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U.S. Open Quarterfinals Set To Begin In New York

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The last month has been special for fans of tennis - first a competitive Olympic Games and now the U.S. Open in New York City. Today is day eight of the Open. Matches yesterday and today will decide the lineup for the quarterfinals. Those begin tomorrow. The tournament wraps up next weekend. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated is at the tournament at Flushing Meadows in New York. And, Jon, let's start by checking in on Venus and Serena Williams - right? - they're a big story here.

JON WERTHEIM: They are a big story. Unfortunately, in the case of Venus it's past tense. She lost a heartbreaking match this afternoon - 7-6 in the third set. It was reminiscent of Rafael Nadal's loss yesterday. Serena's on court now and is a few points away from winning. So it looks like only one of the two Williams sisters - the soon-to-be 35-year-old as opposed to the 36-year-old is advancing.

CORNISH: But what else is going on the women's bracket? Is there anyone who was making a good show of it?

WERTHEIM: I like Caroline Wozniacki - a Danish player who was ranked number one and slipped. She came to the tournament number 74 and has this nice resurgence here. But really it's the Serena story. And before the tournament, there were a lot of questions about her health and finally might it be that time has caught up with her, and the answer seems to be an emphatic no. She has not even had her serve broken yet this tournament.

CORNISH: Now, I want to talk about the men for a minute. Rafael Nadal was knocked off yesterday in a big upset. Who else is sitting this out?

WERTHEIM: It's interesting. This is - Roger Federer is not here for the first time since the 1990s. And I think there was a lot of question about what would this tournament look like in Roger Federer's absence, and what it's turned out is that other players have really ascended. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic - who are one and two - are still in the tournament.

But Lucas Pouille for example, a young 22-year-old Frenchman who beat Nadal, has ascended. Gael Monfils, a abundantly talented, entertaining French player has also come to the fore. So it's been an interesting sort of tournament transition for the men with no Federer and now no Nadal. But I don't think it's been to the detriment of the men's draw at all.

CORNISH: But is there a real chance for someone outside of the so-called Big Four to break through?

WERTHEIM: The Big Four have won more than 90 percent of the major titles over the last decade - I mean, that's just a phenomenal...

CORNISH: Yikes.

WERTHEIM: ...Unprecedented concentration.

CORNISH: That's everything (laughter).

WERTHEIM: Everyone - yeah and it - we talk about this golden era. We talk about sort of how top-heavy this era is. And there's a chance Juan Martin Del Potro, who won this event seven years ago and had an injured wrist and really hasn't been the same since, has now finally returned. He won today, and I think might be the player most likely to sort of break up this oligopoly. But it really is unbelievable how these four players, again two of them - Federer and Nadal - no longer in the draw, but two of them remain. It's remarkable how these four players have dominated men's tennis.

CORNISH: And I hear there are record crowds being drawn to Flushing Meadows this year. And another big debut of the tournament - a new grandstand stadium. Can we have an obit for the old one for a minute though? There were some pretty intense matches that happened there.

WERTHEIM: I totally agree. We could - if this weren't radio we'd take a few minutes of silence. But the good news is that the new grandstand, its successor, I think might be its equal as a court. But you're right. The old grandstand was really this special place sort of the populist tennis court and it will be missed. Let's acknowledge that. You're right.

CORNISH: That's Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. He spoke to us from the U.S. Open in New York City. Jon, enjoy the rest of the tournament.

WERTHEIM: Thanks, Audie, anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.