Getty Images

Alex de Minaur gets Australian wild card for Roland Garros

Leave a comment

SYDNEY (AP) Tennis Australia said Friday that Alex de Minaur has been given Australia’s reciprocal wild card into the French Open starting on May 27.

De Minaur, 19, has improved his ATP ranking by almost half in 2018 to move to No. 106, nearly qualifying him for the main draw.

In January, he advanced to the semifinals of the Brisbane International and the Sydney International final before losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Tomas Berdych.

“Alex has put in some quality performances over the past six months and it’s a great effort to be only a handful of places out of main draw …” Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt said.

De Minaur, a former Wimbledon junior runner-up, joins fellow Australians Nick Kyrgios, John Millman, Matt Ebden and Jordan Thompson in the French Open men’s main draw. Thanasi Kokkinakis, injury permitting, and Bernard Tomic plan to play in the qualifying tournament.

Australia has four players currently in the women’s main draw, headed by seeded players Ashleigh Barty and Daria Gavrilova, 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur and Ajla Tomljanovic.

The Australian women’s wild card will be determined next week in a qualifying playoff in Paris.

Wawrinka rallies to defeat Murray, reaches French Open final

Leave a comment

PARIS — Battering the ball as if each shot would determine the match’s outcome, 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka came back to beat No. 1-ranked Andy Murray 6-7 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 on Friday and become the oldest French Open finalist in 44 years.

The No. 3-seeded Wawrinka, a 32-year-old from Switzerland, reached the fourth Grand Slam final of his career. He’s won the previous three: at Roland Garros two years ago, the U.S. Open last September and the Australian Open in 2014.

A year ago at the French Open, Wawrinka lost to Murray in the semifinals. This time, Wawrinka managed to wear down the seemingly tireless Murray, himself a three-time major champion. It was a triumph of offense over defense, as Wawrinka used his sublime one-handed backhand and hammer of a forehand to send Murray scrambling and sliding all over the red clay at Court Philippe Chatrier for a tad more than 4 1/2 hours.

Over and over again, Murray would lean, or even lunge, and somehow manage to put his racket strings on seemingly unreachable shots. Murray used plenty of drop shots and lobs, often to great effect. He deflected overheads. In sum, Murray generally made Wawrinka work so hard to get any shot past him.

But make no mistake: Wawrinka does not discourage easily. He kept absolutely walloping his strokes, resolute in his intention to attack and attack and attack.

Wawrinka ran away with the fifth set, taking 16 of the first 21 points and going up 5-0. He ended it, appropriately, with a backhand down the line, his 87th winner of the day, 51 more than Murray accumulated.

When he faces nine-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain will be the oldest man in a French Open title match since Niki Pilic was 33 when he was the runner-up to Ilie Nastase in 1973.

French Open 2017: 30 is the new 25 in men’s tennis right now

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”