RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The U.S. Open tennis championship begins today in New York. It's the final major event of the year, with Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova the defending champions.
Commentator John Feinstein is following the action. Good morning.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Roger Federer has completely dominated this tournament for the last three years. So is there any realistic hope, John, for anyone else in the men's draw?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I'll give you a definite maybe on that. And it - the maybe part starts with Rafael Nadal and how well can he play in New York City and on a hard court? He's never done well here. He's never been past the quarterfinals. He struggles on hard courts every summer, it seems like, after playing superbly on clay, and then this year played very well in the Wimbledon final against Federer.
So if he can get by those New York blues that seem to plague so many international players and get to the final and play Federer, he will clearly be playing well and thus would have a chance, but that is a big if, because he's never done it in the past.
MONTAGNE: And would a rivalry, if it comes to that, between Federer and Nadal put some juice back into men's tennis?
FEINSTEIN: Yes and no. The yes part being that they're both terrific players. Federer has won 10 major titles. Some people think he will go down as the greatest player in history before he's done if he can ever win in Paris. Nadal has already won the French Open three times. He's challenged Federer on other surfaces. So yes, they can be a great rivalry.
But 20 years ago, Ivan Lendl - who was then the number one player in the world - said you need an American in the mix, because so much of what goes on in sports and in tennis is in this country. And you need an American in the mix to have a truly great rivalry that all people will care about.
MONTAGNE: So we'll say it again, this is the U.S. Open. Any hope for the American men?
FEINSTEIN: Maybe. I'll give that another definite maybe. They've got two - there are two Americans seeded in the top six. Andy Roddick, who was in the final and lost to Federer last year and has won the U.S. Open four years ago. James Blake, who's never gotten past a quarterfinal of a major, but always seems to be knocking on the door. Roddick would play Federer at the quarterfinals. Certainly, Federer would be the favorite, but the match will definitely be played at night, because all the glamour matches before the semis are played at night. And with the New York crowd behind him, Roddick would have, as we say in boxing, I think a puncher's chance to win.
MONTAGNE: On the women's side, is Maria Sharapova a favorite in your mind?
FEINSTEIN: Yes, because she's got a great draw. She's the second seed and she's in the lower half of the draw, and all the major threats other than Sharapova are in the top half of the draw - Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, they're the three players who've won major titles already this year. They're all in the top half of the draw. They would have to go through one another to get to the final, whereas Sharapova has a much easier road to the final and should be better rested to face whomever comes through that top half of the draw in the championship match.
MONTAGNE: Why doesn't Justine Henin get more attention, given that she's won all those majors?
FEINSTEIN: That's a good question, because she has won 10 major titles. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that she shies away from a lot of attention. She's not into some of the glamour stuff like the Williams sisters and Sharapova have been into. She's not in a lot of commercials. She comes out, she wears the baseball cap and she just plays great tennis and goes from there.
MONTAGNE: And John, just one last thing. This first night, the U.S. Tennis Association is going to be honoring Althea Gibson.
FEINSTEIN: Fiftieth anniversary of her becoming the first African-American to win the U.S. Open. She was obviously a trailblazer in so many ways, and the USTA - which I'm very critical of on many occasions - for once is doing something kind of cool. In addition to the ceremony honoring her, they're going to have Venus and Serena Williams - who are obviously inspired by her - play both of the night matches instead of having a women's match and a men's match, and that's really a nice touch. It should be a lot of fun to see.
MONTAGNE: Thank you, John.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein. His new book is "Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl."
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