Picking Favorites In The U.S. Open

The U.S. Open tennis tournament begins today in New York City with the womens' singles champions of the past two years out with injuries, presenting an opportunity for the Williams sisters. Meanwhile, on the men's side, Rafael Nadal has the chance to prove that he's the best player of the year — if he goes further than Roger Federer.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now that the Olympics are ending, another major sporting event is beginning. It is the fourth and final major championship on the year in tennis - the U.S. Open in New York City.

Commentator John Feinstein joins, as he often does, to talk about it.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the women go in with no defending champion.

FEINSTEIN: Actually, they don't have the last two champions there, Steve. Justine Anna, who won last year, suddenly retired this spring just right before the French Open and obviously hasn't played since then. And Maria Sharapova, who won two years ago, hurt her shoulder a few weeks ago in Montreal, did not play the Olympics, is not playing the U.S. Open. So that really leaves a wide open field on the women's side.

INSKEEP: It's got to leave an opening for somebody named Williams perhaps?

FEINSTEIN: Perhaps. Venus Williams, Serena Williams, maybe Andy Williams. I don't know, but probably Venus or Serena, who played each other in the Wimbledon final, you remember a couple of months ago, with Venus beating Serena. And certainly, even though Ana Ivanovic is now the number one seed, I think, especially in New York, the Williams sisters have to be the favorites going in.

INSKEEP: Looking at the men's side, John Feinstein, how is Roger Federer not the top seed here, even though he's won this tournament again and again and again and again?

FEINSTEIN: Well, there is this thing in tennis where you have to go by the computer rankings when you seed a tournament. And Rafael Nadal has certainly earned the number one ranking this summer. He killed Federer in Paris at the French Open. He won that epic Wimbledon final to end Federer's five-year Wimbledon run. And then he won the Olympic gold medal. Federer lost in the quarter finals to James Blake.

Having said that, how do you not seed a guy who's won an event four years in a row number one, regardless of what the rankings say? Nadal has never been past the quarter finals of this tournament. And if he really wants to assert himself as the number one player, as having unseated Federer, he's got to at least get to the final in this tournament and prove that he can play on a hard court in New York.

INSKEEP: Are we getting close to the point where Nadal might have a claim on that, given everything else he's done this year?

FEINSTEIN: Well, if he wins this event, he's clearly the player of the year. He will have won three major titles. He will have won the Olympic gold medal on top of that. He's already beaten Federer, as we mentioned, in two major finals, including on Federer's favorite surface, grass, at Wimbledon. So yes, we are getting very close to that point. Although if Federer wins this event, then you kind of toss a coin as to who the number one player in the world is, regardless of what the computer says.

INSKEEP: Would that be a historic moment if Federer was no longer seen as the ultimate player in tennis?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the shocking thing, Steve, is that a year ago, after he won his fifth straight Wimbledon and his fourth straight Open, the question was is he the greatest player ever; is he better than Sampras, who won the 14 major titles? Federer's now at 12. Is he better than Rod Laver, who most of us think was the greatest player ever? And now the question is, is he even the number one player in the world anymore? So things have really changed a lot in 12 months.

INSKEEP: Are you sure that Americans are going to dominate this U.S. Open?

FEINSTEIN: No, I'm pretty sure they won't, actually. You know, it's interesting. There are 64 seeded players, Steve - 32 on the men's side, 32 on the women's. Only five of them are Americans, and they're not young Americans either. Andy Roddick and James Blake are both now in their late twenties. Roddick's got the one major title five years ago, nothing since.

And on the women's side, it's the Williams sisters, who believe it or not are also in their late 20s, and Lindsay Davenport, who's a mother. Those are the three seeded Americans on the women's side. So now we get back to this question, again: where are the young American players? They're certainly not seeded at the U.S. Open this year.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein. His most recent book is "Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams and One Unforgettable Season."

John, Thanks.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And the U.S. Open begins today in New York City at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center.

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