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Tennis Stars Return To The Grass Court For Wimbledon's Fortnight

Jul 10, 2017
Originally published on July 10, 2017 4:35 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today was an epic day at Wimbledon. That is not unusual for the second Monday of the two-week tournament. Players take the middle Sunday off, and things get interesting when they come back to the court on Monday. So all of the fourth-round games were played today, and there was one match that for sure will be remembered.

Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated is at the tournament to tell us about it, and he's with us now. Hey, Jon.

JON WERTHEIM: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So the big news - Rafael Nadal lost, right? He was down two sets, came back to win the next two. And then what happened?

WERTHEIM: In the fifth set against 34-year-old Gilles Muller of Luxembourg - you're right - Raf (ph) Nadal won the middle two sets. You figure we've seen this movie before. He's going to come back, and the champion will regress to the mean. And he just couldn't get over the hump. And his opponent, 34 years old - he hadn't even won a tournament until a few months ago. And in the end, he prevailed 15-13 in a match that was almost five hours. This was...

MCEVERS: Wow.

WERTHEIM: ....A considerable upset, A, 'cause of Nadal but also because you just didn't think that having lost those middle two sets he would then turn it around and win the fifth.

MCEVERS: What did Muller do? Like, what - how did he pull it off?

WERTHEIM: He is this titanic server. He, like a - I just wrote this - like a (unintelligible) comic, he knows the power of a strong delivery. He's a tremendous server. He's also left-handed. Nadal is as well, but sometimes lefties don't like playing other lefties. But he attacked Nadal. He served terrifically. And again, just in that fifth set he served first, so he sort of had an advantage in terms of mentally. And he just never relented. And I think everybody expected that eventually the better player historically, which would be Nadal, would win this match. And it just didn't happen.

MCEVERS: OK, so that was one of, like, a gazillion matches today. How did everybody else do?

WERTHEIM: I would say conventionally. There were some exciting matches. There were some blowouts. Roger Federer was in the fine form that he usually brings to bear here at Wimbledon. But really the Nadal watch was the big upset. And what you have is the men's game has these four players at the top of the heap who are head and shoulders above everyone else and do the majority of the winning. And the women's game right now is wide open, especially with Serena Williams not here because of her pregnancy. Her sister Venus won, and suddenly it - 37 might well be the favorite. But the women's game...

MCEVERS: Wow.

WERTHEIM: ...Wide open, a lot of unpredictability. We saw that today.

MCEVERS: And some fun news maybe for local fans. For the first time since 1973, a British man and woman have lasted until the quarterfinals. That's Andy Murray and Jo Konta. What are their chances to make it?

WERTHEIM: Murray is the defending champion, and Jo Konta is the first British woman to make the quarterfinals since 1984. You know, you always have just this longtime lament here that the British players do so poorly, and you have this woe-is-me theme. And now all of a sudden you have a chance - a chance, but still - of both the men and the women's champions being from Great Britain. Wouldn't that be something?

MCEVERS: And after all of this, which is supposed to be the best day in tennis, is there still some more good stuff ahead?

WERTHEIM: There's great stuff ahead. Tomorrow is the women's quarterfinal day. So the women don't get a day off. The women come right back tomorrow. Venus Williams is in action. And then Novak Djokovic did not get his match in today because of darkness. That was somewhat controversial. There's a roof here. Why couldn't they put Novak Djokovic under the roof and get him to finish his match? But that didn't happen. So you've got four women's quarterfinal matches, and then Novak Djokovic will get the match he should've played today in.

MCEVERS: I know that the poor condition of the grass was a problem for some of the players. Quickly, is that past, or is it still a problem?

WERTHEIM: You know, they're only down the two courts, so that helps. But yeah, a lot of - sort of slippery when dry. I mean there hasn't been much rain at all, but that seems to have somehow made the grass slicker - a lot of complaints from the players. But again, now we're down to only the two big stadium courts.

MCEVERS: Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim from Wimbledon. Thank you so much.

WERTHEIM: Thanks, Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAYNARD FERGUSON'S "THREE LITTLE FOXES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.