Saturday Sports: Women's World Cup, Wimbledon

Jun 29, 2019
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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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MCCAMMON: The Women's World Cup is going on in France during one of Europe's worst heat waves. Bringing in the heat here is NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Sarah, welcome to the sports segment.

MCCAMMON: Thank you so much. So the U.S. women's soccer team as we know defeated France 2-1. It was an evening game. They played in that 85 degree heat. What were the highlights for you?

GOLDMAN: Well, now that you mentioned the heat, hydration, definitely a highlight, but other than that, defense - Megan Rapinoe. The defense was a question mark for the U.S. going into the World Cup, but it was stellar yesterday, especially in the second half after France scored and really started to bring the pressure. The U.S. kept repelling attack after attack. But the big story, of course, Megan Rapinoe. She played a beautiful game. She was relentless on the left wing and, of course, she scored both U.S. goals. She's now scored all the American goals in the last two victories. She has five total. But beyond that, she really has become a phenomenon at this World Cup, in case you haven't heard - the purple hair, the outspoken political views. She's a supporter of NFL player Colin Kaepernick and his protests during the national anthem. She's protested herself. She's in a war of words with President Trump. So Rapinoe is becoming this polarizing character, loved and hated. But I tell you, Sarah, she's loving her moment. She and her teammates aren't shrinking from being the favorites. In fact, they seem to be thriving on the pressure.

MCCAMMON: And a lot of people are loving her. They face England next. England defeated Norway 3-0. So what do you think will happen in the semifinals?

GOLDMAN: The U.S. will beat England, and then the U.S. will beat whoever they play in the final. Sarah, I'm usually a rotten prognosticator - not this time. They're just really good. Next question, please.

MCCAMMON: All right, we're going to hold you to that.

GOLDMAN: OK.

MCCAMMON: Two former star U.S. soccer players, Brandi Chastain and Michelle Akers, announced this week, Tom, that they will participate in a Boston University brain study. I want you to talk a little bit about that and why it matters.

GOLDMAN: Well, Akers and Chastain are two of the stars of that great 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. team, and they say they've dealt with different symptoms like memory loss and headaches. And they wonder if a lifetime of heading the ball and collisions have put them and other female soccer players at risk of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That's the degenerative brain disease most associated with football. Now, it matters because, in sports, traumatic brain injury mostly has been talked about as a problem for male athletes because of football and other collision sports that men play. But in fact soccer, especially at the younger levels, has been particularly brutal to the heads of women and girls. A 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found girls soccer number one when it comes to concussions as a percentage of total injuries. Studies like that have led some to call for reducing or even eliminating heading the ball for younger players.

MCCAMMON: And moving on to another big tournament starting Monday, this one in the U.K., we are talking, of course, about Wimbledon. On the women's side, as per usual, it's anybody's championship. In the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments, there've been nine different female champions. For the men, No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic will be trying to defend his title. But this year, he's got some real challengers. What do you think, Tom? Can he do it again?

GOLDMAN: Oh, sure he can. Before losing in the semifinals of the French Open earlier this month, he'd won the three previous Grand Slam tournaments. He's a worthy No. 1 seed, but right behind him, of course, are the rest of the big three of men's tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Those three combined have won 14 of the last 16 Wimbledon's men's titles, led by Federer with eight. It's a good bet one of them will keep it going by the end of the Wimbledon fortnight. They're all playing great.

MCCAMMON: And quickly, we also have to mention that one player has made an unlikely comeback, the U.K.'s own Andy Murray. He had an emotional departure last year followed by hip surgery. Now he's back and he seems pretty happy, right?

GOLDMAN: The dower Scotsman has been smiling and been cheery in recent weeks, you know, because he's not hurting. He's winning doubles at least. A few years back, Murray was a frequent challenger to the big three. Then earlier this year, he thought he was going to have to quit tennis. But after surgery, a new partial metal hip, he's been winning at doubles, and U.K. fans at Wimbledon are going to be cheering him on like crazy to win a doubles title.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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