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Argentina’s Del Potro beats Croatia’s Karlovic to even up Davis Cup final

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ZAGREB, Croatia — In a battle of big servers, Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro beat Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5 on Friday to leave the two teams tied at 1-1 following the opening singles matches in the Davis Cup final.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion who is capping a comeback after two injury-hit years, made the crucial break in the 11th game of the fourth set with a spectacular return of Karlovic’s serve.

Del Potro broke the Croat in the opening game of the match and then held on to his serve to take the opening set. In the second, the Argentine appeared poised to clinch the tie-break after having a double set point, but Karlovic saved both and then sent the home crowd into frenzy as he forced two successive errors from Del Potro.

Del Potro cruised through the third set to get back into control.

“After losing the second set, I was a bit frightened,” Del Potro said. “Ivo was playing real well, but I managed to regain composure.”

Karlovic, who at 37 became the oldest man to play singles in a Davis Cup final in nearly a century, served 35 aces while Del Potro had 15.

“After winning the second set, I was hoping to continue like this, but my level went down a bit and his level went higher,” said Karlovic who returned to the team after a four-year absence.

Doubles are played Saturday while reverse singles are scheduled Sunday, with team captains refusing to reveal which pairs they will use.

Croatian team captain Zeljko Krajan said he was satisfied with the result after the opening singles.

“Overall today I have to say I’m satisfied,” Krajan said. “It was hard to believe that we could have two wins today. We remain positive and optimistic.”

Argentina is the only nation in the Davis Cup’s 116-year history to have reached four finals without winning the title. Croatia is targeting its second title after beating Slovakia in the final in 2005.

Croatia won the opening singles rubber after Marin Cilic struggled past Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, looked like cruising to the expected easy victory until Delbonis broke the Croat twice in the third set, which ended on a Cilic double fault.

“I struggled on my return,” said Cilic, the highest-ranked player in the final at 6th position. “His (high) toss on his serve is a bit specific and it gave me problems.”

“I never said the match would be easy. After all, this is the final,” Cilic said.

Delbonis started the fourth set 3-0 with a double break, and Cilic conceded the set on serve by netting an easy smash.

But after a bathroom beak, Cilic came back renewed and broke Delbonis to start the fifth set on the indoor hard court at Arena Zagreb. Cilic suddenly rediscovered his serving groove, and didn’t give Delbonis a chance.

“I took a short break, talked to the coach,” Cilic said. “I was determined to start playing better.”

Cilic broke again in the seventh game, and served out after 3 1/2 hours, two hours longer than most expected.

Cilic served 17 aces in the match watched by some 12,000 fans, including thousands of Argentinians who outshouted the home supporters. Among them was former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona.

“His serve was the key,” Delbonis said. “In the first two sets, he was serving unbelievably. When I started making some returns, things changed.”

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.”