2014/07/31

“OnThe Call” – ESPN Tennis Analysts Chris Evert, John McEnroe Talk Wimbledon

Chris-Evert

ESPN (June 17, 2014) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media about Wimbledon, which starts Monday, June 23, exclusive to ESPN, with live action on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS and ESPN3, plus weekend programming on ABC including same-day reairs of the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Championships. Listen to the full media conference here.

 

ESPN Broadcast Schedule for Wimbledon

Topics on the call included:

  • Andy Murray’s recent selection of Amelie Mauresmo as coach.  McEnroe:  “(Like Murray at Wimbledon, Mauresmo) had an extreme amount of pressure on her at the French Open …She wasn’t able to be herself there.  She eventually later in her career was able to succeed and win a couple majors.  From that standpoint she’s got the understanding of what it takes emotionally and mentally to maybe get through and add that extra percent or two.”
  • Evert picks Serena to win her sixth Wimbledon, despite pressure:  “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on her because she did not do well in the last two Grand Slams, pretty much had bad losses.  I think all eyes are going to be on how she’s doing.  If she can get through the first week, that’s going to be the big thing.  Once she gets through the first week, gets the ball rolling, gets more comfortable on the grass, she’ll be unbeatable.  She has one thing no other woman player has, she has the serve.  She’s walking on the court 2-Love or 3-Love already.”
  • Wimbledon dark horses to watchMcEnroe:  “(T)wo guys that I think have made the biggest advances, who we’ve been waiting on the longest to potentially do some serious damage at a major event, and they’re starting to show that.  That would be Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov.  Two guys, if they had a little bit of luck, things fell their way, they could make a real run in this tournament.”  Evert:  “I think Bouchard has shown a lot of positives in the last six months as far as stepping up, not being afraid to play the top players, not to be afraid to play on a stadium court, dealing with the pressure so well.  Especially after the French, she almost beat Maria Sharapova.  She likes grass.  She likes to step in and take the ball early.  She has power.  I think she’s one to watch.”
  • McEnroe on the need to recruit the top U.S. athletes to play men’s tennis:  “If you look at Djokovic…you’re looking at the best athletes in their respective countries, like Nadal.  While we’ve had some fine athletes, I think our premiere athletes are going mainly to football and basketball…. If you ask me one thing, I’m sitting here at Randall’s Island where my tennis academy is.  My goal is to go into Harlem, the Bronx, the inner cities and give kids an opportunity, try to get enough corporate sponsorship to allow these kids an opportunity to play because the game itself remains too unaffordable for too many people.”
  • McEnroe on the advantage soccer has vs. tennis, with the World Cup:  “(World Cup) is a perfect example where soccer can flourish to some degree because for the next month there will be a lot of focus on that…When I came up, Davis Cup was the only way you could represent your country in an international competition.  It seems like watching this it’s a damn shame we don’t have something like this or haven’t tried something like this for our sport potentially.”
  • On meeting Brazilian soccer legend Pele.  Evert:  “He was my idol growing up….I loved his attitude.  He had such a sweetness about him, but he was still a killer out there.  I loved everything about him growing up.  I just thought he was a great role model as far as being an athlete both on and off the field.  He’s always been really special.  And I did meet him once and it was very special to me, too.”  McEnroe:  “He’s one of these guys that makes you feel good about everything.  He just has this smile….  The way he played, he was like the Roger Federer on a soccer field.  He was like the most beautiful guy that combined this joie de vivre, and played the way he played…He’s just a wonderful man.  He’s one of those guys that will say something nice about you before he expects you to say something nice about him.”

 

Q. I would like to hear from both of you on the topic of Andy Murray’s hiring of Mauresmo, what you think about that, and also Murray’s prospects heading into Wimbledon. 

EVERT:  Well, I mean, Mauresmo’s very qualified obviously.  Amélie, she’s been a good coach before.  I think she and Andy click well together.  I like the line he said, My mom, I’ve always had sort of the female influence around me concerning my tennis.  Women listen more, which is probably true.

 

But the great thing about Andy now is he still has that influence from Lendl.  I think there was nobody better for him at that time, a couple years ago, than Lendl.  What he’s done for his tennis, what he’s done for his fitness and his attitude on the court is incredible.  I think if he continues to carry on with Lendl’s influence and takes what Mauresmo has to offer, I think he’s in a pretty good place right now.

McENROE:  Initially when he hired Ivan, I was taken aback and surprised that he made as bold a move.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought that actually, for a variety of reasons, it would work.  It turned out it did work.  I must say when I was hearing the possibilities of who Andy was going to hire, I was sort of hoping he’d do something out of the ordinary or out of the box like he had done with Lendl.  Not the sort of I don’t want to say same old, same old, ‘retreads’ is not a fair word, but qualified coaches that had been around with a number of other players.  Definitely from that standpoint it really surprised me, however, that he picked her.  I’m not quite as convinced that it’s going to succeed in the way I thought it was with Ivan.

 

I do think that Chrissie was correct in saying that she’s had a fair amount of coaching experience.  I’m assuming the logistics on some level, if there’s rain delays, et cetera, I don’t know if that means, for example, Amélie Mauresmo would have access to the locker room, would that have to be done somewhere else, coaching before, probably not a whole lot is going to be done.

 

Clearly it’s a tricky time to walk into a new coaching job because Murray is defending his title.  It was announced just a few hours before the men’s final at the French.  I don’t know how long they knew before that’s what the plan was.  But it seems like the whole thing was orchestrated to a degree.  I don’t know to what degree the decision was made to wait two hours before the men’s final.  It certainly doesn’t give anyone a whole lot of time for the two to get a feel for each other when most if not all of the training would already be done leading up to Wimbledon.

 

Q. I’m wondering what you think she could bring to the table and would you ever have considered hiring a female coach when you were playing?

McENROE:  I wasn’t one for coaches, male or female.  It was surprising.  I was on the air trying to recall with Mary Carillo when we were doing the finals at the French, I couldn’t remember a time when a woman had been coaching a male.  I believe there was a brief period of time when Billie Jean may have coached Tim Mayotte, I believe.  I think there was one other occasion.  But it’s very rare.  You talk about Andy Murray’s mom.  As far as what she can bring to the table, I suppose there’s certain situations that she’s gone through similar to Andy and Ivan.  That’s part of why I think he hired Ivan, because Ivan having been in the position of having succeeded but not won slams yet at somewhat an advanced stage in tennis terms.  He had credibility because he had been there and knew what it felt like.

 

I know Mauresmo, there’s a similarity in the sense that she had an extreme amount of pressure on her at the French Open as opposed to Wimbledon, not nearly as much as Andy, but certainly more than most players experience.  She wasn’t able to be herself there.  She eventually later in her career was able to succeed and win a couple majors.  From that standpoint she’s got the understanding of what it takes emotionally and mentally to maybe get through and add that extra percent or two.

 

I can’t say that I would have thought about it at the time, although I sort of think there’s no reason why not having thought about it.  But at the time when I was playing, I can’t say that we were thinking along those lines.

 

Q. John, you said you would have liked to have played the best, speaking of Roger Federer at the Open and Nadal at the French.  In an imaginary match, if you were playing them, how would you break them down?  You also said you would want to get into their heads.  How would you do that? 

McENROE:  You’re talking about the most difficult propositions there is in tennis.  Did I say I wanted to play him on clay?  I sometimes put my foot in my mouth.  That may have been one of those occasions.  I thought Borg was tough to beat on clay, watching what he was able to accomplish, until I saw Rafa.  And Roger at Wimbledon or the Open would be an incredible challenge, as would Sampras at Wimbledon, particularly the older courts.  Part of the way to succeed is you have to figure out a way to believe in yourself ultimately.  This is a very mental game.  It comes down to sort of will and desire and belief.  Connors taught me this early in my career.  No matter how badly I thought I wanted it, it seemed like he wanted it more.

 

I think guys like Murray, Novak, even Rafa, Roger early, they had to become better because they saw how hungry the people in front of them were.  That’s sort of the ultimate test.  My game wouldn’t be that much different if I were to play them because you have to believe in your style of play, trying to take it to them, not allow players to relax.  Sort of the ultimate example of that was Pete, Boris Becker to some degree on the faster courts.  But Pete was the ultimate.  These guys get rhythm and want to wear you down.  You can’t allow that to happen.  You have to make it more of a match where every shot would count and feel like you’re going to do something as soon as you have an opportunity to do that.  That to me it’s the only hope you’d have against players of this nature, the greatest of the greats.

 

Q. In the spirit of the World Cup, you met Pele a good number of years ago.  How did that meeting compare with other encounters with celebrities? 

EVERT:  He was my idol growing up.  Don’t ask me why.  There are a lot of great, great athletes when I was growing up.  I just loved him.  I loved his attitude.  He had such a sweetness about him, but he was still a killer out there.  I loved everything about him growing up.  I just thought he was a great role model as far as being an athlete both on and off the field.  He’s always been really special.  And I did meet him once and it was very special to me, too.

 

Q. Apologies for bringing up a topic that’s been well-mined over the years.  On the men’s side, the second ranked American player as we head into Wimbledon is Steve Johnson at 68.  There’s one American male who is seeded.  I’m curious to get your thoughts on that.  Not that we can take hours to dissect this, but what you think needs to change or should change to perhaps address this seeming trend? 

McENROE:  Well, this conference call is only supposed to last an hour, so I’m not sure we have time to discuss that in this particular timeframe.  As an example, I’m watching, a lot of other people are watching some of the World Cup go on right now.  Soccer, slowly but surely is getting into the mindset of more Americans.  Obviously there are a lot of immigrants that have come in from other countries where soccer is a bigger game, as tennis is.

This is a perfect example where soccer can flourish to some degree because for the next month there will be a lot of focus on that.  We never have taken advantage of that.  When I came up, Davis Cup was the only way you could represent your country in an international competition.  It seems like watching this it’s a damn shame we don’t have something like this or haven’t tried something like this for our sport potentially.

 

It’s not going to be exactly the same format, but the basic idea being all the countries coming together like the World Cup.  That’s one thing that we haven’t done that I think could have helped us.  Clearly over the years the game has become, because of the technology and other reasons that we’ve talked about, more physical and athletic than it’s ever been.  Because of that you need to have better athletes.

 

If you look at Djokovic, it’s not like I haven’t said this or Chrissie hasn’t said this a bunch of times, you’re looking at the best athletes in their respective countries, like Nadal.  While we’ve had some fine athletes, I think our premiere athletes are going mainly to football and basketball.  Perhaps more and more of the younger ones are coming into soccer at least early on.  It remains to be seen if it becomes a longer-term thing.

 

If you ask me one thing, I’m sitting here at Randall’s Island where my tennis academy is.  My goal is to go into Harlem, the Bronx, the inner cities and give kids an opportunity, try to get enough corporate sponsorship to allow these kids an opportunity to play because the game itself remains too unaffordable for too many people.

 

Some of this is cyclical.  Some of it is we’ve done a poor job.  We got maybe spoiled is an accurate word.  We expected there would be more Connors, Pete Samprases, Agassis.  Because of the worldwide interest in sports, if you go back to the ’88 Olympics, when tennis became part of the Olympics again, more countries put more money and resources into it to allow more kids to play tennis, so more countries have more of an interest and they see the upside of it.  That same thing hasn’t happened for us in the U.S.

 

If you combine all those things.  I’m talking about the male game.  The playing field for women is better than any other sports.  I think that’s why you see two of the greatest athletes that ever played, Venus and Serena.  At worst, they have to be the top two to four.  They’ve done a pretty good job, have had amazing careers.  Then you see some of the younger players.  I can see at my academy, generally you see girls that look to tennis maybe before guys do.  We have to do a better job promoting it.  That’s about half the answer or a third.

EVERT:  I think the expense is one big thing.  I actually have come into contact with a lot of people, a lot of women, when they hear I was a tennis player, they’re like, I wanted to play tennis but it was too expensive for my family.  As a mother of three kids, when my kids were younger, they wanted to do the team sports.  It was more social, more engaging.  They went out and were on a team.  I think a lot of kids are cut out for team sports.  There aren’t a lot of kids cut out for the pressures of an individual sport at such a young age.  Obviously you have to train at a young age if you’re going to be a tennis player.  The fact that tennis probably isn’t even in the top 10 in America as far as popular sports, most watched sports on TV.

 

John brought up a great point.  Our best athletes are definitely not going into tennis.  They’re going into a lot of different sports.  It’s funny, the Serena, Venus influence as far as the African American influence is starting finally to show up in the women’s game.  Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend, Victoria Duval, that has started in the last couple years.  So it also depends on who is number one in your sport.  Our number one player in the women’s sport the last 10 years has been either Venus or Serena.  So I think that is a big thing.

I think you’re going to see tennis grow in America.

 

Q. Could you assess the women’s side at Wimbledon, particularly Maria Sharapova 10 years after her victory.  Can she do it again this year? 

EVERT:  I think it’s going to be an interesting tournament for Serena.  I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on her because she did not do well in the last two Grand Slams, pretty much had bad losses.  I think all eyes are going to be on how she’s doing.  If she can get through the first week, that’s going to be the big thing.  Once she gets through the first week, gets the ball rolling, gets more comfortable on the grass, she’ll be unbeatable.

She has one thing no other woman player has, she has the serve.  She’s walking on the court 2-Love or 3-Love already.  If the serve is going, the grass is custom made for her.  It frees her up to go for the returns.  She’s athletic, she moves well, she stays down low on the grass.  She’s the best grass court player in my mind right now.

 

As far as Maria, if she can do a double, the French and Wimbledon, that would be the greatest year she’ll ever have in her life.  That would be an incredible feat for her.  Number one, is she going to have a letdown after winning the French?  Number two, remember all the slipping and sliding, the problems she had last year.  Footing is a big problem with her.  She’s so tall, she can’t get down low for the ball, she doesn’t have that secure footing.  The movement on the grass is going to be key for her, as well as her first serve.  It can go all over the place or she can serve aces.  Sharapova, there’s a question mark.  But as far as confidence level, you’ve got to give that to her.  But I’m still favoring Serena a little bit.  With Halep, Kvitova, Bouchard, ones who can do some damage also.

McENROE:  I pretty much agree with what Chrissie said.  She’s absolutely right.  Serena’s game is very much made for the grass.  Maria I never would have thought would have become arguably a better clay court player than any other surface.  I really respect the effort she’s put forth to become that good and be able to win the French twice, a second time before any other major.

 

I think what Chrissie said earlier about the footwork, the movement, in the beginning it’s going to be tougher for Maria to get through the first week.  If she does, she’ll be able to sort of feel more comfortable with her movement.

After that, it obviously becomes much more of a crapshoot.  The bigger hitters, Kvitova won it because she can do damage with one shot.  It becomes harder for players that rely on getting a lot of balls back.  It’s tougher to win a tournament like that.  Or if they have liabilities with their serve…  Certainly if Serena and Maria don’t do well, it’s going to be much more difficult to pick who it would be after that.  Is Azarenka still in?

EVERT:  Yeah, she’s come back.  This is her first week.

McENROE:  She hasn’t played much for a while, so that would be an X factor for her.  She got hurt last year.  She’ll be hesitant early on.  Obviously, when she got hurt, she was 2, 3 in the world.

EVERT:  I’d like to see Serena this time, because they were going to meet in the quarters at the French, I’d like to see them (Serena and Venus) on opposite ends of the draw.  That would make it much more interesting, too.

 

Q. If you had to pick one to make it through the first week, would you go with Serena or Maria? 

McENROE:  If I had to pick one, I’d pick Serena.

EVERT:  Yeah.

 

Q. What is it like to defend a home Grand Slam challenge?

McENROE:  First of all, there’s no one that’s been under more pressure to win a major event than Andy Murray.  The fact that he’s done it takes a lot of pressure off him.  That should be understood.  He did something that took 76 or 78 years to do so there’s definitely less pressure.  Having said that, anytime you taste what it feels like to win it once, you obviously want to win it again.  So there’s an element of pressure you put on yourself for starters because you sort of want to see what that feels like at least one more time.  From that standpoint he’s going to be feeling pressure.  Clearly now once people know he can do it, they’re going to think he should do it again.  It’s not like there’s not going to be pressure.  There is going to be pressure.  It’s not going to be as staggering as it was.  You throw in this new coaching thing, that makes it a little bit hard to get your groove quickly.  He only won one match in Queen’s.  He lost early.  So this is sort of an X factor.

 

Murray is very comfortable on the surface.  I’m assuming that they’re going to seed him No. 4.  I would be surprised if they don’t move him up.  He’s presently 5.  I think Stanislas Wawrinka is 3 or 4.  I think it would make sense.  He deserves it, to me, based on the fact he won it last year, his history on grass, that they should seed him 4 and separate these guys.  He would potentially have to go through three of these guys, which I don’t think makes sense for anyone.  Are the seedings being made tomorrow?

EVERT:  Yes.

McENROE:  I would hope for all concerned that they put Stan, who won the Australian, he’s not as comfortable on grass, he had a decent run at Queen’s, but it would be ludicrous to me if they didn’t put Murray 4.

Once he gets going, he’s going to be obviously one of the toughest guys to beat.  He’s tougher to beat in best-of-five, particular on grass because he has a sense of what to do there.  He has as good a shot as anyone to win it.

 

Q. Do you see Mauresmo coaching a top 10 player on the ATP, is that a big step for women’s tennis? 

EVERT:  I don’t think it matters for women’s tennis.  I think it says something for women’s coaching.  You’re talking about two different things.  Again, this isn’t going to affect the Tour at all.  It’s a positive sign for women in coaching.  It hasn’t been done very much, very rarely.  Maybe it opens the door to not only men, but the women don’t seem to have women coaches.  Maybe it opens the door to more women.  It’s really interesting because the big question at the French was, Will this inspire more top women to be coaches?  The fact of the matter is, we all have kids.  I don’t think Steffi Graf is going to ask Andre, Can I go on the Tour for 35 weeks and coach a player?  I don’t think that’s going to happen.  When you look at the top players, Steffi, Pam Shriver, Tracy, Mary Joe, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay, everybody’s got kids.  That’s our priority.  You’re not going to have full-time coaches as women as much as full-time coaches with men.

 

Q. You covered some of the favorites on the women’s side at Wimbledon.  I wanted your thoughts on who the longshots or surprises might be.  Specifically what are the chances you see for Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, and down the line Daniela Hantuchova?

McENROE:  Wozniacki, I would put that’s not going to happen, as well as Hantuchova, even though they’re nice girls, young ladies.  Ivanovic has a remote chance.  She has some wins.  Way better chance than the other two as far as the girls.

 

As far as the guys, the four top guys are the obviously choices.  These aren’t longshots anymore.  These are the two guys that I think have made the biggest advances, who we’ve been waiting on the longest to potentially do some serious damage at a major event, and they’re starting to show that.  That would be Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov.  Two guys, if they had a little bit of luck, things fell their way, they could make a real run in this tournament.  Those would be the two guys I would pick.

EVERT:  I think on the women’s side, again, after Serena and Maria, there’s a little bit of a gap, a little bit of a question mark.  I think Bouchard has shown a lot of positives in the last six months as far as stepping up, not being afraid to play the top players, not to be afraid to play on a stadium court, dealing with the pressure so well.  Especially after the French, she almost beat Maria Sharapova.  She likes grass.  She likes to step in and take the ball early.  She has power.  I think she’s one to watch.

 

Kvitova, she started to play well at the French.  She lost weight.  She’s fitter.  I think having had that experience, she really enjoys playing on the grass.  She’s somewhat under the radar right now.  You could look at Sam Stosur, players that have all-around versatile games, that are good athletes.  I think grass favors the athleticism because you have to have good balance and know how to move smoothly on the grass.  I think those players.  And Halep, she’s a question mark.  Will she continue the momentum she had at the French?  Again, she’s a great athlete and can move well.  I think that’s very important on the grass, the court coverage.

 

Q. Chrissie, to you what does Sam Stosur have to do to have a good Wimbledon?  John, what is your take on Bernie Tomic?

EVERT:  She needs to believe in herself.  She needs to have that belief.  It’s not about her game.  She’s got a beautiful game.  She could do it all.  It’s just about her nerves.  I think what she needs to do is look back, look at the matches that she had leads, top players on the ropes, matches that she got nervous and lost.  You have to recognize your past before you move on to your future.  You got to figure it out.  Then she’s got to figure out, If I’m in this situation again, I’m going to react differently.  You have to talk yourself into reacting differently.  It’s all psychological with her.  She just needs to have more confidence in herself, in her game, just try to control those nerves a little better.

McENROE:  As far as Bernard, I haven’t seen him play since he underwent the surgeries.  I heard it was maybe one or both of the hips.  I’m not sure the extent.  Anytime you have surgery you’re worried, especially when you’re that young.  I’m not exactly sure what surgery he had on his hips.

Q. Was on both hips. 

McENROE:  I’m not sure exactly what they did.  But Bernard is unusual, obviously, in a number of ways.  But the main way, the way that’s interesting, is the way he plays.  He’s one of the few guys that I’ve seen where he makes guys that play him uncomfortable.  That’s what he had going for him.  He sort of takes people out of their games.  He gives you looks that you don’t expect.  He’s like a fastball pitcher that would suddenly go to an off-speed pitch.  Bowlers, cricket, taking everything off the ball, are spinning it.  He was very interesting to watch, I found.  There were always issues.  At times, how deep he was willing to dig, his fitness level.  He’s a big guy.  I saw a stat last year I think where he won a great deal of his service games.  He had one of the best records on the Tour as far as holding service games.  I thought that it was amazing because a lot of times it doesn’t look like he’s going more than 80% on his serve.  Maybe that’s why, he’s unpredictable.  At this stage I see a guy that clearly his best surface has always been grass, so he’s most comfortable.  He might start to find some confidence.  I notice he won a few matches in these tune-up events. I don’t know what his fitness level is like.  When you have to walk into best-of-five, it’s more mental than physical at Wimbledon than say the French.  He’d have a better shot.  I’d have to see him again, both on and off the court, what’s going on with his training, who he’s been coached by, all these other things that I’m not really sure of.  It’s going to be interesting to see if he’s going to be able to bounce back, have something serious happen.  I’m assuming his ranking has dropped down.

 

Q. Men’s and women’s winner and a dark horse in both? 

EVERT:  Serena, Djokovic.  Can Bouchard be a dark horse?  The men?  Oh, boy.  Go ahead, John, I have to think about the men.

McENROE:  I would pick the same women.  If Bouchard could be a dark horse, I would pick her as a dark horse.  I think she’s come a long way.  I like what I’m seeing.  I still think, especially on grass, that Serena, if she brings out her A game, is the best player without a doubt to win it.

EVERT:  I’ll pick Dimitrov for the guys.

McENROE:  I think as far as the men, this is like a really tough one.  If I had to pick one guy right now, I probably would pick Djokovic, even though I don’t think he’s as comfortable on grass as he is on hard courts.  My longshot pick, can I pick Federer as a longshot (laughter)?  He would be my longshot pick over Raonic or Dimitrov.

Roger is obviously amazing.  I still think he’s going to make a run in the majors.  I didn’t think he could go all the way and win one.  He just had another set of twins, for God’s sake.  Maybe it won’t be that easy.

EVERT:  Listen, he’s like the fourth favorite, though.  He could win Wimbledon.

McENROE:  That’s true.  But Dimitrov is probably the fifth favorite.

EVERT:  But what is his ranking?

McENROE:  He’s probably like 10 in the world now.

Q. He’s 13. 

McENROE:  I thought he was higher.  And Raonic is probably 9 or 10 in the world.  To a lot of people they would be longshots, so we’re sticking with it.  I’ll pick Raonic if you don’t want me to pick Federer.  He’s only won it, what, seven times (laughter).

 

Q. Chrissie, what are your thoughts on Martina Hingis coming back to play at Wimbledon as a wild card in the doubles tournament? 

EVERT:  John McEnroe can chime in.  He played with her and knows her better than I do.  He played with her in TeamTennis. I haven’t watched her play doubles.  I watched her play in TeamTennis a couple times.  She’s hitting the ball great.  She’s obviously winning a lot of doubles matches, so she’s still crafty, volleys really well, quick at the net.  I would have loved to have seen her play singles personally.  But I guess that’s not going to happen.

John, what do you think?

McENROE:  Certainly in doubles she could win the thing if she had the right partner.  I think she’s been playing with Lisicki.  I think they won at Key Biscayne.

EVERT:  She’s not playing with her at Wimbledon.

McENROE:  Who is she playing with?

EVERT:  Zvonareva.  If she had a great mixed partner, she’d have a great chance in the mixed, too.

McENROE:  Maybe it just shows you sometimes when it’s later than you like, you realize how much you love it and miss it.  I don’t know what she’s proving.  I think she could still play doubles.  She could lose first round, win the tournament.  Maybe she just likes to be around it.

 

Q.  John, do you see Dimitrov as a future superstar?  Can he break into the top four?  What do you like about him and where does he fit in?

McENROE:  I like a lot about him.  What I didn’t like about him was it didn’t seem he was dedicated enough compared to what the other top guys were doing.  Being around Sharapova I bet has helped him, maybe for obvious reasons, because he’s happier.  But the obvious ones were because she’s so dedicated.  I mean, I call her the Nadal of the women’s tour.  She plays every point like it’s her last point.  That has to have rubbed off on him.  Also Rasheed (Dimitrov’s coach) is known as a fitness guy.  He’s realized over the course of time if he wants to make a mark, he has to be fit.  He was cramping.  I saw him cramping in the second set of the French Open last year or the year before.  You can’t expect to be at the end of majors or winning them, there’s no way you can do that if you can’t last till the end of a best-of-a-five-set match.  I think one of the best matches he ever played was when he played Nadal at the Australian.  He looked like he could go the distance.  Looked like he had a shot at it.  He didn’t pull it off.  But it looks like he can at least go the distance now.  He lost first round in the French.  He hasn’t exactly knocked them dead in the majors.  He’s got a lot to prove.  He has a lot of upside.  Everyone has known that for a long time.  It takes longer to break through.  These guys are incredible.  You’re probably talking about the two greatest players that ever played, Nadal, Federer.  Djokovic is going up the all-time great rankings.  Murray has gotten himself better and better.  It’s extremely difficult to break into that.  He and Raonic are the two guys that I have seen who have done the most recently to make this breakthrough.

EVERT:  If I can say one thing.  The more I watch this game, I more I realize it’s getting to be so much about the team.  It’s getting to be so much about the influences that these players have.  They all have so much ability, natural ability.  When you look at Andy Murray with Lendl, that proves my point.  When I look at Dimitrov, he has Rasheed.  He’s got great credentials.  Like John said, he’s into the fitness part of it.  He’s got Maria as a girlfriend.  Like John says, that professionalism, that discipline has to be rubbing off.  She’s probably telling him things, too, giving him some advice.  I just think at the end of the day it really gives you a big edge if you have a great team around you.  I think he does.  I think that’s really improved his game.  It’s about the attitude and the confidence.

 

Q. John, I was asking you about your meeting with Pele.  What was that like for you and how did that compare to other great meetings?

McENROE:  Pele…I met a number of times.  He’s one of these guys that makes you feel good about everything.  He just has this smile.  Certainly, I don’t speak Portuguese obviously.  He didn’t speak English where it was easy to have a conversation.  It was just to be around his field was magical the way you could feel the beauty of this man.  The way he played, he was like the Roger Federer on a soccer field.  He was like the most beautiful guy that combined this joie de vivre, and played the way he played.  Brazil, it means so much for them obviously.  To have someone like that represent their country in a sport that they love so much, I mean, he’s like Wayne Gretzky in hockey.  He’s just a wonderful man.  He’s one of those guys that will say something nice about you before he expects you to say something nice about him.

Q. There’s another Brazilian like that, which is Guga. 

McENROE:  That’s so true.  Absolutely true.  This guy got totally gypped.  Every time I see the guy smile, I feel bad because he deserved so much better.

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“On The Call” – ESPN Tennis Analysts Chris Evert, Patrick McEnroe Talk French Open

Chris Evert

Chris Evert

(May 21, 2014) ESPN tennis analysts Chris Evert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media about the French Open, which starts Sunday, May 25, on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Here are some of the topics discussed on the conference call. To listen to the conference call in full click here.

Topics on the call included:

  • McEnroe on top men fending off rising players:  “(This year) they’ve been threatened a lot more often… (the younger players are) knocking at the door, but they haven’t broken through yet in the big occasions, except for Stan…they’re closing the gap but they still got a ways to go.”
  • Evert on heavy favorite Serena Williams’ improved play on clay:  “She’s learned to play on the clay a lot better from (her coach) Patrick (Mouratoglou).  She’s improved her defense skills.  She’s always had the offense skills.  She’s more fit.  She’s moving better.  She is patient with herself.  She doesn’t have to go for the winner on the fourth shot.  She can wait eight or nine shots and go for the opening.  She’s more intelligent and thinking more clearly on the clay than she ever has.”
  • McEnroe added:  “I never thought I’d say this.  I think clay might actually be Serena’s best surface now.  As great as she is on every other surface, obviously in her career she’s certainly been better on the faster courts, but it’s almost like she’s less susceptible to upset on clay now because she’s so consistent, steady.”
  • Evert is impressed by the recent play of 2008 French Open champ Ana Ivanovic, ranked No. 12 (but No. 8 in 2014-to-date standings):  “I’m so impressed with how she’s playing….She seems to have gotten her serve together.  Her serve is winning some free points.  She’s really improved that.  The backhand has improved.  The confidence.  She’s a big hitter…she could be top four if she continues her run.”
  • Asked for players outside the top 20 who could reach the semis:  Evert–  Madison Keys and no male.  McEnroe–  Caroline Garcia; Nicolas Almagro, Roberto Batista Agut or Dominic Thiem.
  • Evert on why Americans struggle on clay:  “The players that learned to play tennis on clay, myself and Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Federer, Djokovic, I mean, Nadal, a lot of the players started on clay and excelled on clay at a young age.  And from there, branched out, made some adjustments and learned how to play on a faster court.  I think that’s easier to do than the other way around where you’re primarily a power player.  That’s why it was tough for like a Pete Sampras to win the French.”
  • McEnroe on what it takes to succeed on clay:  “I think obviously movement is key.  What I like to call shot tolerance, which is understanding what shot to hit at the right time.  Clay just forces you to make better decisions more often.  Quite honestly, you need to hit more balls into the court to win points….The clay teaches you itself how to play and how to construct points.  As Chrissie said, the more you play on it, and the earlier you play on it, the more you can develop those skills. “
  • McEnroe on which American athletes he would have loved to see play tennis:  “It’s funny, because when people say that, they say, ‘Imagine if Michael Jordan had taken up tennis!’  Well, Michael is a little bit too tall….Some would say LeBron James.  Actually he’s too big.  I would take somebody who was a great point guard, somebody like Dwyane Wade.  Who is the guy from Seattle, Richard Sherman, like a defensive back, extremely mobile.”

 

Q. My question is junior tennis related, Chrissie.  What significance do you think there is for a junior in winning or competing in a junior slam?  To what extent does this herald success in the future?  To what extent is it a crapshoot?  What are the pressures that might come with that, that either make a junior stronger or kind of freak them out? 

EVERT:  I think just from my experience, I didn’t play any of the junior slams because I was already in the regular slams.  But for me, winning national tournaments in America was huge because winning gets to be a habit.  Once you have that experience of beating girls your own age, which that’s where the pressure is to me.  My pressure was beating Maria Redondo and Patti Hogan, all the top players in the 18 Nationals, then going on and playing older women who had all the pressure and I had no pressure.  It was an easier transition.  I think it helps tremendously to be able to be No. 1 in your age division or to win national championships.  To win a junior Grand Slam, I think it’s tremendous.  Now, in saying that, we didn’t have the press back in those days.  I think there’s a lot more intensity and limelight if you win, a lot more expectations from the press and the public nowadays.  That component is much more intense.  I could quietly go on into the women’s and start beating the top women.

 

Q. It looks like there’s a changing of the guard slowly in men’s and women’s tennis.  Wawrinka winning the Australian, guys like Nishikori and Dimitrov starting to live up to some potential, but the old guys aren’t giving up.  Same could be said with Serena.  Could you talk about that. 

McENROE:  Well, I think there’s definitely some signs that the outsiders, the contenders, are more than just pretenders at this point.  That being said, if you go down the list of who has won not only the majors, but the Masters events, at least on the men’s side, it’s pretty much the same, the same two guys.  Federer has had a darn good first half of the year as well.  But Nadal and Djokovic are the two players to beat clearly.

 

That being said, even if you look at their results this year on the clay, they’ve been threatened a lot more often.  Obviously they’ve still been able to win.  Nadal, at least for him, has had a relatively unsuccessful clay court season only winning one big event, getting to the finals of another.  If you look at their results match in, match out, they’re certainly getting threatened a lot more.

 

Guys like you said, Wawrinka, Nishikori, Ferrer beating Nadal, Almagro beat Nadal, Berdych, players like that are making a little more noise.  Dimitrov.  Raonic had a great tournament last week.  Let’s put it this way:  they’re knocking at the door but they haven’t broken through yet in the big occasions, except for Stan.  I think in a nutshell certainly the other players on the men’s side have to feel like they’re closing the gap but they still got a ways to go.

EVERT:  I agree.  I think there’s such a tremendous pool of talent when I look on the men’s side.  The way that Andy Murray played last week, the way that Raonic played last week, Nishikori all year, Dimitrov, the way he’s come on, I think it’s incredible.  But I agree with Patrick.  I think when you look at the top two, Nadal and Djokovic, they’re not letting anybody in.  They’re not opening the door yet.  But in two years’ time I think it’s going to be a different complexion.

 

I look at the women and I see the same thing.  I see Serena dominating.  She’s still dominating.  She gets injured, a few losses, but still the dominant player.  But you have a rich pool between Li Na, Halep, Maria Sharapova, Ivanovic, Sloane is in a little bit of a slump right now.  You can say the same.  There’s the top two in the men and the top two in the women that are fending everybody off so far.

 

Q. Patrick, you mentioned Nadal, that he didn’t have a successful clay season.  Usually he wins three of these events.  Now he’s not the overall favorite going into the French that he usually is.  Why do you think that is?  I’m sure it’s a minor thing, but what is different this spring with him? 

McENROE:  I just think he put so much energy into what he did last year, physical, maybe more importantly mental energy, from the time he came back when he obviously exceeded everybody’s expectations with how dominant he was not only on clay, which didn’t surprise a lot of us, but on hard courts.  Through the US Open, he was just unbelievable.  He was invincible.  Then he had what I think was a fairly natural letdown at the end of last year.  I think quite frankly it’s carried into this year a little bit.  He was playing awfully well in Australia before he lost in the final.  So that was sort of another step slightly back because it obviously put him off the practice courts for probably a solid month.  I think he’s trying to find his sea legs a little bit.  He’s still the favorite to win the French, but it’s closer than it’s ever been between him and Djokovic.  Djokovic has gotten him multiple times since last year’s US Open final.  He’s put himself into really good form.  I think one of the important things for Nadal in Rome was he won a couple of matches back-to-back where he was pushed to the limit physically.  I think that gives him a lot of confidence.  He’s never been the kind of player that can just play a couple of matches and put it on autopilot.  He needs to play a lot, win a lot.  I think he’s been able to do that over the last month still suffering some losses, but he’s still the favorite at the French Open.

EVERT:  I also think that he did such a great job in tweaking his game a little bit and hitting flatter and hitting harder and standing closer to the baseline when he wanted to improve his hard court and grass court game.  I think that is probably not as effective as three or four years ago when he was really hitting with more trajectory.  I think it was coming over the net a little bit higher with some more spin, keeping the players back further.  I think flattening out his shots might have something to do with it.

 

I also think, after watching Djokovic, a couple of the players win a set from him, I think the strategy is different against Nadal.  I think they’re starting to hit shorter angles.  When I say that, Djokovic can really hit that backhand cross-court right into the service line.  His forehand also.  They’re getting him off the court.  So I just think the strategy maybe with these players, they’re starting to think a little bit more about how they can get him off the baseline, and that might have something to do with it, too.

 

Q. I wanted to ask about Serena and Nadal and the expectations placed on them.  Serena has said she’s not feeling as much pressure to defend her title, isn’t placing as much pressure on herself.  Nadal not being the favorite as much, does that help or hurt him?  The mental side for both players. 

EVERT:  I can talk about Serena a little bit.  I think she’s peaked pretty well for the French Open.  I think after the last two years of her playing more tennis than she’s ever played, I think she came into this year exhausted.  I think her priorities really are the Grand Slams this year.  I think if she loses in these other tournaments, she shrugs it’s off pretty well.  The French seems to be opening up for her.  She has an apartment there.  She lives there.  She practices a lot there.  Patrick (Mouratoglou), her coach, is French.  She’s had good success there.  As long as she’s fit, if she’s healthy, motivated, she’s the one to beat.  So far, you know, I very rarely see a Serena Williams that’s not motivated.  I think this tournament will motivate her.  If she’s healthy and fit, she’s got it under control.  She’s learned to play on the clay a lot better from Patrick.  She’s improved her defense skills.  She’s always had the offense skills.  She’s more fit.  She’s moving better.  She is patient with herself.  She doesn’t have to go for the winner on the fourth shot.  She can wait eight or nine shots and go for the opening.  She’s more intelligent and thinking more clearly on the clay than she ever has.  I don’t think she will feel the pressure, I really don’t.  She’s played enough tennis.  She knows what her place in history is now.  She’s gunning for those Grand Slam titles.

McENROE:  I would just follow up with that and say I never thought I’d say this.  I think clay might actually be Serena’s best surface now.  As great as she is on every other surface, obviously in her career she’s certainly been better on the faster courts, but it’s almost like she’s less susceptible to upset on clay now because she’s so consistent, steady.  Her mindset is so good, I think she revels with the pressure, especially at the big tournaments.  She motivates herself for that.  I almost think she’s less susceptible to someone like Lisicki, who go hot at Wimbledon, who out-hit her, I don’t think that can happen to her on clay.  Earlier in her career she was more inconsistent.  She loves the clay.  It’s been a huge part of her motivation the last couple years.

 

As for the guys, the top men, they seem oblivious to pressure.  I don’t think that’s a factor for either Nadal or Djokovic or even Federer for that matter, when he was in his prime, and I think he’s playing awfully well.  I think it’s who plays better on the day between these guys.  It will be interesting how the draw comes out for the men.  Federer has given Djokovic more trouble, at least this year, than Nadal has.  It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.  I think that will be pretty important on the men’s side, who ends up in which quarter, where Wawrinka is going to be the 3 seed.  That could be pretty interesting to see how that plays out.

EVERT:  Don’t you think, Patrick, also that it’s tougher to be on the defensive end on a clay court rather than on a hard court?  I feel like on a hard court you can neutralize the ball a lot better and get back into playing aggressive tennis.  Serena, the first strike of the ball she gets you moving.  It’s tougher for the opponent to translate that type of tennis into more aggressive tennis.

McENROE:  Yeah.

EVERT:  Let me tell you, this clay is faster, the balls are faster, the racquets are faster, the strings are faster.  This surface is not for the faint of heart anymore, like I’m going to stay back at the baseline and get a lot of balls back, like 40 years ago.

McENROE:  You got to play offensive, controlled baseline tennis.  That’s the best clay court strategy now.

 

Q. Patrick, what is your take on the 16-year-old out of Maryland, Francis Tiafoe?

McENROE:  My take is high on him.  I think he’s the real deal.  I saw him play out in California a month ago at the Easter Bowl.  First time I got to see him play competitively.  He’s got the athleticism, the physique.  What I really liked about him is I think he’s got a great tennis IQ.  He understands the game.  He understands how to play.  He’s obviously got incredible joy for tennis, which is amazing, which is so great to see.  He loves to play.  He loves to be out on the court.  He’s got a huge smile on his face when he’s walking around.  Seems to me he’s really in his element when he’s around tennis, playing tennis.  That’s not something you can teach.  That’s great to see.  He obviously has a great team around him over there in College Park.  They’ve done a great job with him.

He’s young obviously.  We have a good group, meaning the Americans, kids right at that age at 16.  Actually quite a few of them right now are playing in a futures in Spain.  We have a group of players and coaches over there.

But I think Francis, he’s definitely got a huge upside.  Again, he’s only 16.  When we talk about the question, I always get, What’s wrong with American tennis?  We talk about that often.  One of the things we often say is, We need to get better athletes playing tennis.  Guess what, we’ve got a better athlete playing better tennis.  This guy is a phenomenal athlete.  A lot has to happen for him to get all the way where we think he can go, a lot of steps in the process.  But he certainly to me appears to be on the right track.

 

Q. You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, Chrissie.  Rory McIlroy decided that he planned on not following through with the marriage (to Caroline Wozniacki). 

EVERT:  It doesn’t surprise me.  I don’t even know them.  I look back at Jimmy and I.  To look at two players that are in the prime of their career and are striving to be No. 1, don’t see each other.  I mean, I was married in my 20s to my tennis.  That was the only way I could put all my emotions and energies into that goal.

I was in awe that it worked as long as it did.  I can’t believe it.  They must be just different kind of people.  I understand 100%, you’re married to your career.  You’re using your emotions.  You’re using the mental capacity that you have.  You’re putting everything into it.  That’s what it takes to be the best.

 

Q. Chrissie, you had mentioned Ana Ivanovic earlier.  She’s been playing better this year, a little more consistent, on the brink of the top 10 for the first time in five years.  Realistically, do you think she can make an assault at the top few spots and win another Grand Slam?

EVERT:  I’m so impressed with how she’s playing.  I’ve been watching her the last few weeks.  She seems to have gotten her serve together.  Her serve is winning some free points.  She’s really improved that.  The backhand has improved.  The confidence.  She’s a big hitter.

 

You know, when I look at the top four now — Serena, Li Na, Radwanska, Halep — she could be top four if she continues her run.  She won a set from Serena.  She beat her at the Australian.  She’s beating some pretty good players.  I like her attitude out there.  You can tell she wants it.  As far as winning a Grand Slam, I don’t know.  Anything’s possible.  I think realistically to be top five would be a better goal for her right now.

 

Q. 2008, what do you remember about the kind of player she was then? 

EVERT:  Who did she beat?  I don’t remember her beating anybody.  I don’t mean to say that negatively, but I don’t think Serena, Venus, Clijsters, Henin.  It wasn’t a strong year, period, right?

MODERATOR:  She beat Safina in the final, Jankovic to get there, and before that Schnyder.

EVERT:  Those players aren’t top-quality players, but they weren’t Serena, Venus, Clijsters, Henin.  She took advantage of it and played some good tennis.  But she’s a much better player now, much better player now.  She’s got much more variety to her game.  She’s coming in and volleying.  She’s confident.  Her serve is better.

She has a Steffi Graf forehand.  Steffi would just jump beside that ball and wallop it.  I see almost the same type of stroke where she can just go inside-out, down the line, cross-court, and make them all the time.  Her backhand has also improved.  She’s really pumped up.  She wants it.  Her game has seemed to come together at the right time.  We’ll see what happens at the French.  But it seems to have really come together.  Whether that’s the new coach, for whatever reason I love her story.  She won it, she took a dive, but she kept her nose to the grindstone, tried to keep digging herself out of that hole, and slowly but surely she has now.

 

Q. Chris, Halep, what is her strength and weakness?  What do you see her doing in Paris?  Also, you were always known as a great champion with court sense, the ability to read the court.  Who has that now among the men and women? 

EVERT:  Well, let’s talk about Halep.  She is a tremendous athlete.  Her court coverage.  First of all, she doesn’t miss anything.  She’s one of the more consistent players.  She covers the court great.  She, you know, is not intimidated by any player or by pressure whatsoever.  So she’s very composed and mature out there.  She can transition from defense to offense, you know, really, really well.  But I think on the clay, that’s what you need to do.  You need to move well and you need to be consistent, yet she still hits a big ball.  You got to really earn the point against her.  She doesn’t play like Serena Williams where she’s going to hit you off the court.  You’ve got to work hard.  As far as court sense, that’s a good question.  You know, when I look at somebody like a Radwanska, I think she’s got good court sense.  She’s obviously very creative and can think ahead two or three shots, has that variety.  Help me, Patrick, with this.

McENROE:  I mean, nobody has better court sense than the players at the top of the game.  To me, I think sometimes the question – and I hear what you’re saying, Chrissie – we immediately go to the people that don’t have power like Radwanska.  She’s got great court sense, but she has no power basically.  She has to.

Djokovic has unbelievable court sense.  So does Federer.  So does Serena.  I think that’s where Serena really has improved, is her ability to open up the court, see the court.  I think the best players have the best court sense and the best ability to open up the court, not just the player that doesn’t have the power.

EVERT:  You’re right.  I was trying to think of players that had something special, like Martina Hingis had a special gift there.  But you’re right.  In order to be a top player, you have to have good court sense, you have to know how to open up the court.  Patrick is right on that.

 

Q. If both of you had to pick a player outside the top 20 to get to the semis, who would you say? (men and women)

McENROE:  Well, Sloane Stephens is in the top 20 still, so I got to think about it for a second.  What about Bouchard?  Is she outside of the top 20?

EVERT:  No.  Flipkens made a good run at Wimbledon last year.  She’s 22.

McENROE:  I’ll tell you who I like is Caroline Garcia.  The French players traditionally on the women’s side haven’t always played their best in front of their home crowd, but I really like her athleticism and her game.  She played great in the Fed Cup beating the U.S., so I got to see her there.  She was really, really good.  I think she’s got the kind of game and athleticism to play well on clay.

EVERT:  Where is Madison?

McENROE:  Madison is around 40 or so.

EVERT:  I’d give Madison a shot.  I’d give her a shot.

McENROE:  A guy at the moment who is outside the top 20 in the men is Almagro, who obviously is good on clay, beaten Nadal.  He has some injury issues.  Bautista Agut is a Spanish guy, outsider.  On the men, it’s pretty unlikely.  To me, Dimitrov in my mind is a little bit of an outsider.  He’s a guy who I think could make a big run.  I was surprised that Nadal beat him as easily as he did in Rome.  I thought Dimitrov was going to give him a big match.

EVERT:  What about Cilic?

McENROE:  No, I’m not going with that.  Not on clay in best-of-five.  I’ll tell you who the guy is, Thiem, the young Austrian kid.  Steve Johnson had a couple match points against him yesterday in Nice.  I think he’s still 19, but he has some major upside.  Might be early for him to make that kind of a run at a major, but look out for him.

EVERT:  I think my reluctance is I can’t see anybody out of the top 20 reaching the final.  I think the top 20 is so tough and so loaded that I can’t see anybody there.

 

Q. It’s no secret that the Americans consistently struggle on clay.  Do you think it’s a matter of improving strategy, mentality, mechanics or all of the above? 

EVERT:  Patrick, I know you have a lot to say on that, so mine will be short.  As in past history, most Americans have been brought up on the hard courts.  Most of the Europeans, especially the Spanish players, have been brought up on the red clay.  I think you’re brought up on what your national championship is.  US Open is hard court, and that’s probably why American players dominate.  Most of them coming from California, it was all hard courts.  I know now every tennis academy, especially the USTA, they’re putting an emphasis on playing on clay.  I grew up on clay, that’s why I had such good footwork.  It’s all about formulating footwork, having a little more strategy.  It’s not as much about power.  But the game has turned into so much power, you need a lot more ingredients on clay than power.  Go ahead, Patrick.

McENROE:  I think obviously movement is key.  What I like to call shot tolerance, which is understanding what shot to hit at the right time.  Clay just forces you to make better decisions more often.  Quite honestly, you need to hit more balls into the court to win points.  That’s just the way it is.  Obviously that’s become the way it is on every surface.  So when we talk the USTA building a new facility in Florida in a couple years’ time, almost half the courts are going to be clay to help our kids and to help our juniors play on it as young as possible.  The clay teaches you itself how to play and how to construct points.  As Chrissie said, the more you play on it, and the earlier you play on it, the more you can develop those skills.  We’ve got clay at each of our three centers for the USTA now.  The kids are spending a lot more time.  Once you do that, it’s a mindset for our young pros to go out there and be willing to do what it takes to work hard for each point you’ve got to win.

EVERT:  It’s interesting when you look at the clay court players, the players that learned to play tennis on clay, myself and Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Federer, Djokovic, I mean, Nadal, a lot of the players started on clay and excelled on clay at a young age.  And from there, branched out, made some adjustments and learned how to play on a faster court.  I think that’s easier to do than the other way around where you’re primarily a power player.  That’s why it was tough for like a Pete Sampras to win the French.  Other players, when they come on, they’re just big power players, it’s harder to learn how to play if you’re a ball-striker, to play on the clay.

I’m a firm believer, and I don’t know why it hasn’t happened earlier than it did, to start more kids on clay.

 

Q. Patrick, obviously Andy Murray has never won a tournament on clay.  What do you make of his chances going in, especially without a coach?  There’s a discussion about (your brother) John being his coach. 

McENROE:  I know they have a very good relationship.  I think John in the right situation could be a great coach.  The question is, Is he going to be willing to spend the necessary time it would take depending on what Andy is looking for?

 

Andy has a solid team around him.  Of course, Danny who has been with him forever, like his full-time coach or assistant coach when Lendl came in, et cetera.  Andy has a great team around him.  I don’t expect him to be a real threat to win the French at all.  But I think he’ll want to play well there, as he did in Rome.

 

The best part of his year obviously is the grass, defending his Wimbledon title, then the summer on the hard courts.  I think a good result for him would be to make the second week, but I think he’s vulnerable to a lot more players on clay than he is on any other surface.

 

As far as where his coaching ends up, that’s the $64,000 question.  Sounds like from what I’ve heard him say, he’s looking for someone that’s going to be with him for quite some time and be a long-term solution, not do something quick as a part-time Band-Aid.

EVERT:  In one sentence, that was the best clay court match I’ve ever seen Andy Murray play.  I was so impressed.  If he keeps that up, he could be a semifinalist for sure.

 

Q. On the face of it, there wouldn’t seem to be any particular reason why he couldn’t win on the clay, other than the fact that Nadal tends to win so many of them. 

McENROE:  He doesn’t generate as much firepower off both wings.  There are reasons why he’s not as good on clay other than Nadal and Djokovic.  His game is not as suited for clay.  It’s more suited for grass with his slice, his ability to counter-punch.  A ball that drops in the middle of the court to his backhand side, he doesn’t do as much damage with that shot as Djokovic and Nadal.  Not many people do.  He doesn’t have what I call easy power, Murray, which you need on clay more so than other surfaces.  On the other surfaces, he can use the speed of the court to help his game.  It helps him a lot more than other players.

EVERT:  His ball being so flat, it doesn’t keep anybody in the backcourt.  It doesn’t really hurt anybody.

Patrick, what is the furthest he’s gotten?

McENROE:  Semis of the French.  He can play on it, but when you compare him to the other guys, and surprisingly he’s never won a title on clay, which I think if he wanted to, he could play some small tournaments and win them, but he hasn’t gone that route.

 

Q. Do you think he just needs to keep his confidence high ahead of Wimbledon and the U.S. and he shouldn’t be targeting trying to win it?

McENROE:  I think he’s going to absolutely use the French as a way to get him going and to get his fitness up and get his back right and get his confidence going for Wimbledon.  I mean, obviously the pressure’s off in some way at Wimbledon.  But I’m sure walking out at 1 p.m. precisely on that first day will be pretty emotional for him at Wimbledon, and for the crowd.  So there will be a lot more expectations on him.  He’ll want to really be primed and peaked for Wimbledon.

EVERT:  Patrick, when you’re talking about getting past the first week, if he gets past the first week, I think he’s going to take that tournament very seriously.

McENROE:  There’s no doubt he’ll take it seriously.  There’s a lot more guys I think match up very well against him on clay than on grass.

 

Q. Patrick, in the vein of long-term wishing better athletes in the U.S. would choose tennis, would you toss out names of American athletes that every sportsfan might know that kind of think might have made an awesome tennis player had they chosen tennis?

McENROE:  It’s funny, because when people say that, they say, Imagine if Michael Jordan had taken up tennis.  Well, Michael is a little bit too tall.  We have 6’7″, 6’8″ players.  Some would say LeBron James.  Actually he’s too big.  I would take somebody who was a great point guard, somebody like Dwyane Wade.  Who is the guy from Seattle, Richard Sherman, like a defensive back, extremely mobile.  They have some height.

 

To me the ideal height for a tennis player, a man anyway, is about 6’1″ to 6’3″.  So you take someone like Andrew McCutchen, the baseball player, guys that are there kind of size that have that kind of agility and mobility.

 

The first thing you have to remember, people overlook this, it doesn’t matter how fast you can run or how high you can jump if you actually can’t time the ball.  The first thing you need to do is get someone who can actually time the ball and hit it on the center of the racquet when they’re very young.  That’s number one.  Once you get that, obviously you’d like to see somebody that can move.

 

I think flexibility is sort of the way the game is going with guys like Djokovic and Dimitrov, Radwanska.  You see literally her butt on the ground when she’s hitting half her shots.

 

I think that’s the way the game is going with the speed and athleticism as opposed to brut strength and force.  I would look for an athlete that’s incredibly flexible that could have picked up tennis and had a lean-looking body.

 

Q. Patrick, looking ahead six weeks after the French and Wimbledon are over, what would you consider a good run for the American men and for the American women with these two Grand Slams coming up?

McENROE:  The expectations are obviously higher for the women.  I don’t mean obviously just Serena.  She’s the huge favorite in both.  But I think for Sloane Stephens, I think we’re seeing a lot of positive signs out of Christina McHale, Madison Keys.  For me, the younger two, Keys and McHale, I’d love to see one of the them get to the second week of one of these two.  Serena, her expectations would be to win both of them.

 

For our men, I think it’s time to step up.  I think some of our younger guys are making the strides.  A second week for a couple of them isn’t out of the question.  Isner has the ability to do it at both of these occasions.  Steve Johnson and Sock are showing some positive signs.  I think some of these younger guys are going to step up and make something happen.  I think definitely an appearance in the second week for the men would be great.

 

Q. Sloane Stephens, kind of a tough patch now for a bit? 

EVERT:  First of all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon.  If you remember at Wimbledon last year, Sloane had a good run, and also Madison lost to Radwanska in three sets.  Radwanska was really favored to win at that point because everybody else had lost.  As far as Sloane, it’s frustrating for all of us.  I know Patrick and I, too.  It’s frustrating to watch her play because we know what she is capable of.  We know the talent that she has.  I mean, for me it just seems that she’s taking her time.  You know what I’m saying?  It’s maybe not the right time right now, although it should be.  She doesn’t seem to be putting it all on the line.  She doesn’t seem to be playing with a sense of urgency.

 

The other players, like Bouchard, the other players her age, even younger, she’s kind of lackadaisical, goes in and out of matches.  It’s almost like it will happen in her own time.  It has to come from within her.  No matter what coach she has, what everybody is telling her, I feel she has the type of temperament that when she is ready we’re going to see some brilliance.

McENROE:  I think she’s going to turn it around.  I think deep within her she’s a competitor, a great competitor.  I’ve seen her win a lot of matches where she looked out of it.  As Chrissie said, she’s got to make the decision in her own mind, and when she does, look out.

 

Q. Talk about Madison (Keys) for a minute.  Where do you think her game is at now? 

EVERT:  I think Madison is still a work in progress.  Again, she’s young.  Can’t expect anything more than that.

She’s at the right place for her age and maturity, emotional maturity, right now.  We all see the power.  We see the huge serve.  I’d like to see a better percentage of big serves because that’s where she’s going to win most of her free points.  Her serve is the closest to Serena of any of the players as far as power, placement.  I’d like to see a more consistent serve.  She’s a big girl, and she’s still a teenager, so she’s working on her moving because she’s grown all of a sudden and developed into a woman.  She needs to kind of settle in and working on her movement a little bit.  Very much like Serena, once she gets a little more fit, she won’t feel like she has to go for big shots at inopportune times when she’s out of position.  Right now to me it’s her moving, but it’s there.  She and Sloane to me are the two top American hopefuls.

McENROE:  Not a lot to add to that other than her first serve is really big.  You’re right, it’s not consistent enough.  Her second serve needs to get better.  But she wants it.  She wants it.  She’s working hard.  I think she’s got a real desire to get there.  As she improves her fitness, which she’s doing, her shot selection is going to improve.  It’s naturally going to improve.  As that happens, she’s going to be able to do a lot of damage.  I think she also has to work on coming forward a little bit more.  We saw her and Sloane play doubles in the Fed Cup.  They both could use a little work on the net, coming forward.  Sloane is a better mover, so she’s going to be able to beat people from the baseline with her movement as well as her power.  I’d like to see Madison add the ability to come in and finish some points at the net as well because she’s got a big reach.  That’s certainly a part of her game that can improve.  The good thing is she’s young.  She’s already 40 or so in the world.  There’s a lot of things that can get better.  That’s a real positive.

EVERT:  She’s going at a good pace.  It’s almost like two years ago, for her to have a big win wouldn’t have been a good thing.  She’s going at a good pace and managing herself really, really well.

 

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“On The Call” with US French Open Wild Cards Taylor Townsend and Robby Ginepri

Taylor Townsend

Taylor Townsend

(May 7, 2014) The USTA held a media conference call on Wednesday with Robby Ginepri and Taylor Townsend, the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winners. Each earned a wild card into the 2014 French Open based on results over the past three weeks on the USTA Pro Circuit.

Here is a transcript of the call courtesy of ASAPSports:

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

May 7, 2014

Robby Ginepri

Taylor Townsend

TIM CURRY:  Thank you, everyone, for joining us for our conference call with Taylor Townsend and Robby Ginepri, both of whom secured wild cards this weekend to Roland Garros later this month by winning the Har‑Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge.
The wild card was made available to any American who did not receive direct entry into the French Open main draw.  The man and woman who earned the most ATP and WTA Tour ranking points in two of three select USTA Pro Circuit clay court events was awarded the wild card.  This is the third the USTA Player Development has used this format to determine its French Open wild cards.
Robby finished with 80 points after winning the Tallahassee challenger.  He last played in the main draw of the French Open in 2010 when he reached the fourth round, the best showing of an American male that year.  He also is the only active American male to reach the semifinals of a major, the 2005 US Open, where he lost to Agassi in five sets.
Taylor will be making her Grand Slam debut in Paris.  She won consecutive clay court events, the Boyd Tinsley Clay Court Classic in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Audi Melbourne Pro Tennis Classic in Indian Harbour Beach to earn 180 ranking points and the USTA’s wild card.
With that being said, we will open the call for questions.

Q.  Taylor, I know you probably played three matches in a day many times in the juniors.  Was Sunday the first day you played four?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  No.  The year I won Easter Bowl in 2012 I had to play four matches.  This is the first time I had to play four pro matches and won them all.

Q.  Especially because that first match was really the key match, how did you focus on the next three?  Was that difficult?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  No, not really.  I mean, I knew that I would have to play another match once I won my semifinal.  I wanted to win the tournament.  I felt like it was important.
I didn’t really think so much about the circumstance.  I just thought about what I had to do on the court and kind of focused and zoned in on that.
It wasn’t really difficult.  I think my semifinals in the doubles I was a little bit more tired.  But then I got up and got myself going again in the finals of the doubles.  The score was indicative of that.

Q.  What does it mean to you to be playing in your first one knowing you earned the wild card rather than just being given the wild card?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I mean, it’s a great feeling.  It’s a great feeling for me.  I think I’m going into this tournament really, really confident.  I’m playing really well.  It’s just really good to know that I earned this.  It was not like I was given it.  It wasn’t like someone just decided to give me a wild card.  It was something that I earned with my sweat and hard work.
It feels really good to know that.  It gives me a lot of confidence in my match play and things I’ve been working on, so I’m excited.

Q.  Robby, in a bit of an unusual circumstance, you had to play two matches on the day you clinched the wild card.  It was an unusual week from going indoors to clay, two matches a day.  Talk about your week, how everything progressed, what it was like when you knew you were playing a match to clinch a French Open wild card.
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Definitely a strange week with rain four days.  Coming into the semifinals, I think my opponent had played all three of his matches indoors, so I knew that going into it.  I was a lot more nervous for the semifinals match than I was for the finals.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but knew what was at stake all week.  Played some good tennis to get through the semifinals.  Once I got through there, it was an easy match in the finals.
Excited to be back and going to the Grand Slam in Paris.

Q.  Can you give us a run‑through of what you’ve been dealing with through the last couple years.
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Yeah, a couple years ago after I had a good fourth‑round appearance at the French, later that year I broke my left elbow mountain biking, had a couple elbow surgeries and was out for a year, year and a half.  Struggling to find my rhythm, find my game, stay healthy.
Obviously, all professional athletes go through injuries.  How you deal with them, manage them, that’s all I’ve been trying to do.
Still enjoying the game out there.  It’s a big opportunity for me to get this wild card.  Definitely feel like I can do some damage over there.  I’ve shown I can do it before.  Eager to get out there on the red clay.
I’ve always enjoyed going to Paris.  It’s a special place to me.  I feel like the fans are extremely knowledgeable when they’re watching all the matches.  Regardless of the courts you’re on, Court 17 or one of the show courts, they’re pretty packed.  I’m stoked for that.

Q.  What is your schedule now?  How does this change knowing you have a European trip on the schedule?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  I’ll head over next week and play Nice, a warmup qualifying tour event, then go over to Roland Garros after that.  I have a week, train as hard as I can to get ready for three‑out‑of‑five.

Q.  Taylor, what is your schedule heading to Paris?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I’m leaving next week, going to Strasbourg.  Play that, probably quallies.  Then after that I’m going to Paris as well, get some matches on the red clay.  Get over there and get used to the time change and everything.  I think that’s important, as well.

Q.  Robby, when you take a look now at guys like Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, James Blake, they’re now all off the circuit.  Is it a little weird for you to think about going to a major without those guys there?  Do you talk to them frequently?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Yeah, it is a little strange the last couple years with them retiring from the game.  Still see them and speak to them here and there.
But also made some new friends along the way.  Some of the other Americans will be there to compete and do our thing over there.
Those were the three or four guys that I grew up and played all the Grand Slams with and had the success with, shared great times with.  So it’s a little different.
I feel like they could have had a couple more good years left, and I’ll try to play well for them along the way.

Q.  Taylor, when you look at the Pro Circuit, the USTA Pro Circuit, how grateful are you to have this opportunity to stay in the States and hone your game, play these pro events, then have the chance for a wild card into a major because of it?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I think it’s great.  I mean, I definitely think that the Pro Circuit is great.  It’s an opportunity for you to get a lot of matches, an opportunity to get points.  It’s great that we have it stateside.  It makes it easier for us to be able to play in our home because there aren’t that many tournaments here anymore.  It is important.
I think having the wild card on the line, it makes it all the more competitive, not just with the Americans, but with the foreign people who come and play as well.  There are a lot more foreigners in the draw than there were Americans.  So I think it’s important.  It drew great crowds and was fun.

Q.  Robby, my target audience is Atlanta tennis players.  You said you were nervous getting this wild card.  You also talked a little bit about managing the injuries that you’ve had.  If you could give me a couple concrete details about how you did that, how you manage nerves, then one or two specific things you did to help get your body back on track.
ROBBY GINEPRI:  I mean, it all starts with the mental side.  It’s extremely time consuming to go to rehab for nine months to just try to bend your elbow, get as much range as you can.  That’s something athletes are very good at doing, is separating the time on the court or field, whatnot, to dedicating their life to how they can progress in a positive manner.
Had a lot of my friends and family and close people pushing me along the way, supporting me, which is a huge step and process anytime something like this happens.
Just try to keep up with the physical strength and fitness as much as I could, doing it as much as I could without hitting some balls.
I started doing a lot of Yoga, which helped me a lot mentally, just feeling a little bit more flexible.

Q.  People have talked about Americans not doing all that well on clay.  What is your take on the situation?  I know Serena won the French last year.  In general, Americans don’t necessarily grow up playing on clay.  How do you think Americans can improve their clay performances in general?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I think it just starts off with the player.  I mean, you can either love clay or hate clay.  You’re not going to do well if you hate it.  I just think it starts with a mindset.
It’s definitely a different way of playing.  Well, not a different way of playing, but the points are longer, the sliding.  It’s more physical.  It’s a whole different component you have to train for.
I don’t think it’s just a matter of us not doing well.  I think it’s a mindset we have to understand that, you know, it’s longer points, longer rallies, choosing to stay in there mentally and physically.
ROBBY GINEPRI:  I agree with Taylor.  Definitely a choice and decision to embrace the clay court experience.  A lot of the foreigners do grow up on this so they feel more comfortable starting out.  The way they are able to construct points at an early age, get the footing, is different than how we are raised on the American hard courts where we pull the trigger earlier and don’t construct points as long.
It just takes time.  Once on the clay, to get your footing down, the experience, realize that we can play on this just as good if not better.

Q.  Do you think growing up now, the juniors should have more exposure to clay, those in the USTA, academies and such in the U.S.?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Yeah, I think it’s great for the kids to get on the clay earlier.  There’s no harm in that.  It’s easier on the body.  Takes less out of you.  Not as much pounding from the hard courts that we’ve done from an earlier age.  Maybe the longevity would last longer if we get out there earlier.  I think it’s been moving a bit more towards clay at an earlier age over here.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I totally agree with Robby.  I think it’s great.  I think there are a lot more tournaments that are providing clay court play.  Also we’re training more on clay.  From my experience, we did the off‑season training on the clay because, like he said, it’s easier on your body, on the knees, not as much pounding.  It’s good training.
I think it’s great it’s starting to lean a little bit more towards that and at an earlier age.

Q.  Robby, some details about the elbow injury.  What exactly was it that happened?  Did you have to keep it in a cast for a certain amount of time?  What did you need to do to get that right?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Yeah, I probably went into surgery the next day on it.  Then casted it the next three days.  I was in rehab right away getting the range back and not letting the scar tissue build up on it.  I had a lot of atrophy happen with it, so I lost a lot of muscle mass and flexion.
I was literally going to rehab five days a week, three hours every day, not seeing any progress some weeks, then seeing big gains the next.  There were a lot of ups and downs during that time.
I still can’t fully extend my left arm right now.  I’ve had some left wrist issues along the way from a little bit too much pressure on that joint and the ligaments.
Like I said before, I’m trying to manage this the best I can, get as much treatment at tournaments and away from tournaments and go from there.

Q.  Taylor, what has it been like working with Zina?  What has she brought to your training and improvement in the last year or so?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  It’s definitely been great.  I’ve had a lot of fun working with Zina, as well as my other coach in Chicago Kamau Murray.  We’ve been working a lot on mental training.  We’ve been working physically on the court.  But a lot of mental training, understanding the game, understanding how to play the game.  Basically that’s it really.
There wasn’t that much tweaking we did with my strokes.  There wasn’t really anything we had to do there.  It was more me getting an understanding for how to play the game.  Actually what they’ve both brought to the table is mental training.  The mental training has just been really key.
That’s what we’ve been working on.  It’s been great.  I’ve enjoyed my time with both of them.  I’m really looking forward to going over to Europe with them.

Q.  Could you talk about the process of the wild card, determining the winner on the USTA Pro Circuit through the Har‑Tru USTA Pro Circuit Challenge.  Do you like the process?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I liked it.  I think that it is a great opportunity to not only increase the competitiveness in the 50K’s, but it’s a great opportunity for all the Americans to have a shot at something so big.
I mean, I think it’s very fair because whoever wins it earned it.  It’s not like you’re given it.  It’s not just placed in the palm of your hand.  You earned it with your sweat, hard work, the tournaments you played.  I think it’s a great process.  I think it’s very fair.
I also think that it’s great that we can have that reward at the end of those three tournaments.  It’s very rewarding to win tournaments, but to know we also get a wild card into the French Open is even more satisfying.
I really like the process and I think it’s really fair and I think that it’s great.
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Yeah, same.  Huge advocate for the wild card playoffs.  It brings a lot to the table.  There’s no question of who deserved it or who got it.  Like Taylor said, we earned it.  We’re the ones that reap all the benefits from it now, get a main draw wild card for Paris.
I like how they did it her in Atlanta for the Australian wild card shootout as well.  Hopefully we continue it down the road.  It’s good for American tennis.

Q.  Robby, you’ve had really good results at the French in the past with a couple fourth‑round appearances.  Have you set any goals for yourself there this year?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Haven’t really sat down and planned out and say I want to reach the fourth round again or whatnot.  Wasn’t even on the radar a couple months ago.
It’s a huge bonus for me.  First four or five years I played Paris, I lost first round.  To break through in ’07 and ’08 to get to the fourth round, then 2010 I proved I could do it again, beat tough guys over there in five sets.  Bring my A game over there and see how it goes.

Q.  Taylor, making your Grand Slam debut, do you have any goals set for yourself there?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I mean, as far as rounds are concerned, not really.  I just think for me I want to embrace the moment, embrace every opportunity that comes my way, and just enjoy the moment.  This is my first Grand Slam main draw.  It’s a lot to take in.  It’s an honor and a privilege just to be there.
I don’t want to just be happy to be there; I want to compete and do the best that I can.  I think if I do the right things and everything, it will take care of itself.

Q.  Robby, if you do well in France, if you feel okay, what could be your schedule for the rest of the season?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  I’d probably stay over there and play a lot of the grass court tournaments.  Obviously my ranking has plummeted a lot in the last couple years.  It would be a question of what events I could even get into.  I’d be playing quallies I’m sure at most of them.
I’ve always liked playing Queen’s Club, Eastbourne.  I don’t think I’d be getting into Wimbledon, so I’d have to play quallies of that.  Then I’d come back and prepare like I always do for a great hard court season.
There’s the tournament here in Atlanta, my hometown event.  I get amped up for that and go there.

Q.  Do you think anything about the US Open?
ROBBY GINEPRI:  Oh, yeah.  The whole US Open Series, any tournaments I could get into and play and qualify, I would obviously love to be a part of that.
I have a lot of special memories from playing the Open.  It’s always been my dream to play that tournament.  If I can still continue to be there and play there, I would obviously come back and show up and execute my skill set there every match, try to get some W’s.
TIM CURRY:  Thanks, Taylor and Robby, for the time.  Good luck overseas.
Har‑Tru Sports, which is sponsoring the Clay Court Wild Card Challenge for the second year of a three‑year deal, is also launching a Be One With the Clay video contest this year where tennis fans can create a video demonstrating how clay courts impact their game.  The contest closes on May 31st and the winner receives a trip to Palm Springs.  For more information, visit www.beonewiththeclay.com.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

 

Tennis Panorama News participates in many tennis media conference calls. “On The Call” serves to give readers an inside view into the world of tennis news.

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“On The Call” with Andy Murray and the BNP Paribas Showdown at MSG

Murray BNP paribas

(January 29, 2014) Andy Murray discussed his upcoming match against Novak Djokovic in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden scheduled for Monday, March 3 on a media conference call. The event which is part of World Tennis Day also features a doubles match featuring John and Patrick McEnroe as they take on the best doubles team of all-time and current World No. 1 Bob and Mike Bryan.

Here is a rough transcript of the conference call:

Q: Andy, there is another big event happening here in New York – do you have any predictions on the Superbowl?

 

Andy Murray (AM): I don’t follow American football hugely, but if I get the chance to I will try and watch the game.   I think I read on Twitter that Floyd Mayweather had bet $10 million dollars on the Denver Broncos to win, which is quite amazing.  I’ll go with them as maybe he knows something we all don’t.

 

Q: Are you looking forward to the event at Madison Square Garden?

 

AM: Yeah, it should be a great event. I’ve heard from the guys that played there before that it is an amazing atmosphere. When I went to look around they were in the middle of refurbishments but it looked liked it was going to be unbelievable so it should be a fun place to play!

 

Q: Andy, you had a very memorable 2012 U.S. Open against Novak (Djokovic). Would you characterize that as your greatest match with him ever?

 

AM: I guess from my side, yeah I would say that. I mean we’ve played in quite a few big ones over the past few years, we’ve played a couple of great matches in Australia as well, but I mean from my side that was my first grand slam for me, and the way that the match went as well where I was up two sets-to-love and then he came back and then to come through winning that, it was probably my best one against him.

 

Q: Can you just talk about the benefit for players at your level and Novak for playing an exhibition like this?

 

AM: It depends how you use them and what time of year they come at. I mean obviously in preparation for Indian Wells and Miami which are the two biggest events coming up, I mean to play a match in that atmosphere with that many people, you know is perfect preparation for those events coming up. I haven’t played in loads of exhibition matches over the last few years but it’s not often a chance comes around to play at a venue like that, Madison Square Garden. I am a huge, huge boxing fan and they have had a load of great fights over the years. I love my basketball as well so to play in a place like that where you might not be able to get that chance to do that ever again, where you know most tournaments we will get that opportunity. You know the exhibitions kind of will be great for us as players to play in different arenas and parts of the world, we don’t usually get to.

 

Q: Coming back from back surgery and playing the Australian Open, you are playing really well and then of course you play Roger. How do you feel about your expectations, did you feel you can play that well for a few rounds at the Australian Open?

 

AM: To be honest, I didn’t know, I didn’t really know. I think having not played at that level hurt me a little bit at the beginning of the match with Roger because he was obviously playing some really good tennis over in Australia. And, he started the match very well and at a very high pace. It was something that I almost wasn’t ready for and in a way I started to build into the match as it went on and to feel a little bit better as the match went on. I don’t know how I was going to play. I never had a surgery before. I didn’t know how my body was going to respond exactly. But, for the second tournament back it was good. I wasn’t expecting to play my best tennis but it was a good start. The positive is that my back is feeling good and hopefully that continues throughout the rest of the year.

 

Q: I saw on Twitter today you were tweeting your score evolution soccer match. Are you in San Diego right now? And, how are the preparations for the Davis Cup?

 

AM: Yeah, I got in on Sunday from Melbourne. It’s weird; I’ve never flown back to the States this way from Australia which was quiet strange. It was like an 19 hour time change for a 14 hour flight. So we left 11:00 on Sunday morning and we got back around 6:00 in the morning here, it was weird. I have kind of been struggling a bit with the jetlag. But they have set up a great stadium and stuff over here. I’ve never been to San Diego before. It’s a great city, everything is beautiful, and it’s so nice. The court’s a bit challenging as it’s very slippery and tricky to move on. The venue’s, I mean it’s incredible. It’s a great venue.

 

Q:  Did Ivan (Lendl) ever talk to you about some of the extraordinary matches he has played at Madison Square Garden and second to that, what is the greatest venue you have ever played in?

 

AM: I mean outside of the Slams I would say the Alter finals, I always find the atmosphere of playing indoors it seems like you are able to create … an extra buzz and a little bit more of excitement atmosphere. Like none of the noise kind of gets lost in the open. It all kind of stays inside of the arena. I think when Ivan was playing I mean he obviously played his last year with McEnroe you know they had the tour finals when he was playing and I hadn’t exactly spoken with him at that specific time matches. But I spoke with him about playing there he said it was amazing. Like the atmosphere was great and the event was unbelievable. I spoke to a couple of people about if it will ever go back there and it doesn’t look like it will work financially now-a-days. Ivan said it was a pretty cool place to play.

 

Q: Can you tell us how you feel when you are in New York City?

 

AM: There is so much energy in the city that’s for sure.  It’s a very busy place, there is a lot happening.  There is loads of stuff to do there.   When I was growing up it was my favorite place to play and favorite place to visit.  I love the event, I love the US Open, and I love the night matches and the atmosphere there.  It’s a fun place to go to because there is just so much to do.  As a player, all the big places we play in all across the world it’s a pretty unique atmosphere that you get at the US Open playing in New York.  It should be fun to go back and play at Madison Square Garden.  It’s a cool city and I’ve always enjoyed going there.  The first time I went I was fifteen years old and I’ve enjoyed it all the time.

 

Q: Did you get a chance to watch the final between Stan (Wawrinka) and Rafa (Nadal)?

 

AM: No, I was flying and I didn’t see any of it.

 

Q: What were your impressions in general on Stan’s performance in Melbourne and do you think it’s good for the game for someone like him to break through?

 

AM: I saw some of his match with Djokovic but I didn’t see too much of his matches during the first week.  He had a couple of walk-over’s in the first week and he played a great match with Novak.  I didn’t see the final and I saw a little bit of the semi-final with Berdych (Tomas) which was an unbelievable tight match.  I only heard what happened in the final from people who watched it.   I heard it was quite a tough watch just with everything that was going on.  Weather its good for the game or not that’s up for everyone else to decide.  As a player, when I’m playing I’m trying to win myself and when it’s done I try not to worry too much about it.  I think over the last, however long it’s been, there’s been so few different major winners.  I think, for fans it’s probably a bit more enjoyable to see the events a little bit more open than they have been in the past.  Different faces in the last stages of those events.

 

Q: Do you have any plans for an exhibition in Scotland this year?

 

AM: Yeah, we are looking to try and do one this year at some stage.  I’m not 100% sure it’s going to happen or not.  It’s something we definitely looked in to; I think it would be a good thing for me to do.  There’s no tennis competitions in Scotland, there is a few sort of Futures events.  There are no challengers or ATP events there.  It would be a good thing to try and set up an event or match there later on in the year if we can.  It’s not always easy to get the right venue to make everything work with timing with obviously with the way our tour works.   There aren’t loads of periods in the year where we can do it.  I’m hoping something will get started.

 

Q: Were you surprised when the US Team chose clay as the surface in Davis Cup and what are your thoughts on playing John Isner?

 

AM: I was a little bit surprised with the surface, to be honest.  By having played on the surface I see what they have tried to do.  It’s not like a traditional European clay court that is quite slow and heavy.  The sliding and stuff is different … I move okay on the clay. It’s not something I feel unbelievably uncomfortable on.  It’s not like a traditional clay court – it’s much faster, the balls are quick … there’s not a whole lot of top surface, it’s quite tough to move.  I can see what they were obviously trying to do with the surface.

 

In terms of playing Isner – I haven’t played him for a while. I think the last time I played him it was the US Open a few years ago.  He’s obviously always a tough guy to play just because of the way he plays and they way he serves and holds serve.  It’s always going to be a tough matchup.

 

The annual BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden is scheduled for Monday, March 3, 2014.  The McEnroe vs. Bryan doubles match will be followed by Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic. For more information: www.thegarden.com.

The BNP Paribas Showdown is part of the second annual World Tennis Day, a global celebration of tennis that includes Showdown events in Hong Kong and London in addition to New York City. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and its member nations will host participation events such as clinics and open houses at clubs around the world as part of this day. In 2013, 58 nations held World Tennis Day participation events.

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Andy Roddick Talks to Media Before PowerShares Series Tennis Circuit Debut

AndyRoddick

(January 15, 2014) With the  2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit to begin next months, Andy Roddick spoke to the media via conference call on Wednesday. Here is a full conference call transcript of Roddick’s conference call:

 

RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th.  The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City.  For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself.  I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.

 

Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.

ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences.  So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun.  It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.

 

Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?

ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.

 

Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.

 

Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?

ANDY RODDICK:  It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.

 

Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.

 

Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?

ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat?  I don’t know.  Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.

 

Q.  Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?

ANDY RODDICK:  I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue.  They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.

 

Q.  And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing?  Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.

 

Q.  Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again.  He played he actually beat me the first two times.  I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports.  So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.

 

Q.  There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?

ANDY RODDICK:  No, I don’t.  The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.

 

Q.  Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?

ANDY RODDICK:  Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night.  Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.

 

Q.  Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script.  We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it.  We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.

 

Q.  No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade.  How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to.              But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it.  You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q.  Any good one liners you’re working on these days?

ANDY RODDICK:  You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?

 

Q.  You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?

ANDY RODDICK:  Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job.  All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.

 

Q.  I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more.  He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.

 

Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned?  I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path.  I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.

 

Q.  As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.

 

Q.  What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis.  It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier.  Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.

 

Q.  For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?

ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really.  The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.

RANDY WALKER:  We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.

The full 2014 PowerShares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:

Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint Centre – Ivan Lendl, John
McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan
Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick,
Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Indiana, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John
McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James
Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Thursday, February 20, Houston, Texas, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim
Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake

Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete
Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, California, Sleep Train Arena – Pete
Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John
McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe,
Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, North Carolina, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe,
Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Friday, March 21, Surprise, Arizona, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim
Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang

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Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier Talk to Media About 2014 Powershares Tennis Circuit

2014 PowerShares QQQ Tennis Tour Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell

2014 PowerShares QQQ Tennis Tour Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell

 

(October 24, 2013) Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier spoke to the media on Thursday and discussed the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit, the 12-city tour featuring legendary tennis champions also including Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

Agassi will be competing in the Camden Wealth Advisors Cup in Houston on Feb. 20 and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Championships in Portland, Oregon on Feb. 27.

Blake, who will make his PowerShares Series debut in 2014, will be competing in events in Denver (Feb. 19), Houston (Feb. 20), Salt Lake City (Feb. 25), Sacramento (Feb. 26) and Portland, Oregon (Feb. 27)

Courier will be competing in events in Kansas City (Feb. 5), Oklahoma City (Feb. 6), Birmingham (Feb. 13), Indianapolis, (Feb. 14), Denver (Feb. 19), Houston (Feb. 20), Salt Lake City (Feb. 25), Sacramento (Feb. 26), Portland, Oregon (Feb. 27) and Surprise, Ariz. (March 21).

The following is the ASAPSports transcript of Thursday’s media conference call to promote the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis tour:
POWERSHARES SERIES MEDIA CONFERENCE

October 24, 2013

Andre Agassi

James Blake

Jim Courier
RANDY WALKER:  Thanks, everybody, for joining us today on our PowerShares Series conference call.  We’re excited to have Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier on the call today.
Last week we announced the full schedule for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit featuring legendary tennis players over the age of 30.  The series kicks off February 5th in Kansas City and runs through March 21st in Surprise, Arizona.  All event dates, venues, players fields and ticket information is available at PowerSharesSeries.com.
General public ticket sales kicked off on Tuesday of this week, and we can report some brisk early sales.
Before we open it up to questions, I’m going to start off with a question for each of our participants.  We’ll start with Andre.
Andre, you’re scheduled to play in Houston and Portland this year.  You, James and Jim are in those fields.  Can you talk a little bit about those venues and potentially playing against Jim and James.  You and Jim have been battling it out since the Bollettieri days.  You and James had that epic US Open quarterfinal from a few years ago where you won 7‑6 in the fifth.  Talk a little bit about that.
ANDRE AGASSI:  Absolutely.  First of all, this has been a great platform for me to stay engaged with the game of tennis.  It’s been a very high priority in my life, tennis has given me a platform to do so many things.  I’ve struggled to find ways to stay involved that don’t take too much time away from my family and the balance of life.
What Jim has created with this PowerShares Series, he’s created an opportunity for guys like me and James and others to be able to get out on the road for a night and prepare for this, have an excuse to stay in shape, have an excuse to stay involved in the game, and go to these places and enjoy that level of engagement.
I can’t say I’m looking terribly forward to James with this because he still moves like the wind.  Nevertheless, the memories will come flooding back for me.  I love the feeling of engaging with people that have been a huge part of my life.  James and Jim have certainly been two of them.  Going to places where tennis really should be and isn’t.
RANDY WALKER:  James, you played your last ATP career match at the US Open this year.  Who are you most looking forward to playing and what are your expectations on this PowerShares Series this year?
JAMES BLAKE:  Well, after Andre’s comment, I don’t know if I should be offended or complimented (laughter).  I totally understand.
It’s funny because I was just thinking about it the other day.  My whole life on tour seemed to go by so fast.  I was the young guy on tour.  Before I knew it, I was the grizzled veteran.  Now I’m off tour and I get to be the young guy again on this PowerShares Series again.  That’s exciting for me to be the young guy in any situation.
It should be a lot of fun.  I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life that doesn’t have tennis be the first, second and third priority, as I’m sure the other guys understand.  When you are on tour, it’s a bit selfish.  We have other things involved in our lives.  I know Andre has his family and foundation.  Jim has so many business ventures and a family as well.
It’s going to be a little less stressful than that match I played with Andre at the Open, but maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight if I can get a little revenge on the PowerShares Series.
ANDRE AGASSI:  Let the record show that it was a compliment.
RANDY WALKER:  Now we’ll turn it over to Jim.  Jim is playing in the kickoff event in Kansas City on February 5th, returning to where he and Andre had an important Davis Cup win in 1991, 22 years ago, over Germany.
Jim, talk about the PowerShares Series this year, 10 new cities, including a lot of cities that don’t have ATP or WTA events.
JIM COURIER:  Sure.  It’s going to be great to be going back to a city like Kansas City that I haven’t played in since ’91, since Andre saved my bacon when I lost the fourth singles match.  Who did you come out and beat?  Was it Steeb?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Steeb, yeah.  You took care of him the first day, I had to take care of him the last day.
JIM COURIER:  It’s going to be fun to go back to Kansas City and be out on tour with James and Andy Roddick, who are two newcomers this year.  A little bit like Andre said, be careful what you wish for.  It’s great to have these guys out with us, but it’s going to make it that much tougher to win.
But I love the challenge.  Obviously it’s great to have those guys out joining me and Andre and some of the other great champions that are a part of the circuit.
There’s going to be a lot to look forward to as we get going in February and March.  I think January is going to be a pretty hectic time trying to get ready for these guys, too, trying to build up the body to take on these young bucks.
It’s going to be a good circuit.  A lot of great cities that I’m looking forward to playing in for the first time.  I haven’t played in Salt Lake, Sacramento, among many others.  It’s going to be definitely a good challenge and some new travel for me, which will be great.
RANDY WALKER:  Now we’ll turn it over to the media for questions.

 

Q.  A quick Rafa/Federer question.  Rafa is at 13 majors now.  If he wins the Australian and/or the French, he’s at 14, 15, tying or passing Pete.  Do you think it’s inevitable that he’s going to pass Roger?  If so, does that make him the greatest?  With regard to Roger, do you think he can win another major?
ANDRE AGASSI:  As far as titles go, I don’t think that’s inevitable.  I do think he’s capable of it.  I would make argument he doesn’t need to pass Roger in quantity to have him be arguably one of the best of all times.
I also think getting to 14 slams and tying Pete doesn’t suggest that Pete is in his category.  I think Pete dominated his generation and won 14 slams but was never a factor during the clay court season.
You have to put in a bit of variety as part of that analysis, see what Rafa has done on every surface that he’s won at least a couple times, and in some cases eight times, then see what Federer has done winning multiple times, not winning the French many times because of Rafa.  I think these two guys are in a class of their own.
I do think without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time.  He does have a winning record over Fed, although a lot of those wins come on clay.  He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
You can also make the argument this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world, and once Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world.
If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit.
It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title.  That’s also forgetting about the fact that Djokovic is one win away from entering not necessarily this all‑time conversation, but certainly accomplishing a win at every slam.  So now you got three guys potentially in one generation who have done something that only five guys have done over five decades.
I think it’s a golden age in our sport for sure.  I think we’re better off for it.  I hope everybody appreciates what it is we’re watching.
JIM COURIER:  I think Andre covered it pretty well.  Obviously, the biggest question mark for Rafa at the moment is his ongoing health.  Those of us that care about the sport want to see him stay healthy and challenge the numbers.
It’s a fun dinner conversation.  I’m not sure you can convincingly say that one guy is the greatest right now.  I certainly wouldn’t want to omit somebody like Rod Laver who did so much and missed so many opportunities because he turned professional.
It’s a fun party discussion, for sure.  I just hope that in 10 years’ time we’re able to look back and see what Rafa and Novak and the current guys did in the rearview, put it in proper perspective.
Lastly, with Federer, I would not be surprised whatsoever if he were to win another major.  I think anybody that counts him out right now does it at their own peril.

 

Q.  Andre, you and Steffi are arguably the couple who have been the most involved in charity matters.  You’ve spoken at great length about your education work.  Could you take a moment and talk about what you’ve seen through Steffi’s work with Children for Tomorrow.
ANDRE AGASSI:  What she’s chosen to take on is nothing short of Herculean and quite honestly heroic in my mind because I do believe that it takes a unique strength to deal with the trials and tribulations of the wounds that exist in children that you can’t tangible‑ize.  That’s the reality of her work.
For me, it’s about providing a high standard of education for kids that society has failed or society has written off.  For her it’s about somehow solving something that you have to first prove really exists.
It’s remarkable the stuff that she’s made, remarkable what she’s done.  She’s built kindergartens and counseling centers all across the world, from Kosovo, to Eritrea, to Hamburg, Germany, and other places.
I see how it affects her.  I see how committed she is.  There’s not one time that she does anything tennis related that she doesn’t give literally 100% of it to her foundation.
She makes me feel like the devil with her generosity.  I look at her and I think, Why are you putting yourself through this?  She puts herself through it and then comes home and writes the check to her foundation.
She doesn’t need fanfare with it.  She doesn’t advertise it.  Most of the time she’s not that thrilled to talk about it publicly because it brings her to tears in a hurry.  She just chooses to live it.
I’m amazed at what she does.  I get to watch her live her values every day.  I try to do the same.  I pale in comparison.  She beats me at everything.  At the end of the day, I still get to learn so much how she chooses to live.  Her foundation is right up there with the highest of what there is to respect about her.

 

Q.  You three guys have dedicated your lives to the game.  Aside from changing the schedule, if you could change just one thing, what would that be?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I would change our narrator calling you Mr. Simons instead of Simmons.
JAMES BLAKE:  You hit the nail on the head with the first one, the schedule.  If I had to go to a second one, I actually think I would like to go sort of back to the way it was when Andre and Jim were playing in terms of the surfaces.
I feel like the surfaces have become a little homogenized.  It’s a surface that lends itself, in my opinion, to the domination you’re seeing with Roger, at times with Novak and Rafa.  Like Andre said about Pete, he didn’t really factor in in the clay because I think the clay was so different from the grass back then.  The grass was strictly a serve‑and‑volley game until Andre showed his returns were better than anybody else’s volleys.  It was a time when you had to change your game a little bit to be effective on each surface.  I think that added a little bit more variety to the styles of play, to the tournaments themselves.
I would like to see that change a little bit.  It may change the rivalries, the Roger/Rafa dynamic for years where they were clear‑cut the two best players in the world.  You could talk about who is better on what surface, a fast court, a slower court like we used to have in Hamburg, Germany.  I think that would help the game, in my mind, to have variety.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I don’t know what I would change.  It’s been a while.  I think James is probably your best look at clarity on the subject.  He’s the most recently removed from the game, sort of has lived the realities of it in a very intimate and specific way.
When I look from the outside, I remember playing Wimbledon towards the end, and there’s no question, I agree with James, it is not the same kind of court that it once was.  I can also speak to the fact additionally guys are stronger and moving faster and so forth.  But the spin that’s in the game today, even if the court was faster, the spin generated off those racquets doesn’t serve anybody to move forward in the court, at least not without being 100% sure.
I love watching it.  I didn’t have to live it.  I wasn’t terrorized by it, except for once last year that I had to go through it.  James has come off some fresh runs of having to face what the game has become.  I think as a result, he can probably speak to it more comprehensively.
I don’t know what I would change except to make a general statement.  That is the Association of Tennis Professionals by definition is designed to look out for the interest of all players.  I don’t think any bureaucracy can move the game forward effectively if you’re trying to go all directions at once.  You turn into a swamp.  The game needs to be a river.  It needs to be moving in one direction, which means a price needs to be paid by someone somewhere for the betterment of the game.  This isn’t politics.  This is about what a sport needs to do.
Generally speaking, I would love to see somebody have a position that at least allows them the responsibility and accountability of making decisions on behalf of the game.  That’s what I would like to see.

 

Q.  Andre, why did you decide to play the Portland tour stop?  Did the cancer treatment center sponsorship or Nike have anything to do with that?  Secondly, McEnroe is your foe that night.  How much game does John have left?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Well, I wanted to play in Portland first of all, yeah, because of what cancer research does.  I’ll always support that.  That factors into it to some degree.  Personally I’ve grown really attached to Portland.  It’s a way for me to make most use of a very delicately balanced life.
Again, the tour has been designed to facilitate this opportunity for us and for tennis fans in a way that allows it to be successful, enjoyable, and achievable.
My relationship with Nike has a lot to do with that, no question.  But, again, everybody really looks for multiple overlaps, your time away, business or foundational, you have to make the most of that time when you’re away from the family.
John is remarkable.  I think all of us on the phone would sign up to be in his shape, and certainly his talent.  Given his age, I’d sign up for it right now, to be doing what he’s doing.
I know just being the age that I am, every year brings additional challenges.  It’s not going to be as easy for him every year moving forward, just like it won’t be for us.  What he’s done up to now is pretty darn impressive.  He can neutralize a lot of power.  He can make someone very uncomfortable, especially in conditions.  For example, in Salt Lake, if he plays James, James will be surprised he can make the match play awkward.
He has a passion for the game that’s almost unparalleled.  He brings that intensity to the court, sometimes against my wishes.  I wish he could enjoy it more.  But maybe that is his way of enjoying it.  But he still has more tennis in him, for sure.
RANDY WALKER:  James, any comment on going to Portland?  You had a big win there in 2007.
JAMES BLAKE:  Yes, 2007 we won the Davis Cup.  One of my fondest memories to be a part of that team, guys I had a ton of respect for, still do, still am friends with.  That was extremely special to me.
The support we got in the Portland community was really second to none, as well, the excitement we felt in that stadium.
The biggest part for me in Portland was the fact that it was really a team effort.  Andy got it started.  I got the second win.  Then the Bryans clinched it on Saturday.  We all contributed to winning in the finals.  That’s to me the perfect ending to the journey we started in 2001 with Patrick.
I’m really looking forward to going back there.  I had a great time there.  Can’t wait to have some more memories there.

 

Q.  Andre, I want to know what you think about whether you can compare players of back‑to‑back eras?  If so, how would you compare the era you played in with Sampras and Courier and Rios, Kuerten, compared to the era that Federer played in which was probably Hewitt, Safin, Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I think some generations back‑to‑back are more realistic to compare.  It’s when the game takes a leap forward that you are no longer talking about the same equation.
What Roddick brought to the table was obviously the dominance of his ability to hold serve and to make life really uncomfortable all day long because you felt like every time you were playing on your own serve, you felt like you’re serving to stay in the set.
Others had that.  Pete had that, gave you that feeling.  Hewitt, his movement and his defensive skills, were like many that I’ve played before.  Lightning fast, redirect the ball.  He did four or five things that I found in a lot of players throughout my career.
But when you start talking about guys like Djokovic, Rafa, Fed, possibly Murray, you’re talking about guys who have literally changed the rules of engagement.  Whenever you’re talking about that, you cannot, in my opinion, compare generations.
Somebody who played in an era where there wasn’t that kind of spin, there wasn’t that kind of ‑ I don’t know how you want to put it ‑ but where the rules of engagement change that dramatically, impossible to do.
There’s no way a serve‑volleyer, a Rafter, can come forward on every point and get to your ball early.  Covering the line at the net is fine, but you can’t reach the ball because it’s 15 feet over your head, coming down with margin, it’s like a drive forehand topspin lob winner.  Certain things are just above and beyond.  And I would say in this generation, that’s changed the game.

Q.  Jim, as a person who has put this tour together, you have a couple guys in his early 30s, a guy in his mid 50s, somebody in their early 60s.  How do we view these matches, more as competition or exhibitions?
JIM COURIER:  I think if you look at each of the individual tournament draws, as far as the generations that are playing, you’ll see some logic to them.  We’re not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn’t going to be that competitive.  Not that Jimmy isn’t a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment.
You’ll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour.  We’ll have some cross‑generational matches for sure.  But Johnny Mack, as Andre pointed out, is going to make things difficult for anybody he plays, no matter what generation, because of how he’s able to play.
I think we have a terrific lineup all across the board when I look at all 12 of these events.  I see nothing but great matches and great competition.

 

Q.  Andre and James, you both played Nadal in 2005.  He was a teenager.  What was your first impression of him then?  When you look at his evolution, the revisions he’s made to his game, what have been most important to his evolution?
JAMES BLAKE:  2005 was the first time I got to play him.  I actually had the benefit of getting a great scouting report from Andre who played him a couple weeks earlier in Canada.
My impression of him then was he was a clay courter playing on hard courts.  He was playing with a lot of topspin, hitting the ball heavy, but not attacking the ball, not moving forward at all.  He sort of counted on his defense and his movement to win a lot of matches.  He did it exceptionally well, obviously.  He had already won the French Open at that point.  He was the best clay courter in the world at that point.  He hadn’t translated that into his best hard court game yet at that point, I don’t think.
Andre gave me a great scouting report that I needed to attack him, make him feel uncomfortable.  I was able to do that that way.  Since then, he’s become much more aggressive.  He worked on his serve.  When I played him in ’05, he served over 90% to my backhand.  He was looking to hit that clay court serve where he hits it to the player’s weakest side instead of using it as a weapon.
We saw this year at the US Open how easily he held serve.  His serve is much more of a weapon than it was.
I also remember specifically, I had never even hit with him before I played him, the first couple balls in warmup, he hit the ball so heavy, I actually thought I was in trouble from the start.  Once the match started, he was hitting the ball shorter and playing with a lot of margin and not being as aggressive.  That to me gave me the opportunity to play my game.
As I’ve seen him now and practiced with him much more recently, that guy is gone.  He’s so much more effective with being aggressive, with taking his game and imposing it on me, like I said, being more effective with his serve.  He’s still one of the best movers, moves so well side to side.
He actually has improved his volleys.  He used to be pretty, in my mind, uncomfortable at the net.  Now he looks comfortable.  He’s not going to be Patrick Rafter at any time.  He gets up there, looks comfortable, feels okay up there, can finish points at the net.
I think he’s improved everything he needs to to be aggressive and still keep the game that got him to be the best clay courter in the world, too.
ANDRE AGASSI:  That was a hell of a breakdown of his game.  The only thing I could add to it is my impression of him the first time I played him, I didn’t have the luxury of James’ speed.  The one thing I knew I had to do, I just didn’t have it.  James had the option.
I used to play lefty clay‑courters and pound the backhand cross‑court.  They would try to fight it off deep.  I would step inside the baseline and just control the point.  I did it in the Canadian Open final the first point we played.  Everything went according to my game plan.  The next time I came from backhand cross‑court to his forehand, he went so high and so short, in order for me to do anything, I had to commit so far in the court, I was exposed on the next shot.  I hit that shot.  He came in, made an adjustment, hit it at my feet, laughed at me when I tried to make the volley.  The next thing I knew, there’s no chance against this guy unless you have the ability to move exceptionally well, get up in the court, get back, or like James does so well, which is get around that short ball no matter where it’s bouncing and jump on the forehand knowing he has all that real estate he can cover if he doesn’t hit the forehand exactly the way he wants.
Nadal went from a guy that maybe I had a chance against that year, right surface, right circumstance, to a guy I see from my couch that I’m pleased to be watching from my couch.

 

Q.  If you look at the guys under 24, Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Janowicz, who do you think has the hugest upside?
ANDRE AGASSI:  James has played them.
JAMES BLAKE:  I played all those guys.  I didn’t play Dimitrov.  I practiced with him plenty, though.
I would say Dimitrov has a ton of talent.  Raonic, that serve, that’s the most uncomfortable to play.  Out of those four guys, I’d least like to play Raonic because of that serve.  It takes you out of your rhythm, which I know it sounds weird for me to say, because I do that with my forehand, try to get them out of their rhythm.  He definitely makes it so you don’t feel comfortable.  It could be a set and 3‑all in the second set, you don’t feel you’re into the match because he’s won so many free points off his serve, he’s missed a lot of balls on the return game, and he hasn’t given you anything to really feel like you’re into the match.  That to me makes it uncomfortable.
Janowicz is a little bit the same.  He really hits the ball hard and flat.  He can make a lot of balls in a row, which can give you some rhythm.  I had success against him.  I feel like he kind of sticks to patterns a little bit.  I just happened to be playing well that day.
Nishikori I think is continuing to improve.  It’s a tougher battle for him because he’s not a big guy.  That’s another thing that’s changed about the tour, is guys have gotten so much bigger.  I think it’s tough for him to compete against really big guys, even though he hits the ball better than a lot of them, moves better than a lot of them.  It’s tougher for him to stay healthy and compete with the big boys.
Dimitrov, practiced with him a lot.  I think he has a huge upside.  If he stays healthy, he has a live arm, huge serve, even though he’s not one of the huge guys, 6’6″, 6’7″.  He moves well.  Looks like he’s comfortable hitting any shot.  Just a matter for him of putting it all together.
If I had to say one guy that the game actually excites me, it’s did Dimitrov.  Raonic is the most uncomfortable to play, but I don’t get quite excited watching a guy serve 25 aces and win a match 6‑6.
ANDRE AGASSI:  It’s funny you say that because when I watched Federer play Pete for the first time at Wimbledon, I said, There’s no way he’s going to beat Pete.  You can’t play like Pete and beat Pete.  He was too similar to Pete to beat him.  Obviously as I was wrong with Pete.  He’s gone down as one of the greats ever.
I look at Dimitrov, and I think, You can’t play like Federer and be better than him.  I’ve seen it before.  He excites me, as well.
JAMES BLAKE:  Exactly.
RANDY WALKER:  Andre, you’re playing on Thursday, February 20th in Houston.  Can you talk about your past experiences in Houston.  You played at the clay courts many years, also the year‑end championships.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I really enjoy Houston for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the relationships I had there.  The McIngvales were not just big supporters of my foundation, they were a huge asset to the sport of tennis.  I think it’s one of the great crimes that we haven’t nurtured them more profoundly in our sport because they were really making a difference with our game.
There’s so many tennis enthusiasts in Houston.  The standard of club players there, it’s very high.  The education in the sport is very high.  You felt it from a fans’ perspective with them watching you.
Clay was never something I looked forward to playing on at that stage in my life.  Going there and playing on clay wasn’t ideal for me.  But when I played the World Championships there on the hard courts, it was one of the great experiences in the World Championships that I’d ever been through.
Three‑set matches to make it to the semis, having two match points on Federer in the third‑set breaker, beating Ferrer in three, beating Nalbandian in three, coming back and beating Schuettler in three on Saturday, only to have to face Federer again in the final.
It was a great week of tennis.  It will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of reasons heading back there.

 

Q.  Could you share with me who your tennis heroes were when you were kids.
JIM COURIER:  My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport.  I wasn’t allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior in my house.  I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero.  That was my guy.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well.  He was easy to like, easy to root for.  I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody’s game.  I did that with Bjorn.  I did that with John.  I did that with Jimmy.  But Bjorn, when it was head‑to‑head, it was easy for me to root for him.
I didn’t like Mack and Connors because of certain behavioral things.  As I got older, I learned to like Mack.
JAMES BLAKE:  I actually had a few.  I kind of picked out different reasons for them.  Arthur Ashe I learned about as I got older.  He wasn’t in the generation I was growing up watching.  Everything I learned about him made me respect him so much more and idolize him for his education, values, his humanitarian efforts inside and outside of the game.
I would say the two guys I grew up watching and finding certain things I enjoyed were actually ones on this call, Jim Courier for the work ethic.  When I was a kid, everybody talked about his work ethic.  You could see when he stepped on the court he felt like he out‑worked his opponent.  That was something I looked up to and tried to emulate.
The other was Mats Wilander, a guy who in my opinion showed a ton of restraint.  I know obviously to get to the level you’re at, the competitive fires are always going, and I was a bit of a brat as a kid.  I watched Mats competing in the highest of highs of the competition, keeping his cool in every situation.  To me that was the most impressive thing I could see because I had no idea how to do that at 14 years old.  I’m still trying to learn how he was that cool under pressure at all times.
I got little things from each person and tried to emulate all of them.  Failed miserably at all of them, but did my best.

 

Q.  Jim, the day before the ’91 French Open final, you said of Andre, We don’t spend any time together and in the past we didn’t even speak to each other.  Could you and Andre tell us what your rivalry and your relationship was like in the early ’90s.  Did you want to beat each other more than anyone else?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Our relationship was strictly platonic.
JIM COURIER:  Andre and I grew up playing together and against each other at Bollettieri’s.  From my perspective, I was fighting for attention down at Bollettieri’s.  I took exception to Nick prioritizing Andre, as he should have done.  In my adult years now looking back on it, I totally understand it.  Obviously I get it at a new dimension now than when I was in the heat of battle back then.
I used what I thought was a slight from Nick Bollettieri to fuel my fire in whatever circumstances I needed to be in.  Andre and I, he was the guy in our generation that got up to the top first, and Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and myself were all trying to keep up.  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in competition with him for major titles in my 20s.
At that time in my perspective I drifted further away from

all of those Americans that I was competing against almost out of necessity to be able to hold down the emotions of the moment.  We’re all trying to take each other’s lunch money at that point in time.  The thing we care about most is what we were fighting for.
It’s hard to separate what you know to be true, which is these are good guys you’ve known since you were a kid playing tennis.  There was nothing caustic necessarily about it.  It’s more a function of what you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve obviously gone on and become full‑fledged adults, are not in as serious of competition, I think we’ve been able to put it in proper perspective.  I certainly have.  I’m closer to Andre than I am to anyone else in my generation.  We probably spend more time together as a result of that on and off the court.
There were certainly times when I looked across the net and I wanted to beat him as badly as I wanted to do anything in my life.  I’m guessing, and he’s about to tell me, that was the way he felt, too.  Andre, too, was also always the better player as we were growing up.
Andre, you’re surprised that I was even on the other side of the net in the big moments.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I remember we grew up competing against each other, 11, 12 years old, Jim was always a good draw in about the second round.  It wasn’t until three years later that I realized, because he played a bunch of different sports, and tennis is just a quarter of his season.  When he put his full attention to tennis, his rate of improvement spoke to his talent and athleticism.
I simply was a guy that wasn’t easy to like if you were around me in the teenage years, nor did I feel Jim liked me, and I didn’t like anybody that didn’t like me, I didn’t like them.  I feel my own sensibilities were skewed during those years.
When you step onto the world stage, you’re playing against somebody for titles and dreams, it doesn’t serve you to expose yourself to a friendship, let somebody understand what makes you tick, what’s really going on inside.  I certainly had a lot of weaknesses that I felt the need to hide, even from myself.
But going through all that, I think we found ourselves with a deep respect of both our work ethics and our abilities and the way we handled our own survival.  Today I think we respect one another for not just those things but also for a real deep sense of loyalty, not just to one another, but also to the people in our lives.
It’s been a full‑circle relationship, one I think that speaks most comprehensively, at least in the hub of my life, to how far somebody can travel in any given journey.
RANDY WALKER:  Jim, we had some folks on the phone from Alabama.  If you could talk about the field that’s going to be there.  Andy will be making his debut there, played a big Davis Cup match against Switzerland.  John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis are in that field.
JIM COURIER:  I attended the Davis Cup match that James played as well with Andy and with the Bryan brothers against the Swiss a few years back.  It was an absolutely packed crowd, completely enthusiastic.  I’ve never had a chance to play in Birmingham.  For me, this is going to be very exciting to get to go down there and be on the court instead of in the stands which I was for the entire weekend when I proudly watched our American team take the Swiss out.
Welcoming Andy onto the tour, a place that he obviously is going to carry fond memories into the battle there, I think it’s going to be a great way for him to get started.  That’s going to be a pretty fiery night.  Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick would most likely play there, and I will play John McEnroe.  You can look for some fiery matches on all levels there.

Q.  A question about the ATP World Tour Finals.  Who do you think will be the final three to qualify?  Regarding the event itself, do you think it should go back to a rotating locations like it did with the Masters Cup or do you think London is a great spot for it?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I have no idea who is in contention for the spots.  I can’t help you there.
Do I think it should rotate?  It seems to me from a distance, maybe James could tell you the turnout is remarkable.  I think the top eight deserve that kind of platform.  I love what I’ve seen there.  I think this event would be big in any part of the world, but they’ve certainly earned the right to at least keep it in the short‑term.
It reminds me of the days it was at the Garden, a remarkable venue that always turned out a full stadium.  It felt like you were in a prime‑time fight.  That’s the way it appears to me in London.
I haven’t seen anything close to Madison Square Garden since we left there.
JAMES BLAKE:  I agree with Andre about it.  They’ve earned the right to keep it in the short‑term.  I didn’t get to play in London, but I’ve seen the crowds.  I’ve heard from the guys that it’s an amazing venue.  As long as the guys are happy and the fans are happy, they’ve definitely earned the right to keep it in the short‑term.
As far as the five through eight, six through eight, the last three guys, I don’t know exactly who has qualified already, but I’m guessing Berdych, Wawrinka will probably qualify.  As I said earlier, Raonic was always uncomfortable for me to play.  I think he’s got a good chance to qualify.  I’m not sure the other guys in contention, probably Tsonga, Gasquet.
JIM COURIER:  Federer.
JAMES BLAKE:  Federer hasn’t qualified yet?
JIM COURIER:  No.
JAMES BLAKE:  Then I’ll take him.  Just about any time, I’ll take him.
JIM COURIER:  The top three guys right now that look like they’re going to qualify are Federer, Wawrinka and Gasquet.  They’re the next three guys in.  But I think Tsonga playing at home also in Paris next week, I think he has a really good chance to qualify.  It’s going to take a lot for Raonic to get in.  But one good week is worth 1000 points.  A lot can change.  Certainly indoors looks pretty good for somebody like that.  Even Tommy Haas, if he were to sprint out in Paris, he could make it.  It will be an interesting week next week for sure.
RANDY WALKER:  Everybody, thank you for participating in our call today.  I want to thank Andre, James and Jim for their time and great answers today.  Appreciate all the media for calling in.  We appreciate the attention to the PowerShares Series.  We invite you to go to PowerSharesSeries.com for all the venue, player fields, ticket information.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

 

The PowerShares Series will kick off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Kansas City and will conclude March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. General public ticket sales began Tuesday. Tickets prices start at $25 and can be purchased at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.

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“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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“On The Call” – Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale Discuss French Open

Evert_ChrisCliff Drysdale

(May 21, 2013) ESPN held a media conference call with Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale to discuss the upcoming French Open, which will be broadcast on ESPN.  Here are a few questions and answers from the conference call which included discussions about Roland Garros favorites – Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, Serena’s maturation as a player and her chance of breaking Evert’s mark of 18 major titles (or even Graf’s 22), plus the state of Roger Federer’s career and the diminished difference between clay courts and grass courts compared to years ago:

 

Q. I want to ask you, Chris, whether you think Serena Williams might finally add a second French Open title given the way she’s playing in general and particularly on clay these days. I’m wondering, given all of her talent, are you surprised that she hasn’t already won several?

CHRIS EVERT: That’s a good question. I think it’s long overdue, her second French Open win. It’s mind-boggling to me that she hasn’t been in the final since 2002. To me, that’s mind-boggling. So she hasn’t had her best results at the French. She has improved tremendously on the clay. We talk about how she’s improved her game. But in my mind I’m impressed with how consistent she’s become and how patient she’s become and how she’s harnessing that power to be not only an effective clay court player but a tremendous clay court player. I think she had a quote, I can’t remember the newspaper, about, When I look in the mirror, that’s my chief competition. The thing is, if Serena Williams doesn’t have a bad day like she did last year against Razzano, she just manages to play her normal game, I think she will win her second French Open, yes.

 

Q. I wanted to ask about Nadal, another person who’s just been dominant this year. In January everybody was wondering, oh, my God, is he ever going to come back, will he ever be the same. Can you talk about what he’s done so far and is he invincible on clay.

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Yeah, I think he is invincible on clay. The way that he’s played so far, just two matches all year. To be honest, it’s not just a clay court comeback. He’s only lost a couple of matches. I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt from taking a lot of time off when you’re injured. He’s clearly by most definitions a clear favorite to win the French. That said, I’ve picked Djokovic to win it because I’m a big believer in Novak’s game and I believe he’s going to be able to take him down.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Wow, Cliff. If I can say one thing about Djokovic. I was so impressed with the way he played Nadal last year at the French Open, especially when Nadal kind of cruised through the first two sets, then Djokovic went on a tear and won the third set, was up a break in the fourth. That made me realize then that Djokovic was a definite contender for the French Open. I think Nadal looks like the favorite, but I think Djokovic can threaten him definitely. I wonder if Nadal is a little fearful of playing Djokovic. I think that’s going to be the intriguing matchup.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: 2011, he took Rafa down a few times on the clay, which was really I think when the whole thing changed for Djokovic. I think he’s a different player now. He doesn’t have the same record that Nadal has at this point. If I had to bet my house on it, I guess I’d have to go with Rafa for sure based on his record and the way he’s playing now. But there are some questions about the fact he hasn’t played that much, he took all that time off, and his knees obviously.

 

Q. Chris, this is sort of geared toward Nadal. Could you speak to the main challenge of a top player returning to the game after an extended break, in his case seven months. Is it confidence, ball striking, timing? What all goes into regaining that form after an extended break?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, my God. All of the above. That’s a great question. Maybe Cliff can answer this, too, because maybe he’s taken time off. I took a period of three or four months off, and I came back. Definitely confidence, no doubt about it. Your confidence is waning a little bit. Definitely the timing, the striking of the ball, the reaction time. Definitely the concentration. You’re going to get more winded because you haven’t done tennis cardiovascular. You maybe trained hard off the court, but a match cardiovascular is a lot different.

I just think every element is affected both physically, mentally and emotionally, psychologically. Everything is affected when you first come back. For these champions, it only takes about two or three tournaments to get back, for me. Once you have those two or three tournaments under your belt, I think you’re fresher and your mind is more clear and you’re better off than when you left for seven months.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I totally agree with the last thing you said. There are two sides to that coin. You take time off, it might hurt you, but it also gives you, as you said, a new enthusiasm quotient, liveliness quotient. You really want to be on the court. You’re not tired out. It’s like picking up a new tennis racquet sometimes. A new piece of equipment gives you a new lease on life. History is dotted with people who have come back. We talk about Serena. How many times has she come back and shows no signs of a negative result because of it.

 

Q. Chris, with clay, the surface from your standpoint, what are some of the things you love about it as a player, what are some of the things that you hate about it as a player?

CHRIS EVERT: First of all, I think the clay is fast. I think the balls are faster, the clay is faster. The conditions are faster than when I was playing. Plus the fact that players are obviously hitting the ball harder. I guess the point I’m trying to make, you have to have patience up to a certain point, but you don’t have to have as much patience as my days, when you played moon ballers, you had rallies of 20 shots.

 

The tough thing is sliding. If you haven’t grown up on clay, it’s hard to learn that instinctive sliding technique. So if you’re not used to sliding, if you don’t like it, you’re going to have trouble. That’s one tough thing.

Again, you’re going to have to hit three or four more balls to win a point. Kind of backtracking, contradicting myself. Patience is a factor. If you’re not patient, you’re not going to win on clay. So the patience, the sliding is tough.

 

I like the fact that you have a little more time to think of a strategy, a little more time to work the ball around the court, to sort of work the point. I like that. You’re not as rushed as on other surfaces. You feel if you’re a defensive player, you’ve got at least a shot. It’s important to be defensive and offensive on the clay. But it’s better to be defensive on the clay. It gives you more benefits than being defensive on any other surface.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I think Chris made the best point when she said the surfaces have become more universal. The balls are much more lively now than they used to be. The court is playing much quicker than it used to. You’ve got the options on clay now, as well.

 

To me the biggest thing about clay is it’s so much easier on the body. I think Rafael Nadal might get his wish one of these days, there may be more tournaments played on clay. There’s discussions about even turning Miami into a clay court tournament. It’s easier on the body and I think it would help the longevity of the players.

 

From a technical standpoint, as Chris was saying, it’s a different kind of game. The transition from the French to Wimbledon used to be really dramatic, and it’s not as dramatic now as it was, because Wimbledon is much slower and the French is much quicker.

 

Q. Chris, do you think any of the women on the tour are mentally in position to be able to beat Serena? And to both of you, the status of Federer’s game, in particular his movement?

CHRIS EVERT: That’s a good question. I just think when I look at someone like Azarenka, she actually played a good second set against Serena. She didn’t play a bad match against Serena, yet she won four games. When I look at that stat, then I look at Maria, she handled Maria so easily on the clay.

 

I don’t think it’s going to take a player to overpower her. First of all, I don’t think anybody out there can overpower her. The thing that we have to remember is this is still Serena’s weakest surface. Let’s not lose sight of that. She has to, as she said in her own press conferences, she has to remain really consistent, cut down on the errors. She likes to go for her shots. This is where she’s transformed herself into a better clay court player.

 

If there was a player that came out of the blue that was crafty, had a great dropshot, had some great short angling to get her off the baseline, bring her up to the net, I think that’s the only chance that anybody has. The day of the Martina Hingis type players, I don’t see those players as much anymore. I just see players that just like to bash the ball from the baseline and use their power more. I think it would take a versatile player like that to carve shots, dropshots, slice, get Serena off her rhythm, bring her up to the net. If there’s a player out there like that, maybe we’ll see her in the next couple weeks.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: You’ve got to remember that her serve is so dominant now. The court is playing a little faster at the French, so that’s helping her. Number two, she’s not squawking and squealing like she used to on the court. She’s much calmer. I think that’s made a huge difference to her as well.

 

You talked about patience earlier. She’s much more patient. She doesn’t take things as seriously as she used to. She’s in a much better place mentally. She cannot be beaten by anybody but herself.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think you’re absolutely right. If you look at her on TV, she’s managing her emotions in between points so much better and she’s managing her energy. She’s conserving her energy. She’s like in her own little zone, own little world. She’s going to need that for the French.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: All that said, I want to emphasize what you said, don’t forget this is her weakest surface. If there’s a chance to beat her, this is it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: And the first week. Because once she gets grooved, going into the second week, she’s going to be tougher.

 

Q. Cliff, your feelings on Federer, the status of his game, particularly his movement?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Don’t write him off. We’ve written him off a few times in the past. My sense always with him is he’s also mentally in a really good place. He doesn’t mind losing matches. Just from a technical, mechanical standpoint now, he may be, all things being equal, I think Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, would be at least 50, maybe a little above 50 on the head-to-head with him, 50/50, but he is still a contender. I just caution you, if you check his record, he’s never anywhere other than at the end of the a tournament. If you get to the semifinals, anything can happen in these events. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m cautioning everyone that we’ve written him off before. Suddenly two years ago he wins the French championships and he’s No. 1 in the world.

I think his movement has always been his strong point. I think it still is one of his strongest points. If there’s an issue with Fed, sometimes his confidence during a match, he starts to spray balls. He used to be able to get away with it, but he doesn’t anymore. Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray don’t allow you to get away with it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The thing with Roger, two things have to be working for him to win a Grand Slam again: his serve, his forehand. Like Cliffy said, when he slaps that forehand around, he can slap it for winners or he can slap it for errors. But that forehand has to be a weapon. He’s got to be making those slaps. His first serve, he’s got to win some free points. It’s a lot of work for him on the clay. That’s why for me, Wimbledon is the one tournament where he can get away with a big serve and a big forehand a little bit easier. Anyway, I put him like fourth or fifth as a favorite.

 

Q. Sorry to dwell on Serena, but do you feel like she needs that second French to secure her place to the upper echelon, if you will?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Not in my book.

 

CHRIS EVERT: No, no.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: She’s secured it already. The fact that she hasn’t won the French twice, she’s won it once. You know, I look at it sort of from a historical standpoint and wonder who would you put up against Serena. Chris can answer this question a lot better. Try to put herself up or Martina or even Steffi. It’s hard for me to imagine, day in, day out, if Serena is playing like she’s playing now, that you can’t count her already as one of the all-time greats even if she doesn’t win the French.

 

CHRIS EVERT: It’s not going to put a blemish on her record at all, especially if she continues to win Wimbledon and the US Open and the Australian. I think with her serve and her athleticism, her power, her court mobility, I just think when she’s on, she’s the greatest player we’ve ever seen, ever. Now, whether her record is the greatest remains to be seen because she hasn’t retired yet. But I think she is really the greatest player. I have seen Martina and Steffi at their best. There are little chinks in those players’ armor, but it was a different era, where you didn’t need to be the perfect player.

 

On the one hand I hate comparing generations because I feel the current generation is going to be better, but on the other hand it’s hard to imagine a better player than Serena when she’s playing well. I don’t even know if that was the question, but I just had to answer it that way. If you talk about Grand Slams, you know, to me she’s going to pass Martina and I. It’s still a reachable goal for her to win 22 and match Steffi. If she plays another two, three, four years healthy, she can break all those records.

 

Q. Do you think there’s any concern for Djokovic considering he lost in the first round to Dimitrov and then lost the match to Berdych where he was 5-2 up? Do you think he’s placing too much pressure on himself for the French Open? And then there’s 12 American women in the top 100 of the WTA. Do you see any of those women besides Serena making noise in the second week of the French Open?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: On Novak, no, I don’t think that he came that close. I think mentally he’s very strong. He’s the kind of player who does not get down on himself because of a loss. The things that he says, his thought processes are kind of like Andre Agassi who talked about enjoying the journey, the process, of getting to places on a tennis court. I just think that, no, it doesn’t hurt him. If anything, losing early gives him a little more rest. I watch him play. I wonder how the heck these top players can play week in, week out at that intensity and level.

I don’t think it hurts Djokovic. If it would have hurt him any way, it would have been mentally for him to say, Oh, gee, I’m not playing as well. I don’t think he’s susceptible to that kind of thinking.

 

As for the ladies, the 12 in the top 100 in the U.S. I’m very excited by that. I think Madison Keys has got a real shot. It’s a matter of maturity. I think Sloane Stephens is equally in. Maybe not a legitimate shot to win, but I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a move from either her or Madison Keys, Lauren, Jamie Hampton, with real serious shots at getting top 10 and then eventually even top 5. Most of them are young, enthusiastic and really talented. This has a really high enthusiasm quotient for me.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The first question about Djokovic, he’s gone on record saying that the French Open is the most important tournament for him this year. I just think that speaks for itself. I think whatever has happened before, he does have a win over Nadal this year. Whatever has happened, I think he’s going to erase the losses and go into this fresh. He wants this one badly, very much like a Maria Sharapova wanted the French last year. In saying that, that I think is going to give him more motivation.

 

As far as the women, I agree with Cliffy. Nobody stands out for the French Open as far as really doing some damage the second week. We’ve got a really consistent roster. Bethanie Mattek, she’s had wins over Sloane Stephens, Errani, who is a great clay courter. She’s gone from like 400 to 100 in three months. I think she is the most improved American player we’ve seen in the last few months. There’s some big names, and Cliff mentioned them. Madison and Sloane, Christina McHale, Lauren Davis just beat Christina McHale, and I’m proud of her because she trains at my academy. But there’s some good, solid American girls that I think in the next couple years could be top 20 definitely.

 

Q. I was hoping you would give some advice to Maria on what she can do at this point to make more of an impression on Serena’s game on clay or in general. Serena leads 13-2 head-to-head. She’s No. 2 in the world, vying for the No. 1 spot from time to time.

CHRIS EVERT: And remember, Maria didn’t have to beat Serena last year at the French Open, right? She didn’t have to beat Azarenka in the French. I think last year, the draw opened up perfectly for Maria. The tough thing about Maria, the tough thing for her playing Serena is that Maria’s strength, which is her return of serve, really isn’t a strength against Serena, so she can’t win those free points on her return of serve because Serena’s strength that feeds into Maria’s strength is so dominating.

 

When you get on the clay and you start to look at how important moving is, sliding on the clay, really Serena I think is head and shoulders above. Even though Maria’s movement has improved, Serena is still head and shoulders on the clay as far as movement. It’s tough, but at the same time Maria has to believe and just keep that confidence going because she did play a great set and a half at Sony Ericsson. She was dominating, moving well, dictating the points. Serena was a touch off. I think it’s an uphill battle for Maria. Knowing how mentally tough she is, how much she is a fighter, she has just got to hope that Serena has a little bit of a lapse maybe of concentration or whatever and just dive in there at that point. That’s how I feel about that. What do you think, Cliff?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: What you said, I could not add anything to it that makes any more sense. You’re exactly right about the points that you’re making. It is about the movement. That’s the problem. The question always is, How can she beat her? Maybe tripping her up when they’re crossing sides after 1-Love in the first set, that would be the best solution. Going back to one thing you said, Chris, to add to what you said earlier, believe it or not this is the best chance you have to beat Serena on this surface overall. You have to bear that in mind. Take comfort in the fact this is her least effective surface, do whatever you can. I think I’m very impressed with the way Maria has come back. She had a tough time with Azarenka last year. But she’s just such a mentally tough competitor, always has been, and it stays that way. It’s all about Serena. Every tournament is all about Serena. But Maria is still in there with her mental strength. She could do it. Look, Serena may lose again early. You never know.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The other thing is she’s players, like Cliff said, when they go into a match against Serena on the red clay, they have to have a little bit of confidence anyway knowing that Serena’s only won this title one time, and that clay hasn’t been her best surface in the past. Maybe there is a shadow of doubt. She may be impatient. She may make errors. They’ve got to see that there’s a little window when they play her at the French versus the other Grand Slams.

 

Q. Thinking back to a year ago at Roland Garros, Errani making it to the final. Chris, are there two or three names you would throw out there who have never won a Grand Slam title, maybe never made the final of a championship, who you think could be a surprise person to make a run into the second week?

CHRIS EVERT: I think Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the way her form has been the last two months, being an American, she’s at a really good place right now in her life and with her tennis. Most of the people that come to mind, like Li Na, who has won it, you can’t underestimate her. Radwanska, I’m still waiting for her to make that step because I think she’s the kind of crafty, smart player that should on paper do well at the French. I don’t think that’s been one of her better tournaments either. So look for her a little bit to do something. (But) it’s a tough one. I look at Sam Stosur. There’s a lot of players, as I said before, like Ivanovic, like Li Na, like Sam Stosur, who have shown they can do well on the red clay. Maybe Ivanovic is another good one. She’s had some good results lately.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I was going to mention her. I wonder what you think about Wozniacki, have we seen the last of her? I think she’s got another big win in her, too. She’s a potential surprise because she’s got the defensive game and clay is by definition good for the defensive players. I like you’re call about Ana because she had her serving problems the same way Maria did, and she seems to have overcome them.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Cirstea, Errani, they’re all dangerous players. You mention Wozniacki, two years ago she’s No. 1 in the world. She seems to be losing. Before she never lost to players she never should lose to. Now she’s losing to players ranked below her. I want to see her do well, but she hasn’t shown me she’s a threat.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Makarova. There’s my outside pick.

 

Q. It’s the Serena day. When you’re talking to other players, how incredibly dominant she is, it’s hard to come up with anybody who has a chance to knock her off, how demoralizing must it be for the other players? How many players out there do you think really believe, I can beat Serena Williams? You have perspective that we don’t have about what goes into the mindset of all these women going into a tournament knowing that this woman is just steamrolling over everybody. What would be able to keep you hopeful you could beat her? Do you think people go into it defeated when they play her?

CHRIS EVERT: I think 99% of the players go out there knowing that they’re going to lose. I do think that. Azarenka, Maria, I just think they definitely give themselves a chance. There’s no way they walk out on the court with Serena and think they’re going to lose. They give themselves a chance because they’re confident and they have beaten Serena before. They do, especially at the French, this is her weakest surface, she could have a bad day. She has the ability to make errors. I’m going to get a little more time to return that dominating serve. I think of all the Grand Slams, this is the one those top players feel they do have a shot and feel a little more confidence.

As far as the other players, the only thing is, if you go out there and play Serena, you see that she’s not in a good mood, she’s starting to spray balls, then I think the body language could give players confidence after a couple of games. It has a lot to do with her body language, the way she’s playing. It almost doesn’t matter how you’re playing. It almost doesn’t matter. You know what, the other players probably hate it when we say this, but it really is all about Serena and how she’s feeling and how she’s playing.

 

Q. Would you have liked to have played her, Chris?

CHRIS EVERT: Well, really, do we have to ask that question (laughter)? I mean, I would have played her 30 years ago. That’s unfair to ask. I mean, with my mind I probably would have definitely drawn her in. When I’m commentating, I’m screaming. I’m like under my breath, ‘Dropshot, hit a short angle, come in, show her something different.’ You can’t be banging balls from the baseline with her. You’re not going to win. She’s got a good volley, she doesn’t have a great volley, but she has a great everything else. Expose her weaknesses a little more. Is it tough to get a dropshot, absolutely. But she will give you some mid-court balls. You’ve got to be creative and do something different with those shots. I don’t think Maria has that in her repertoire. I think Vika does. I think Li Na does. You’ve got to really try to find the right shots to use against her. To me they’re the dropshots, short angles, drawing her into the net.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: If you look at it from the other angle, the other question along the same lines is not are the other players beaten when they take the court against her, but what about from her standpoint. She’s lost only two matches this year. She’s only lost two matches this year. But there is time after all the weeks, the practicing, the matches, when you get to a point in a match sometimes where you say, Wait a minute, what is this pip-squeak doing breaking my serve in the first set? You start to think about it, spray a few balls. There’s always the hope from someone playing against her, Errani did it last year, where you do see the opening that Chris was talking about. It’s not a foregone conclusion. You wouldn’t bet against her, but there’s two sides to the mental equation.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Also she’s not 21, she’s 31. I always found that even though she’s had a lot of not vacations, but periods where she’s taken rest and rehabilitated, she’s been out of the game, she still has played a lot of matches. She has to play seven solid, good matches. When you get older, as Roger Federer is finding out the hard way, you have more off days. No doubts about it, you have more off days because you’re not as mentally fresh as you were when you were 21. That could be a danger for her also. My last two years that I played, I’d wake up in the morning and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I dreaded knowing I had to go out there and play a match. That happened not frequently but once in a while.

 

Q. I have so enjoyed this game planning talk. Would you both take a crack at Nadal. In other words, how would you construct a game plan against Nadal at the French? Is there any point in trying to play better defense or be more patient? What do you expose?

CHRIS EVERT: You know what, same thing.

 

Q. Same answer applies?

CHRIS EVERT: I have seen Nadal eight feet behind the baseline. I have seen players dropshot him. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like running up. He doesn’t like being on the defensive. He doesn’t like being at the net. You got to take them out of their power zone, right? You have to hit the short angles, dropshots, slice it. I think you have to bring him in, hit them shorter. And I think you have to have a big first serve. Cliffy, what do you think?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I think those are all really good points. It’s hard for me to imagine. There’s got to be more to it than that. My feeling on Rafa, he’s way behind the baseline, like you said. By definition with his strokes, they’ve got so much topspin on them, they’ll jump up a lot. But eventually by definition they end up short. In 2011 the way that Djokovic took him down was by standing on the baseline waiting for the short ball and then making Rafa run every which way from east to west on his side of the court. That is still the formula for beating him. It’s easy to say from a strategic standpoint; it’s not that easy to do.

 

A guy like Federer, for example, with the one-handed backhand, he just can’t do that, whereas a Djokovic can. Andy Murray has also got a kind of game, but I’m not sure he can do it on the clay courts, that can do that same thing: stalk the baseline, wait for the short ball, then bang it. That’s how Rafa is vulnerable. The problem is you have to do it for five sets, four hours, and be in great shape. You don’t have that much margin because, by definition, you’re a much more flat ball hitter than he is with all the topspin he has. That’s the solution.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think that Roger’s backhand, I could be completely wrong on that, but I think on the clay he has a good slice. He can hit that high backhand slice, hit a short angle. He has that dropshot. But I think Roger, again, could take a set off him. But to keep that up for five sets, yeah, I think Djokovic is the only one.

But Djokovic has the touch. He’s got to mix it up, though.

 

Q. As analysts, when you’re watching the matches, can you tell before the players themselves that the wheels are starting to come off the bus, that they’re starting to lose things?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: That’s an interesting question. I think both Chris and I can tell, you have a sense for when a match is turning around. It’s quite clear often. You can see it before your eyes. But I’m not sure that we can tell before the players themselves.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think that we can tell before the opponent can see it, for sure. When we’re up there in the box, we’re watching the action down on the court, we’re seeing like Victoria Azarenka play Serena, all of a sudden the point is over, the person that is kind of starting to be upset, starting to show more body language, we see it because the opponent, her attention is centered around herself. She’s not like looking to the other side of the court and saying to herself, Whoa, she’s really upset, I’m going to use it to my advantage. The beauty of commentating is we can see that pretty quickly. Both Cliffy and I, this is the advantage of having played a lot, having had good careers, Grand Slam careers, definitely we can sense, especially knowing the person, what the next move is going to be, how they’re going to react. I think we can see the wheels falling off quicker than their opponent can see it.

 

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McEnroe: Serena Williams and Nadal Have to Beat Themselves to Lose at French Open

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(May 20, 2013) – John McEnroe agrees with the vast majority of tennis prognosticators that Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are heavy favorites to win the upcoming French Open.

McEnroe spoke to media on Monday, ahead of next weeks’ French Open on a Tennis Channel conference call. McEnroe has served as an analyst for the network’s French Open coverage since 2007.

Asked about the chances of Serena being upset, McEnroe said:”I mean it’s been done before.  I’ve done it myself, but you sort of have to beat yourself.  The level she’s at when she’s playing well, I don’t think anybody can beat her.  Anybody, no matter great they are, everybody has bad days.
“On clay, it’s her worst surface.  The odds would increase.  The pressure is greater obviously at the French because she’s only won it once.  I would say at some stage in the event, it would be likely that she won’t have one of her best days.  Depending on her opponent that day, someone might have a shot at her.”

McEnroe is impressed with Nadal’s comeback after being off the tour for seven months.

“It seems like he’s barely lost anything, if at all,” McEnroe said.  “Right now he seems to be finally, he says, playing the best he’s been playing the whole year, which is sort of frightening for the other players.
“Unless something happens that’s unforeseen, it would be pretty hard‑pressed to make an argument for anyone other than Djokovic to beat him.  It would have to be one of those swing‑for‑the‑fences type players like Soderling was that one year, and the conditions would have to be extremely heavy so his ball wouldn’t have the type of jump it normally does.”

Coming into the French Open, both Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are on win streaks. World No. 1 Williams has won 24 straight matches which include Miami, Charleson, Madrid and Rome titles. Nadal, whose ranking has moved up to No. 4 this week, has captured his last three tournaments – Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.

The French Open begins on May 26.

 

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Tennis Channel Announces 2013 French Open Broadcast Schedule

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Meet Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, USTA Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge Winners

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The USTA held a conference call with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winners, who each earned a wild card into the 2013 French Open based on results over the past three weeks on the USTA Pro Circuit. Here is the official transcript of the call from the ASAPSports site:

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

May 6, 2013

Alex Kuznetsov

Shelby Rogers

AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks for joining us on the call today with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the men’s and women’s winners of the Har‑Tru U.S. Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, winning a wild card into the 2013 French Open later this month.
The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the 2013 French Open and US Open are exchanged.  This is the second year the USTA has held the Wild Card Challenge using the U.S. Pro Circuit events to determine the recipients.
The winner of the Wild Card Challenge was determined by the player who accumulated the greatest number of ATP and WTA ranking points at two of three USTA Pro Circuit events.  Alex earned 115 points in the challenge, winning the title in Sarasota, reaching the quarters in Savannah and Tallahassee.  Shelby earned 88 points winning the Charlottesville title and reaching the quarterfinals in Dothan.  She clinched the wild card this weekend.
Both Alex and Shelby will be making their French Open main draw debuts.  Alex reached the finals of the French Open juniors in 2004, losing to Monfils in the final.  Shelby’s last appearance in a Grand Slam was in 2010 when she won a wild card into the US Open by winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships.
We’ll open it up for questions.

Q.  Alex, could you think back to 2004 when you were a finalist in the boys tournament at Roland Garros, give us an idea at that point where you felt your career was and maybe were you thinking back then that relatively soon you’d be in the main draw there at the French Open and what it means to you now to earn that chance to play in the main draw there.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously, yeah, back then it was a great time for me.  I was in the finals of the juniors.  I was playing some good tennis.  Going up against Gaël Monfils, I think he was ranked No.1 in the world at that time.  We were going to be playing on Court1.  I remember I was really excited.  Had my parents and grandparents over there with me, some coaches.
Yeah, obviously it was a great time for me.  But I knew it was a long road ahead of me.  I think I had a couple ATP points at the time.  I knew after that tournament I was going to be playing a lot of futures and challengers events.
But, honestly, to think I guess it’s been almost 10 years that this will be my first French Open main draw, I would have said I’d liked to have been in a couple before now, to be honest with you.

Q.  What does it mean to you to get that chance now?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  It means a lot.  It means all the hard work that I’ve put in is paying off.  I continue to keep working hard.  I know this is kind of the first step of many, I hope.  I look forward to continue playing some good tennis.  I look forward to getting over to Nice next week to start playing some tournaments over there, hopefully get some matches under my belt there.  Hopefully I continue playing well leading up to Roland Garros.

Q.  Alex, obviously we saw last year someone who had some major injuries, not exactly the same situation with you, the car accident.  I’m wondering if Brian Baker offered any inspiration for you in the last few months?  Obviously he was also a French Open junior finalist a long time ago, came back and made a big impact last year.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Brian offered a lot of encouragement to me just to see kind of what he’s been through throughout his whole career.  I had that one major injury with the car accident, but he’s a guy who has had numerous major issues with his knees and his hip and his elbow.  This is a guy that pretty much stopped playing professional tennis, became a coach in college tennis.
To see him come back the way he did, get to the final of Nice last year, go to the French Open and win a round, then play Simon tight in five sets, that gave me a lot of inspiration to see Brian do that.
I’m good friends with Brian.  He’s come down to Saddlebrook to train in the off‑season.  To see how hard he works, how much he loves the game, it’s a great thing.  I wish him more success and I hope he recovers quickly, hopefully we can do some good things on the ATP Tour together.

Q.  At 26, do you feel like there’s still a lot of road ahead of you as a professional tennis player?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Definitely, definitely.  I feel, honestly, that I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life.  I feel strong.  I feel fit.  I’m really looking forward to the future.  I feel like I’m on the right path right now.  I feel I’m really focused on what I need to do.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard.  Hopefully I can continue some good success.

Q.  What is your coaching situation right now?  You said you’re training aft Saddlebrook primarily?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Primarily at Saddlebrook.  I work with a guy named René Moller.  He played on the tour.  He’s from NewZealand.  He also played at the University of Auburn.  Also I’m working with Craig O’Shannessy.  He’s been helping me out these last couple months not necessarily at tournaments but over the phone.  We’ve done some video.  He’s actually going to be in Paris with me this year.

Q.  Alex, looking back at your results this year, there wasn’t too much of a sign that the big breakthrough was going to come through for the three tournaments, particular in Sarasota.  How were you able to turn it around and what was your mindset going into this whole playoff system?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  My mindset, I wasn’t thinking about the wild card at all, to be honest with you.  I got the email from the USTA saying they were going to be doing this playoff for it with these three tournaments.  I didn’t think much of it.  I think I lost five or six matches first rounds coming into Sarasota.  I didn’t make the main draw.  I had to play qualifying.
To be honest with you, I was looking to go to Sarasota, get some confidence back.  With every match, I gained a little bit more, started playing some really good tennis midweek.  That continued even through the three weeks.  Even in Savannah, I lost to a good clay player in Hidalgo.  I was unfortunate to have a shoulder injury in Tallahassee.  I beat some good players along the way and am feeling really confident with my game right now.

Q.  Was there any particular win that you had maybe in Sarasota that you think really kind of spurred you on towards this run?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  You know, I played a lot of good players there.  I think with every match I just gained a little more confidence.  I beat Ben Becker, who is a top 100 player.  He’s been there for a while.  I beat a good friend of mine playing some good tennis this year, Tim Smyczek, in a tight three‑setter.  Then I beat Stevie Johnson, also a really good player who has been playing some good tennis this past year.
With every match, I just got more and more confident.  I think the final really showed how well I think I’m capable of playing.  I feel I still need to work really hard to attain that level with every match.
To beat Wayne Odesnik 6‑0, 6‑2, was something I definitely didn’t expect.  I was really happy with the result.  I’m really looking forward, as I’ve been saying, to the future and continuing to work hard.

Q.  You said you went into it without thinking about the wild card.  At what point did you realize that it was within your grasp?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Honestly, even after I won Sarasota, I didn’t think I was going to have the wild card.  I still knew that Wayne, he’s a great clay court player, all he really needed to do was win Savannah or Tallahassee.  I think he was capable of doing that.  Also with the fields that we had in those tournaments, there’s a number of guys that could have won two weeks back‑to‑back.
Even after Sarasota, I wasn’t thinking much about it, to be honest with you.

Q.  Shelby, can you talk a little bit about your run through the three tournaments, how you were able to get things together and pull this off.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  Going into Dothan, I was in a similar situation at Alex.  I lost six matches this year.  I hadn’t won a round since November of last year or something.  I was just trying to get some confidence back, get some matches, get some clay court tennis in.
I thankfully carried the moment over into Charlottesville.  I was playing solid tennis, I was confident with what I was doing.  Unfortunately I had to play one of my friends I think every round at that tournament, so that was a little bit tough, playing the Americans.
But, yeah, all the cards fell in my favor that week.  I came out with the title.
Then going into Indian Harbour, I lost second round there, but it was a tough situation at the end because I was just kind of waiting for people to lose because I was at the top of the points.  I was just hoping somebody wouldn’t take the title that week and pass me.
At the same time I wanted my friends to do well there.  So hopefully I’m never in that situation again.  But I got the wild card in the end and I’m really happy about it.

Q.  Historically how comfortable are you on clay?  Have you played on European red clay before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I grew up on the green clay in the States.  I grew up in Charleston.  I was pretty much taught on the green clay.
I’ve only played two tournaments on red clay before.  I played one ITF junior event there which I won the singles and doubles, so that was a pretty special week in Costa Rica.  I played in Acapulco earlier this year and lost first‑round quallies there.
I feel pretty comfortable on the clay.  I’m confident in my game and my movement right now.  I’m just hoping for the best.  I’m ready for a good experience in France.

Q.  Have you been to Paris before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No, I haven’t.  This will be my first time.

Q.  What’s the first thing you’re going to want to do?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think I have to go to the Eiffel Tower, right?  A couple other sites, I guess.  Maybe see the city a little bit.  Hopefully stay on the red clay as long as I can.

Q.  Shelby, what do you contribute all the success you’ve had in the last three weeks or so?  Has there been a change in your game, coaching, anything like that other than just hard work?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No.  I honestly haven’t changed a thing.  I had a rough start to the year.  I had a lot of tough matches against good players.  I felt like I was right there in each one of them.
I guess just sticking with it, keep believing in yourself, not giving up is the hardest part.  When you’re in a slump, you can get a little frustrated, want to not work as hard, stop what you’ve been doing to get you where you’re at.
I just kept believing in the process and I knew it was going to come, but maybe not so soon, maybe not for a French Open wild card.  But you have to keep working hard every day and something good’s bound to happen.

Q.  Are you currently working with someone in particular with the USTA?
SHELBY ROGERS:  My main coach is Sylvan Guichard.  He’s a French guy that works here in Boca with the USTA.

Q.  One of the USTA coaches will be with you in Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Unfortunately, Sylvan will not be able to go this year.  But I think two or three of the other USTA coaches will be over there.  They do a great job with the whole player development.  Everybody knows all the players’ games.  They can all help me out.  All the coaches are great so I’ll be in good hands.

Q.  You’ve done well in singles, but you’ve done almost as well in doubles.  What do you contribute that to and what do you think about doubles?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think doubles is really fun.  Singles obviously is a little more important to me.  But when I go on court for doubles.  I have good partners, we have a lot of fun on court.  It’s a little more relaxed than singles.  It’s just a good time.  You get to work on your serve, you get to come in more, a little more variety in doubles.  It’s a little bit different game, but I love it.  It’s a good time.

Q.  What about your switch to training with the USTA from training at Family Circle in Charleston?  Was that a big boost for you?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I guess it’s been a couple years now since I made that decision.  It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life, leaving my family and everyone at home, the coach I’d been with since I was seven.
But there just weren’t any players to train with in Charleston.  I had a good setup with coaching and fitness and stuff like that.  But moving to Boca, you have world‑class players every day to practice against, a nice gym, fitness trainers.  Everything is right at your fingertips.
I think it was a good move and something that I needed to do.  It definitely helped my game.  The results show that, I think.

Q.  When are you leaving for Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I’m leaving Wednesday.  I’m playing a tournament before and then I’ll head over to Paris the following week.

Q.  Shelby, looking at your results the last couple years, you’re playing a lot of challengers, having some good results, cracked top 200.  I’m sure you see a lot of WTA main draw.  Do you feel in the next year or two you can get yourself to the point where you’ll be playing regular WTA events?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Absolutely, yeah, that’s definitely a goal of mine.  Going into this year, I want to be top 100 by the end of the year.  I think as a player, getting to the WTA is pretty important because you get more points in those tournaments, you can keep your ranking up a little bit easier.
Yeah, I mean, hopefully that happens as soon as possible.  But just got to take it one match at a time, one tournament at a time, hope for the best.

Q.  Game‑wise what do you feel you need to do to get to that level?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think a big thing for me recently has been patience, not trying to do too much with my game.  I tend to pull the trigger a little bit too much.  Patience and strategy, just grinding away every point.

Q.  Alex, can you talk a little bit about what it will take for you to get the top 100 and then maybe top 50 or so?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I think, first off, I need to stay healthy.  That’s number one.  But then after that, kind of like what Shelby said, being consistent, playing at a consistent level week in, week out.  Obviously, nowadays with the men’s game, fitness is a big part of it.  I need to get stronger.
For me I think mentally, like I said, I just need to stay in it mentally week in, week out.  The year, it’s a long one.  I think in previous years I’ve had a few good results, then after that I’ve kind of gone away for a month or two before I had another one.  I think the main thing for me is staying in it mentally week in and week out.

Q.  Alex, I know you spend a lot of time at Saddlebrook, traveling around.  Do you get much chance to go home to Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Yeah, I try to get up there as much as I can.  My parents and grandparents are still up there.  My best friends are up there.  I try to get up there at least once every couple months, even though it’s hard.

Q.  When you were growing up, learning how to play, who were your influences in Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Mainly it was my dad.  My dad was kind of my main influence.  Also I worked with a guy by the name of Jason Katzer (phonetic).  He played at Ohio State.  He grew up in the area and was kind of my first tennis coach.

Q.  Could I have your thoughts on this particular process of deciding a wild card.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I think it’s a great way of picking a wild card recipient.  It shows a little bit more the player that can be consistent with results instead of just having one good weekend or one good week.  You really have to prove yourself over three weeks, which I think is a great process.
You have to be mentally tough.  You have to bring your game throughout the whole three weeks.  I mean, it’s the same players, but you just have to win the most matches.  Ultimately, yeah, I think it’s a better way.  I’m for it.  I like it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously I’m for it as well because I didn’t get to play for the one in Australia.  I think they chose the players they wanted in that one.  I think this is an opportunity for the player who is playing the best tennis at the time.  You’re also competing against players from different countries, so you’re not only competing against Americans.  Obviously there’s players from South America and from Europe who grew up playing on clay, so they have a lot of experience.  You deserve the wild card if you’re able to do that.

Q.  Shelby, you beat Nicole Gibbs at the 18‑and‑under championships to get your wild card into the US Open in 2010.  You didn’t go to college.  Can you talk about that decision and what the last two or three years have been like for you grinding it out on the Pro Tour.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I had a couple good pro tournaments and decided to officially turn pro and not go to college right out of high school.
I did the whole college visit.  I went on my official visits, went to a couple schools.  I actually probably would have gone to Clemson maybe.  I was pretty set on that.
But I really had to give myself a chance on the tour.  It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.  I can always go back to school, get my degree, take classes, but I can’t always play on tour.
We have a pretty short window of time, I’d say.  And I had to give myself a chance.  I think I would have regretted it a lot if I didn’t, especially seeing some of my friends going out and trying it, as well.
I think I would have always been wanting to play for (indiscernible) in college.  I’m happy with my decision every single day.  I don’t regret a thing.

Q.  Shelby, who do you get to train with and see on a regular basis down in Boca?
SHELBY ROGERS:  We have Madison Keys, Grace Min, Jamie Hampton, Taylor Townsend, Kim Crawford, Sachia Vickery.  I hope I don’t leave anyone out.  That would be bad.

Q.  Do you train alongside them or play against them in practice matches frequently?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, we’re always rotating.  We’re drilling together.  Playing matches together.  Fitness, as well.  It depends on who is in town.  We’re always traveling, playing tournaments.  Wherever we’re here, we help each other out.  All of us girls get along pretty good.  It’s a good environment, a good peer group for all of us to improve.

Q.  You said you’ve been at Boca for two years now.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yes.

Q.  Have you noticed in the last couple of years whether or not the tenor or intensity has changed?  A lot of recent success coming from players down there.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  I mean, I think, you know, we’re constantly getting better as a team.  The USTA is making a lot of improvements down here.  Everybody’s working really hard.  We give 100% every day.  All the girls are putting themselves out there.
Like I said, we help each other every single day we’re here training.  We encourage each other, push each other, because we want to be the best we can be.
I think it’s really neat that we have a lot more girls training down here now.  Before there were just a few.  We were spread out all over the U.S.  It’s nice to be able to train with them and play matches because, like I said, in Charleston, I had nobody to hit with.  I had good coaches, resources, but nobody to play against.  So it’s really important to have a good group around you and people to play with.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about Har‑Tru, the surface.  As a player, would you be interested in more American tournaments on Har‑Tru?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Like I said, I grew up on the green clay, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.  I guess if I grew up on the West Coast, I’d be more of a hard court player.
I don’t know.  I mean, the women have one tournament on green clay in Charleston, which is where I’m from, so that’s nice to have that in my hometown.
I’d be all for having more tournaments on the Har‑Tru.  I think it’s a great surface.  Brings out different parts of your game.
I guess we have an advantage being on the East Coast.  I don’t know.  Everybody can travel around the country and have an equal opportunity to play on it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I would be for it, but I also think being that our main Grand Slam is on hard court, there also needs to be obviously an equal amount of hard court tournaments.
Like Shelby, I also grew up playing on clay on the East Coast.  I played at a club in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, which had indoor red clay.  I hit on it a lot.
I don’t mind playing on clay, obviously.  I think it’s a good surface to start younger kids on.  I think they develop better on a clay court than they would a hard court.
But, yeah, I’d also be for it if they had a few more events.  But I’d like for them to keep some hard court tournaments, as well.
AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks today to Alex and Shelby for taking the time to talk with everybody.  Thanks for everybody on the call.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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