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2 First-Time Champions Are Crowned At U.S. Open Tennis Tournament

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

There were two remarkable storylines at the U.S. Open this weekend. An 18-year-old Brit, Emma Raducanu, who was a qualifier and barely known, though, before the tournament, won the women's title. And in the men's draw, Novak Djokovic's hopes for a Grand Slam - that's winning all of the major tournaments in a calendar year - were ended by Daniil Medvedev.

Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim, as always, was following all the action. He's with us this morning. Jon, let's begin with the men's final. How did Medvedev manage to rewrite that script and beat Djokovic?

JON WERTHEIM: He out-Djokovic-ed Djokovic.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter).

WERTHEIM: He was just the steadier player. He was sort of the lankier - sort of Djokovic with a rolling pin - I mean, sort of Djokovic plus a few extra inches. And he was steady and crisp and precise and took advantage of an uncharacteristically nervous opponent on the other side of the net. I mean, part of the story was Medvedev; part of the story was just Djokovic and his flatness on the threshold of history.

MARTINEZ: That always seems to work, when you out-them the other opponent, right (laughter)? It always seems to work. So were there signs of fatigue for Djokovic?

WERTHEIM: Yeah, and I think it was a question of how much of this was just cumulative physical fatigue. He'd spent far more time on court than his opponent. Several matches earlier in the tournament went quite long, including his semifinal that went to five sets. And I also suspect just the sheer weight of the occasion - I mean, Djokovic is 34. He's going for his - you know, this was supposed to be his 21st major title - plenty of experience, but he'd never been in the experience of being right there on the doorstep of this once-in-a-generation achievement. And I think just the moment got to him a little bit.

MARTINEZ: All right, let's turn to the women's final - a remarkable journey for not only the winner, Emma Raducanu, but also the runner-up, Leylah Fernandez, who's from Canada and a teenager herself. So what does it mean for the sport to have these two make it to the final of the U.S. Open?

WERTHEIM: It was great. It was this completely unexpected and yet completely joyous storyline. I mean, the men featured No. 1 versus No. 2, and the combined ranking of the two women was 223.

MARTINEZ: Wow.

WERTHEIM: Neither player in the top 50. Raducanu - 60 days ago, she wasn't even among the top 10 British players. And you had this completely sort of whimsical final with these two teenagers. It was a nice reminder of why we like sports and their unpredictability.

And sort of the bigger context here is Rafael Nadal wasn't here. Roger Federer wasn't at the U.S. Open. The Williams sisters - combined age, you know, of more than 80 - they weren't there either. And there was sort of this existential question hovering over tennis. How is the sport going to move past these towering stars, these titans? And we got a glimpse. It was really a refreshing final. As you say, it was completely - two different days and two very different moods, these two teenagers sort of whimsically playing in this who-would've-thunk-it final versus Djokovic going for history. But it was a strong event for the sport overall.

MARTINEZ: I'm going to ask you the cliche sports question now, Jon, when we have new, fresh faces in a final. Are we looking at a new era of women's tennis? I asked it as robotically as possible.

WERTHEIM: That is the inevitable question. And I think for the sort of horrible, crass, transactional purposes, a lot of people think so (ph). Raducanu is, you know, Chinese and - she's of Chinese and Romanian extraction. She's a British player. She speaks Mandarin. There's certainly a lot to like. There are a lot of young stars on the women's side. Some of them will undoubtedly ascend higher than others. But again, I think tennis comes out of this - very much a win for the sport.

MARTINEZ: Jon Wertheim is with Sports Illustrated. Jon, thanks a lot.

WERTHEIM: You got it, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENEMIES' "FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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