Move Over World Cup, Wimbledon Starts Next Week

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While much of the world's attention is on the World Cup, Wimbledon starts Monday. Defending champion Roger Federer is no longer the No. 1 player in the world, but he is still the favorite. Patrick McEnroe, a commentator for ESPN, tells Deborah Amos that Serena Williams is a favorite —although it's her sister Venus, who often has an edge on the grass court.


While much of the world's attention is on World Cup soccer, this is also an exciting time for tennis: Wimbledon starts on Monday, the granddaddy of tennis tournaments. Defending champion Roger Federer is no longer the number one player in the world, but he's still a favorite. And then on the women's side, Serena Williams is a favorite, although it's her sister Venus who often has the edge on this grass court.

To help us prepare for the tournament and to talk about his new book, we're joined by a former player who now helps develop U.S. tennis players, Patrick McEnroe. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PATRICK MCENROE (Former Tennis Player): Thank you. Great to be here.

AMOS: Let's talk about this year's tournament. Do you think we're going to get another match up of Roger Federer and the hot Spanish player Rafael Nadal?

Mr. MCENROE: Something tells me, Deb, that it may not happen this year, although I think, obviously, many sports fans and a lot of tennis fans would love to see it, although a lot of Americans would probably love to see Andy Roddick get back into the final. He played such a classic match last year.

AMOS: Any surprises on the women's side?

Mr. MCENROE: I don't think so. I think you'll see both Serena and Venus are the top two players in the world now. They've certainly earned their way back. I would give the slight edge to Serena, although Venus, you know, has played the best tennis of her career at Wimbledon last year, losing to Serena in the finals. I'm sure Venus would like to get that title back.

AMOS: In your book, I think it's fair to say that you were tougher on Serena Williams than any other player. And what you write is she has a great deal to give, if only she could forget about the taking.

Mr. MCENROE: Mm-hmm.

AMOS: So what's that about?

Mr. MCENROE: I just have this sense that she doesn't respect the game as much as she could. And when you're number one, there becomes a lot more responsibilities than just going out there and competing, which she does extremely well. and that's one of the reasons why she's one of the greatest players of all time.

But for example, Deb, when she loses matches, she tends to not really give her opponent a lot of respect for winning. And, you know, in some sense, that's the mindset of a champion, but you never really hear Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal do that. They're always complimenting their opponents. And I think Serena's got so much to offer. She's so charismatic, and I think in the last few years of her career, she could really gain even more fans if she had a little more humility to her.

AMOS: One of the most interesting things in your book is when you write about how much the grass court changed...

Mr. MCENROE: Mm-hmm.

AMOS: ...after the era of Pete Sampras. Why did they have to change the grass?

Mr. MCENROE: Well, I think they became concerned throughout the latter stages of the '90s that the game was becoming too boring, that it was becoming a serving contest. It was too quick. The points were not lasting more than a couple of swings of the racquet, and the big servers were really dominating.

And so they changed the complexion of the grass a little bit to make it a little bit thicker. They also, I believe, changed the balls to make the balls a little bit heavier. So what you see now is really more of an all-court game. You do have a lot of variety. You do have a lot of net play, but you don't have the pure serve-and-volley tennis that you had in the past. And also, the big serve, while still being a huge asset, you need a lot more than that to win Wimbledon.

AMOS: In your book, you talk about playing at Wimbledon. You didn't have much success there, but just playing there has to be a thrill.

Mr. MCENROE: Well, absolutely. Thanks for the reminder, by the way, Deb, that I didn't play too well. But you're right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCENROE: You know, Wimbledon is really the cathedral of tennis, I mean, especially the center court. I was lucky enough to play one singles match there, and it was against the great Andre Agassi, and he whipped up on me pretty good.

One of the great things about Wimbledon - and I talk a little bit about it in the book - is sort of that first day you show up there, and just to see the way they meticulously prepare the courts and they put the titanium paste, they call it, the lines down on the court, and the beauty of that grass on that first day when it hasn't been worn out, it hasn't turned into dust, into dirt. It's pretty amazing. It kind of reminded me of the first time I walked into Yankee Stadium as a young kid, as a baseball fan.

AMOS: Thanks very much, and have fun at Wimbledon.

Mr. MCENROE: Thank you.

AMOS: Patrick McEnroe is the author of "Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches."

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