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Contenders Battle In The U.S. Open


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon and nice to say time for sports.


SIMON: The U.S. Open full swing. We've seen a curtain call for James Blake, an early exit by Venus Williams, a glitter of greatness from Victoria Duval and Serena Williams star burning bright as ever. For the latest from Blushing Meadows we turn to Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He joins us from his studios of the Radio Foundation in New York City. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Thank you. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And before we get to tennis, which you have been covering assiduously this week, let me ask about that NFL settlement. The lawsuit for former NFL players was settled out of court. It's alleged that the NFL hid evidence about the long-term effects of brain injuries. The league has agreed to pay $765 million to the players. That sounds like a lot of money, but divided up to so many thousands, is it?

BRYANT: It doesn't seem like a lot of money and I think what surprised me - two things surprised me most about that settlement: 1) was that they didn't go further because there are so many players who have so much evidence that the players were told for years that concussion could not hurt them and they were told that they didn't have access to their own medical records and maybe that's part of the reason why they decided to agree to this settlement because there's very little actual real paper trail.

I think the part that was more disturbing, however, was the fact that in this settlement, the NFL did not acknowledge any wrongdoing and I think that's very hard for anybody who's been around these players and I think it goes back to this deal that we make with this sport, that we're going to enjoy it, profit off of it, and yet these players are completely fungible. It's very disturbing, but I hope at some point what the settlement does is give peace to some of the people who are involved in it.

SIMON: Yeah. Do they get a settlement like that by saying to the players, look you'll be tied up for ten years in court, take this now?

BRYANT: Exactly. There's a silencing going on here and I think that when you're the stage that some of these players are at, I think that maybe they said, you know what, maybe this is the best deal we're going to get, and maybe they didn't have the stamina to go forward because they've been fighting this for so long without resolution.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the U.S. Open. James Blake got a nice standing ovation.

BRYANT: And well deserved. James Blake is one of the consummate ambassadors of American tennis. We've talked about how there's no Sampras and Agassi and McEnroe in American tennis, has been down from its previous pedigree and its history, but James Blake was a terrific player, retired after 14 years, was ranked No. 4 in the world in 2006. Only Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick were ranked higher as Americans in the past decade.

One of the last players on the last American team to win the Davis Cup in 2007 and he's clearly one of those players who was another victim of having played in the Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer years. If those guys weren't there I think we might have seen a lot more championships from James Blake. Well deserved for him.

SIMON: Now, I suspect we're going to get plenty of chance to talk about Serena Williams later in the tournament, but let me ask you about Victoria Duval. Seventeen years old, defeating Samantha Stosur, a former champion, in the first round. Wow, that was nice to see.

BRYANT: And it's what the tournament's all about. When you come to the U.S. Open, you want some form of magic. It's a great New York tournament and Victoria Duval, doing what she did on the court over at Armstrong just captivated everybody. It was fascinating stuff to see a 17-year-old have so much poise. I mean, this isn't the era of Andrea Jaeger and Tracey Austin anymore. Teenagers don't win at this level anymore and so what she did, it was the magic of the tournament and they went out, she lost her next match to Daniela Hantuchová.

She's got a huge future and the American women are in much, much better shape than the men. They're outstanding.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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

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