U.S. Open Set to Bid Farewell to Agassi, Navratilova
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The U.S. Open Tennis Championships begin this morning at the about-to-be renamed Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. Roger Federer is the two-time defending men's champion, but last year's women's champion, Kim Clijsters, won't be defending her title because of an injury.
Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. Good morning.
Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Author, Vanishing Act: A U.S. Open Mystery): Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And with all due respect to Roger Federer, four-time Wimbledon champion and two-time U.S. Open champion, most of the attention early in the tournament will be on the man he beat in last year's final.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Andre Agassi, who will be making his farewell appearance. This is his 21st consecutive U.S. Open, which, if you think about the fact that most tennis careers don't last past ten years, 21 straight times playing in the U.S. Open - and as late as last year, as you mentioned, he was a finalist. He announced his retirement before Wimbledon, and he will be - it'll be all Andre all the time until he loses or miraculously wins the title and goes out in triumph, which is unlikely.
He's got a very tough second round match, potentially, against a young player named Marcos Baghdatis, who was in the Wimbledon semis. But it will be one of those extraordinarily emotional moments when Andre leaves the court for the last time, whenever it happens to be.
MONTAGNE: And there will be a swan song for a great player on the women's side.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Martina Navratilova. Believe it or not, she'll be 50 in October. She retired, of course, as a singles player ten years ago, but came back and played doubles for the last five years, won a couple more major titles. She won a tournament just last week in doubles. So she can be a factor playing doubles, and if she were to get to the second week and perhaps have a chance to win one more title, that would be an extraordinary story too.
MONTAGNE: You know, just back for a moment to Roger Federer. John McEnroe has said that he might be the greatest player ever. Would you agree with that, John?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Not yet. You have to win all four major titles. Pete Sampras won more majors than anybody. He won 14. Federer is at eight. But nobody thinks of Pete as the greatest player ever because he never won the French Open. He never won on clay in Paris. Federer's got the same problem. He got to the final this year but lost to Rafael Nadal, who is emerging as his great rival.
Nadal has won the last two French Opens on clay. Federer then beat Nadal on grass at Wimbledon. And now everyone is hoping they will have one more match on the neutral court - the hard courts of the U.S. Open. But if Federer wants to go down in that elite category, he's got to win all four majors.
MONTAGNE: Okay. So in the women's singles, Clijsters is out. Who's the favorite now?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: I don't know, Renee. It might be Billie Jean King. With so many players having been injured and not playing that well - the Williams sisters have been out of sight, out of mind, for a long time now. Amelie Mauresmo has won two majors this year. She's the number one seed, and I guess that makes her the favorite.
But Justine Henin-Hardenne has won the U.S. Open before. Lindsay Davenport, who could be playing her last tournament - she's talked about retiring and starting a family - if she's healthy enough could be a factor. Who the heck knows! Maybe Chris Evert will make a comeback.
MONTAGNE: John, thank you very much.
Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein. His new book is Vanishing Act: A U.S. Open Mystery.