(May 16, 2016) On Monday Tennis Channel Analyst and International Tennis Hall of Famer Tracy Austin held a media conference call to talk about the upcoming French Open and other tennis topics.
On evaluating Serena Williams game right now going into the French Open:
“I think we certainly had a lot of questions about Serena’s game going into Rome because she had to pull out of Madrid with the flu and therefore took seven weeks off.
“And she was only going to have that one warm‑up red clay court tournament before Roland‑Garros. And Serena came out playing extremely well right from the first match.
“A little bit of hiccup in her early first set against McHale, but for the most part, for the rest of the week, she was moving well. She was striking the ball cleanly.
“She had a good temperament, because when we saw her lose to Sveta in the fourth round in Miami, Serena didn’t look that happy to be on the court. She didn’t play well the last two sets. Won the first set.
“So I think it was a really positive week for Serena, and I think she seems to be in a good place tennis‑wise and mentally prior to Roland‑Garros.
On some of the other top women to watch in Paris:
“We’ve called it topsy‑turvy this year on the WTA tour. And I was possibly expecting or hoping for someone to come through and be more consistent for the red clay court tournaments.
“And we see (Angelique) Kerber come through and win Stuttgart but then lose early the next two tournaments. And then you see Halep who wins Madrid but then loses early in Rome. (Victoria) Azarenka who obviously won the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami and beat Serena in the finals of Indian Wells in straight sets.
“You’re thinking, okay, this is building, this is looking good. She still only lost two times this year. But she’s been hampered by a back injury that she sustained in Madrid and had to pull out prior to her third round and then didn’t play well against Begu because she was obviously compromised, didn’t have much velocity on her serve.
“So for Vika, who is a former semifinalist at the French, I think it’s all about this week and her preparation. Only she knows how her back is feeling and whether she’s been able to alleviate that pain and get back on the practice court.
“But Vika, I certainly see, if she’s able to get healthy, you know, get a draw where she can play herself in, maybe give herself a little more time and do a few matches, I think Vika is someone that we all need to pay attention to, because we saw her take Serena to three sets last year three times, had three match points on Serena at Madrid last year, took her to three sets at the French.
“The big question mark is how healthy is Vika and how long has she been healthy. How many reps has she been able to ‑‑ how much time has she been able to spend on the practice court.
“So as I said, the other ones to look for: Halep former French Open finalist and won Madrid, looking spectacular, losing just one set to Begu. Her backhand is always on target. But her forehand was on target. Looked positive emotionally, which sometimes can waver and in fact it wavered in Rome. And Kerber in Stuttgart who just played gutsy there to defend her title for the first time in her career.
“But again lost early the next couple of matches. But Kerber has been to the quarters, I think, once. And I think with her newfound success in winning the Australian Open she knows how to navigate her way better through a major and probably feels a lot more confidence in her game that she can problem solve in difficult situations. So she’ll be interesting.
“And I’ll talk about Muguruza, who is a two‑time quarterfinalist there, obviously beat Serena in the second round a few years back. And she looked really good. Madison took her out in the semis in Rome. But she’s been making improvements. A slow start to the year for her.
“So I also look for some outliers, Kvitova, who got to the semis of Stuttgart, but early losses or maybe, let’s say, midline losses at the next couple of tournaments.
“And Keys, Keys is somebody who is my outsider, because Madison played spectacular tennis; more importantly, I’m going to take the word “spectacular” out. I’m going to say smart tennis and remained calm throughout all of her matches in beating two top players Kaviva and Muguruza on the way to the finals.
“And we’ve all been talking about the weapons that Madison has had for years: Huge serve, the massive forehand, the sheer power that she has. But it’s always been about shot selection and sometimes not always the smartest shot selection.
“But she was much more patient in building her points; and no matter what the score was, she stayed calm and didn’t pull the trigger too quickly. So those were huge strides for Madison Keys this week.
On the former No. 1 American Junior Taylor Townsend earning a wildcard into the French:
“In February she was .382. It’s hugely significant. If I counted the matches correctly, I think it’s 18 matches that she played in those three events. So getting to the finals of two and winning one.
“I love that consistency. It wasn’t just like, oh, winning one and then struggling in another and having midline results in another.
“I liked the fact she was so consistent. Honestly I did not see any of those matches, so I don’t know. Taylor’s tremendous talent, leftiness is an advantage and asset, and she uses it well. So I think Taylor is still young.
“It’s very exciting that she’s had the success. I hope she uses this wildcard well and also uses this success and is a real springboard for her to, I don’t want to use the word “motivated” because I’m sure she’s remained motivated, but to see she’s close and has the talent. And this confidence will really pay off.
“I think the talent that Taylor has, because she’s ‑‑ I would talk about her game a little bit more and the leftiness. Obviously a very live arm on her serve.
“Huge forehand. Can move ‑‑ not move ‑‑ at the net, she’s very handy about the net, which we see so few of the young players that feel comfortable up there. She’s got good feel as well.
“So really good foundation to build on. And I think it’s about finding her way and gaining confidence, and these three results will really help.
On equal pay in tennis:
“And I don’t think that woman would have a problem playing three out of five sets. And I think also on the men’s side, oftentimes three out of five is too long. And so I think women, if they were asked again to play three out of five, that wouldn’t be a problem.
“For me, it’s not about the length. When you go to a concert, it’s not how long this one plays or a man plays or a woman plays, it’s just about the entertainment value.
“It’s worked for this many years. I think that until someone comes up with ‑‑ maybe men should go to two out of three. Maybe it will make it more interesting and feel a sense of urgency.
“I know at the Olympics, I felt that, when I was covering it in London in 2012. You know, you didn’t have that ability on the men’s side to kind of lose that first set, because there was that sense of urgency. It was two out of three, I think up until a certain round. So there’s so many variations that could be thought of.”
Thoughts on the men, coming into the French Open:
“I do think it’s fascinating because of the results on red clay. Last week on Tennis Channel I picked Djokovic. I still pick Djokovic. But Andy (Murray) winning and the way that he won certainly makes the conversation a lot more interesting.
“Also the fact that Rafa (Nadal) has played at such a high level the last few months, that makes it more interesting as well.
“Rafa, last year, his fluctuations were higher than we have ever seen as far as he would play well and we’d think he’s getting back on track and then he would slip a little bit and then he would play well again.
“It was back and forth, kind of this yo‑yo effect, and he couldn’t really gain traction. Whereas, I feel like in the last month, on the European red clay, he’s really gained that traction, winning in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
“And he had a great match this last week in the quarters against Novak. As Rafa said, it was so very, very close. That gave him, even though he lost, it gave him a lot of confidence, that he’s now hitting his backhand more firmly, with more penetration. He’s standing closer to the baseline.
“He’s using a philosophy that he needs to get a lot of first serves in. He’s serving in the 70s and the low 80s and a couple of his matches, 84 percent, 85 percent of first serves in, serving a little bit further over from the center T on the ad side to get a little bit more angle with his slice.
“Just overall looking a lot more Rafa‑like on clay. So that’s exciting. He’s definitely playing at a different confidence level. Andy Murray might be the biggest surprise. As he said, he’s finally feeling, in the last couple of years, comfortable moving on the clay. And he kind of chuckled about it that it took him 10 years to feel this comfortable to slide, to move, and a guy who is such a good athlete with such incredible balance. We’ve seen his results so consistent each week got better, the semis and then a final, I think it was in Madrid and winning in Rome and beating Rafa along the way. Beating Djokovic along the way and straight sets no less.
“Let me say one thing, Djokovic might have been beat up a little bit in that final because he had a long match with Rafa and a long match with Kay as well. But still it’s so impressive the way that Andy was just a lot more penetrating.
“He obviously had a new mindset that he had to strike his ground strokes more powerfully. I think it was like eight miles per hour faster that he was hitting his ground strokes. He was hitting his second serve a little bit quicker as well. Attacking the net was more successful in Rome. His court positioning.
“So overall he looked very confident. So I would say those three guys, unfortunately I think Roger has not had enough reps and his back, you know, wasn’t good losing to Thiem. He really didn’t stretch and change direction and he kind of knew that going in that he was just looking for matches but he didn’t really expect to go to go deep in Rome. Unfortunately for Roger I think it’s going to be a different Roland‑Garros meaning, I don’t think he’s part of that top tier equation.”
On the progress of “young guns” on tour including Taylor Fritz, Nick Kyrgios,Borna Coric, Zverev:
“I picked my outlier this year at the French with Kyrgios, the way that he ‑‑ I think he beat Stan. He beat another top player, like who else did he beat on clay this year? And then he took Rafa to three sets.
“The way he can hit through the court and just hit winners. The talent is off the chart. He’s just dripping with talent. It’s a question about maintaining that mental balance and he struggled with that.
“I think he’s possibly maturing some. But I expect him to be a future No. 1, future right at the top of the game.
“I also loved Zverev’s progress. I think he’s ranked in the 40s now. And we’ve seen obviously a matchpoint away from beating Rafa at Indian Wells. Didn’t get it. But the kid just keeps improving month to month. It’s not year to year. It’s not every four months. It’s just every single time he plays a tournament, seems like he’s gaining valuable experience and knowledge and seems to have pretty all‑court game already. A huge serve. Tall. He’s thin.
“So he’s going to get stronger. That’s going to take time. But terrific technically sound ground strokes. Love his backhand. Seems in the forecourt pretty comfortable. Great attitude.
“I love Zverev as well. Coric to me is very steady. Talk about him as the mini Djokovic. And to me I don’t see his high level quite as high because I don’t see the obvious weapons.
“And then Taylor, I think Taylor is ranked about 70 now. You think about the fact he lost in the Junior Finals last year and now he’s ranked 72 in the world. That is some incredible progress. And Taylor has a massive serve. Unbelievable forehand. Solid, solid backhand moving much better.
“He grew up with my son. I’ve seen Taylor since the time he was 10 years old. Always had great demeanor. Just a phenomenal kid, by the way. And I don’t say that about a ton of kids. I don’t give those compliments out easily.
“Working on his backhand slice, working in his skills in the forecourt, which needs some work. But the progress has been outstanding.
After Andy Murray parted ways with coach Amélie Mauresmo, Austin was asked about if there will be a time when we’ll see more women coaches coaching men or women in the future:
“As I said on Tennis Channel this week, tennis ball is a tennis ball, and you don’t get anybody out there smarter than Martina (Navratilova), she knows the game, the ins and outs of anybody.
“It’s just a question of how it fits in the schedule. Andy put it well, and I love Andy, he was such a advocate for Amélie, the fact first of all he hired her, first top male to have a woman coach. Really says a lot about Andy and the way he was raised by Judy, that he had such confidence they worked well.
“As Andy said, he was struggling when Amélie came on board and he got his game back together. And I think it was really telling as well when he said since Australia to like where he was at it was two weeks ago, they had spent ten days together. And that’s just not enough time for a coach to make an impact and therefore he felt probably the need to find someone that could spend more time.
“That was not anything, a knock against Amélie or how she was performing as a coach. Amélie had a son in August. And that would be my guess as to where the problem lies; Amélie didn’t want to spend as much time on the road. So that’s possibly why you don’t see as many women on tour if they have young kids.
“I would not want to coach right now. I really want to stay home with my kids. Something possibly for the future. But I would like to see more women that would like to coach have that opportunity.”
Picks for the French Open:
“I’ve been talking about it for a week. As soon as I saw Serena play so well, it’s tough to bet against Serena, three‑time champion there, and Halep is a finalist.
“But other than that, most of the others have been one semis, maybe a quarter or two. So Serena is my clear favorite the way she’s played so well, was so engaged in Rome.
“The men became more difficult, which makes it exciting. Because as someone said, I’m picking Djokovic, but yet Nadal is playing so much better and the guy’s won it nine times. So so much interest there because Djokovic obviously going for his last Grand Slam to achieve the Calendar‑Year Grand Slam.
“So a lot of interest. I’m very excited to go back to Paris. I haven’t been there in over a decade. Very excited to be working with Tennis Channel. Love the Tennis Channel team and call it the Tennis Channel Family.
“So my son will be playing in the juniors there as well in either the junior qualifying or possibly the main draw. So that will be of extra interest to me the second week.”
Tracy Austin will part of the broadcast team for Tennis Channel’s coverage of the French Open.