2014/04/24

“On The Call” with ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale and Chris Evert

(August 20, 2013) ESPN tennis analysts and Hall of Famers Cliff Drysdale and Chris Evert spoke with media about the US Open, which starts Monday, August 26, with extensive coverage from ESPN

 

Although the obvious topics were discussed (who are the top contenders at the US Open…Serena, Azarenka; Nadal, Djokovic, Murray), much of the conversation centered  on wider issues in the sport:

  • The historical significance of the adoption of equal prize money, and its current distribution with recent emphasis on increasing paydays for players in the early rounds
  • The serve-and-volley game and its future
  • The growing internationalization of the sport and what that means for U.S. players and tournaments
  • The state of doubles in the tennis world
  • The wide-ranging  role of coaches and the precarious nature of the player-coach relationship.

 

Q. Chris, as you’re aware, the US Open is celebrating and honoring the 40th anniversary of equal prize money.  You played in the ’73 Open.  Did you appreciate back then what an achievement equal prize money was? 

CHRIS EVERT:  ’73.  Gosh, I have to think back.  I was 18.

 

You know, I had to admit, when I was a teenager, I don’t think I fully understood the whole scene of women’s liberation, equality, what impact that really would have on women and on the future of women’s tennis.    At 18, I was a little too wrapped up in maybe what makeup I’m going to wear on the court and how my two-handed backhand was going to work that day.  As an 18-year-old, I wasn’t conscious of the enormity of it.

Later on, absolutely.  But I was pretty much a protected teenager from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Until I went out into the world for a few years, I probably didn’t understand what was happening in the world, culture and society.

Had the blinders on a little bit at that point.

 

Q. Was there a point where you could appreciate what Billie Jean had been doing?

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I was president of the WTA for nine years.  I think that speaks for itself.  Billie Jean took me under her wing, said, I’m retiring, we need a leader for the game.  Educated Martina and myself, cajoled and threatened us, too.

 

In my early 20s I had a better comprehension, understanding of women in society, also women in sports, equality.  She really spent a lot of time with me explaining everything.  In my early 20s, yes, I did appreciate.  Again, I was like 18 even during the Bobby Riggs match.  I just thought it was a woman playing a man.  I didn’t understand the implications of what it really was.  That was the beauty of Billie Jean.  She had a vision.  She could see 10 years down the road.  At 18, I didn’t.

 

Even now when I look at the players, I think Serena passed the $50 million mark in prize money.  Are you kidding me?  I think I made $9 million in my 18-year career.  Thank God for Billie Jean and that she was in our sport, not another sport, because it might have taken longer.

 

Q.  What has happened to the serve-and-volley game?  Do you see it coming back at all?  I found it interesting the other night when Li Na told Pam she was going to try to volley more against Serena.  Is this game ever going to come back or are guys like Pete and Edberg and Roger the last we’ll really see of it? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  They’re the last that you will see of the traditional serve-and-volley game.  You will get some players who will be able to use the serve to be able to get in and use the serve and volley as a change-up play.  But the serve and volley as those players that you talked about, as they used to play, as people from my era used to play, those days are history.

 

The answer to your ‘why’ question is basically equipment and surface, but mainly equipment.  It’s racquets and it’s strings.  When you can play the kind of game that all the women play now, which is unbelievably strong serve returns, and guys like Rafael Nadal and the best players on the men’s tour, the way they return the serve, there is no prospect of your being able to serve and volley.

 

You may see a time, I think there are three categories of men players in the Open that I’m interested in, one of them are the big servers, tall guys, Isner, Anderson, Janowicz.  The answer is, in my view, you will never see the return of the Edberg serve-and-volley player.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I agree with Cliff.  We’ll see the surprise tactics every once in a while to throw off the opponent.  It’s not going to be a consistent Martina Navratilova serve and volley.  Like Cliff said, the returns are so strong now.  Looking at the women’s game, variety in the women’s game a little bit more.

 

For Li Na to throw in a serve and volley once in a while was fine, but it becomes target practice for Serena Williams.  I don’t even know stat-wise if she won or lost more points doing it.

 

I think we’re going to see a little bit more of it as a surprise tactic, especially against players like Sharapova and Serena because now the players I think are thinking more about strategy, how can they break up Serena and Sharapova’s game.  We’re going to see more volleys taken out of the area, serve and volley as a surprise, a little more dropshots.  We’re going to see more variety and strategy.  The last 10 years it was all about baseline power.

 

Q. There seems to be a lot of good young American women in the pipeline.  We don’t seem to see a lot of good young men, other than maybe Jack Sock.  Why? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Ryan Harrison, maybe Jack Sock.  I had high hopes for Jack Sock two years ago particularly.  I’m surprised that he hasn’t done better.  Ryan Harrison is a feisty young player.  But I don’t see either one of them progressing to where we would like to see them go.

 

The ‘why ‘is, it’s cyclical.  Two years ago you were asking the same question about the women.  It was Serena and her sister, and that was it.  Now suddenly we do have a whole slew.  Stephens, Hampton, Keys, Mattek-Sands.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You have 10 or 11 in the top hundred.  I think your point is two years ago we had none of these young women.  All of a sudden they were asking, What’s happening to U.S. tennis?  Now we have more women in the top 10 than any other country.

 

The men, it’s just taking a little bit longer.  What is the reason?  I don’t know.  That old saying that there’s so many more choices in sports in America, we have so many choices, our boy athletes or men athletes are going to those other sports.  I don’t know.

 

Tennis is number one in these smaller countries.  It’s more intense.  But that’s a good question.  I think maybe you have to ask Patrick about that since he’s head of the USTA.

 

Q. You watch Dimitrov and think how can Bulgaria produce a player like that, Raonic, a couple others.  You don’t see that American coming up. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think there’s something in that.  I agree with the idea that men in this country have got more options.  They’re steered in different directions away from tennis.

 

Getting back to the first question on this conference, which was about women in sports.  For women in sports, where do you as a young woman go if you don’t go to tennis, because it’s by far the most successful women’s sport, period, in any athletic endeavor for women.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Right.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  That might be part of the answer to it.  That may be why we have so many young women playing well.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Look at all the sports we have in America, individual, basketball, baseball, team sports.  Then the X Game sports are coming out of the woodwork for that.  We have so many options.  Money-wise, you’re right, there’s a lot of money in these other sports also.  It’s a tough question.  It’s tough to answer.

 

Q. Is it going to change? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Yes.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  It changed for the women.  I guess we’ve got to go out and find these athletes.  We’ve got to do a better job at the grassroots level and finding these athletes.  They’re not finding tennis.  They’re not finding us.  What do you think, Cliff?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think it’s going to change.  It’s really cyclical.  What I’ve learnt in all of my years, there’s been too many of them already, is that things change so quickly from one generation to the next.

 

For a generation of tennis players, there’s always another tennis player around the next corner.  It’s like a bus:  you miss one, there’s a bus around the corner ready to take the place of the one you just missed.

 

Life is short.  Tennis life is even shorter.  It’s not like men’s tennis is going away.  It’s in bad shape right now, but it’s cyclical, it’s going to come back.

 

Q. Chris, I heard you wrote something about Serena for the US Open program.  Do you consider Azarenka a legit rival to Serena with two wins on hard court this year?  What is at stake for Serena going into the US Open? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yes, I consider Azarenka legitimate, especially since she had her 5-3 in the third last year in the US Open.  I think with Serena, it’s got to make her more eager after a loss like (Cincinnati), more determined.  As she said herself, she’s a better player when she gets mad at herself.  When she gets too calm, she gets a little complacent.  If she’s winning too easily, she gets complacent.

 

I think more doubts are in her subconscious now.  Every time you lose to a player, you do have a doubt.  Even if it’s not conscious, it could be subconscious and affect her play.

 

I think Victoria Azarenka is the one player that doesn’t fear Serena.  Victoria is like a street fighter out there.  She’s hungry.  Hard courts are her best surface.  It’s a good matchup.  Azarenka, it’s a good matchup for her playing Serena.  What she does better than anybody else against Serena is the moving and court coverage.  She can run down Serena’s power and defuse it with her own power.

 

I love the fearlessness of Azarenka.  I think rivalry, it’s too soon to tell, but I think it’s going to make for a more interesting US Open, as she is challenging Serena.

 

Q. Do you feel like Serena has a lot of lose and not so much to gain? 

CHRIS EVERT:  At the US Open or just in general?

Q. Just going into the tournament. 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think there’s a little pressure on her.  She talked about winning Grand Slam titles.  You kind of wonder with a player as great and dominant as Serena, would it be a good year just to win one Grand Slam for her.  She has high expectations of herself.  It’s the last Grand Slam.  I know she’d like to get that number 17 under her belt.

 

But, yeah, there is pressure.  I think even the fact that Li Na took her to a close match, could have had that first set against her a couple weeks ago, Stosur, Kuznetsova having close matches with her, the field is stepping up, the field is playing with a little more strategy against Serena, being more thoughtful when they play her, getting used to the power with the baseline.

 

In saying that, I still would favor Serena to win the Open, a slight favorite.  I think if she needs any sort of motivation, I think losing last week is going to get her charged up.

 

Q. Cliff, could you break down the men’s draw, focusing on Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I’m looking at it as like a three-tier tournament.  It’s those three that you mentioned, to start with, and then I’m putting Federer now, since he’s going to be seeded outside the top four, I’m putting him alongside Ferrer, Berdych, Del Potro.  It’s sad to say.  But I see the four or five of them together.  Then I see the big servers, whether this is a phenomenal that has any legs.

 

The three you mentioned, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray.  Then the next tier, with Del Potro, Ferrer, Berdych and Fed.

Anderson, I like him.  Janowicz, I like him, too.  They both have the attitude that they have to give it everything they’ve got and add to their big-serve games.  If one of the three of them can develop more than just a big serve, they’re to be watched.  That’s how I see the men’s draw.

 

Q. What about Murray coming in as a first-time defending champion of a major?  This summer he hasn’t played that much. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Murray is an interesting character, interesting game.  Not only psychologically, because I think he’s taken care of some of those psychological devils that used to be so much a part of his makeup.

His game, I would not put on the same level with Djokovic and Nadal.  In the real big picture, I see Murray as vulnerable in the earlier rounds or in the smaller tournaments.

 

But that said, when he puts his game together, as he did last year, as he did at Wimbledon, as he did at the Olympics, then you put him eyeball to eyeball with even Djokovic and Nadal, he is 50/50 with them.

 

Two slightly different thoughts on Murray.  I’ve learned to respect his game tremendously in the last 18 months.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think it’s been hard for Murray to get psyched up since Wimbledon.  He really hasn’t done anything since Wimbledon.  But I think last year the same thing happened, and look what happened at the US Open.

 

I think he feels good about his game.  He can get that A game going.  It’s just like any other player that wins Wimbledon, it’s kind of rare that you win Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back.

 

Think of anybody who has won Wimbledon.  It’s got to be 10 times more of a feeling for him to get psyched up again to play another Grand Slam.  And saying that, I think Nadal has dominated this whole season.  He’s got to be feeling really confident at this point.

 

And Djokovic, he’s had a disappointing series of losses.  I sense he has been getting a little down on himself.  We’ll see if he can get inspired.

 

Q. I’m wondering if you would talk a little bit about coaching changes that happened with some of these top players mid to late career.  I’m thinking a little bit of Sharapova, but of course Murray did it.  Serena has done it.  What are they looking for at that point?  These are accomplished players.  It seems to me it might not be that much about tennis and technical stuff but more of a sport role. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Chrissy, I want to hear what you say (laughter).

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think it’s a great idea, especially if you’ve had four or five years, you start to feel a little stale.  Maybe your coach is telling you the same thing, you’re losing to the same people.  You maybe don’t feel like you’ve gotten to the next level.  Sometimes you need some new inspiration, you need a new point of view, you need some new blood.  I can understand 100%.  I had a couple of coaching changes.  Actually, I had Dennis Ralston, then I had Bob Brett, I beat Martina on grass at Wimbledon all of a sudden, which I hadn’t done before.  Sometimes you need that inspiration.  Players can get stale in their game and in their relationship with their coaches.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I agree with that.  It’s like getting a new racquet.  I think it’s good.  It’s sort of inspiring.  You get a different view.  I think a coaching change, probably sometimes even for the sake of the change itself, is a good thing for players.  You do get a different perspective, not only about your own mechanics, which sometimes need to be looked at, but more as Chrissy is saying on the inspirational side and strategic side as well.

 

Some coaches are strategic, some of mechanical, some are overall.  I think everybody is pretty much onboard now with being superbly fine-tuned athletes.  There are these other aspects.  There are some coaches, like Ivan Lendl, I doubt that his input for Andy Murray has been as much technical and changing any stroke as it has been a strategic change and a mental change.  I think he’s been very successful at that.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Cliff is right.  If you have a coach that is all about technique, but really what you need is mentally to get tougher, then you need a new coach.  Again, coaches have a different point of view.

 

Also I’ve learned, since I’ve owned an academy, you can say the same thing but in different words and it will work with the player.  Oh, that’s what you mean.  Maybe an old coach had been saying that all along, but saying it differently.

 

I think it’s a good idea.  That’s not to say that everyone is going to succeed, as we’ve seen.  Like Sharapova didn’t succeed.  But with Lendl and Murray.  Stosur.  That’s an example, I don’t think she’s had a great two years since winning the open.  She hasn’t played with that form, she’s been flat.  Maybe it’s time for a change, so I think it’s great.

 

Q. As a newspaper person, I’m as guilty as anyone about not doing enough about doubles.  But the Bryan twins are about to get a big one here.  A couple thoughts on doubles, where it stands, what these guys have done for doubles.  If they go away, is that the end of doubles?  

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  No.  Tennis is bigger than any one player.  Some of the players forget that.  The game is bigger than any one team, as well, which is not to minimize what the Bryan brothers have done.  Not only are they great players, they’re great promoters of doubles and tennis in general.  They’re great individuals.  I can’t say enough about them.

 

Doubles generally, they’ve clearly helped.  The Jensens, they helped tremendously when they were at the top.  Tennis needs those guys.  They’re electrifying.  They’re probably the best doubles team that ever played.  That said, the singles players are not playing doubles anymore.  So there’s always an asterisk.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think doubles is at a disadvantage right away because the competition is so tough, the Masters are so grueling in singles, and the Grand Slams, it’s physically and mentally impossible for a top player to play doubles, I feel.

 

The players can complain about playing too much even during the year, so how are they going to add doubles onto their routine?  It’s unfortunate.  The years that Martina and Pam Shriver dominated, McEnroe and Peter Fleming dominated, they were having really easy singles matches until the quarters or semis.  They used that as practice.

 

But it’s just really tough for the big names, the top players, to play doubles or mixed.  It’s a shame because doubles is very, very entertaining.  The Bryan brothers, oh, my God, they’ve carried the torch for doubles for so long and I worry about what happens after they go away because doubles won’t be the same without their personalities and their style.

 

Q. Chris, looking at Sloane Stephens, how do you think she’s dealt with the spotlight as she’s risen?  She had the spat with Serena.  In Cincinnati, she admitted she’s struggled with the crush of the fans, it’s grown frustrating for her, people asking for autographs.  How do you think she’s dealing with that spotlight? 

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You know, it’s not easy for anybody.  For Sloane, who is a very out there kind of girl, wears her emotions on her sleeve, it’s even more difficult.  It’s like the way Martina had a tough time because she was always so honest and open about everything.

 

If you’re that way, you’re open to more criticism, there’s more of a downside to it.  And I think she’s on the pages of Vogue magazine.  Her emergence has been very dramatic and very quick.  Her life has changed so quickly.

I would like to do a book later on about achieving fame at a young age because there are so many more pitfalls.  As far as her tennis is concerned, she’s got all the talent in the world.  She has an all-court game.  She’s a work in progress right now.

 

The next step for her is really to put together two or three big matches instead of one big match and losing the next round.  That’s the next step for her in her development.

 

Q. Cliff, Andy Murray, seems like off the court from a business perspective, he had the world at his fingertips at winning Wimbledon.  Are you surprised we haven’t seen more of Andy Murray from a marketing perspective? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think that’s going to come.  I wouldn’t worry about that.  In England, he’s a major star.  He’s going to have his face on a stamp coming up soon in England.  He’s pervasive in that country.  I’m not sure there’s an athlete better known, even in soccer, than Andy Murray is now.

 

It’s a matter of the agents getting their act in gear and you’ll see those things coming.  He’s not the kind of personality that Roger Federer is.  He’s not outgoing.  Doesn’t look as he enjoys the game as much as others.  That’s a slight negative.  But he’s a very admirable athlete.  He’s got himself into unbelievably good shape.  I guess they all have.  I’m a huge admirer of his.

 

As I said, the only downside for Andy is the fact that in the smaller tournaments and in the earlier rounds, he’s more vulnerable than the other two guys with the best chance to win the US Open.

 

Q. Lower-ranked players are doing better in terms of money at the slams this year.  From a developmental perspective, would you say it’s equally important that we see increased prize money on the challenger and future tours for our young players to invest in their games? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I’m going to say one thing about this.  This is not a quote from me.  This is Brad Gilbert.  The beauty about the first-round prize money in the Grand Slams, whether it’s 25,000 or 30,000, you lose in the first round, you make a hundred grand, that enables you to have a full-time coach.  If you’re that good that you’re in a Grand Slam tournament, you should have a full-time coach.

 

Sure, it helps with expenses.  Tennis players have a lot of expenses.  Nowadays, when you look at the way they travel with their team, it’s not about a team.  All the top players, they have their fitness trainer, they have the practice partner, their coach, their masseuse, whatever.  They have four or five people on their team.  It gets to be expensive.

 

In answer to your question, I really appreciate the fact that the prize money went to the lower rounds because that’s where the players can really use that money to further their tennis career.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  It’s a really interesting question, and it has a lot of facets to it that catch my imagination.

For one thing, the slams are paying the players according to what their income is, or at least closer to what their income is.  But that has another side to it, and that is that the slams are becoming even more important because of the prize money they’re offering.  This question then becomes how this affects the other tournaments.

 

If they become lesser, I don’t think that in the long run helps.  There’s no question in my mind it helps to have greater amount of prize money.  So I have some thoughts about that.

 

If I had to redo the whole thing with the ATP and their conversations with the slams to up the prize money, I might have done it differently and looked at different ways to distribute this money, rather than distribute all of it at four tournaments.

 

Q. There’s been some talk about funneling money down to the challengers and futures, which is where the development of young players happens. 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah.  At our academy, we’ve had some $10,000 challenger tournaments, and I’ve been to some 25s and 50s.  I can’t believe the quality of play and how good these players are.  The depth is unbelievable.

I agree, that’s where the development comes from.  We’ve got to put some prize money into them so they can continue to travel and continue to have some coaching and develop their game.  I like to see that.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  You’re taking it even one step further down to the challenger level.  I’m even talking about the 250s.  The 250s are dying on the vine, the 500s.  Look at how many tournaments are leaving the U.S. for example.  That’s a real problem.  I think that’s something that U.S. tennis should address.  Look at what we had a decade ago, and look at what we have now.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  There’s more tournaments in Asia now than any other country or continent.  America, 10 years ago, we had more tournaments than anyone.  Now it’s more international.  I don’t know what the answer is.  The thing is, the game is more international.  The game is growing so much.  We have to kind of look beyond our country, too.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I agree with that.  But I hate that the U.S. is losing so many tournaments.  I think the USTA has to get into the middle of that, too.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think maybe you should have a meeting with them.

 

THE MODERATOR:  If only Cliff ran the sport, right?

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Thank heavens we have Indian Wells and Miami.  Right after the Grand Slams we still have some big ones here, which is good.  Keep those.

 

Q. Cliff, I know back in ’72 when you won the US Open doubles, it had to be a big deal for you.  Was it a big deal for the world in the ’70s when the Aussies were playing, top players were playing?  Why do you think it’s lost that luster when a team like the Bryan brothers are underappreciated? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  That’s a question that I’ve heard a hundred times.  It’s still a really good question.

Look, the truth of the matter is, Chrissie was right on the money earlier when she said the top singles players in today’s world are just never going to become doubles players because there’s too much at stake in the singles.  You cannot change that.  The gladiator complex here that we have in the sports world, you want to see one-on-one fighting each other for the big prize.  But until the top singles players play doubles, it’s going to keep losing its panache.

 

It’s fun to watch the crowds that will watch four players they’ve never heard of before, they’re impressed with the outstanding athleticism, how quickly they are at the net.  All of us in tennis know about that.  But it’s not going to change until you see Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic out there.  I talk a lot about the fact that tennis tournaments are not just tennis tournaments, they’re sporting occasions.  No matter how much we talk about that, still the people who come to watch tennis want to know who’s playing.  If it’s a recognizable name, they will come and watch.

 

I’m not giving you a good answer, but it’s a tough one because I don’t think the singles players are going to play doubles, and until they do, doubles is always going to be the stepchild.

 

Q. It can be TV’s fault as well. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  It’s the chicken or the egg, which comes first.  The television stations are not going to pick up doubles until the people want to see it.

 

Q. Martina Navratilova won her first two Grand Slam titles with you. 

CHRIS EVERT:  Why are you laughing at that?!

 

First of all, I’d like to say that Martina Navratilova could have won about 50 different players.  Wasn’t I happy when we got together for that one.  That was a treat.

 

But, you know what, it was so different in those days.  The way we answered the last question about doubles, we didn’t have a tough match until the quarterfinals or semifinals.  The depth wasn’t there.  It wasn’t that we were that good, there just weren’t that many good tennis players.  John McEnroe played a full season of doubles.

 

It was practice.  I got to practice my volleys and my serve.  I used that as practice.  Nowadays, you can’t do it.  Men are playing five-hour, five-set matches.  How do you expect them to go back after an hour and play a doubles match?

 

It’s so different.  There is so much emphasis, as Cliff said, the gladiator aspect of one-on-one.  But in the ’70s and ’80s, I played mixed doubles with Eric, Jimmy one year.  To play singles, doubled, mixed my early years at Wimbledon in one tournament was not a big deal because the matches were shorter.  It didn’t take as much out of us.  Now you’re never going to see it.  It’s sad.

 

Q. The top women are playing, like Venus and Serena, Azarenka, Errani. 

CHRIS EVERT:  They’re not playing every tournament.  Azarenka doesn’t play every tournament.  Serena doesn’t play at all unless it’s a Grand Slam, and won’t play with anybody but her sister.  Maria Sharapova isn’t playing.  The top players aren’t playing.

 

They play more in the men.  But Serena is the only one, if she’s playing with Venus.  The other ones don’t play, the top two or three.  I think the other thing is, again, these matches, right from the first round, players are splitting sets, you’re having tough matches.  The top players think they play too many tournaments a year.  You think they’re going to want to play doubles and add that to their schedule?  I don’t think so.

 

Q.  I was especially sorry about Marion Bartoli’s retirement.  She was criticized for not being a tall, rail-thin blonde.  I don’t hear anyone talking this way about any of the men.  What are your thoughts about that? 

CHRIS EVERT:  That was the only time there’s ever been a comment publicly about a woman.  The guy that made it apologized.  He was trying to be funny, but he was kind of an idiot.  That was uncalled for.  He obviously has his issues.  I mean, that was the first time.  Unfortunately it came at the biggest tournament in the world and got worldwide press.

 

I think that women athletes, the stronger they are, the more muscular they are, the more powerful they are, are just getting more and more respect.  Acceptance first, but now respect, admiration.  Little girls want to become tennis players, play like Serena, play like Sam Stosur, Victoria Azarenka.  Women athletes come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re all mentally strong and physically strong.  There is no downside to that.  It’s a win-win situation.  I think that’s the way women tennis players and athletes are viewed.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I really don’t think what anybody said about her influenced her decision.  I think this was something she decided to do on her own.

 

Secondly, I’ll put with Chrissy a little $5 bet that we may see her back.  We may see her come back.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I don’t think we’re going to see her back.  I just want to say one thing.  The thing about Marion, I agree, had nothing to do with the retirement.  But you just don’t know about the last 10 years.  She’s had a grueling last 10 years.  Because she’s not the best, most natural athlete out there, I think she’s had to work harder than a lot of the players.  I think her body is breaking down.  If your body starts to break down, that’s a good sign.

 

Q. For every success with like Murray and Lendl, you have Sharapova and Connors.  What would make things only last one match?  Also, with someone like Madison Keys who went to your academy, do you ever see yourself getting into the coaching game? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think only Jimmy and Maria know what happened, what went down.  I think we could speculate all we want, but only they know what went down.  So I have nothing more to say about that.

 

As far as full-time coaching, it’s like a 35-week job.  I love coaching the kids at my academy.  I’m very lucky to have brought up women that are now playing in Grand Slams, the US Open, have been a mentor to them.

But I have three sons and they’re my first priority.  I need to be at home with them.  That’s why I can’t go on the road for 35 weeks.  Cliff, what do you think about the coaching?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I wonder what Maria thought that she needed Jimmy for is what I wonder.  I’m actually quoting Chrissie from a conversation we had before we got on with you guys.  It’s a good question.

 

Jimmy is not a coach.  He’s had one stint with Andy Roddick.  That didn’t last long.  My guess is, and this is purely a guess, pure speculation, that Maria realized quickly he didn’t have much to bring to the party, and I think that’s why they split.

 

Q. Do you think he will get another chance to coach anyone else?

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think he has a really good chance to get somebody else to coach.  One of the questions just from a personal standpoint is why he’d want to.  You get on the tour, the job of a coach is so wide-ranging.  You have to arrange for massages, you have to get on the court, arrange for ball people.  There’s so many things you have to do as a coach.  It’s not as simple as being in the stands as shaking your head or nodding your head.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You’re like a therapist, a baby-sitter.  It’s an emotional as well as a physical job.  It’s a tougher job than it looks.

 

Q. Do you think it’s harder for Jimmy to put his ego aside or below the player itself, as a coach should? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Jimmy is a loner.  Coaching by its definition, there’s somebody else at stake.  I don’t think he’s cut out to be a coach, bottom line.

 

Q. Could you have imagined the year Rafa would have had after his injury, do you think so well particularly on the hard courts?  How do you see the matchup between him and Andy Murray, particularly on the hard courts? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  First of all, a huge surprise that Rafa was able to do so well.  If you go back to his record this year, the few matches he’s lost, including hard courts, is a huge surprise.  He comes back, gets on the clay, misses the first portion, loses one match in his first tournament back, then loses so few matches for the rest of the year that is extraordinary.

 

I think, notwithstanding the great play of Andy Murray and the fact he won Wimbledon, that he would have to in my book be No. 2 behind Rafa in the stakes for the US Open this year just based on his outstanding hard court record and the fact that he seems to be physically fit and physically able to perform.

 

I think at this point he’s the best player in the world.  I think Andy Murray is very close behind him, alongside Novak Djokovic.  That’s my feeling.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think that Andy matches up better against Djokovic psychologically and game-wise.  Novak hits a flatter ball.  The ball is not as high, the spins…

 

I think if Nadal plays Andy Murray, mentally and psychologically Nadal has the edge.  I think he knows it.  He feels that he can outlast him mentally out there.  And Nadal, I don’t think he’s lost a match on hard court all year.  If he rests this week, he’s got to be the favorite and really confident.

 

I think that’s what he didn’t have coming into this year being out so long, but now I think he’s got the confidence back.

 

Q. What do you think has made the difference on the hard courts?  It wasn’t so long ago we thought he could only win on clay. 

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I don’t think we ever really went that far.  I think what everybody said was that he was obviously the best on clay courts.  He didn’t have any opposition in that regard.  I don’t think any of us felt that he wasn’t going to be a contender on anything but clay because he won Wimbledon, et cetera.

 

He’s become more aggressive.  Look, Nadal’s vulnerability was with so much topspin, eventually he would hit a short ball.  He would be slightly behind the baseline and he was hitting with that much spin.  He’s corrected a couple of those things on the hard court.  He’s not as far back as he used to be and he’s flattened his shots out, albeit not by much, but some.  That puts more pressure on his opponent and that’s why he’s a better hard court player than he used to be.

 

Q. You touched on how much money a women’s tennis player can make now.  Chris, you were WTA president.  Billie Jean was running tournaments.  With women players today making so much money, would you like to see them invest back in the sport, what would you like to see them do after their careers that might grow the sport? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I think while they’re in the sport, as I said before, in our day, I was president, Martina was president, Pam.  Nowadays the players are not as involved.  I would still like to see them involved in the decision making of the tour, voice their opinions, be involved in the tour.

 

I think giving back to the press, to the community.  I love it that when they go to a particular city, they’re visiting the hospitals, doing clinics for underprivileged kids.  Those are ways to give back while they’re currently playing.

As far as afterwards, a lot of us have remained in tennis, whether it’s commentating, coaching, academies, whatever.  I think when you look at Billie Jean, you look at McEnroe’s academy, I have an academy, I’m doing TV, all the players that are doing TV.  I feel like I’m still on the tour when you look around and see Martina, Mary Carillo, Patrick McEnroe.  I think the players of our generation are still very much involved.  It would be great for the players of this generation to be very much involved, too.  There’s a number of ways through coaching, the academies, through leadership, that the players can be involved.

 

Q. Is the game as much fun to watch without the contrast of the serve and volleyer versus the baseliner?  We remember Pete, Andre, McEnroe, Borg, Chrissie, Martina.  There isn’t that right now.  Do we regular people miss watching that kind of contrast? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think that it is more interesting to watch contrast.  That’s why Martina and myself, whether it was McEnroe and Borg, you should bring your own set of fans to the table.  It just gets to be very personal, more intimate that way.  That’s why when Venus played Serena, aside from the fact that they were sisters, it was very uncomfortable to watch because they were sisters, but it was just a belting game, who is going to blow the other one off the court.

 

But I think now, and I touched upon this before, I think now watching, especially this summer, watching Victoria Azarenka come in more, taking the ball out of the air, approaching after a great groundstroke.  Serena is coming in more.  We saw some unbelievable dropshots.  The last two points in the match with Serena, wasn’t it a volley and dropshot?

 

I think the strategy is changing the game.  The game is changing.  I think we’re going to see more of an all-court game.  I think that’s why Maria Sharapova is having trouble.  She’s got to really open up her game a little bit more, come in more, take balls out of the air, volley more, use some touch shots.  I think we’ve seen that this year, seen variety creep back into the women’s game.

 

It’s been tougher because of the equipment.  These racquets are more about power than touch.  But I think we’re going to see that more and more.  In answer to your question, you’re going to see more interesting matches.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a serve-and-volleyer against a baseliner.  I think you’re going to see more variety now.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Be careful what you wish for.  If you want to go back to the serve-and-volley days, you change the conditions back to how they used to be, which is grass courts where the balls were terrible, old-style racquets where you were forced to serve and volley at Forest Hills, that’s all you could do, because you couldn’t rely on two bounces being the same.  Ivanisevic vs. Sampras… there was nothing to me that was more boring than watching the big servers.  If the serve didn’t go in, that’s all she wrote.

 

It’s always a balance.  I think Wimbledon – and I never thought I’d say this –, Wimbledon probably has the most interesting now because they’ve hardened the tennis court, the ball bounces, so you can get some serve and volley, as well.  The US Open is relatively fast, so you will get some more variety.

 

I would much rather watch a tennis match in this generation of players than I would in the last generation of big servers and that’s all.  Frankly, I think going all the way back to my era, not many people can remember, but that’s all there was.  The only question during a point in my day was how quickly you could get to the net and who could get there first.

 

I don’t think it was as much fun as it is now.  I think the athletes are better, the equipment is better.  The product, sometimes it can get a little boring, ping-pong, no way to end the rally.  For the most part I think the balance is about right.  I agree with Chris that I think there’s always got to be a solution to everybody’s game.  You have to find a solution to Serena Williams’ game.  You’re going to need variety.  I thought that was a good comment from her.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Absolutely.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think we’re on a good path.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Did you serve and volley?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  You’re not old enough to remember my outstanding game.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I thought you had great groundies.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I had good groundstrokes, but let’s not go there.  If we went back to my era, we’d have to talk about all my greatness and how many slams I won.

 

THE MODERATOR:  I think we’re all a little smarter thanks to our two friends here.

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