Saturday Sports: Wimbledon, World Cup

Jul 14, 2018
Originally published on July 14, 2018 12:07 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Spoiler alert. If you haven't seen it yet, cover your ears. At Wimbledon today, Serena Williams lost. Let's talk about that with Howard Bryant, senior writer for espn.com and ESPN Magazine. Good morning.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good, except I'm very sad about Serena. But let me start with how this came to be. Tell us about the long match that pushed her to later in the day.

BRYANT: Well, the men's match took place yesterday. The semifinal between Kevin Anderson and John Isner pretty much ruined the schedule because it pushed everything back, including the second semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, because the match went six and a half hours and then, of course, because Wimbledon has an 11 p.m. curfew. So instead of the women owning the day on Saturday, which they normally do - ladies day is the championship between Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams - the ten combatants had to wait two hours for the semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic to finish, and then they got on court. Maybe that was a factor in why Serena played very much below her level.

But give Angelique Kerber all the credit in the world. She's a champion. She had beaten Serena in - at the Australian Open a couple of years ago, lost to Serena at Wimbledon in 2016, as well. And she was the No. 1 player in the world. I mean, her level dipped off, and she fell back into the low 20s in her rankings. So to see her come back is outstanding. And I know that the audience - I know everyone wanted the narrative of Serena Williams. It's a great Cinderella story of coming back and trying to be the first woman to win Wimbledon after giving birth since Evonne Goolagong in 1980. But Angelique Kerber is the champion, and it's well-deserved.

MONTAGNE: Well, then, let's work backwards a little bit more to Novak Djokovic and also Rafael Nadal, that - their match.

BRYANT: Well, actually, tomorrow, we have another championship match, which will now be Kevin Anderson against Novak Djokovic. Djokovic and Nadal played a classic today. It was an outstanding match - the two great champions. Rafa has 17 Grand Slam titles and Novak Djokovic just 12. And Djokovic had come back from injury, and it was such a great comeback for him. And Djokovic won 10-8 in the fifth set. Novak Djokovic may be back, as well, in the winner's circle tomorrow when he faces Kevin Anderson.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, there is another thing. And to - came back and forth like a match here. Serena Williams - you mentioned that she had just had a baby. And right there, it's 10 months ago. And right there, it's unusual for her to even be in competition. But also, she had to go through a lot to convince people that she could even get back at all.

BRYANT: Well, absolutely. But when she came back, she was clearly 35 or 40 pounds overweight. And at her age and with everything she's accomplished, there were a lot of people in the professional tennis world who didn't think that she was going to be able to get back to a championship level. To be perfectly honest, that - when you're a champion and when you're a professional at that age, it's really hard to maintain that sort of championship weight. For her to do what she did in such a short time is nothing short of remarkable. And once again, when you look at Serena as a player, it's just so fascinating to see everything that she's done. Even though today, it did not end on a championship note, she's still the reason why we watch.

MONTAGNE: Well, on a different note altogether, there's the World Cup final tomorrow, France versus Croatia. Who's your money on?

BRYANT: My money is on France. And once again, I'm not a huge soccer fan. I don't watch the Premier League. But I do watch the World Cup because I love the competition. I love the spectacle of it, and I pick a team. And after watching that young French team go and seeing how they played against Argentina and seeing what they did against Brazil, I enjoyed watching them. I started to adopt them, and I'm going to stay with them. You can't leave them now. They're at the championship.

MONTAGNE: That's Howard Bryant, senior writer for espn.com and ESPN Magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.