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Davis Cup: Croatia rallies to stun US 3-2 in Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The odds stacked against his underdog side, Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan was brimming with confidence Sunday morning before the reverse singles matches in the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against United States.

Marin Cilic and Borna Coric backed up their captain’s belief in a stirring rally, winning matches to give Croatia a 3-2 comeback victory at the Tualatin Hills hard courts.

“Today, I knew they were going to bring the quality,” Krajan said.

Cilic got in started, beating John Isner 7-6 (11-9), 6-3, 6-4. Coric then topped Jack Sock 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The U.S. lost for the fourth time in 161 tries when leading 2-0 lead in a Davis Cup tie.

After the United States swept the singles matches Friday, Cilic and Ivan Dodig kept Croatia alive Saturday with a four-set victory over twins Bob and Mike Bryan in doubles.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Krajan said. “I would say shocked from this win. Looking back on Friday and being 2-love down and then playing against the Bryans yesterday, it didn’t look very positive for us.”

Croatia will host France – a 3-1 winner at the Czech Republic – in the World Group semifinals Sept. 16-18. Croatia reached the semifinals for the first time since 2009. It won its only Davis Cup title in 2005.

In the other semifinal, defending champion Britain will host Argentina.

Cilic set the tone for the comeback against Isner, a decision that was closer than the score indicated. Cilic won a marathon tiebreaker in the opening set, then broke Isner’s serve once in the next two sets to pull out the win.

The opening set was riveting. Isner was hot, allowing Cilic to win only one point during his first 25 serves. But the American was unable to break Cilic, forcing a tiebreaker. Cilic won a couple points off Isner’s serve late in the tiebreaker to pull out an 11-9 win, setting off a torrent of emotion along the Croatia sideline.

“That was definitely a tough task, but I stayed in there mentally,” Cilic said. “I was very, very focused.”

Isner was clearly disappointed he didn’t get the jump on Cilic.

“The first set was critical. Felt like I definitely was the better player in the first set. Didn’t get paid off, but that’s on me. He came up with the goods when he needed it. That gave him a lot of confidence, I think,” Isner said.

U.S. captain Jim Courier disagreed that momentum swayed in Croatia’s favor after Cilic pulled out the first set.

“That’s not the way we look at it. First sets can be critical … these matches are won on small margins. There are a couple points that go our way, and we’re sitting here with a smile on our face instead of a little disappointment,” Courier said.

Unlike Friday’s first singles match, when Cilic lost after leading Sock by two sets, the world’s No. 12-ranked player finished off Isner by breaking him in the ninth game to pull out a 6-4 win.

Cilic is 6-0 against Isner.

The 19-year-old Coric is becoming a reliable closer for Croatia. It was the second time this year Coric won a fifth and deciding match to win a Davis Cup tie.

“I have to be honest. I like that kind of situation,” Coric said. “I like it more than playing on Court 27 somewhere, somewhere far away from the crowd. I just like the big stage more, when it’s more important.”

After splitting the first two sets against Sock, Coric won the final two sets by breaking the American’s serves four times. Coric’s performance was decidedly stronger than his three-set loss to Isner on Friday.

“I was much more relaxed,” Coric said. “I was hitting the ball, going for the points. I just wasn’t waiting for him to miss, because I knew I cannot play like that because he’s going to kill me with the forehand.”

Sock, who beat Cilic in a five-setter Friday, was upbeat despite dropping the finale.

“Obviously, I had chances and opportunities that I didn’t convert. That’s tennis. Some days it’s firing and some days they’re missing a little bit. He played a great match,” Sock said.

Croatia is 4-0 in Davis Cup ties against the United States.

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.”