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US tennis player Madison Keys, 21, feels both young and wise

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Madison Keys is ranked in the top 10 in the world, a Grand Slam semifinalist who just played for an Olympic bronze medal and has earned career prize money of well over $4 million.

She’s also only 21, much closer in age to her middle school days than to No. 1 Serena Williams, and the youngest woman in the top 20 by nearly a year-and-a-half.

This is where the American finds herself as she heads into next week’s U.S. Open: an established pro with the game to win major titles, yet competing in a sport in which many players now peak in their late 20s and even early 30s.

Patient and impatient at the same time about her tennis, Keys is also sorting out what she wants to accomplish off the court. She announced Wednesday that she will fund and host six summits for teens at schools around the world in 2017 in partnership with the organization FearlesslyGIRL.

“That’s such a tough time for any girl – I know it was a tough time for me,” Keys said in a recent phone interview.

“To sit down in a big group and talk to each other about it, you realize you’re not so alone,” she added. “It makes everything seem so much smaller and more manageable.”

Keys has two younger sisters and sees this in a way as just adding many more.

“It’s being able to relate to them on such a personal level,” she said, “but also knowing it does get better.”

For her, sports was always a part of that.

“When you’re 13 or 14, sometimes you wake up in a bad place,” she said. “You feel like everything’s out of your control. You don’t know what to do.

“The second I was on the tennis court, I had the structure I wanted. I was in complete control of what I was doing.”

Long considered one of the world’s most promising young players, Keys burst through to the semifinals of the 2015 Australian Open while still a teenager.

“All of a sudden, people say, `She’s a contender,”‘ Keys recalled. “It’s the next logical step: You made the semifinals, you should make a final. You make a final, you should win.

“Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.”

The rest of the year, she lost in her first or second match of a tournament nine times, though her results in the Grand Slams were better. And with her profile soaring, so did the harassment on social media.

“I could go through my Twitter account right now and there would be 10 horrible messages,” Keys said.

“All of a sudden,” she recalled, “I was getting all these messages that I was fat and ugly, and I wasn’t prepared for it.”

It took time for her to remind herself that the trolls were most likely gamblers who spewed vitriol because they were betting on a match. That realization was crucial.

“If you’re not in my immediate circle,” she said, “you’re not someone whose opinion I value.”

On the court, she needed to remind herself to trust the process and not obsess over individual wins and losses. In 2016, the upward trajectory has resumed. Keys has made three finals, winning her second WTA title, and is currently ranked a career-best ninth. At the Rio Games, she made it to the semifinals – then ran into two Grand Slam champions in a row in Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova, losing to both to miss out on a medal as their superiority showed.

Keys, who withdrew from this week’s Connecticut Open with a neck injury, is set to be seeded eighth when the U.S. Open starts Monday – a key number because it means she can’t meet Williams or Kerber until the quarterfinals at the earliest. She’s been eliminated in the round of 16 at her last four majors.

“We believe she’ll win a Grand Slam really soon,” said her agent at IMG, Max Eisenbud, who has also managed Maria Sharapova and Li Na.

At a time when seven of the top 20 players in the women’s rankings are in their 30s, the younger generation has finally started to push through in recent months. Garbine Muguruza, 22, won the French Open, then Monica Puig, also 22, was the surprise Olympic gold medalist.

“I want to get to that next step as quickly as I can,” Keys said. “If that’s three weeks, great. But if it’s three months, no problem, or even three years.”

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.