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Australia Banking On 'Wild Thing' At Australian Open


It is Tuesday in Australia, which means it's time for the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. And Australians' hopes are pinned on a fiery 19-year-old who's electrified the men's competition, but whose foul mouth has also gotten him into some trouble. Joining me from Melbourne to talk about that and more is ESPN contributor Kamakshi Tandon. Welcome to the program.

KAMAKSHI TANDON: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And let's start by talking about this young Australian player, Nick Kyrgios, known for his explosive play as well as his temper. He has been fined at the Open for swearing and throwing his racket. Talk about how he has been received by Australian fans there.

TANDON: Yes, I think the young Australians in general really took the Australian Open by storm this first week, especially Kyrgios, who probably has the biggest personality and the biggest game of them all. He's come through couple of five-setters, has a really big serve and big groundstrokes. And I think, you know, Australians are really captivated by both his personality and the way that he plays. As you mentioned, he has had a few displays of temper. You know, Australians really do like their athletes to be very sportsmanlike, so that's created a little bit of controversy and talk. Some people like him. They see him as a modern personality. And some people feel that perhaps he needs to tone it down, and, you know, he's sort of cocky rather than confident. But I think all of that just has helped him just really capture the country's attention, and everyone is just waiting for his match against Andy Murray later today, on Tuesday.

BLOCK: There was a big upset on the men's side early on when the number two seed, Roger Federer, was ousted in the third round. Who is looking especially strong now on the men's side?

TANDON: Djokovic seems like he's playing the best tennis. He is a four-time champion, and I think he's going to be the one to beat in the second week.

BLOCK: Let's move over and talk about the women's side. Both of the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, have made it to the quarterfinals, could end up potentially facing each other in the semis.

TANDON: Yes, it's been a real resurgence from Venus, and I think that's really been one of the stories of the tournament so far. You know, Serena has more or less expected to get to this point. But for Venus, at 34, to be coming back and playing really good tennis again is a pretty exciting development.

BLOCK: And what about the 19-year-old American Madison Keys? Tell us about her.

TANDON: Yes, it's been a real breakthrough tournament for her. And it's something I think people have been waiting for because there's been a lot of talk about her talent. She's got a big game. She serves very well. And I think with coaching of Lindsay Davenport, who was of course a former number one, she's really found the confidence in how to use her game. And it's going to be a very interesting match between her and Venus, sort of a battle of the generations in American women's tennis. >>BLOCK: Kamakshi, there has also been some controversy about something that's become known as Twirlgate. This is when a male interviewer asked a couple of the players to twirl - to do a little twirl for the cameras on court.

TANDON: Yes, during an on-court interview - there's a young Canadian player, Eugenie Bouchard - the interviewer just referred to her outfit and said, can you give us a twirl? Which she did. Serena did say that she was also asked about what she was wearing in her interview, and she actually gave a twirl as well. And that caused quite a bit of controversy and reaction from people who were watching. You know, a lot of people saying it was sexist. Bouchard herself has said she doesn't really mind, but generally there has been the sense that that was an inappropriate question. I think what it shows more than anything else is that the Australian Open does tend to push the envelope a little bit in its on-court interviews. It tries to really play up the players' personalities. And this is just one example of how things can get a little bit awkward.

BLOCK: Yeah, and have the women players responded?

TANDON: I think generally the sense from them is that they don't want to get involved in the sexism controversy, but generally they wouldn't like to get to questions like that.

BLOCK: Yeah, maybe just focus on the tennis. How about that?

TANDON: Exactly. I mean, it's a tennis tournament. It's not a talk show.

BLOCK: Well, Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN, thanks so much for talking with us.

TANDON: Thanks very much.

BLOCK: Kamakshi Tandon is in Melbourne covering the Australian Open. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.