Wimbledon Tennis Tournament Begins

Robert Siegel talks with USA Today tennis correspondent Douglas Robson as the 125th Wimbledon tournament begins.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Play at Wimbledon began today for the 125th time. Tennis fans turn to England and its grass courts for the next two weeks.

And for word on what's happened today and a preview of what's to come, we're joined by Douglas Robson, who's there. He's a tennis correspondent for USA Today.

Welcome back to the program.

Mr. DOUGLAS ROBSON (Correspondent, USA Today): It's a pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the women. First, Serena Williams returns to defend her title. It's been a year plagued by off-court injuries and ailments, even showing off her scars. Tell us about her return and how she looks to you.

Mr. ROBSON: Yeah. Well, Serena is the big story back here in Wimbledon. She's obviously the defending champion, and she's undergoing a series of bizarre physical setbacks: cutting her feet on glass shortly after she won her fourth title here last year and then undergoing blood clots and an emergency hematoma operation.

And I actually met with her in March, and she seemed very fragile at the time, but she was very steadfast in her desire to get back, and she's really back here quicker than a lot of us thought. She hasn't played her first round here. She played a tune-up tournament last week, which is unusual for her. There's some rust. But if the Williams sisters - Venus included, who won her first round here today - have shown anything through the years is that they can defy the doubters and certainly brush off the rust quicker than any other players.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about Li Na. She's the Chinese player who had a tremendous victory at the French Open and then was pretty strong at the Australian Open. What are her chances like on grass?

Mr. ROBSON: Well, Li Na is an aggressive baseliner that has a great game for grass. She stays low. She likes to attack the ball. She's been a two-time quarterfinalist here. I think the question for her is really mental.

When she made the Australian Open final, she went into a several month tailspin. She lost four of her next five matches, and she ended up firing her coach who happened to be her husband. She did it delicately. She told us in Paris.

SIEGEL: OK. Let's turn to the men now. Roger Federer, who has won at Wimbledon six times, is back this year with an added coach, Paul Annacone, who helped Pete Sampras. If history serves, then Federer could meet up with Rafael Nadal, who beat Federer to win the French Open on clay. What's your call, Nadal or Federer or neither?

Mr. ROBSON: I think it'd be hard to bet against Federer or Nadal. They're the two favorites going into the tournament. Federer is obviously chasing Pete Sampras' mark of seven Wimbledons.

Federer brought Paul Annacone in last year, a cerebral, calm American who actually happened to work with Pete Sampras in the latter part of his career and really helped Pete solidify his place as one of the greats of the game. So I think that's a really strong addition to Federer's team, and it certainly showed in Paris when he snapped Novak Djokovic's winning streak and made the final. Obviously, he lost to Nadal, but that performance certainly boosts his chances here to actually tie Pete Sampras' mark.

SIEGEL: But as I understand it, the big buzz at Wimbledon, today at least, it's not about Nadal and Federer. It's about Isner and Mahut. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who played that incredibly long match last year.

Mr. ROBSON: It's obviously been the buzz since Friday's draw ceremony that these two unheralded players who played an 11-hour, five-minute match over three days last year are actually slated to meet again in the first round. No one could really believe it when it happened, least of all the two players themselves. But the two of them have become fast friends in the last year.

After the draw ceremony, they high-fived each other in the locker room, and they even have a little wager if the umpire that officiated the match last year would be selected to do it again.

SIEGEL: OK. Doug Robson, of USA Today, thanks so much.

Mr. ROBSON: Thank you.

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