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U.S. Open Surprises: Stars Djokovic And Federer Out

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. And it's time for sports.

The two highest-ranking players competing in the U.S. Open are out after two stunning matches yesterday. And football season is now officially underway. For more on both, I'm joined by Mike Pesca. He's host of The Gist podcast from Slate.com. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

NEARY: Well, let's talk tennis first. Two big upsets yesterday. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer both lost to lower-ranked players. What happened there?

PESCA: Well, coming into this tournament, it was seen as an opportunity - maybe an opportunity for Federer, who's won 17 Grand Slam titles. He's on the wane of his career. Maybe he could do it again.

Because the situation in tennis is there's this so-called big four - the two guys you just mentioned, Rafael Nadal, who is out with an injury, and Andy Murray, who was in but injured. And his back flared up, and he didn't win.

And in fact, since 2005, only one - Wimbledon of 2005 - only one other guy has ever snuck in and won a title. Now we're going to see someone else do that.

So you have the Japanese player who beat Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, who - he's a huge sensation in Japan, by far the most accomplished, at this point, Japanese tennis player ever.

And the Croatian, Marin Cilic, who beat Federer.

You know, these two guys, outside the big four, in a final - unprecedented since 2005.

NEARY: And isn't it the first time someone from Asia has made it to a Grand Slam final?

PESCA: Mhmm. Yes, that is true. So the whole continent is thrilling. And on the women's side, it's going to be Serena Williams against Wozniacki.

NEARY: OK, now on to the NFL. The Green Bay Packers lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the first game this season. Could this be the beginning of a really good run for Seattle?

PESCA: Yeah. And we thought so coming in because they were a young team, and they were so dominant on defense. And in his year of football where it's seeing that offense is everything, we still - we who love football still have this little inkling in our heads - I thought defense won championships. And last year, they went out and showed it.

In their first game against a really good offense in the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, they looked dominant. Richard Sherman, one of the best offensive players, didn't have a ball thrown his way. So it's an odd thing. If you get really good at that position, safety - sorry, cornerback - no one even looks your way. So that's how good he is. He became invisible and made his opponent visible.

It's very hard to repeat as champion. There's a lot of vagaries in football. But Seattle looks excellent.

NEARY: Now, the Houston Texans had only two wins last year, the worst in NFL history. But they had the number one draft pick. That has to help, right?

PESCA: Yeah, Jadeveon Clowney's going to be awesome. Pair him with J. J. Watt on the line.

I think, you know, the Texans a couple years ago were a really, really good team. And then they had this two-win season. So at least that qualified them to get this great pick.

They should have an excellent, in fact, dominant defense. I don't see why they wouldn't.

And you know, football's this strange game where a terrible team one year can, in a year or two, achieve the heights again. But I don't think it will be the Texans' year. But maybe next year or the year after that will.

NEARY: What about other star players? Who else do you have your eye on the season?

PESCA: Well, you know, I don't know if there are any great - we always think about the quarterbacks. I think the great quarterbacks are established.

I'm very interested in how Zach Ertz is going to do. He's a tight end on Philadelphia. So not the most prominent guy.

But Philadelphia's coach, Chip Kelly, came from college and started using some of his tactics, which is a hurry-up offense. And they get off so many plays. And the tight end is very important. I'm kind of fascinated by how the Philadelphia Eagles offense will look this year.

And then you have the Patriots. I find the Patriots just the most captivating team in professional sports. They find so many different ways to win. And this year it looks like they can actually have a good pass defense.

They get one thing right, which is you get the quarterback, Tom Brady, and then you're very flexible. And by flexible, you're kind of merciless with any other good player who wants a raise. But it's really worked for them. And the Patriots will be an interesting team to watch.

NEARY: Mike Pesca of Slate.com. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.