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Wimbledon will crown its champions this weekend


The most prestigious tennis tournament in the world comes to a close this weekend in London. Serbian superstar Novak Djokovic is playing in the Wimbledon men's semifinals this morning. He's looking to add to his record 23 grand slam wins. And on the women's side, a Muslim player has a chance at making history. Here to tell us about - more about what we can expect to see this weekend is Jon Wertheim. He's covering Wimbledon for Sports Illustrated and the Tennis Channel.

So, Jon, three of the top men's players are in the semifinals today. Who's had the hardest run so far?

JON WERTHEIM: Who's had the hardest run? You know, at some level, Novak Djokovic, just because he is playing with this immense pressure that every time he plays, it's like the Super Bowl for the player on the other side of the net. But I think in terms of set scores and match scores, probably Daniil Medvedev, the Russian, who was very close to losing to this American player sort of in the story of the tournament, Chris Eubanks, two days ago. And Medvedev was able to prevail, but it was very close.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So Djokovic's opponent is an eight seed, Jannik Sinner. I mean, Djokovic is a living legend still on top of his game. I know you said the pressure's on him in a way, but what are Sinner's chances against him?

WERTHEIM: Yeah. We were trying - we're - grass versus lawnmower. I mean, Djokovic has...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) Oh jeez.

WERTHEIM: ...Just been at this completely...


WERTHEIM: ...Different plane. I was just looking up the stats. This is his 71st major he's entered in his career. He's trying to make his 35th final. He's the overwhelming favorite. He doesn't - he hasn't lost on center court in more than a decade. He doesn't lose to top-10 players. I mean, short of - I mean, you know, this is sports, and these are not pre-scripted results like pro wrestling. But short of that, it's very hard to see him not prevailing.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. In the women's final, Tunisian star Ons Jabeur takes on the Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova. Jabeur has been in the finals before. She's never won. What are her chances this time around?

WERTHEIM: This time, I think high for exactly the reason you said. She was a finalist here last year. And by her own admission - I mean, she's a wonderful player, and she's also just this wonderfully candid, self-possessed presence here. And she's been very upfront about it, that she sort of didn't show up, and the nerves got to her. And she knows the history at stake - the first woman from the Arab world possibly to win a major, the first woman from North Africa. This is her third major final, and I suspect this time she will be much more poised. I think she wins it. I think it's a really big story for tennis.

MARTÍNEZ: So given her achievements, then, is the tennis world expecting more Arab and Muslim players entering the sport?

WERTHEIM: It's interesting you say that because the chatter behind closed doors is it's not about matches. It's about Saudi Arabia's what looks to be inevitable foray into tennis, much as the case with professional golf. Nobody quite knows the form it's going to take, but Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in involving itself in tennis. With that comes money, and with money, ideally, come players. So, yes, one suspects that Ons Jabeur will have company fairly soon in terms of Arab country representation in tennis.

MARTÍNEZ: What is the talk centered on? What's it focused on?

WERTHEIM: I think it's the form this is going to take. I mean, everybody is - you know, the catnip of big oil money is sort of wafting around, and everybody's interested in this infusion of capital. The question is, is this going to be sponsorship essentially, or is this going to be something like golf, where there's this rival tour attempt that really sets the sport into turmoil? And tennis is sort of balkanized enough as it is. And throw in the lure of money, and I think everybody is sort of eager but nervous what form this is all going to take.

MARTÍNEZ: Jon Wertheim is with Sports Illustrated and the Tennis Channel. Jon, thanks a lot.

WERTHEIM: Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "FAST FORWARD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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