New and Old Triumph at French Open
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The French Open tennis championship finished over the weekend in Paris, and the 19-year-old sensation Rafael Nadal of Spain won his first Grand Slam title on the men's side. Justine Henin-Hardenne, the champion two years ago, came back to win the women's championship. To talk about all this and more, commentator John Feinstein joins us now.
JOHN FEINSTEIN reporting:
INSKEEP: So Nadal, this 19-year-old, is having a great year.
FEINSTEIN: He's had a sensational year on clay. He's 38-and-2. And most importantly, on tennis' biggest clay court stage, Roland Garros in Paris, he beat the world's number-one player, Roger Federer, on Friday on his birthday in the most anticipated match of the tournament, and then held off Mariano Puerta in a very good final, a surprisingly good final. Puerta's an unseeded Argentine who came back to tennis interestingly, given our conversations of recent weeks, after being banned for nine months because of steroid use. But Nadal held him off yesterday, and now he emerges, everybody in tennis hopes, to be the next great rival for Roger Federer, who has needed a rival.
INSKEEP: And do you think he can be that rival?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we'll find out a lot in the next couple of months. Can he go in two weeks to Wimbledon and be a factor? The biggest problem for European clay court players historically has been making that transition from the slow high-bouncing clay to the fast low-bouncing grass. Now Federer has done it. Bjorn Borg certainly did it, winning Wimbledon five times. It can be done. Is this kid one of those really special players who becomes a champion not just on one surface, but on all surfaces?
INSKEEP: Well, this new champion we mentioned is from Spain. Where are the Americans in all this?
FEINSTEIN: Ahh, good question. Andy Roddick is still ranked number two in the world and, of course, has never played well on clay. But he hasn't done much since he won the US Open in 2003, and most people think the sport really needs an American in the mix. If you look back at the great rivalries of the last 30 years, they've always involved at least one American: Borg and McEnroe, Evert-Navratilova, Sampras-Agassi, Williams and Williams, just to mention a few. So I think ideally, you'll have Roddick a factor, along with Nadal and Federer, but we'll have to see, because he hasn't done that much in a while.
INSKEEP: Now over to the women's side now. Henin-Hardenne won the title that she won two years ago, but that's an especially significant story because of what happened in between.
FEINSTEIN: Right. Great comeback story. She's only 23 years old, but she's already on the comeback trail. She was brought down by a viral infection last year, missed virtually the entire year. She had been ranked number one. She fell out of the top 20. She came back, played superbly on clay this spring, but she had to save two match points, Steve, in the fourth round to survive, and then she just crushed Mary Pierce, who is practically a grandmother in tennis, playing the French final at age 30 on Saturday to win the championship.
INSKEEP: Well, what happened to the American women, since we were talking about Americans earlier?
FEINSTEIN: Well, they went out almost as fast as the American men. Lindsay Davenport did make the quarterfinals, but all the Americans were gone by the time the second week cranked up in Paris. The "American in Paris," that old movie, not true in tennis these days.
INSKEEP: John Feinstein is one American who remains. Thanks, John.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: John's book, "Caddie for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story," is now available in paperback.
This is NPR News.