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Top-Seeded Woman Defeated In First Round Of French Open


The French Open tennis championship began yesterday in Paris. And this year, the most celebrated clay court tournament is missing some big names. Here to tell us more is Jon Wertheim, executive editor with Sports Illustrated. He joins us on the line from Paris. Hi, John.


SIEGEL: There's been some exciting play in the first round for the women. The number one seed, Angelique Kerber, is out. And there was a heartwarming victory for the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova. Tell us about those two matches.

WETHEIM: Angelique Kerber was the top seed and shown the egress by about lunchtime on the first day. This is in keeping with women's tennis these days which is wide open. That's accelerated by some of the absences here, but the women's field really wide open. But you're right, the big heartwarming story, Patra Kvitova, who has won Wimbledon twice, a very accomplished player.

And she was stabbed in a home invasion in the Czech Republic in December, which was horrific. And she decided to try and come back here. She said she still can't quite make a clenched fist, but she decided at the last minute to enter. And she played very well in her first round match and seems emotionally to sort of have made a nice comeback as well, so that's been a heartwarming story here.

SIEGEL: On to one of the big absences - Serena Williams, winner of the Australian Open, is out due to pregnancy. How did her big sister Venus play?

WETHEIM: Venus, who was a few weeks away from turning 37 years old, is the 10th seed and really has to be considered a contender. Venus played quite well. And the fact that Serena is not here emotionally might be different, but I think that opens up the draw for Venus among so many other players.

SIEGEL: These are the headliners. Who are some lesser known women players who may have a shot this year?

WETHEIM: I liken the women's draw to the, you know, the 2016 GOP slate of candidates. I mean, there are any of 15 names that you could choose from. And who knows how it will go? Simona Halep is a Romanian player who has never won a major, but people suspect it is her time.

American Madison Keys is a big heavy hitter. Clay is not her best surface, but she might be the most powerful ball striker this side of Serena. I've never seen an event like this where it's just - you literally could pick 25 names and you might not get the winner. I mean, it is wide, wide open.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to the men's side now. Roger Federer won the first big tournament of the year, the Australian Open, but he's skipping the French Open, saying scheduling will be the key to my longevity going forward. What is that supposed to mean?

WETHEIM: The clay is always going to be the toughest surface for him, especially as he gets on in years. And Wimbledon really represents his best chance to win another major. He won the Australian Open in January and has had this terrific year so far, but I think he really wants to peak in time for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open then later in the summer.

And I think the thinking was that clay is so demanding, and his body can be so temperamental at this age that sort of the risk-reward didn't make sense. And so he is skipping this major entirely.

SIEGEL: Rafael Nadal, the so-called king of clay, advanced easily today, as did Novak Djokovic who's the reigning French Open champion. Are they still the favorites this year?

WETHEIM: They are absolutely the favorites. Nadal is far and away the favorite to win here for the 10th time. Djokovic is the defending champion. He's probably the second favorite, then a long, long staircase down to other contenders. As wide open as the women's draw is, the men's draw looks really to be a two-man race.

SIEGEL: Djokovic made news by hiring tennis legend Andre Agassi to be his coach for this year's tournament. Any sense of Agassi's impact or what he'll offer as a coach?

WETHEIM: I think that's a really an inspired move by Djokovic. Djokovic has been slumping lately. And Agassi, of course, is known for this career resuscitation right around the same age. He's a smart guy. He's a measured guy. He's a very good communicator. I think it's really an inspired move by Djokovic. I'm impressed that he was able to talk Agassi into it.

SIEGEL: Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated at the French Open. Thanks so much.

WETHEIM: Anytime. Thanks, Robert.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "MASTER OF LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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