Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams Win Australian Open
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Believe it or not, the Super Bowl was not the only major sports event this past weekend. On the other side of the world, tennis held its first major tournament of the year, the Australian Open. It culminated with Rafael Nadal winning the men's title and Serena Williams winning the women's, in impressive fashion. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss those victories.
Good morning, John.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with Nadal, because his victory was a breakthrough - even for him - wasn't it?
FEINSTEIN: It really was. I mean, as successful as he's been on the clay in Paris, winning there four times, and his extraordinary win over Roger Federer on grass at Wimbledon, he had never even reached the final of a hard court tournament. The Australian Open and the U.S. Open are both played on hard courts. And he hadn't been to a final.
And it took him five hours and fourteen minutes, the longest match in the history of the tournament, to get through his semifinal on Friday night. And then he had to turn around and play a rested Roger Federer, who was looking for his 14th major championship to tie Pete Sampras on the all-time list for men. And he had to go five sets again against Federer, just as he did in the Wimbledon final. And he somehow hung on and pulled it out. He played almost 10 hours of tennis in those two matches to win, Renee. It was extraordinary.
MONTAGNE: Wow. Well, the - and this leaves Roger Federer missing a goal that he was really hoping for.
FEINSTEIN: Yeah, and what's scary if you're Roger Federer, because he is only one shy of Sampras' all-time record, is that Nadal has now beaten him in finals on all three of those surfaces that I mentioned. And Nadal has become kind of a wall for him. They play tight matches off of clay, they go five sets, and Nadal always seems to come up with the extra shot or two. He's a few years younger. He's extraordinarily fit, as I mentioned with all that time of the court. And if you're Federer you almost have to hope that at Wimbledon or the Open this year, certainly at the French, you somehow can get to the final and not play Nadal, even though it's become such a great rivalry.
MONTAGNE: Federer beat American Andy Roddick in the semifinals. But even so, this was one of Roddick's better performances.
FEINSTEIN: In a while. Yes, you're absolutely right about that. You know, Roddick changes coaches the way George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner, used to change managers and pitching coaches. And he's brought in another new coach, Larry Stefanki, to work on changing up his game, trying to alter his routines, not be such a power player. And it did work until he got to Federer. And he's two and fifteen against Federer. And he's got to find a way to beat Federer the way Federer's got to find a way to beat Nadal if he's going to win another major. He hasn't won one in six years now.
MONTAGNE: Now to Serena. She only lost three games in the championship match.
FEINSTEIN: Just a remarkable performance against Dinara Safina in the finals. She was in trouble in the quarters. Serena Williams does this all the time. She gets behind in early matches, it looks like she's going to lose, and then she gets to the final and she crushes her opponent. This is her 10th major title. And she's back at number one in the world. It seems like the Williams' sisters have been around since the 1960s, Renee, but they're still - neither one of them is 30. Serena's 27 and Venus is 28.
MONTAGNE: Right. Well, where does this leave the women's game? I mean, given this is the first major tournament.
FEINSTEIN: I think it's in the hands of the Williams's again. They've now won the last three majors. Venus won Wimbledon. Serena won the Open and the Australian. And they are the two dominant players. There's not even anybody you look at and say, ah, they can give the Williams's trouble right now. So it's, as Yogi Berra would say, for women's tennis déjà vu all over again.
MONTAGNE: You know, we just have a few seconds here. But separately, a British newspaper ran a photo showing Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps inhaling from a marijuana pipe.
MONTAGNE: I mean, he apologized, but any chance that this is going to hurt his reputation?
FEINSTEIN: Well, it is going to hurt his reputation. It's going to hurt his deals with corporate sponsors, because Phelps has been sold as the all-American boy. And look, he's a good kid who made a mistake. The biggest problem was that originally his agent tried to cover it up.
FEINSTEIN: Now he's come out and apologized.
MONTAGNE: John Feinstein, author of "Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open." This is NPR News.
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