Sports: Dim Stars At U.S. Open; MLB Pennant Races

The bright lights and raucous crowds of the U.S. Open are here, but this year, the talent isn't shining. In baseball, the front-runners are pulling ahead of the also-running, just before the last month of the season. Host Scott Simon talks sports with Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

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SIMON: The bright lights and raucous crowds of the U.S. Open Tennis are here; maybe wetter than usual this weekend. On the men's side, the New York fans may miss a homegrown contender, but might be pleased to find a new low-seeded American in the women's bracket. And in baseball - well, hardly new is she? We'll get to that. In baseball, the front-runners are pulling ahead of the also-running, just before the last month of the season.

ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us from our member station Amherst, WFCR. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: I am fine, thank you. Men's tennis these days, so you hear Djokovic. You of hear of Nadal, obviously. Even still hear a lot about Roger Federer. But when the smoke clears at these Grand Slam events, are these the only guys were talking about?

BRYANT: Well, tennis is not really a sport where there's a lot of luck involved. You can't remember too many times where a guy over the past 10 years has just shown up and taking the top three players out. It's Djokovic. It's Nadal. It's Federer. And there's really everybody else. You've got some of the greatest players. I think Andy Murray may end up being the greatest player never to win a slam. And the other guys behind him - Ferrer at number five, Soderling, Monfils, and Mardy Fish the American at number eight - they're just not in the same class as the top three players. And because of that, I think you're going to see Djokovic, Nadal, Federer mix in there, one way or the other.

SIMON: And speaking of Andy Murray, are Americans like the Brits at Wimbledon? I mean you have to go down to number eight to find Mardy Fish, and I don't see anybody mentioning him as being in the hunt this time.

BRYANT: Well, Mardy Fish beat Nadal in Cincinnati in the tune-up last week. And you're right, this is not going to be the kind of tournament where you've got a Jimmy Connors or Sampras, or someone like that to be there to give the crowd a great surprise - or an Agassi who makes a great run. Or even Andy Roddick in 2003 who won the open.

But you're right, I think Andy Murray is the type of player who is close enough, but he's just not good enough yet. He's got to have that breakthrough moment where he's able to sustain a rally against these top three players in five sets. And it just hasn't happened yet. You thought it was going to happen last Wimbledon, it didn't happen and you're starting to wonder now, obviously, at 24 years old is time running out? No, I don't think so.

But still, there are top three guys in those three in those three players. And Djokovic is consistently better than the other two, so it might just be a one guy run-away this time around.

SIMON: On the women's side, all the major names seem to be struggling in recent months.

BRYANT: Not everybody is struggling. And the good news is, is that the women's game is looking for a new queen. The bad news is that nobody seems to want it. You have Caroline Wozniacki who's had a terrible summer, even though she won last night over Francesca Schiavone in New Haven. You've got Zvonareva, who's the second ranked player and she can't seem to get it together. Kim Clijsters is injured. Venus Williams isn't even ranked. And Sharapova got destroyed by Petra Kvitova in Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is the best player in the women's game. There's no question about it. And she's seeded 28th. It's her tournament. It's her tournament to lose. When she is healthy, nobody can beat her.

SIMON: Finally, as we - the last few weeks of Major League Baseball, has Major League Baseball gotten to the point where it's the Yankees, the Reds and the Phillies in one league, and everybody else in the other?

BRYANT: Well, the Reds. The Red Sox.

SIMON: Oh, I'm sorry. The Red Sox.

BRYANT: After the Red Sox.

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SIMON: I did say that, yeah.

BRYANT: It's Boston, New York, Philadelphia. They are the superpowers. There's been very little suspense ever since the Red Sox got out of that slow start and started to really roll the summer. There's no question that it's those three teams and everybody else. And the big question is just going to be, okay, who gets to play the Phillies in the World Series? Hopefully something will change and will get a little bit of drama this October. Otherwise, we know it is.

SIMON: Hunker down, Howard. Thanks very much.

BRYANT: See you later, Scott.

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