Wimbledon Tournament Promises Excitement
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The world's best tennis players are defending on the All England Lawn Tennis Club. On Monday they'll begin a fortnight of play in the tournament better known as Wimbledon.
For help on what to expect, we called Christine Brennan. She's a columnist for USA Today and a regular on this show. Good morning.
Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (Columnist, USA Today): Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with Roger Federer. He lost to his rival, Rafael Nadal, in the French Open, but can anybody beat Roger Federer on grass?
Ms. BRENNAN: Likely not. He is going for his fifth Wimbledon title in a row. The last man to do that was Bjorn Borg back from '76 to 1980. So that is quite an achievement if Federer can do that. He has been to eight grand slam finals in a row - Federer has - and he has won 10 major titles. So he is almost unbeatable on what is his favorite surface, which is grass. And having said that, Nadal, who's just 21 years old, was in the finals last year, and even though he loves clay and has won three straight French Opens, if anyone can do it, it would be Nadal, and expect him to have a good Wimbledon as well.
MONTAGNE: What about Andy Roddick, the great U.S. hope every single year?
Ms. BRENNAN: Exactly, every single year. He just won a warm-up tournament, the Queen's Club tournament. That's good. But he was out of the French Open in the first round, as were, by the way, all nine U.S. men; they lost in the first round of the French. He's the only active U.S. male to win a grand slam event. He won the 2003 U.S. Open. But that's a long drought now; that's the last time that he's won a major - Andy Roddick is the number three seed but he just can't seem to beat Roger Federer. He's 1-13 against Federer in his career.
Roddick is 24, Federer is 25, and it may just be, Renee, that Andy Roddick is a very, very good tennis player but not a great tennis player in the mold of Pete Sampras and some others.
MONTAGNE: Let's turn to the women's side, which is more wide open than the men's.
Ms. BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely. Justine Henin is the number one seed. She just won the French Open but she's never won Wimbledon. But there's a lot of other names, people know them, very popular players - Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champ, last year's U.S. Open champion. She's having a strong year, and Sharapova loves the faster surface, so she'll be very happy to be on grass.
And we can't forget Serena Williams, the Australian Open winner. She's come back after having all sorts of injuries and being out. She went out just in the quarters of the French recently. And her sister Venus is the 24th seed - Serena is seeded number seven - and Venus is the last American to win Wimbledon in 2005. The Williams sisters really are the hopes for the United States on the women's side.
MONTAGNE: There was big news over the winter, that finally the prize money for the women at Wimbledon will be equal to the men.
Ms. BRENNAN: Billie Jean King, of course, the tennis icon and sports legend, said finally, finally - she's been fighting for this for years - Wimbledon is now paying women equally. And then the French Open followed suit immediately. So all four of the majors, Renee, now do pay men and women the same amount of prize money.
Wimbledon was dragging its feet. The argument, of course, has been that women only played three sets - best two out of three; men three out of five. But the reality is women have been driving the TV ratings of late in tennis. Women are the superstars in this sport, especially in the U.S. The interest there is greater on the women's side than the men's. So it was past due. It was Venus Williams, Billie Jean King - you name it - they had argued for this, and finally, Wimbledon came along. It came into the 21st century or maybe seven years too late but nonetheless it's finally done it.
MONTAGNE: Christine, thanks very much.
Ms. BRENNAN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Christine Brennan is the author of "The Best Seat in the House," and she's a columnist for USA Today.