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At The U.S. Open, Serena Inches Toward Grand Slam

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: For just a few minutes last night, it looked like Serena Williams might have met her match - but not since Wonder Woman. And the NFL season opens on Thursday. Suit up, Brady. But we're going to appeal. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: And Bethanie Mattek-Sands was valiant, but Serena might be on a path for history.

GOLDMAN: She's definitely on that path. You know, the story of Serena pursuing the first calendar Grand Slam since 1988, winning all four major titles in one year, that has swallowed New York whole. The U.S. Open is the last of the four, but so far, Scott, Williams has kind of been stumbling down that path.

SIMON: Yeah, she's 33, which is young for a neurosurgeon, but a little aged for a champion tennis player. And it's still hot in New York. Does she look strong enough to prevail in these next few matches?

GOLDMAN: She's certainly got the physical stamina. The mental side has looked shaky. She says she's not under pressure, but you really can see it. She's been tentative, flat-footed, mistake-prone. At times, she's looked miserable out there. I mean, she struggled early again last night versus fellow American Mattek-Sands who was all scrappy and fearless with her orange dyed hair and black knee socks and ranked 101st in the world. And there she was pushing Williams around the court for two sets. But then Williams got it going - cruised to a three-set win. Maybe it helped release some of those pressure demons. She did look happy afterwards, but, you know, the competition's going to get tougher. Serena fans hope that will bring out her greatness and her wins will be more than survival in a kind of grim march to the Grand Slam.

SIMON: Yeah. And the slightly older Williams sister is doing well too, Venus, isn't she?

GOLDMAN: The forgotten Williams sister reminding us, hey, I'm still here. Yesterday, she had a convincing win - an upset win, really - over up-and-coming Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, who, last month, became just the second player to beat Serena this year. Of course, if Venus wins her next match and Serena wins her next match, the sisters meet in the quarterfinals and how fitting would that be - Serena having to go through her big sister, who Serena says is her toughest opponent, to get to the Grand Slam? Or if someone is going to derail Serena's dream, wouldn't it be best that it's her big sister, Scott?

SIMON: Oh, I'm not sure that's a happy Thanksgiving table (laughter) - if that's the case, yeah.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Exactly, right, yeah.

SIMON: NFL season starts this week. Tom, why doesn't the commissioner at the NFL, Roger Goodell just say, look, I made my point, the judge made his point. The most glamorous player in the league can suit up now from the start of the season, so are you ready for some football?

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah, he's ready for football, but he also wants to keep this thing going. He says publicly - Goodell - the NFL's appealing the judge's decision to nullify the four-game suspension of Tom Brady to protect the integrity of the game. There's also a power struggle going on here between the NFL and the players union. Goodell has a lot of power in these player conduct cases. It's guaranteed in the labor contract. The string of legal losses - the Brady ruling being the most recent - appears to diminish that power. Now, Goodell has said in the past he wants to hang onto it, but there's renewed talk of possibly reducing his powers. According to The Washington Post, even owners - Goodell's bosses - say they're open to talking about possibly changing Goodell's role in these matters.

SIMON: Reducing that salary he gets - what is it, like, $40 million or something?

GOLDMAN: Salary will stay the same, but the powers, maybe not.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

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