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The Latest On Soccer's Euro Cup, Wimbledon


It's Friday, and it's time to talk sports. Two of the weekend's big events are happening in Europe. The Wimbledon tennis tournament where a huge upset put one well-known Spaniard on the sidelines, Rafael Nadal lost in the second round yesterday. And then there is the Euro 2012 soccer tournament where a team of Spaniards moves forward. Spain faces Italy in the finals on Sunday. Joining me now, as he does most Fridays, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hey there, Stefan.


CORNISH: So let's start with Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal yesterday, big upset, he's out. And then today, it looked like Roger Federer would lose too, which really would have opened up the field, but it seems like he held on to win.

FATSIS: Yeah. Nadal's loss, though, surely, one of greatest upsets ever at a grand slam. His opponent, Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, was ranked 100th in the world. And then Federer, who's won Wimbledon six times, was also facing an early exit. He was down two sets to none, two points from elimination before he rallied to beat Julien Benneteau of France.

CORNISH: So with Nadal out and Federer looking shaky, how's the men's side shaping up?

FATSIS: Well, Federer and the top seed, Novak Djokovic, are on one side of the draw, and Nadal was on the other. So his half of the bracket is wide open now. England's own Andy Murray has a clearer path to the finals. An Englishman hasn't won Wimbledon since 1936. Also on that side of the bracket is an unseeded American named Brian Baker. He's the comeback story of the year. He was a juniors champion a decade ago. His career was derailed by injuries. Until this month, he hadn't played in a major tournament since 2005. He didn't drop a set in the first two rounds at Wimbledon. And with Nadal out, he's got a path to the quarterfinals at least.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, another upset on the women's side at Wimbledon, Venus Williams, she lost in the very first round. What was going on there?

FATSIS: Well, she went down to a 79th ranked player, Elena Vesnina of Russia. She's had a very difficult last year. Williams was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. She took sevens months off. She returned to tennis in March, played well, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team, but something wasn't right at Wimbledon. She lost the first five games of her match and was routed. So who's still in? Venus's sister, Serena; the top seed, Maria Sharapova, who won today; and 29-year-old Kim Clijsters, who also won today in what she says will be her last Wimbledon.

CORNISH: All right. I want to spend the rest of the time on soccer. Spain and Italy face off on Sunday in the Euro 2012 final. Give us a preview.

FATSIS: Well, Spain is looking to do the unprecedented here: win a third straight major championship. They've won these past few years with this fluid, metronomic style in which they dominate possession of the ball, sometimes making hundreds of passes more than their opponents during a game. Now, teams are trying to counter that with a bunkered defense that basically says keep the ball, pass it around, but we're going to make it hard for you to get close enough to score. Still, Spain has managed to outscore its opponents 8-to-1 at the Euro 2012 tournament, but it was frustrated by Portugal in the semifinals and was lucky to win on penalty kicks. Italy could offer similar resistance.

CORNISH: Now, Italy defeated Germany in the other semifinal, two goals to one. And I gather that that was seen as an upset.

FATSIS: Yeah, it was. Germany had won 15 straight competitive matches, but the Italians are playing dynamic, attacking soccer. Both goals against Germany were scored by 21-year-old Mario Balotelli. He was born in Italy to immigrants from Ghana but taken in by an Italian family at age 3. He's known for run-ins with coaches, red cards on the field, eccentric behavior off of it, but he's also had to endure monkey chants and other racial taunts in Italy and abroad. An Italian newspaper this week apologized after printing a cartoon after Italy defeated England that depicted Balotelli as King Kong atop Big Ben. Now, racism is a long-standing problem in European soccer, and you only hope that Balotelli's performance might help change some perceptions there of black athletes.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays. And he's also a panelist on slate.com's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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