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Finally in full match, Djokovic wins at Open despite elbow

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NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic was not interested in discussing in any detail why he needed a trainer to work on his right elbow during an otherwise matter-of-fact 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kyle Edmund on Sunday night that put the defending champion in the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the 10th consecutive year.

Much as he did after having that same arm treated on Day 1 of the tournament – the last time he was forced to play a full match – Djokovic deflected questions about the elbow at his post-match news conference.

At one point, he said: “It was good. Everything was fine.”

Djokovic said he doesn’t have pain in the elbow. Later, when a reporter asked why he asked for the medical visit, Djokovic said with a smile, “I needed a little bit of a massage.”

He had competed for a total of only 31 minutes over the preceding five days because of injuries to his opponents in the second and third rounds.

“Obviously I haven’t played too much tennis. So I’m really glad to be back,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I thought I came out, really, from the blocks very good, playing with a high intensity.”

That he did. Yet while Djokovic looked quite good for the first two sets against the 84th-ranked Edmund, and again at the very end, there was that interlude that included the trip from the trainer at 2-1 in the last set.

That came right after Djokovic got broken for the first time in the match and was part of a stretch of three games in a row for Edmund.

“I’m feeling very good, to be honest. I really wanted to start the match well today,” Djokovic said, “because I didn’t have much time on the court overall before the fourth round, and considering I had some struggles before the tournament.”

His left wrist had been bothering him since early August, so Djokovic arrived in New York without much recent match play, having lost in the first round of the Rio Olympics and pulled out of a hard-court tuneup tournament.

Until the issue with the right arm resurfaced in the third set against Edmund, Djokovic appeared rather rested and ready.

After about 75 minutes Djokovic led by two sets and a break. He produced various bits of magic along the way: a jumping, head-fake drop shot at an impossible angle; a stretching angled cross-court backhand pass that drew an errant volley from Edmund; a body-contorting defense-to-offense forehand that drew a roar from spectators.

“I made Kyle work for each point,” said Djokovic, whose quarterfinal opponent is No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he beat in the 2008 Australian Open final for the first of his 12 major championships. “I wanted to move him around the court.”

Djokovic even cracked a smile after one effortless exchange in which he ran Edmund this way and that before dropping a backhand winner right near the baseline early in the third set.

And yet it was in that same game that Edmund began his mini-run. At the ensuing changeover, Djokovic was visited by the trainer, who pressed a thumb just above the back of the player’s right elbow, while manipulating that joint in various ways. Edmund broke for a second consecutive time to suddenly lead 3-2 as Djokovic’s coach, Boris Becker, looked on from the stands, grim-faced.

That, though, was that. Djokovic broke back to 3-all, and after a trade of service holds, he took the last two games. He has reached at least the quarterfinals at 29 of the past 30 Grand Slam tournaments – the exception was his loss in the third round of Wimbledon in June against Sam Querrey.

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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.”