U.S Open Begins 2-Week Run In N.Y.

The U.S. Open tennis tournament gets underway in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., Monday. Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be defending their singles titles. Federer will be going for a record sixth straight Open title, while Williams will be trying to add to the two major titles she already has won in 2009.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be defending the singles championships they won a year ago when the U.S. Open tennis tournament kicks off its two-week run in New York this morning. Federer will be going for a record sixth straight Open title. Williams will be trying to add to the two major titles she's already won in 2009. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Okay, well, let's start with Federer. He has been the king of New York since 2004. How big a favorite is he to win his sixth straight title?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the only reason he's not a completely overwhelming favorite, Ari, is because he didn't play that much tennis this summer after finally winning a French open, after breaking Pete Sampras's all-time record with his 15th major title in that great final against Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. And the reason he didn't play that much tennis is because his wife gave birth to twins about a month ago, and he took some time off.

So I would say if you're going to get Roger Federer in this event, you probably want to get him in that first week when he's still kind of warming up his game. If he gets through the first week without an upset and gets into the quarters and semis, I think he will be very difficult for anybody to beat.

SHAPIRO: So one of the people who could knock Federer off his pedestal, Rafael Nadal, also missed some time this summer. He missed Wimbledon with a knee injury. How's he looking right now?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he's looking like a guy who's coming off a knee injury, to be honest. Hard courts, which the U.S. Open is played on, have never been his favorite surface, although he's a very good player on them. But this is the one Grand Slam event he's never won, the U.S. Open. He's never even made it to a final.

So we will watch him closely that first week to see what kind of form he's on. He was upset early in the French Open, where he'd been so dominant, winning four straight times. I think for Nadal, this could be a tough get to break that string and complete his career Grand Slam.

SHAPIRO: How about Andy Roddick? I take it he's another big contender?

FEINSTEIN: He should be. I mean, he played great tennis at Wimbledon. He has won this event. This is his only major title. When he won the Open in 2003, believe it or not, that's the last time someone other than Federer won the U.S. Open. The New York crowds obviously will be behind him. He did play well coming off of his slight injury - his hip injury - at Wimbledon in August. He's got a very tough draw, though. He'd have to play Novak Djokovic, the fourth seed, in the quarters just to get to Federer in the semifinals. So the draw might do Andy Roddick in.

SHAPIRO: Okay. Well, let's shift to the women for a moment. How do you explain how Serena Williams, who has won three of the last four majors, is somehow ranked behind Dinara Safina, who has never won a major?

FEINSTEIN: Let me give you an honest answer to that question: I have no earthly idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FEINSTEIN: This is simply the way the women's rankings are. Dinara Safina is very good playing in non-Grand Slams. She wins in Rome. She wins in Madrid. She wins all over the world. But she's never won in the four places that matter most, which are the four majors in Australia, in France, in Great Britain and here in New York.

Serena and Venus Williams have been dominant in the major championships. There is no way that Serena Williams, having won, as you said, three of the last four major titles, should not be the number one ranked player in the world. And it matters because since she's seeded two and her sister is seeded three - even though I think they're clearly the two best players in the world - they can't play in the final. They would meet in the semifinals.

SHAPIRO: So you think whichever Williams sister comes out of the semifinal will be the champion.

FEINSTEIN: That's the way to go if you're a betting man, but there's one wild card, literally, in this field. Kim Clijsters, a former number one player, has been given a wild card into the field because she has no ranking at the moment since she's coming back from having a baby. She's someone to watch, even though she's not seeded at all.

SHAPIRO: That's John Feinstein. His new book is "Change-up: Mystery at the World Series."

Thanks, John.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Ari.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: This is NPR News.

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