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As Summer Wanes, Action To Begin At Tennis Season's Final Grand Slam

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Summer is drawing to a close. And that means the start of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Last year, Serena Williams lost in the semifinals in what was considered one of the biggest upsets of all time. This year, she enters her matches ranked on top. Courtney Nguyen is a senior writer at WTA Insider, the magazine of the Women's Tennis Association, and she joins us. Good morning.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What will you be watching for in this U.S. Open?

NGUYEN: Well, for me, I mean, that Serena Williams is the big story - comes in ranked No. 1, hasn't been the top-notch year or, really, historical year that she had in 2015, but still by far and away the No. 1 player in the world. But she's playing for history, chasing Steffi Graf, as she has been for quite some time, going for slam number 23, which would break the record for singles titles in the Open era, and also trying to break a consecutive No. 1 ranking, with 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1. And she's trying to hold on to that top ranking. And she actually is being challenged for it this year.

MONTAGNE: Well, Serena Williams, and on the men's side, obviously, Novak Djokovic, are both favorites to win, but both are nursing injuries. What are the chances their injuries could impair their performances?

NGUYEN: Yeah, I mean, so far, you know, they were pretty dominant for the last 18 months. And what we're seeing in the last few months are these injuries crop up. And it has impacted their results, with Novak Djokovic losing early at Wimbledon to American Sam Querrey. He also lost early at the Olympics.

Serena Williams did the same thing - after winning Wimbledon, went to the Olympics, only played three matches between Wimbledon until now - and lost early in Rio to a young Ukrainian. So, you know, the injuries are very, very significant here. They're the best players in the world when they're healthy. And right now, we know that they're not 100 percent healthy going into New York.

MONTAGNE: OK, and with Djokovic, as you've just described, on something of a summer slump, Roger Federer, who many consider the greatest player of all time, is missing his first U.S. Open in 17 years because of a knee injury. Does that mean we could see someone else rush up there as No. 1?

NGUYEN: No. 1 on the men's side is pretty secured by Novak Djokovic. But we are seeing a lot of movement from the men behind him. Andy Murray has done an incredible job of playing some consistent tennis in 2016. And then we have some younger players who are really trying to make a big splash. So it's a nice little time of transition for the ATP. And, you know, with Roger's absence, it opens up some opportunities for some young names.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thanks very much.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Courtney Nguyen is a senior writer at WTA Insider. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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