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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.”

Azarenka wins first match at new Miami Open site

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Victoria Azarenka won the first match on the stadium court at the new site of the Miami Open by beating Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

The unseeded Azarenka is a three-time Miami Open champion.

After a one-day delay because of rain, the tournament started Wednesday at the Miami Dolphins’ complex. The 13,800-seat stadium was mostly empty for the opening match, but bigger crowds are expected when seeded players begin taking the court. They have first-round byes.

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony before the first stadium match.

“Standing here in this stadium right now, you see the magnitude, what kind of an arena this is,” Federer said. “I think it’s a big, massive moment in our sport.”

Thiem edges Federer to win Indian Wells title

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Dominic Thiem edged error-prone Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert.

Thiem trailed 4-3 and 5-4 in the third set before breaking Federer with a forehand winner to go up 6-5. Thiem served out the two-hour match that ended with another error from Federer, a forehand dumped into the net.

Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row. He was beaten in a third-set tiebreaker by Juan Martin del Potro last year. Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently.

Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals. But the 25-year-old Austrian’s solid serve held up against Federer as it had throughout the tournament.

Thiem was broken just four times out of 61 service games in the tournament. He didn’t lose serve during his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, facing only one break point in that match.

Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu upset Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the women’s title.

Thiem and Andreescu earned $1.3 million each.

Federer and Thiem had split their four previous meetings, but Federer had won both of their hard-court matches without dropping a set.

He cruised through the first set in 36 minutes while getting broken for just the second time during his run to his ninth appearance in the final. But Federer broke back in the next game and served out the set.

Thiem earned the only break of the second set in the fourth game, going up 3-1. Federer won just two more games in the set.

Both players were on serve in the third set until Thiem collected the only break. Federer tried consecutive drop shots that Thiem retrieved for crosscourt forehand winners before the Austrian hit a winning forehand to lead 6-5.

“He did very well when he got up to the ball, stayed calm, made the shot,” Federer said.

Federer won just one point on Thiem’s serve in the final game.

“Just came up against somebody who was on the day a bit better when it really mattered,” Federer said. “I have been in these positions so many times that I get over it very quickly.”

Federer advanced to the final after rival Rafael Nadal withdrew before their semifinal match because of knee pain. Thiem also benefited from a walkover, reaching the semis when Gael Monfils withdrew with an Achilles injury.

Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian, became the first wild-card winner and second-youngest to claim the title in tournament history.

“The fricking champion of Indian Wells,” Andreescu said. “It’s crazy.”

She overcame nerves, fatigue, arm and leg issues in the final set to earn the first title of her fledgling career.

Andreescu won on her fourth match point when Kerber netted a backhand. She broke Kerber three times in the third set, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to take four of the final five games.

Andreescu dropped her racket near the baseline and fell on her back, her legs in the air as she covered her face in disbelief. After getting up and exchanging kisses with Kerber, the teen bent down and kissed the sunbaked hard court and dropped to her back again, her arms and legs splayed, before grabbing her head.

“This moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy,” Andreescu told the crowd before speaking a bit of Romanian.

Born in Canada, she later moved with her parents to Romania, where she first started playing tennis.

Kerber was the last of five seeded players that Andreescu knocked off in her seven matches.

“When she had the chances, she just go for it,” Kerber said.

The Canadian followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, who was a little-known 20-year-old when she won the title last year. Osaka used it as a springboard to win titles at the U.S. and Australian opens while ascending to the No. 1 ranking in January.

“No pressure,” Andreescu said, joking.

She’s projected to rise 36 spots to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday.

Kerber, ranked eighth, remains without a title since winning Wimbledon last year.

She was a crowd favorite, with fans waving Canadian flags and chanting “Let’s go, Bianca! Let’s go” in the second set.

They clearly enjoyed Andreescu’s fearless style of play. She alternately outpunched opponents from the baseline, tossed up high-arching shots and unleashed well-time drop shots – usually during the same point.

A smiling Andreescu was quick to correct a reporter.

“It’s not moonballing,” she said. “It’s just hitting heavy to her backhand with more spin. We’re not under 12 here.”

Her most dominant win during the 12-day tournament came in the quarterfinals, a 6-0, 6-1 rout of two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza. In all, the teen knocked out four Top 20 players.

Leading 2-1 in the third, Andreescu took a medical timeout and had a trainer massage her tight right shoulder and arm.

Kerber won the next two games, breaking Andreescu to go up 3-2.

Appearing tired and nervous, Andreescu called for her coach, who urged her to make Kerber play every point.

She did just that.

Andreescu won the next three games, ripping off powerful forehands while winning nine straight points during one stretch, including a 40-love service game.

“I just fought till the end because physically I wasn’t feeling too well,” she said.

The trainer reappeared again to ice Andreescu’s cramping legs.

The teen had three match points on her serve before trying one of her patented drop shots. Kerber raced to get it and sent a forehand down the line to get to deuce.

The German led 40-add on Andreescu’s forehand error before the teen made a low-percentage attempt at a drop shot. It landed in the net, leaving Kerber trailing 5-4.

“At the end I was not able to take my chances, but she did,” Kerber said.

Andreescu bounced back, putting away a smash to set up her fourth match point before Kerber’s backhand error ended it after 2 hours and 18 minutes.