upr-header-1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Saturday sports: Wimbledon finals; Brittney Griner missing from WNBA All-Star Game

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

***** I wait for it, too. It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Wimbledon comes to a close with a new champion and some simmering controversies. And the WNBA All-Star weekend gets under way with one especially huge name missing, missing. Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Wimbledon has a new women's champion, brand-new. That would have happened whoever won. But is Elena Rybakina Russian or Kazakh?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter). Both? (Laughter). Elena Rybakina, Scott, won the battle of firsts today. Let's talk about the history of this. First player from Kazakhstan...

SIMON: Yeah, and Ons Jabeur of Tunisia played very well, particularly that first set.

GOLDMAN: Right.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Right. And Rybakina was the first player from Kazakhstan in a Grand Slam singles final. And it's (ph)...

SIMON: If she's ever been to Kazakhstan. But yes, go ahead. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) And she beat Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who was the first player from Africa and of Arab descent in a Grand Slam final in the modern era. That's since 1968. Now, Jabeur is known as the minister of happiness in her native Tunisia - not so much today. She started great, raced out to win the first set 6-3, looked confident. Then, the match turned dramatically. Rybakina's powerful serve and ground strokes kicked in, helped by too many Jabeur mistakes. Then, Rybakina won the last two sets 6-2, 6-2. Now, as you have alluded to, a bit of an awkward result for Wimbledon, which banned Russian and Belarussian...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Players because of Russia's - excuse me - war against Ukraine. Rybakina was born and grew up in Russia - a few years ago, switched nationalities to Kazakhstan because Russia stopped financially supporting her tennis career. Kazakhstan agreed to pay. But we are assuming many in Russia today are still claiming victory.

SIMON: Yeah. A controversy in the men's final because one player in particular has an ugly legal case pending.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. A finalist, Nick Kyrgios of Australia, is scheduled to appear in court next month to face an allegation of assault against a former girlfriend. And it's clouding what should be an all-out celebration for Kyrgios getting to the final, which he did after his semifinal opponent, Rafael Nadal, withdrew due to injury. Kyrgios will take on six-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic tomorrow. Kyrgios is an extremely talented player who's finally playing to his potential after a career where he's been known mostly for his bad on-court behaviour.

SIMON: Finally, WNBA All-Star weekend is taking place in Chicago, but of course, Brittney Griner is missing. She's been named an honorary All-Star but is in jail in Russia on a drug charge. What message can we expect the league to impart? Where does the case stand, as you see it?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, the latest - she pleaded guilty this week on the drug charges. She said she didn't intend to break the law, and one of her lawyers said she hopes for leniency from the court although acquittal rates are very low there. The trial resumes next week. Meantime, yeah, Brittney Griner is a huge missing presence in Chicago this weekend where she's an honorary starter in the All-Star game. The weekend kicked off yesterday with Griner's wife, the Rev. Al Sharpton, WNBA officials and players all presenting a unified message of support for Griner. Of course, what happens most, Scott, are the negotiations for her release, possibly through a prisoner exchange.

SIMON: Right. And elsewhere in the program, we interviewed Danielle Gilbert, the legal expert who says publicity can actually have an adverse effect when - particularly when you're dealing with a totalitarian state. So NPR's Tom Goldman, thank you. Thank you so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.