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Top-seeded Kerber toils in win vs. Cibulkova at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Top-seeded Angelique Kerber struggled to defeat seventh-seeded Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 on the opening day of the WTA Finals in Singapore on Sunday.

Kerber, who secured the top ranking last month, battled Cibulkova for 2 hours, 17 minutes before the Slovakian finally succumbed.

“It was a really good match from both of us, especially the first set,” Kerber said. “It’s a good start to the tournament like this, where you knew you had to play your best to win.”

Earlier on Sunday, third-seeded Simona Halep won the first match of the round-robin portion of the tournament by taking a 6-2, 6-4 decision over sixth-seeded American Madison Keys.

In Red Group action, Kerber and Halep stand at 1-0, while Keys and Cibulkova are at 0-1.

On Tuesday, Kerber will play Halep, while Cibulkova and Keys, both making their WTA Finals debut, will play each other.

Kerber posted 29 winners and 32 unforced errors to 36 winners and 34 unforced errors for Cibulkova.

Cibulkova dropped serve in the opening game of the match, which initially allowed Kerber to establish a 4-2 lead in the first set.

Kerber didn’t hold on to the advantage, surrendering her own serve on a second double-fault in the eighth game.

That sent the first set to a tiebreaker where the German eventually prevailed.

“At the beginning I was too excited, but after a few games I started to play my game,” Cibulkova said. “It was a really tough one, really close, and in these kind of games it’s about the small details.”

Cibulkova dominated the second set, racing to 4-0 lead.

In the third, Cibulkova was temporarily in charge with a 2-0 lead, but lost five of the next six games to end up on the losing side of the result.

It’s been a stellar season for Kerber, who won her first two Grand Slam titles at the Australian and US Opens, and also brought home the Olympic silver medal from Rio.

Kerber’s never journeyed beyond the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals in three previous appearances in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

In the opening match, Keys played erratic tennis throughout the 69-minute contest, losing serve on four of 10 break points faced.

“I definitely think there were some nerves,” Keys said. “I think one of her strengths is making you feel like you have to go for more and take the risks. I think sometimes she makes me uncomfortable and I back away from playing my game.”

Keys held serve in the opening game of the match, but then saw Halep win the next five games for a 5-1 lead in the first set.

Halep lost an initial 4-2 lead in the second set, but from 4-4 won the final two games.

The Romanian reached the final here in 2014 and now holds a 5-1 head-to-head record against Keys.

“I think I played exactly what I had to play against her,” Halep said. “I was focused. Everything went as I wanted, so I’m happy.”

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.”