Wimbledon Preview Conference Call with ESPN’s Chrissie Evert, John McEnroe
(June 21, 2016) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media Tuesday to preview Wimbledon, which is exclusive to ESPN starting Monday, June 27. Highlights of the call are followed by the full transcript.
On: Are nerves the reason Serena is “stuck” on 21 Majors, one short of Graf?
- “I think it has gotten to her a little bit nerve-wise, no doubt about it. Especially against Kerber and against Muguruza, she wasn’t able to dig herself out of the hole like she has in past years, which was surprising to see that, because that’s what she is infamous for. When she’s down, she can get that next gear, that next level, play some great tennis. We didn’t see that in both those matches when she was in trouble. That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves….(that said) In the last few years, she’s been good enough at 60%, 70% to win matches. Now I don’t think it’s going to win matches for her. The competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her. They have strategy when they go out against her. They’re just not intimidated. They know she’s human.” – Evert
On: A quick look at the top men.
- “Everyone is chasing Djokovic, there’s no question about it. Everybody else is trying to bridge the gap between Andy and see what else is out there. Rafa not playing, Roger has been struggling to stay healthy for the first time really. Losing to Thiem, Zverev, these guys can see light at the end of the tunnel maybe. It’s going to be interesting this year, but clearly at the moment these guys have put themselves out here, Andy and Novak, and these other guys have to figure out ways to add to what they’ve got and to bridge this gap.” – McEnroe
On: The Lendl-Murray Reunion.
- “I think Lendl did more for him than anybody. I think it’s a great combination because Lendl’s strengths are Murray’s weaknesses. Lendl, mentally and emotionally, he managed himself so well on the court. With Andy, that’s been sort of his downfall a little bit in the past, he’s gotten so emotional in these matches. It was noticeably different when Lendl was coaching him. He was a bit quieter. He seemed to have himself under control a lot more. I think it’s a great fit. I’m happy for both of them, that they’re working together. Again, that’s the best scenario for Andy Murray right now, to have him in his corner.” – Evert
On: Working with Raonic between the French Open and Wimbledon
- “He’s a great young kid, extremely professional and dedicated. (My role is to) Try to hopefully help him a bit. I think he’s one of the contenders….. (he) has a big game, obviously got a lot of shots. One of the best serves in the history of tennis. He has a huge forehand. I think he understands that he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people.” – McEnroe
- I’d like to talk about Serena. Talk us through, how much do you think this chase for 22 has gotten to Serena, if at all? We saw her stall a little bit for 18 a couple years ago. I just wonder if there’s any correlation to be made, or Serena has put this to the side and trying to do what she always does, which is win the tournament?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it has gotten to her a little bit nerve-wise, no doubt about it. Especially against Kerber and against Muguruza, she wasn’t able to dig herself out of the hole like she has in past years, which was surprising to see that, because that’s what she is infamous for. When she’s down, she can get that next gear, that next level, play some great tennis. We didn’t see that in both those matches when she was in trouble. That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves.
Saying that, I’ve always said, John can weigh in on this, too, after 30 years old, when you’ve been on the tour for 15, in her case maybe 20 years, you don’t have 100% on days every single match. That’s what she’s experiencing now, in the last few years. In the last few years, she’s been good enough at 60%, 70% to win matches. Now I don’t think it’s going to win matches for her. The competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her. They have strategy when they go out against her. They’re just not intimidated. They know she’s human. They’ve seen a couple bad losses, a couple nerve-struck losses. There’s a couple different ingredients. In saying that, Wimbledon is the perfect time for her. I think the surface is tailor made for her game. Power and athleticism, John has said this, is the key to playing on grass. If she can just focus with each match, her game, she can just play it out, and her game is still the best on grass as any of the other women right now.
JOHN McENROE: The only thing I would add is obviously for quite a few years it’s been hers to win or lose. Going for the slam, obviously it’s done so rarely, the pressure is amped up that much more. She was trying to tie Steffi. When she lost at the Open, there was a big letdown. She didn’t play much at all. I don’t think she played for three, four months. She almost pulled out of the Australian. I was extremely surprised, as well as most people, that she lost that. Not as surprised at the French, the way Muguruza was playing. It’s not easy to try to do what she’s doing, to make history at this stage. Knowing that motivation is an issue at times between the majors has made it a little trickier probably. There’s not that many people that wouldn’t pick her here. So it is a surface, if she’s playing well, she’ll win the tournament. But I think, as Chrissie said, there’s more days when you’re not playing that well, and that’s where she can get in trouble.
Q. CoCo Vandeweghe has been playing pretty well on the grass. She reached the quarterfinals last year. Chrissie, how do you see her doing this year? Do you see her reaching the second week and possibly going further than her quarterfinals last year? On the men’s side, for John, del Potro is back after a two-year absence. After seeing him play a couple matches this year, how do you expect him to do at Wimbledon?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, we’re seeing some of her best tennis. Again, I have to say that a lot of it’s because of the surface, grass. As I said before, athleticism and power have a lot to do with her success. Again, her game is tailor made for the grass also. She doesn’t like the clay. She doesn’t have a lot of patience. She doesn’t like to move a lot. I think the grass accentuates the strengths in her game, which are the big first serve and the fact she can volley. She likes to come into the net and volley. Craig Kardon I think has done a great job with her.
You know, it depends on the draw really. It really depends on the draw. When you say, Can anybody make the second week? The draw, the weather conditions… She’s capable very much. I think the last few tournaments will give her confidence. But, you know, she’s still building I think on the emotional and the mental part of the game, not getting down on herself. She’s such a perfectionist, I think that area can still improve. Again, this surface is easier on her, shorter rallies, she doesn’t have to stay out there and be patient. She can hit that winner on the third or fourth shot. It just depends on if it’s working that day, she can beat almost anyone. But we’ve seen her with a slew of errors, too. She’s still an unpredictable player. If she’s going to have any success, it’s going to be on the grass.
JOHN McENROE: I like Juan a lot, but I’m believing he’s not totally sure of himself with his wrist. I talked to him recently. He says he’s getting better. Hopefully he is. I’m taking his word for it. The guy was 5 in the world at one stage. He battled back to the top 10. He can obviously still play. He’s got to be able to not just slice his backhand. Obviously even at Queen’s and the week before, I forgot where he was the week before that, Stuttgart or something, he does predominantly do that. So it’s sort of a work in progress. I think hopefully he’ll get healthy. That’s what it boils down to. He still has got game. He’s had a rough patch. I hope he gets it together. He’s on a protected ranking. He has some opportunities. He’s protected ranking 7, but he doesn’t get seeded. That means he could play anyone in the draw, which wouldn’t be the best thing for some of the top players, but it’s not the best for him either to try to get back to where he sort of deserves to be if he can stay healthy.
Q. How did he seem to you when you spoke to him?
JOHN McENROE: He’s obviously been extremely frustrated and upset. He’s been out of the game way too long. He was at 5 in the world, got hurt, then he battled back to the top 10. I think he was 6 or 7 when he got hurt again. 7, that’s his protected ranking. It’s a shame, in a way. So, you know, I’m reading between the lines. I’m sure he’s still scared, a little worried. I don’t know. He’s tried all different types of surgeries and things. I didn’t get into the exact specifics. Just as someone who hates to see someone lose a career over getting hurt, it’s sort of unfair when you see good guys get burned by injury. If he does get healthy, I don’t know if he’ll get all the way back to 5 in the world, but he can still do some damage.
Q. Serena, in the last three slams, she’s lost to first-time slam winners. I wanted to sort of revisit, Chrissie, what you were saying before that to the rest of the field maybe she doesn’t seem invincible anymore. Players are beating her in big matches, and they’re players who have not won a slam before. I also wanted to ask about Andy Murray. He’s right there at all these slams. He won three years ago. How do you see his chance against Novak, if it were to come down to those two?
CHRISSIE EVERT: As far as Serena, I’ll reiterate, from my observations when I’m calling her matches, I’m seeing these finals, again, it’s twofold. What I’m seeing is the fact that she hasn’t been able to, the last three Grand Slams, get herself into that next gear when she’s in trouble. This is what she’s been famous for in her whole career, especially last year when she was in like, what, nine three-set matches in Grand Slams. It was just incredible to me to see her down a set and a break against an Azarenka, down a set against Safarova, Bacsinszky, and come back. She was able to find that gear and that level. We haven’t seen that.
But the other thing, maybe even more important than what we’re seeing now, is the belief we’re seeing from other players. That’s what Kerber talked about, that’s what Muguruza talked about. They are starting to believe they can beat Serena. We’ve never seen that in Serena’s career when she’s been dominant. There’s always been a little bit of resistance or a little bit of doubt, and they haven’t been able to play their game aggressively on the big points in the third set, and Serena has been able to. It’s twofold: it’s Serena and it’s the field having that belief. Again, Kerber, Muguruza have talked about that belief. I think more and more players are finding that belief as Serena loses more and more, she becomes less and less untouchable. In saying that, it sounds like a negative for Serena. But for her to even be in this position is historical. I believe, along I’m sure with John and other champions, that she still can get that one, which would tie her with Steffi. To me, this is her best shot.
One thing I didn’t bring up is she did have a big week with Mackie Shilstone last week in Palm Beach. She did go over a lot of fitness. She hasn’t had Mackie really on her team until I believe last year, in the summer of last year. Hopefully that was a green flag saying, I want to go that extra mile, get in better shape for Wimbledon, come visit me. He did work with her. In saying that, that’s a good sign for her.
Q. John, if you want to talk about Murray?
JOHN McENROE: I got a firsthand look because I’ve been working with Milos. He was playing great. Andy stepped it up. Like Milos is trying to do with him, he’s trying to do with Novak, bridge that gap a little bit, try to figure out what little bit extra he can do. He’s obviously put himself in position numerous times.
Novak went into the zone at the French. Andy was playing the best tennis of his life on clay for sure at the French and won the first set, looked great. In ways he’s getting closer. I do think his best chance, if you were to say in terms of surface, I think he’s best suited, just having the crowd more on his side here at Wimbledon. So I think his best chance, not that he can’t beat him at the Open, he beat him in Rome not long ago, but his record has recently not been good. Novak has handled it tremendously, what he’s been able to do, like Serena. He’s won four in a row. He’s trying to do something that only one or two other people have done. He’s unbelievably consistent and prepared. I think him adding Ivan, he’s trying to get that little bit extra, just like other players are trying to do the same. We’ll see how it all plays out. Murray is playing great. He’s a great player, there’s no question about it. But at the moment there’s no question that the level that Novak is at is something that you rarely, if ever, see, that consistency. He’s impenetrable in a way. He’s able to play good offense. It’s a tall order for anyone.
CHRISSIE EVERT: With Lendl back on the team, I think that’s all a positive. I think that’s going to give also him maybe a little bit more excitement. I think Ivan was so good for him mentally and emotionally more than anything. We maybe have seen a little bit more focus. I just think that’s going to be great. I agree with John. With him playing at Wimbledon, his home crowd, him playing some of the best tennis of his life, playing more aggressively, and with Lendl back, I think it’s all looking good. It’s about as good as it’s going to get, let’s put it that way. If that’s good enough to win the tournament, so be it. But is that enough? That’s the big question. Djokovic is just playing so great.
Q. John, sticking with Lendl, what are your thoughts on Murray’s reappointment of him? Do you think he can add that missing ingredient to that rivalry with Djokovic? How much would you enjoy a reunion with him at Wimbledon?
JOHN McENROE: I just saw him the other day. Milos had a great shot at a set and 3-Love, playing really well. You have to credit him. He seized an opportunity and stepped up. That’s what great players do. As Milos is trying to do, not just him but others, leave no stone unturned, try to maximize what they have. To me it’s not surprising. It’s not a no-brainer. But I think the fact that his best success was with Ivan, it makes sense to give this another shot given the circumstances. It doesn’t surprise me. I think it makes people think if you get in someone’s head in any way, whether that can make a difference, whether he makes a difference. We all hope he can make any difference. He’s done an excellent job in the past.
Everyone is chasing Djokovic, there’s no question about it. Everybody else is trying to bridge the gap between Andy and see what else is out there. Rafa not playing, Roger has been struggling to stay healthy for the first time really. Losing to Thiem, Zverev, these guys can see light at the end of the tunnel maybe. It’s going to be interesting this year, but clearly at the moment these guys have put themselves out here, Andy and Novak, and these other guys have to figure out ways to add to what they’ve got and to bridge this gap.
Q. Chrissie, we saw today that Mouratoglou thought it was strange that Murray hired Mauresmo. Do you think we’ll see a top player hire a female coach in the future?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Who said that? I didn’t hear the first part of that.
Q. Patrick Mouratoglou said it was strange for Murray to hire a woman as a coach.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Wow!
Q. He said it’s strange because they don’t know the men’s game as well as the women’s game.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I disagree with that. Billie Jean was a coach. I think she coached Todd Martin. Both of those players are serve and volleyers, played an aggressive game. I’m sure Mauresmo did a lot of homework. That’s kind of a little bit of a sexist statement.
In saying that, I think Lendl did more for him than anybody. I think it’s a great combination because Lendl’s strengths are Murray’s weaknesses. Lendl, mentally and emotionally, he managed himself so well on the court. With Andy, that’s been sort of his downfall a little bit in the past, he’s gotten so emotional in these matches. It was noticeably different when Lendl was coaching him. He was a bit quieter. He seemed to have himself under control a lot more. I think it’s a great fit. I’m happy for both of them, that they’re working together. Again, that’s the best scenario for Andy Murray right now, to have him in his corner.
Q. Every now and again there’s the subject of whether the men should go back and maybe play best-of-three sets in the early rounds at Grand Slams. John, I don’t know if you remember, but when you first started playing the US Open in ’77 onwards, the first rounds were played over three sets.
JOHN McENROE: My memory is not that bad (laughter).
Q. You’re one of the few that can remember it. Can you remember what the reason was behind it, what you thought of it, and what you think of the principle in general?
JOHN McENROE: Well, the principle in general to me is that the players are so well-prepared, a lot of them, but especially the top players, with their teams, et cetera, I believe they’re more difficult because there’s such a premium on fitness. Why don’t you see teenagers win? The breakthrough is harder physically and mentally. You don’t see the success as early. You have to sort of work your way up to that astronomical level of fitness in a way. These guys to me prefer, even though there’s a stress obviously to playing best-of-five, especially if there’s delays, rain, if you had to do it a couple days in a row, they’re much more difficult to beat in best-of-five than best-of-three. I would guess that the top players would shy against that, even though I think there’s an argument for it. We used to have 16 seeds and they did it. 32 seeds, you could think to yourself, I’m better than the 33rd player on. So you should be able to handle those people as well. I think tennis should always think of ways to improve itself. I don’t think the door should be closed on saying that women would never play best-of-five or guys will never play best-of-three. I think it’s something that’s an ongoing discussion.
I played tennis. Chrissie played for many years. Now we’re doing commentary. You sort of see it from both sides. You can see where the length of the match can be a problem because people’s attention span is much less than what it used to be. I’ve always wondered why at the very least there’s not tiebreakers in the fifth set in majors so there’s at least light at the end of the tunnel for the fans watching on TV or there, or the players. But these are issues that need to be constantly addressed. The door shouldn’t be closed on that. If I was coaching Djokovic, and I’m coaching Milos, part of his team right now, I’m not so sure I’d want them to switch it to best-of-three because I think the top guys are tougher to beat, like I said. These guys are extremely well-prepared.
Q. Can you remember why they tried it in the first place?
JOHN McENROE: It’s not going to change anytime soon. I don’t remember why because even I, who was not known for my incredible fitness, I would like to think I was a reasonably fit person, but not quite as fit as these guys, I think it’s a little bit more of a roll of the dice. I did lose in the Round of 16 in the US Open in 1977, my first Open, 6-2, 6-3. It seemed like it happened too fast. I don’t remember why it was changed other than perhaps the top players decided it would lessen their chances of a loss.
Q. Do you think Novak Djokovic’s recent accomplishments have not been appreciated the way they should be, not getting as much press as a Roger Federer or somebody else, winning four in a row?
JOHN McENROE: He’s a better player than I was, but I had a little bit of this because I was trying to break in with Connors and Borg, the top two guys. It was frustrating at times where you felt like people would gravitate or be behind these guys, and you were trying to get that same respect, not only from the players, but the press and fans. Jimmy brought a lot to the table with his effort, Bjorn had this great aura and look. Roger is the most beautiful player I’ve ever watched. He’s like Baryshnikov. Rafa plays like an updated 21st century Connors, with that intensity, that point is the last point they are ever going to play. I think people are starting to respect him more and more, to see the astronomical level of consistency he’s had, incredible success week in and week out. At the majors, if you look at his records, he’s approaching Roger’s records, which would seem insurmountable. 20 straight quarters, so many semis in a row. It’s amazing. People are starting to understand and appreciate him more. He certainly had some of that. Also our sport is bigger where I am now in Europe than it is in the States. Obviously if we had more Americans like we used to with Chrissie and Connors, myself, other people, Pete and Andre, you go down the list, it would be helpful to the interests of our sport obviously if we had Americans.
We have Serena in the women, but we don’t have that person in the men right now. That’s also an issue. That’s another part of the reason why I think he’s not appreciated as much as he could be.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that Djokovic, like John said, came along in an era where you have two of the most beloved players, two of the most exciting players with a lot of flair in Nadal and in Federer. Nadal and Federer are so different, they had so many classic matches, I think there’s just an aura around their rivalry. Then Novak came in, no drama, not a lot of flair, just the most dependable and most consistent and efficient player there was. As we see now, this guy quietly could just beat everybody as far as Grand Slam wins. He could just be the greatest of all time if he continues to go at the speed that he’s going. He’s doing it in a quiet way. Again, there’s no controversy. There’s no drama. You always had that with Federer and with Nadal. Then you look at Andy Murray. Andy kind of gets lost in the shuffle also because Andy is in an era with three of the greatest players of all time. Andy himself, if he was in any other era, he probably could have been ranked No. 1. It’s a really exciting time I think for men’s tennis.
Q. Chrissie, do you see something in Muguruza that could potentially separate her from the pack, where she could become the primary rival for Serena?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Sure. I mean, I don’t think you say no. I mean, who is going to be next, the next No. 1 player, after Serena is gone? You’ve got to put your money on Muguruza because first of all, you have to have power in today’s game. When I look at the next three, I look at Radwanska, Kerber and Halep. I don’t think either of those three are going to end up No. 1 in the world. They don’t have that sort of overwhelming power. Muguruza does have it, very much like Serena, following in her footsteps. Muguruza, she still has to mature a little bit. She’s still young. She still has to get probably a little more consistent with her results in the smaller tournaments. But when I look at winning Grand Slams, you’d have to say Muguruza, you’d have to look at Madison Keys, Azarenka, Kvitova, the power players more now more so than the consistent counter-punchers. Yeah, she’s come a long way. I think she’s going to have a tough Wimbledon. It’s very hard to carry that momentum. Very few people have won the French and Wimbledon back to back, especially at that young of an age. That will be a real curiosity for me if she can carry that momentum and confidence and do well, think about last year reaching the finals, or is she going to have a hard time resetting, especially in dealing with people’s expectations.
Q. John, you had that Wimbledon run late in your career when you lost to Agassi. Could you relate that to Roger Federer now? What do you see for Federer at this Wimbledon and beyond? Also the movie about you, did you have any input into that, and did you have any thought about the casting for you? And Chrissie, what about Madison Keys and Sloane? What do you expect from them from this tournament and on? What are they capable of achieving here and the rest of this year?
JOHN McENROE: As far as the movie goes, at this particular point, I’ve had no input. I know they’ve reached out to both my and Bjorn’s agents. Had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the casting. That’s simple facts. I’ve obviously heard of him, he seems a bit crazy, which may be a good thing. He’s done some good stuff, but I’m not that familiar with him as far as his whole career. That remains to be seen. You never know what could or could not happen.
As far as your boy Roger Federer, I don’t know. I saw him play the last two events on TV. Clearly he’s trying to position himself here. His best shot, if he’s ever going to do it, would be here. Most people feel that way. Maybe Roger does at this point. I don’t know exactly where he’s at physically. I mean, to me I think he has a far better chance than I did at that time, I would say, because he’s putting more into it, he’s leaving no stone unturned. He has people around him more so than I did. So I would say from that standpoint, if he were able to, with a little bit of luck, he could go a long way because he’s so comfortable on this surface. I don’t know exactly his fitness. He’s been struggling to be on a court. In the best-of-five, that’s a different story. He hasn’t played a best-of-five set match for a while. That’s another issue. Other factors will come into it, like the draw, who he plays. All these things come into it. It’s a little unpredictable. But after the string he had of 65 straight, missing the French, I think you start to say, Okay, how much longer are you going to see Roger around? You have to appreciate each time you see him at a major. He is going to be 35 in August, I believe.
CHRISSIE EVERT: As far as Madison and Sloane, they definitely are the most talented young Americans that we have. If I take one at a time…Sloane has disappointed us. Our expectations have been higher of Sloane. I think she’s disappointed us in her attitude, if anything. She seems like in the past she hasn’t been as engaged in her matches. She’s received criticism from that. Tremendous talent. She can do everything. I just think it’s a matter of her putting herself on the line. If she can put herself out there and play aggressively like she knows how to play from the first shot, I think she’s a totally different player. She just in the past has been waiting and kind of assessing her opponent, kind of playing counter-punch tennis. That’s not her game. Her strength is from the first shot stepping in and playing aggressively. If she can do that, she’s hungry to win, she wants to commit herself, I think she definitely could be a top contender. By the way, she looks better. She’s getting better and better. But maybe she’s going at her own pace. Maybe we’re all trying to rush her.
I know we all tried to rush Madison Keys. I’ve known Madison since she was 10 years old. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that in her own time she will win a Grand Slam, but it has to be on her terms. She has to make all the decisions. I think we’ve seen some signs from her winning Birmingham. We saw it last year when she won Eastbourne. This girl can play on grass. This girl, again, her serve I think matches Serena’s. I think it’s the only serve out there that matches Serena’s as far as power and being a threat, being unreturnable. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in Madison. I think in her own time, the physical has always been advanced for her, her game, her power. Once the mental and emotional catch up, which I see signs of right now, I think she’s going to win some majors. I don’t have any doubt in my mind.
Q. John, I wondered how much you enjoyed your week at Queen’s and if it’s given you extra appetite for doing more the rest of the year and further ahead? Chrissie, doing a series on great shots of the game, Serena’s serve is obviously very big. Is there anything you could sort of add to that that’s not obvious to the layperson that goes into the production of it?
CHRISSIE EVERT: How was your week, John?
JOHN McENROE: My week was nice. Thank you for asking (laughter).
Actually, I stayed in Europe and went straight over to London from Paris. It was good to sort of spend a week, get a feel for what makes Milos tick. He’s a great young kid, extremely professional and dedicated. (My role is to) Try to hopefully help him a bit. I think he’s one of the contenders. If you told me four months ago there would be six, seven people that could possibly win this, there’s a lot of guys that can beat guys on a given day, but to actually win it, I would put him in the handful of half dozen guys. I think it’s nice from that standpoint to be part of his team.
As far as down the road, I think it always was for me hopefully something that wasn’t going to be for a couple weeks then, “Thank you very much.” Hopefully for him, and it ultimately is up to him, that he’ll be a better player in a year or two years than he is at this moment, even though I think he has a shot at winning it this year. Obviously from 25 to 29, the next three, four years, I think it’s an opportunity for him to improve. I think he wants to do that. It’s great when you see someone that’s really working hard at maximizing what he’s got. He’s had a good team around him before. Carlos Moya has done a real fine job when he’s been there. He has other people. Ricardo Piatti has been coaching him as more of a regular thing. I think it would be part of something where I pick and choose. The beauty that’s happened for me the last five years or so with some of the other players like Boris, Ivan was doing it more often, I don’t know how many weeks he’s going to do with Andy now, but if I use the word ‘part-time’, somewhere 10 weeks or less, that’s something that is much more in my wheelhouse, and perhaps it’s for Milos as well because he already has a good team around him. This is the type of thing where it first started to feel like, Okay, if something nice came along, it’s good. It’s not a 30- or 40-week commitment like a lot of players have with a lot of their coaches.
CHRISSIE EVERT: About John and Raonic, very much like Lendl and Murray, I think Lendl’s philosophy and his strengths really helped Murray. When I look at John’s game, it’s like opposites attract. I think John has so many rare insights into playing grass court tennis, because he played so well. I think John was known for his touch and his quickness around the court, coming into the net. If John can influence Raonic on any of these things, I think it would be a plus-plus with Milos. When you got with him, I liked it, I liked that combination right away. You can light a fire under him because you are a feisty player. He’s very much in control out there. Like you said, he’s professional, he’s hard-working. But he needs a little fire and he needs to show. I think just a few little tweaks in his game would make all the difference in the world in him winning Wimbledon. I’m a big fan of that combination.
I’m not kissing your ass either, John.
JOHN McENROE: I appreciate that. Thank you.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think Serena loads up really well from her leg strength. She uses her leg strength. She loads up well. She springs up, and that just gives her much more acceleration. That plus the racquet head speed is what gives her the power. So it’s that leg strength that probably we don’t talk about as much. And the toss, it’s always in the same slot. She very rarely has a bad toss. It’s in that same slot where she can go wide or down the T, it’s unreadable.
Q. John, Milos came to the net very well in the beginning of the year at Australia, but there seemed to be differences at Queen’s with the forehand volley. Have you worked on the technical side with him in recent weeks, and if so, could you give some specifics, what your assessment was of him during the matches in Queen’s. And also, you don’t strike me as the kind of guy that is going to have a lot of fun sitting in the chair for three sets or even five. I was wondering how you were handling not having any ability to affect what’s going on on the court as opposed to sitting in the booth where you don’t necessarily have a vested interest in the outcome?
JOHN McENROE: I’m not the guy that can sit still very well in any situation. Certainly when you obviously have lost control, you try to add what you can, try to be helpful to someone before. I’d like to maybe do a lot of standing up than sitting down. Gets your body too stiff from sitting. I’m an energy person. I kind of hope that he can feed off some of my energy and intensity a little bit because that’s the way I am and that’s the way I’m going to be. Ivan sat there for years and didn’t change his expression. It is certainly a more helpless position, and it’s easy to be the backseat driver: You should have done this, this is how you should do that. You have to be cognizant, or the fact I played for so long, and still try to play, I understand how difficult it is to actually go out there and execute.
As far as the first part of your question, I’m not going to get into the specifics of what we’re doing. I think that Milos is someone that has a big game, obviously got a lot of shots. One of the best serves in the history of tennis. He has a huge forehand. I think he understands that he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people. Exactly what he was doing in Australia, that’s the best I’ve ever seen Milos look, when he was playing down there. That’s sort of the game plan. With or without me that would be, I believe, something that he understands.
You always try to help someone with every part of the game. Just because I’m more of a touch player and have a better volley doesn’t mean that I’m never going to mention about his groundstrokes or serve or whatever. It depends. But obviously an important part of grass court play is to be aware of situations, court positioning. Volleying used to be more important, but I still think it can be important. I think when you have a guy who is 6’5″ tall, he’s very imposing. If you ever heard me commentate, that’s a bit of a no-brainer. So hopefully he goes out there and is able to perform at the best of his ability and enjoy it. I would take pleasure in that if I could help him in that way.
Q. I noticed last week he was smiling a crazy amount on the court. I wondered if you had anything to do with that at all. He’s usually either stoic or ticked off.
JOHN McENROE: I can’t answer that. You’d probably have to speak to him. Before I even started working with Milos, I knew him around. I have some people in New York, know people he’s friends with. To me, because I personally wasn’t able to get out on the court and enjoy it maybe at the end of the day as much as I would have liked, yeah, I play with intensity, but sometimes it was negative intensity which sometimes gets a little old. I think if there was one aspect of Roger Federer’s career that I’m jealous of is that it seemed like he really loved being out there, whereas people like myself or Sampras, most people really, are filled with angst, because it is intense and you don’t want to let down and all these other reasons you’re sort of brought up to believe is the case. Obviously Milos has felt the best way for him to perform is to sort of keep an even keel and not show much emotion, go about it. I don’t think he hired me so I would say, Look, keep exactly the same way. I believe he’ll be a better player when he’s able to express himself more positively. Murray, you watch Murray, Andy starts screaming at his box, whatever. People prefer he didn’t do that. It could cost him at times, maybe when he played Djokovic, not a lot of guys but a couple guys. Maybe where Milos would be able to enjoy this. This is tough to do, but there’s great rewards. It is a little bit like, Look, trust me, I’ve been there, I didn’t do as good a job, and hopefully you can have more fun with this and enjoy it. I believe he can. It’s not something where suddenly you’re going to start acting like Rafael Nadal. Over time, if you look at Novak, I think he’s done a great job of turning lemons into lemonade, things that were going on in the court in the past. Now he uses the crowd better, gets into it. He recognizes the situation, takes advantage of it. That’s a great quality he’s got now. I’d like to see Milos do that, as well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s one thing that Serena is lacking right now, is maybe she should be enjoying the journey and the process a little bit more. She certainly doesn’t appear to be happy all the time on the court.
THE MODERATOR: Chrissie, you have to go, but we’ll take a few more for John on the line. I thank you for your contributions today.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Thank you. Bye, John. See you next week.
JOHN McENROE: Bye, Chrissie.
Q. John, there was an article that Pete Sampras did a while back. It was in the form of a letter to himself as a young player where he reflected on emerging into the game, giving himself a few tips. If you could go back, give yourself a tip or two when you were emerging, what would that be?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it would be to act more like Connors in the sense that he’d lose it and freak out, but he’d have his arm around someone, loving every minute of it, embracing, laughing it off, not thinking if you laughed, you’d lose your intensity. Or make a joke. Sometimes I thought things would be humorous if I said it, I didn’t say it, I said almost the opposite. So just enjoying it on the court more, which is easier said than done. Certainly the way I played, I was sort of brought up to be really intense, not let down. If you let down, you lose it. God forbid, if you enjoyed it, had fun, your game would drop. If I had let myself let that happen, I feel like I would have enjoyed it even more, even though when I look back I feel pretty lucky and fortunate. It’s at the time when I was competing to win these majors, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy it more in the later part of my career.
Q. Jimmy was your great rival. He interacted with the crowd, getting the crowd behind him. Did that piss you off? Also, has anyone since Jimmy approached that, had that skill set?
JOHN McENROE: It pissed me off, but I also respected it. I was like, Wow, this guy is like a maestro out here, he can do this. It drove me crazy, but I wish I had done it more myself, so… That’s as simple as that. I don’t think there’s someone that I’ve ever seen that has controlled the crowd as well as Jimmy Connors, as far as I can see. The game is different now. The challenge system has changed. It’s better for the player. You feel like you’re going to get a second look. That’s comforting.
I think Nadal has played with the type of intensity and exuberance in a way. He didn’t get with the crowd, but he’s just so fired up, like every point is his last point, pump the fist, jump up, being down two sets to love even. He’d hold serve, he’d be screaming. I really respected that, especially a little bit earlier. When you see it a little more often, it’s tougher to do when you’re not winning as much. Even now you see him, even meaningless it’s considered, he still gets fired up.
I don’t think there’s ever going to be someone that lit it up. Kyrgios, he does things where he drives everybody crazy, but he does things where he’s magical in a way. If he actually ever puts a potpourri of things together in a way that it’s going to be difficult to do, because he’s going to need the right people, understand what this is all about, the commitment, all this other stuff. He’s got the type of personality where he could light things up, drive players crazy because of his skill, but also because his ability to sort of interact. He’s doing that when Milos is playing. He’s talking to everybody, always talking, drives you nuts. Some of it can be funny, what he said, some of it can be annoying, some of it can be complimentary. He always seems to be doing something. You have different sides of the spectrum. But he’s someone that could potentially bring a lot to the table.
Q. John, your thoughts on Eugenie Bouchard’s game heading into Wimbledon? Have you been watching her closely enough to comment?
JOHN McENROE: You know, I haven’t seen her play enough to say for sure. I think because of the unpredictability of grass, in terms of how little people play on it, it would make things more open. I haven’t seen anything, me personally, from the dozen or so times I’ve seen her play since she had these monumental struggles that would say, Okay, I’m ready to see her break through and make this huge move. The fact she had a year where she was at the end of majors consistently would lead me to believe that if the right set of circumstances took place, the confidence could start building again. I don’t see much confidence right now at all. But she’s out there. I think she’s back with Saviano. It’s sort of in a sense what Murray is doing. She clearly had this great one year where it was way better than anything she’s ever done. It’s a work in progress. To me, I don’t see the confidence right now that would lead me to believe it’s going to be much of a run. Stranger things have happened.
Q. Your relationship with Milos, is it all business or have you become friends with him? What kind of guy is he?
JOHN McENROE: I think Milos is a really class act. I think he’s extremely smart. He’s a guy I knew a little bit from before. I was supportive, because I always try to be supportive of the young guys coming up. I saw something obviously with his serve where you’re like, Oh, my God, this guy has one of the greatest serves in the history of tennis. He’s a respectful guy. He’s very professional and dedicated. I want him to enjoy this more. So I’d be supportive whether I was working with him or not. I have been because I know some people that are around him, kids of parents that I’m friends with, he’s younger than some of my kids. He has got a place in New York. I’ve seen him a few times not at the US Open or something. I’m probably a little bit too old that, like, we’re buddies. But any part of a professional relationship, at least for me, you try to figure out what he’s about, what makes him tick. You sort of try to fit in because this is something he’s been doing for a long time, and I’m not going to walk in and go, Now you do it this way. We had a good week of practice before Queen’s. He played well at Queen’s. He was up a set and 3-Love against Murray. He missed a backhand volley, a challenge, missed by a quarter of an inch to be at 4-1. He was unlucky not to win that game. He should have won the match in straight sets. But he didn’t.
Now we have to get him focused for Wimbledon, obviously which matters quite a bit more. I think hopefully he’s one of the half dozen guys that can win it. He has a good team around him. Carlos Moya I think has done an excellent job. I said earlier in this call, it’s the best I’ve ever seen Milos play, at the Australian, get him back to where he’s a presence, an intimidating one. He’s getting there. Hopefully Carlos will be back here and I’ll be doing commentating mainly. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a chance to be out there and support him. But my professional commitments with ESPN in doing Wimbledon, and some BBC, mainly ESPN, will preclude me from doing too much with Milos. But that was understood before. Whatever I can do, I’ll be around, want to be supportive, discuss strategy with who he plays, obviously, and that other stuff.
Q. John, I’m obviously obsessed with Andy’s attempts to break into Djokovic’s dominance. Is there a chance he could be more susceptible after completing the career slam or is it more likely he’ll relax and be more formidable?
JOHN McENROE: That’s a good question. That’s a tremendous question that I don’t know the answer to. I would say Andy’s hoping the former takes place. I doubt that (Novak) is going to let down. I think there may be, if anything, more pressure because he’ll be going for the actual calendar-year slam. This is something monumental. He’s already done something monumental. He’s in a fantastic space. He’s unbelievably consistent, scary consistent. Andy played well, played a great first set at the French. This guy stepped it up to like a gear that was frighteningly good. It was like taking a body blow, a shot to the stomach. It was hard to recuperate. He made a little bit of a run at the end, but the damage had been done. This guy, he’s very, very formidable. I think Andy is playing extremely well, actually the best I’ve ever seen him play at the French. First time I thought he had the chance to win it.
He’s as prepared as he possibly can be. I think his chances are better, for reasons I mentioned earlier. The crowd will be much more behind him. I think the game suits him better. He sort of has that cat-and-mouse thing. Novak has gotten much better at that, too. It’s a tall order, but I think if you said to me he has a better shot of beating Novak at Wimbledon than the French, although he could have done it, I think he’s got a better shot. He’s positioned himself as well as he possibly can. He hasn’t beaten him in a while. He beat him in Rome. He’s believing more. But that’s certainly another reason why I thought he brought Ivan in.
ESPN Broadcast Schedule for 2016 Wimbledon