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Without playing a point, Murray seals No. 1 spot in Paris

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PARIS — Andy Murray will hold the coveted No. 1 spot for the first time when the ATP rankings are published Monday after advancing to the Paris Masters final without playing a single point.

Murray benefited from Milos Raonic’s withdrawal from the tournament – just one hour before the big-serving Canadian was scheduled to take on the 29-year-old Briton in the semifinals on Saturday.

Raonic said he withdrew because of a right leg injury he picked up during his quarterfinal win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

“This morning I had trouble waking up and getting out of bed… Did some tests. Did an MRI half an hour ago, let’s say. They found that I have a tear, Grade 1 tear in the right quad,” Raonic said. “Unfortunately, I’m not able to compete against Andy today.”

Murray only needed to make the final in Paris to take top spot off Novak Djokovic. He is guaranteed to hold at least a five-point lead over Djokovic, who lost in the quarterfinals in Paris. Their fight for supremacy will resume in London at the ATP finals later this month.

Murray faces John Isner in the Paris Masters final after the American hit 18 aces to defeat Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3.

Murray will become the first Briton to hold the top spot, no matter the result of Sunday’s final. He will also be the oldest first-time No. 1 since John Newcombe at age 30 in 1974, and the 26th player to reach No. 1 since the rankings started in 1973.

Reaching the summit has been a long process for Murray, who has spent 76 weeks at No. 2, a position he reached for the first time in 2009.

A turning point in the Scot’s career came when he hired Ivan Lendl as a coach in 2011. During their first stint together, Lendl managed to turn Murray from a four-time Grand Slam runner-up into a two-time major champion. Murray won Olympic gold in London in 2012 and the U.S. Open title later the same year. In 2013, he became the first British man to triumph at Wimbledon in 77 years.

Before winning the U.S. Open, Murray was 0-4 in Grand Slam finals. Only one other man in the Open era, which began in 1968, lost his first four major titles matches – Lendl. The Czech-born baseline player then went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles during a 17-year career, spending 270 weeks at No. 1 in the world rankings.

Murray replaced Lendl with Amelie Mauresmo in 2014. Though the Frenchwoman helped him climb back up the rankings following back surgery, the partnership ended in May this year without any new major title. The Scot reunited with Lendl before Wimbledon, a week after Murray lost to Djokovic in the French Open final.

The move paid off immediately as Murray claimed a second title at the All England Club and a second gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Last week in Vienna he won the Erste Bank Open for his third straight tournament and has a 45-3 match record since the French Open.

Djokovic held the top spot for 122 consecutive weeks. But after winning the French Open for the first time in June, his form has taken a dip. He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, and in the first round of the Olympics. At the U.S Open, he won the first set in the final but Stan Wawrinka rallied to beat him.

“He’s definitely a player who deserves that,” Djokovic said about Murray on Friday. “Undoubtedly, much respect for what he has done. We have known each other since very, very early days. We were, I think, 11 years old when we first played against each other. And to see how he has raised his level in the last 12 months is quite extraordinary.”

One person was quick to congratulate Murray on Saturday – his mother Judy.

“You’ve come a long way baby,” Judy Murray tweeted , with an old photo of the two of them on a tennis court.

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.”