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No Challenges Remaining


A podcast discussing the happenings in the wacky world of professional tennis. Hosted by Ben Rothenberg and Courtney Nguyen.


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A podcast discussing the happenings in the wacky world of professional tennis. Hosted by Ben Rothenberg and Courtney Nguyen.







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Episode 368: Draw Me Like One of Your French Opens, 2024

Ben and Tumaini reconvene for a quick-paced look through the French Open draws, looking at the top lines stories from the wide-open men's draw and the Swiatek-steered women's side. We start with the headline first round match between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev, a daunting test for the 14-time champion against an opponent who brings on-court for and in-court legal issues to make this a discomfiting occasion. We also discuss Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina, Danielle Collins, and more! Enjoy the tennis, amis!


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Episode 367: Iga Does Double; Men Are Rubble

Ben and Tumaini catch up on the Dinara Double, in which Iga Swiatek "won Rome and Madrid" while on the men's side a whole bunch of draws fell apart and the top of the men's ladder looked shakier than it has in years. We talk about Swiatek launching herself into a new orbit, the upper hand she has on Sabalenka, and wax poetic about the current gloriousness of Danielle Collins. We also discuss the uncertainties around many men's stars, including Djokovic, Sinner, Nadal, and Alcaraz. We then spend a lot of this mega episode discussing players who have announced their retirements and the legacies they leave. Garbine Muguruza, Dominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzman, and Camila Giorgi led four very different lives on this tour, and all left marks in their own ways. We also cover wild cards, how media should discuss Zverev as his criminal trial gets underway in Berlin, Ben's detour into the very different ecosystem of Eurovision coverage, and more!


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Episode 366: "Challengers" Screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes

To dive further into "Challengers," the much-buzzed-about tennis movie coming out this Friday, Ben chats with the movie's screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes about his inspiration to tell a story about the unique emotional landscape of tennis. We discuss the infamous match that planted the initial seed of desperation, the details tennis heads are appreciating (including the Applebee's near the Cincinnati tournament), introducing the sometimes convoluted structure of tennis to a general audience, the eroticism of tennis, and possible similarities with his wife Celine Song's acclaimed 2023 film "Past Lives." Thanks for listening!


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Episode 365: "Challengers" Changes the Tennis Movie Genre

Ben and AJ Eccles attended screenings of the new movie CHALLENGERS this week, and are here to discuss this bold new entry into the growing tennis movie canon (NB: we very carefully avoided any significant spoilers until a very clearly marked intermission at the 41-minute mark). Directed by Luca Guadanigno and starring Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, and Mike Faist, we discuss how CHALLENGERS compares to recent tennis movies like KING RICHARD and BATTLE OF THE SEXES, and how fiction can actually allow for greater truths. We also discuss what big and small things new movie gets right about the experience of life on the professional tennis tour, what it explains about tennis culture, and how the campy action sequences do or don't affect the film. We also discuss what the film shows that Netflix's Break Point failed to do. Again, no spoilers until 41 minutes into the show (and even then we hardly give away everything). AJ also wrote about CHALLENGERS for The Second Serve, so please do check that out as well! Thanks for listening!


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Episode 364: WTA Goes Saudi; Huge Premier Tour Changes on the Table

Ben and Tumaini reconvened this week to react to the news that the WTA Finals are going to Saudi Arabia, a move that felt unfathomable five years ago but has more recently felt inevitable. What do we make of the news? Should women's sports be held to a different standard when it comes to selling out? And what does the deal say about both the recent past and near future of women's tennis? We then shift to a conversation about the proposed Premier Tour, a radical revamp described in detail in an interview of USTA CEO Lew Sherr in his interview with Jon Wertheim. What would tennis be losing with massive streamlining? Would the gains offset the losses? We also discuss the cancellation of Netflix's Break Point after two seasons. In a time of discord in tennis, nearly everyone can agree on how disappointing it was; what went wrong? Next time, a review of Luca Guadanigno's Challengers!


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Episode 363: Sun Shines on Sinner, Collins, Swiatek and Alcaraz

Ben and Tumaini answer listener questions and recap the month that was in March, where Indian Wells and Miami formed the Sunshine Double and changed some of the forecasts of the sport. We start with Indian Wells, where Swiatek and Alcaraz won their second titles and Novak Djokovic lost early and bailed on the swing. We then head to Miami, where Danielle Collins won the biggest title of her career and Jannik Sinner cemented his spot as the dominant player on tour. We also discuss recent form of Dimitrov, Gauff, Sabalenka, and more. From our mailbag, we also discuss the fairness and merits of wild cards (including for returning dopers), the shrinking status of the Miami Open. (Another episode soon on the huge changes afoot on tour from the Saudi money and Premier Tour jockeying!)


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Episode 362b: The State of the Union in Women's Tennis, Golden, Oldies

Picking up where we left off on the last episode, Ben and Tumaini cover several other big stories from the first part of this season. We talk about the diverging fates of Brits in tennis, as Andy Murray sets a dispirited retirement date while Katie Boulter surges to a new high. We then spend quite a while on the health of women's tennis as a product, which seems to be getting left in the dust while the men surge, with no apparent strategy for building interest in their product. What can be done? And how transformative can the looming infusion of Saudi cash be? (Here's a link to a separate Cracked Racquets podcast Ben did on the Saudi ATP sponsorship.) We also catch up on recent results in men's tennis, talk about the pleasant alternate tennis universe that is the South American "Golden Swing," and cover the Netflix Slam (we recorded before Break Point was cancelled), with a bit on its uncertain star Rafael Nadal. Thanks for listening!


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Episode 362a:A Halep Reversal and a Rublev Removal

Ben and Tumaini had a lot to catch up on this week, so we are splitting this episode into two parts. The first part, here, begins with the Court of Arbitration for Sport issuing a radical reversal of the first decision on Simona Halep's positive test, which means Halep can return to tour immediately. We don't have all the answers yet, but what does the dramatic disparity between the two decisions say about the dysfunction of the tennis anti-doping system? In the second part of this episode, we discuss Andrey Rublev getting defaulted from his semifinal in Dubai for berating a line judge, and how that moment should be instructive. Thanks for listening!


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Episode 361b: Sabalenka Smashes Australian Open Women's Field

Ben and Tumaini turn to the women (and the miscellany) in this second Australian Open wrap show. This one was more straightforward, resultswise: Aryna Sabalenka was the best player, by a lot, defending her title in emphatic fashion. What do we make of her consolidation as a champion? And where is the sport at now, geopolitically? We also cover the strong runs of Coco Gauff and Zheng Qinwen, as well as early exits of Swiatek, Wozniacki, and Naomi Osaka. We also cover some other miscellaneous stories of the tournament, including the delightful Hsieh Su-wei, the tacky trophy boxes, and new the freedom of movement.


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Episode 361a: Sinner the Winner of Men's Australian Open

Jannik Sinner is the winner of the Australian Open, dethroning the Djokovic dynasty and prevailing in a thrilling comeback final to claim his first Slam win. We discuss Sinner's ascendance and what the defeats mean for the two men, Djokovic and Medvedev, whom he beat to clinch this title. We also discuss other various things on the men's side of the tournament (we also recorded a women's episode which will come soon), including late finishes. We then close with a discussion of the darkening shadow that the abuse accusations against Alexander Zverev cast over this tournament, and why they got so much more traction here than ever before. Ben and Tumaini start this episode with a remembrance of our colleague Mike Dickson, who passed away suddenly while covering the Australian Open. He is much loved and much missed.


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Episode 360: 2024 Australian Open Draw Show

Coming full circle, NCR begins its 13th(!) season with our look at the Australian Open draws. Ben and Tumaini start with the men. Who can meaningfully challenge Novak Djokovic? And then we talk about the women. Have you heard that Ben wrote a book about Naomi Osaka? We really think you'll like it, and we thank you for buying it! We'll be back with you with more shows during the tournament!


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Episode 359: ”Naomi Osaka” - Behind the Book

At last it's finally publication day for Ben's new book, the biography Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice! After months of copious plugs on the show, we are excited to finally be able to talk about the book in more depth and detail, with the tremendous help of NCR's intrepid correspondent Reem Abulleil who interviews Ben about the book, his process, and some of the key moments of Naomi's career. Reem was also a close observer of Naomi's since her earliest days on the tour, so there's lots to discuss here about this singularly fascinating and complex person. Enough to fill a book, even! We also plan on doing a listener mailbag episode about the book once y'all have had a chance to read it, so please do buy a copy (or check it out from a local library) and think about what you might want to ask! Hope you enjoy the episode and the book! Thank you for your support!


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Episode 358: Women’s Tennis Turmoil Reviewed

Ben and Tumaini have a lot to cover as they try to make sense of the year in women's tennis and explain the forces behind the stormy finish to the year, on-court and off-court, and where it leaves the sport going forward. After a brief discussion on the last couple events of the men's calendar—including if Jannik Sinner was right to keep Novak Djokovic in contention in Turin—we dig into the year that was on court, first by running through some of the headlines off court, and then covering how that turned into headlines off-court with player criticisms roiling the final event of the year. Are the criticisms justified? Who is fertilizing the seeds of player discontent against WTA leadership? And where does the sport go from here? Thanks for listening to NCR in 2023! And if you've enjoyed NCR this year, please do pre-order Ben's new biography of Naomi Osaka!


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Episode 357: The Year in Men’s Tennis (With Ricky Dimon)

With Ricky Dimon in town to run his sixth Marine Corps Marathon, he joins Ben for their annual wrap show on the year that was in men's tennis, which was another season of Novak Djokovic, now 36, lording over a much younger field. Ben and Ricky get somewhat granular, going over the top seventeen men in the rankings and spending a few minutes on each, assessing their years and their prospects for next year. In order: Dimitrov, Shelton, Tiafoe, Khachanov, de Minaur, Paul, Ruud, Hurkacz, Fritz, Rune, Zverev, Tsitsipas, Rublev, Sinner, Medvedev, Alcaraz, and Djokovic Plus a few honorable notable mentions: Murray, Auger-Aliassime, Kyrgios and Nadal. Thanks for listening! And thanks for pre-ordering Ben's new biography of Naomi Osaka!


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Episode 356: Simona Halep and the Biggest Doping Conviction in Tennis History

Ben and Tumaini read the 126-page decision in the tribunal's decision to convict former No. 1 Simona Halep on two charges of intentional doping, and give you a deep dive into the details of the document and expound on what it all means. In the first half of this episode we get into the details so you don't have to, explaining the reasons why the tribunal was "comfortably satisfied" of Halep's guilt, and how they arrived to those two parallel verdicts through different detection methods. We also discuss why Halep's defenses failed, and what she was trying to achieve with her focus on delays to the process. In the second part of the deep dive, we explore the ramifications of these convictions, the most serious convictions a tennis star has ever received, and what they mean for Halep, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and the sport of tennis writ large. There's a lot to unpack here, and it's not always fun, but we hope we can shed some light on this complex case for you. Thank you for listening, and if you enjoy deep dives into tennis please pre-order Ben's biography of Naomi Osaka, coming out soon!


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Episode 355i: 2023 US Open Finals - Coco Gauff’s First; Djokovic’s 24th

Ben and Tumaini wrap the US Open finals in their eighth show of the tournament, starting with Coco Gauff fulfilling the years of hype and hope by winning her first grand slam title. What did this win show us about a player we first met when she was a young teenager of 13 or 15? And what are the perils of such expectations? We then get into Djokovic's win over Medvedev, for his 24th major. Where does he go from here? And how should his relationship to the public best be characterized at this point? You'll also get to hear TWO original songs by Dan Bern about this tournament. And as plugged many times, please do pre-order Ben's soon-to-be-released biography of Naomi Osaka, now available from your local bookstores or online retailers!


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Episode 355h: 2023 US Open - Semifinals Wrap, Finals Preview

Ben and Tumaini discuss the four semifinals that were, and all the storylines they contained, before looking ahead a bit to the fast-approaching US Open finals. First, what do they think of the protest that lengthily interrupted Coco Gauff's win? What is the message tennis should take from that moment? And how was Madison Keys derailed from her zoning start by Aryna Sabalenka? And what about Naomi Osaka, who dropped in on the US Open and discussed future plans (you can and should pre-order Ben's biography of Naomi as soon as you can, as many times as you want!) We then discuss Novak Getoffmylawnovic hanging up on Ben Shelton's dial tone, and Medvedev reminding folks he's still great with his emphatic win over Alcaraz.


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Episode 355g: 2023 US Open Day 10 - Blair Henley, the New Voice of the US Open

Ben is joined by Blair Henley, the star interviewer on tennis courts around the world, to talk about her new role as an announcer inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the many different roles she's had at this US Open. What are the challenges of being the "Voice of God" at the world's biggest tennis stadiums? What makes on-court interviewing such a unique thrill? And what have been her standout moments of the tournament so far? All that and more! And you can still pre-order Ben's book, and he'd be very appreciative!


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Episode 355f: 2023 US Open Day 9 - Shelton Upsets Order, Beats Tiafoe

Ben and NCR's Youth correspondent Alex Gruskin discuss Ben Shelton's big win Tuesday night over Frances Tiafoe in the US Open quarterfinals, a big result both within the American tennis ladder and in the big picture of the ATP generations game. Has Shelton's generation (Alcaraz, Sinner, Rune, etc) already passed Tiafoe's generation (Tsitsipas, Rublev, Auger-Aliassime etc) for good? What about within the American ladder? And when did the buzz about Shelton, who seemed to come out of nowhere, first start? Exciting news, listeners! For the next three days members can get 25% off when they pre-order Ben's forthcoming book Naomi Osaka online at Barnes & Noble! Use code PREORDER25, and please message us so we can thank you when you order it there or elsewhere!


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Episode 355e: 2023 US Open Day 7 - Ostapenko Ends Swiatek’s Reign

Ben and Tumaini convene in the late hours of the night after Jelena Ostapenko thunderously knocked out Iga Swiatek, emphatically ending both Swiatek's title defense and her 75-week reign at the #1 ranking. Given Ostapenko's talent and head-to-head record, should this be considered a "bad loss" for Swiatek? Can Ostapenko win the tournament? How does Aryna Sabalenka come into the #1 ranking? Plus, a bit on Gauff d. Wozniacki, the constant corner chatter of coaches, and on how the worst way to beat Novak Djokovic seems to be to take the first two sets against him. You can pre-order Ben's book now, including in the UK and Australia!