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Healthy del Potro looks to lead Argentina to first Davis Cup title

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Leaving behind two injury-hit years, Juan Martin del Potro is looking to cap his successful comeback by leading Argentina to its first Davis Cup title.

The 2009 U.S. Open champion said host Croatia is the favorite in the best-of-five series, but believes Argentina is in a strong position after losing in four Davis Cup finals since 1981.

“Croatia has a very strong team, but we are looking forward to a very good weekend,” Del Potro said. “They are playing at home on a favorite (fast indoor) surface. But, I also like fast surfaces.”

Federico Delbonis will start Argentina’s quest for the title by playing Friday’s opening singles match against Marin Cilic. Thursday’s draw also pits del Potro against big-serving Ivo Karlovic, who returned to Croatia’s team after a four-year absence.

In the doubles, the Croatian pair of Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor will face Leonardo Mayer and Gaudio Pella. Reverse singles are scheduled for Sunday.

“If I win, it will be a bit less pressure on Ivo and a bit more pressure on Delpo,” Cilic said. “I’m feeling quite positive.”

Argentina is the only nation in the Davis Cup’s 116-year history which has reached four finals without winning the title. Croatia, targeting its second Davis Cup title after beating Slovakia in the final in 2005, will be led by an in-form Cilic, who has reached a career-best year-end ranking of No. 6.

“We are hoping that this long quest for the cup title will come to an end,” del Potro said. “This is a very different team we have since the last finals, new players, new team captain (Daniel Orsanic). Hopefully, a different result as well.”

The 37-year-old Karlovic will be the oldest player in the Davis Cup final in nearly a century. The towering Croat said he hopes to have short points and many aces in the match against del Potro.

“I will try to evade long exchanges, he is better in long points,” Karlovic said. “More aces I serve, less able Delpo will be able to win.”

Croatia team captain Zeljko Krajan had to make a last minute change to his roster, leaving youngster Borna Coric out because of his recent knee surgery. Coric was replaced by doubles specialist Skugor.

“It was a very tough decision,” Krajan said. “Unfortunately, he is not fully fit to play long matches.”

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.”