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French Open Hasn't Been Great For Americans In Paris


Time now for sports!


SIMON: It's the French Open and you know, already, there's almost not an American left in Paris - Andy Roddick, Serena and Venus Williams all out already. And elsewhere, the NBA semifinals are in full swing. But let's hold the hardwood and go first to the clay. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine joins us now from the Roland Garros Stadium in Paris. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott, how are you doing?

SIMON: I'm doing better than the rest of the American team, I must say, and that's so unusual. So, what's happened this week? The Williams sisters, Andy Roddick...

BRYANT: Well, it's actually, it's actually been somewhat encouraging. Obviously, in the men's side it's a work in progress. The men aren't as advanced as the women right now when it comes to being able to challenge and to look into the future and see a really, really top, top player. I mean, John Isner is the top-ranked American, he and Mardy Fish at 10 and 11.

But the women have done very, very well. Obviously, the big upset, Virginie Razzano taking out Serena Williams was a huge blow after a big first couple of days for the Americans, but you've got Sloane Stephens, 19 years old, making a run into her first quarter final in a major. And that's very big. You've got Varvara Lepchenko in beating the French Open champion from two years ago, Francesca Schiavone. So you've got two really strong American players who are in and making an Olympic run as well because the top four ranked Americans are going represent the Americans in the Olympic team as well. So it's not that bad.

The men, definitely, the men - the show belongs to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and it will be nice one day to see the American pick up the mantle that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras left off. But that's a long time ago and the great American male player might be in the eighth grade right now.

SIMON: Let me draw you out a bit about Djokovic and Nadal, because these are almost two historic forces that are running into each other.

BRYANT: Well, I think the thing about it is, Scott, that we have to recognize, is that this a golden age of tennis for men right now. It just isn't a golden age of tennis for American men. Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player who ever lived and he is being challenged by another all-time great in Rafael Nadal. And those two had controlled the stage for so long. And then, all of a sudden, who's here now but the best player in the world today is Novak Djokovic. And Novak Djokovic is going right here in Roland Garros for the career Grand Slam. Only seven other players have ever done it. And he's also, by winning the French Open, if he gets it, he's going to have the Grand Slam in terms of winning four consecutive championships. He's won the last three majors, and this is going to be the fourth if he gets it. And in the way is Rafael Nadal, trying to get his seventh French Open, which has never been done before. He's tied with Bjorn Borg for the most.

And so, you've got some great, great tennis being played. If American audiences are as chauvinistic as we've always been in terms of not really watching unless we've got a Jimmy Connors or a Pete Sampras or a John McEnroe involved, then we're missing out on some incredible tennis.

SIMON: And let's touch briefly on the NBA because just when people had the Boston Celtics down and out, they defeated the Miami Heat last night.

BRYANT: Yeah, I was in the air, I missed it. When I landed at 6 A.M., it was amazing to see the Celtics come back after losing that game two in a very devastating fashion. To come back and win game three by 10 points, and now if they can win one more, suddenly we've got a series. Anybody who's a Celtics fan should be very, very proud of this team simply because they're not a great team. They're not in the class of Oklahoma City. They're not in the class of Miami. They're not in the class of San Antonio. But they have shown an incredible amount of heart, pride, professionalism; all those thing that we say are missing in the pro game, because these guys are doing it in such a way that you can tell that this group, this resurgent group that won the championship in 2008, it really matters to them, and they're making the city pretty proud right now.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com, ESPN the magazine and ESPN the pain du chocolat, speaking with us from Paris. Howard, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Au revoir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.