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Williams Survives, Nadal Falls At Wimbledon


Time now for sports. Wimbledon is well underway. Rafael Nadal is out after being beat by a player no one had heard of until now. And a family feud of sorts; the top sisters in sports will face off on Monday. Venus and Serena Williams haven't met across the net at Wimbledon since 2009. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine is at Wimbledon in London. He joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, good afternoon. How are you doing?

WESTERVELT: I'm great. So Rafael Nadal is on a streak, but it's not a winning one. I mean, he's lost four in a row at Wimbledon to opponents not even ranked in the top 100. What happened there?

BRYANT: No, it's a devastating result for him. It's been part of a difficult year for him in terms of injury and in terms of just ineffectiveness and actually losing his confidence. You never really hear professional athletes talk about doubt as much as you hear Rafael Nadal talk about it. And losing his confidence and - how can you lose confidence when you've had so much success, when you've won as much as he has, but that's exactly what's taking place right now. And he's essentially getting pushed around on the court by players who are nowhere near his level, with nowhere near levels of his accomplishment. And I think that one of the things that's going to take place over the next couple of months, obviously, when he comes to United States for the U.S. Open and the North American hard court season, he's really going to have to figure out his game, find his confidence, find out - remind himself what makes him such a great player, and maybe it's going to result in a coaching change, as well.

WESTERVELT: So doubt creeping in - is this the end of the road for him? What do you think?

BRYANT: Well, I don't think it is this year. But I think if he continues to have poor results and he's continuing to lose to players - great players in this sport - it's like boxing. Any individual sport - you are not used to getting beat by guys that you really took care of. And I think that if you do doubt yourself, you doubt your ability, you're not sure if you've lost a step - we see it in pro - in team sports all the time, where you look at a great championship team that's had a good run. And they start to crumble and you can say, OK, time to break it up. You can't quite do that with an individual sport because there's no team. You have to wonder if the player himself - or the player herself - no longer has it anymore. And I think Rafael Nadal isn't quite there yet, but boy, there's a lot of signs that make you wonder if this great champion has seen his best days.

WESTERVELT: Tell us a little about the guy who beat him.

BRYANT: Well, the guy who beat him is Dustin Brown, a German-Jamaican, 6-foot-5 heavy, heavy hitter who just lost today. And so it's part of - the Rafael curse continues, too; whoever beats Nadal ends up getting knocked out in the next round and that's happened. The Serbian Viktor Troicki beat him, and he's already gone and so it's a great story, though, because we always talk about these great players. For example, in 2014 - it sounds like a lot of money, but it's not when you include travel and paying your coaches and all of that - but Dustin Brown in 2014 made $389,000 for the entire year. Rafael Nadal was wearing an $850,000 watch in the match the other day. So it gives you an idea of how difficult is when you're at the lower rungs to make it in this game.

WESTERVELT: And, Howard, Venus and Serena Williams - they'll on opposite sides of the court soon. Tell us about that.

BRYANT: Yeah, well, they have met - they haven't played in the majors since 2009. Serena and Venus - it's always difficult when the sisters play each other. They are the greatest pair of siblings, I think, the United States has ever produced, and it's going to be difficult. It's going to be really hard because of all the emotions that go into siblings playing each other, very few people have to deal with this, especially, on top of that, with Serena going for the calendar Grand Slam - going for major number 21 and then obviously having to play your sister so early. A lot of emotions in there, but Monday is going to be a great match.

WESTERVELT: All right, thanks a lot, Howard. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. He joined us live from Wimbledon in London. Thanks a lot.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.