Sports: U.S. Open, NFL

Host Scott Simon and NPR's Mike Pesca discuss the US Open tennis tournament and the opening weekend of the 2011 NFL season.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The U.S. Open, winding down. The NFL season, just winding up. And NPR's Mike Pesca is all geared up to talk about both.

Morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

SIMON: Let's begin, if we could, with the U.S. Open because of course until we get to the actual play this weekend, big story so far has been the weather. They had to compress the schedule to make up for two days of rain. And, I think it's safe to say that tennis players don't like that kind of change.

PESCA: Right. And this isn't the case of rich spoiled athletes complaining about the weather and a little mist. Actually, it is that case, but we should add to where it's not the case of them complaining unreasonably about the weather and a little moisture and a little mist, because if they injured, and really, a small slip could cause that, they don't get paid, and they have to vigilant about their health. They can't rely on a union, of which there is none. They're not going to rely on tournament organizers. Tournament organizers want to get the matches in, so there was this tension. And we saw it much more fiercely than we normally do. Normal rivals banding together, saying these are not proper conditions. Andy Roddick, the American, getting very upset about it.

Rafael Nadal, who, under Roger Federer, are the numbers one and two in the Association of Tennis Players - Nadal was heard to say, you know, it's always about the money with you guys. And he was really quite upset, even though he's in the semifinals.

RAFAEL NADAL: We don't feel protected. The players, we are not feeling protected for the tournament, you know. (Unintelligible) this is when a lot of money and we are part of this show. And they are just working for that, not for us

PESCA: And the players, who are bitter rivals, kind of bonded over this issue. At one point all four of the women who were asked to play were gathered around, looking up, saying this is not right. We shouldn't be asked to play.

We are part of this show, yes, I would say that the players themselves are quite a big part. And on the men's side, Nadal has made the semifinals, as has Andy Murray. And the other side of that draw is Djokovic versus Federer, which should be a really great match. They all should.

SIMON: I thought Andy Murray came back very well under John Isner.

PESCA: Yeah. Isner's that six-nine guy who played the marathon match in Wimbledon. He's a promising American and making the quarter finals of the U.S. Open was the furthest he'd advanced in a Grand Slam. He has a great serve, 140 miles per hour. And Murray could hardly break him but he did. And you know in a different era, Andy Murray might have a couple majors under his belt, but it's hard to do it when guys like Federer, Nadal and now Djokovic roam the land.

SIMON: Women's semis are tonight, and might be a very nice storyline for young Angelique Kerber of Germany, who is ranked like 900 or something.

PESCA: Yeah. About a tenth that, but still, the 90th ranked player; so much so that her opponent said that the only thing I know about her is that she's left handed. And that in fact is true.

She's a 23-year old German. There are a lot of very good young German players on the tour. On the other half draw is the number one woman in the world, Caroline Wozniacki. Unfortunately for Wozniacki, she's a number one who's never won a Grand Slam. And she gets criticism for that, but she plays by the rules. She does very well, she just doesn't have that title. A big reason is the presence of Serena Williams, her opponent. Serena Williams is so dominant and now that she's looks to be fully recovered from her foot ailment, she has just been obliterating opponents. I would be quaking in my boots if I was a 23-year-old German, or the number one player in the world if I had to play her.

SIMON: The NFL season is opened. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, of the Saints and the Packers, didn't seem to show any rust. But let me ask you, watching that game, did you see any evidence of the new NFL rules that is supposed to cut down on concussions?

PESCA: Well, yeah. That was pretty prevalent, even though the question of would offenses or defenses suffer more from the fact that there wasn't as much practice as there usually is, due to the NFL labor situation. You can't really go by one game to get a read on that. But on the issue of kickoffs, which have been moved five yards forward, and the players don't get as much as a running start. And that's all designed to have fewer kickoff returns. That really did happen. We saw in that game on Thursday night as many touchbacks in Lambeau Field as we did in all of 2010. At one point I'm saying to myself, why call it a kickoff? Why not just call it a touchback? Maybe Randall Cobb of the Packers was saying the same thing, 'cause he fielded a ball eight yards deep in his end zone and he - boom - just took off and the rookie returned it, tying an NFL record for longest touchdown return. Everyone was pretty happy in Green Bay, except it has been reported his coach, who said, do not return the ball when it's that deep in the end zone. Sorry, coach.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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