sister Venus in the quarterfinals of that event later in the day.

In the second singles semifinal Thursday, the eighth-seeded Venus was to face Kerber, a German who is seeded No. 4.

This is the 11th Grand Slam tournament at which both Williams siblings reached the semifinals; one or the other wound up with the title on each of the previous 10 occasions. That includes four past meetings in the Wimbledon final.

The 36-year-old Venus is the oldest Grand Slam semifinalist since Martina Navratilova made the 1994 Wimbledon final at age 37.

If Venus could beat Kerber, Serena said, “It would be great. Then we would be guaranteed to have a Williams on the trophy. That’s the ultimate goal for, I think, both of us.”

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.”