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The action at Wimbledon is in the early stages but already there's much to talk about

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Rafael Nadal is sitting out Wimbledon. He decided to focus on the Olympics in a few weeks. Novak Djokovic will play at Wimbledon after knee surgery. And Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim is on the line from London. Jon, welcome.

JON WERTHEIM: Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing OK. So Djokovic won sis opening match, but, of course, he's a high seed, so not playing the very best competition, the very toughest competition. So how did he look? Did he look like he's all the way back?

WERTHEIM: From a guy who had knee surgery about four weeks ago and is 37-years-old, he looked very good. Yeah. This is a remarkable feat of either his persistence or sports science and medical technology. But, yes, he looked very good - a seven-time champion who, four weeks ago, we thought might not play tennis again, made a very quick recovery.

INSKEEP: That is amazing. I mean, when you mess up your leg, when you can't walk for a while, it messes up all the muscles, the whole leg. That is an incredible recovery time.

WERTHEIM: Yeah. And bear in mind, he is now on grass, which - notoriously slippery surface, which tends to - there're funny bounces; there's funny footwork. But, no, he - I think, you know, at this stage in his career, I think he's looking for other challenges. And I think in a perverse way, this has really motivated him. He has not had a great season so far, but he is a seven-time champion here and all of a sudden is one of the favorites again.

INSKEEP: All right. One of the favorites, No. 2 seed, if I'm not mistaken. Jannik Sinner is the top seed, and he's a relatively new face. I know he won the Australian Open, but newer than a lot of other stars out there. What are his strengths?

WERTHEIM: His strengths, some of them are just disposition. He's very businesslike. He's very professional. There's not a lot of sort of inefficiency. He's from Italy, but he's from a few miles from the Austrian border and almost has a sort of Teutonic disposition. He's a tall player, hits a very big ball. And, you know, we came out of this era with Federer, Nadal Djokovic, and now we have these two young stars in Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz, and it's quite good timing for tennis because we were all sort of bracing for a lull, and Jannik Sinner is now one of these fresh new stars.

INSKEEP: OK. Now, on the women's side, the women's champion from last year, Marketa Vondrousova, is already gone. What do you make of that?

WERTHEIM: She was a bit of a surprise winner. She's won eight matches for her career at Wimbledon, and seven of them came last year. But, yeah, it is not often we see a defending champion, you come; it's a tradition; you christen center court. And then...

INSKEEP: Boom.

WERTHEIM: ...She went out in the first round. So, yeah, she is no longer in the tennis landed gentry, but we'll have a new winner this year.

INSKEEP: OK. So what do you make of this? So she's gone. Some other top players are out because of injuries. So who's left?

WERTHEIM: Well, Iga Swiatek is the No. 1 seed, the No. 1 player. She just won the French Open, this dominating player. She hasn't quite cracked the mystery of grass. I think this might be the year she does it. But it's very strange. We have this sort of this absolutely dominant sort of hegemonic female player, and yet very few people are predicting her to win this event. I think she will - or Coco Gauff, the American. Those would be my top two picks, not particularly bold, because they are also the two top seeds.

INSKEEP: Granting that Nadal is gone, 'cause he wants to focus on the Olympics, are the Olympics hanging over the heads of some of the players who did show up?

WERTHEIM: Yeah. And keep in mind, they're going to be played at Roland Garros, at this fame stadium in Paris, in just a few weeks. And I think it's - there's really a range. I mean, for some players, they've already opted out and decided not to play. Other players say, look, the opportunity to win a gold medal is tantamount to winning a major tournament. So, yeah, there is a bit - you know, we're going to go back to clay from grass. The Olympics are looming large here. They begin in about four weeks.

INSKEEP: Jon, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

WERTHEIM: You got it. Likewise.

INSKEEP: Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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