U.S. Open Starts Monday
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And we end this hour with sports and talk of tennis' final grand slam tournament of the year. The U.S. Open begins on Monday, weather permitting, in New York. And sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now for a preview. Hello, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And, Stefan, in tennis, the focus always seems to cycle between the women side of the game and the men side. Right now, we're in a period when the men are the dominant interest, and at the open, that's not about to change, I gather.
FATSIS: No. If anything, it's going to solidify. For the last half decade, we've enjoyed this fantastic rivalry of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but now, the balance is shifting there, as these things do. Federer had won 16 out of 27 grand slam titles since Wimbledon in 2003, but he is O for his last six. And now, he's ranked third with Nadal second, behind the new number one, Novak Djokovic. Djokovic has had one of the greatest seasons in tennis history. He's won 59 out of 61 matches, two of the three grand slams played so far - talk about group dominance. These three guys have won 25 of the last 26 grand slams.
SIEGEL: Wow. In some sports, that kind of dominance might not be viewed as a good thing, but in tennis, it seems to be a good thing, yes?
FATSIS: Yeah. I think, historically, it always has been. Tennis has thrived on these rivalries. You go back, you think about Evert and Navratilova, Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi. There's an interesting cover story in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine about the importance of rivalries in tennis, both for the fans and for the players themselves. And the author of the piece, Gerald Marzorati, writes that the best players have only one another to coax them to greatness on the court, to potentially complete them in the minds of fans and to help players apprehend and countenance the aloneness that is at the heart of professional singles tennis. To be a great tennis player is to need a rival. Men's tennis has that.
SIEGEL: So the men have that. Now, what does the women side of the sport look like?
FATSIS: Well, wide open and unsettled are the two most used descriptors for women's tennis. The women's game lacks a dominant player or players or a compelling on-court story right now. The top seed at the U.S. Open is Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark. She's never won a grand slam, and she just demoted her coach, her father. The number two ranked player, Vera Zvonareva of Russia, hasn't won a slam either. And the defending champion, Kim Clijsters, had to withdraw from the event last week because of an injury.
Finally, you've got the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. They've won the U.S. Open a combined five times, but they have had injury-filled years and haven't played very much. So because of the U.S. Open seedings are based according to player rankings, Serena is seeded 28th and Venus is unseeded. You would not ever expect them unseeded.
SIEGEL: Unseeded. So who might actually win the women's tournament?
FATSIS: Well, Serena, actually, she has had this year of injuries and other health problems, including a pulmonary embolism, but she did come back at Wimbledon in June. She's won two of the last four tournaments that she's played in. And the number three seed is Maria Sharapova, and she's had a resurgent year herself, seeming determined to win another major before she retires. And it's odd to think of someone who's 24 retiring...
SIEGEL: At 24.
FATSIS: ...but that's tennis.
SIEGEL: You mentioned Serena Williams' injuries. Injuries are a big deal in tennis right now.
FATSIS: Yeah. The tennis writer Matt Cronin tweeted the other day that 11 of the top 20 men have been hurt since Wimbledon. That was seven weeks ago. And the women side isn't much different. As Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim wrote this week, maybe it's time for the sport to look at whether the speed and the power of the modern game, which have accelerated so much, the equipment, the scheduling demands on the players play a role here and injuries, and maybe it's time to sort of pull back and give players a bit more of a break.
Rafael Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, actually brought this up today. He said the men's tour isn't brave enough to look into the issue of injuries. They don't care about health. They care about the show and the money. It sounds like he was talking about the NFL before...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FATSIS: ...all of its injury...
FATSIS: ...not tennis.
SIEGEL: Have a good weekend and stay dry, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert. You too.
SIEGEL: That's sportswriter Stefan Fatsis who joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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