2014/04/16

Tennis Hall of Fame Holds Annual Legends Ball in New York City

 

(September 6, 2013) NEW YORK CITY -The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum held their annual Legends Ball, presented by BNP Paribas, on Friday, September 6 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. The Legends Ball will paid tribute to the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 and honored will honor several additional people and organizations who have contributed greatly to tennis by presentation of special awards.

Proceeds of The Legends Ball, which has been held annually since 1980, will benefit the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and support the mission of preserving the history of the game, honoring the legends and inspiring the future.

Here are a few photos of the event:

2013 Hall of Famers – 19 Hall of Famers were on hand

2013 Hall of Famers – 19 Hall of Famers were on hand

 

Tommy Hilfiger & his wife Dee

Tommy Hilfiger & his wife Dee

 

Emcee Lara Spencer of Good Morning America welcomes HOF’ers Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, Monica Seles

Emcee Lara Spencer of Good Morning America welcomes HOF’ers Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, Monica Seles

 

Tennis Channel’s Ken Solomon, Collette Bennett of Rolex and Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame

Tennis Channel’s Ken Solomon, Collette Bennett of Rolex and Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame

 

Hall of Famer Charlie Pasarell, HOF Board Member Robb Bunnen and Hall of Famer Stan Smith

Hall of Famer Charlie Pasarell, HOF Board Member Robb Bunnen and Hall of Famer Stan Smith

Rod Laver joins Hall of Fame Chairman Chris Clouer and his wife Patsy

Rod Laver joins Hall of Fame Chairman Chris Clouer and his wife Patsy

 

Chris Evert with Jamie Reynolds, Vice President, Event Production ESPN

Chris Evert with Jamie Reynolds, Vice President, Event Production
ESPN

 

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“Battle of the Sexes” Pro-Celebrity Doubles Match will Feature Actors Rainn Wilson and Jason Biggs

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USTA CELEBRATES 40 YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENTS OF WOMEN IN TENNIS

1973 SAW THE FORMATION OF THE WTA; EQUAL PRIZE MONEY FOR WOMEN AND MEN AT THE US OPEN; BILLIE JEAN KING’S TRIUMPH OVER BOBBY RIGGS

“Battle of the Sexes” Pro-Celebrity Doubles Match will Feature Actors Rainn Wilson and Jason Biggs Taking on Tennis Greats Chris Evert and Monica Seles

In Arthur Ashe Stadium on the Evening of Thursday, September 5

Match to be Broadcast Live on Tennis Channel

  Al Roker to Serve as Chair Umpire

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 4, 2013 – The USTA today announced that as part of its ongoing celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the WTA, of equal prize money for women and men at the US Open, and for the historic win by Billie Jean King over Bobby Riggs, it will hold a “Battle of the Sexes” doubles match featuring actors Rainn Wilson and Jason Biggs taking on tennis greats Chris Evert and Monica Seles. The match will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel.

 

Prior to the doubles match, the USTA Chairman of the Board and President Dave Haggerty will be joined by Billie Jean King, and WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster to look back at the historic year of 1973, a year that  brought radical change to the sports world and the sport of tennis.  The formation of the WTA, led by Billie Jean King, gave woman a voice for the first time in their sport.

 

Wilson, best known for his role in the hit TV series “The Office,” currently starring in “Orange is the Black,” Biggs, and is known for his role in the “American Pie” trilogy.  Evert and Seles, will be joined by the Today Show’s Al Roker, who will serve as chair umpire for this fun exhibition that will put a contemporary spin on the King-Riggs classic.

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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” – ESPN / Wimbledon Conference Call with Chris Evert and John McEnroe

Chris-Evert

(June 18, 2013) ESPN tennis analysts Chris Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media about Wimbledon, which starts Monday, June 24, exclusively across ESPN platformes.  Much of the conversation centered on the dominance of Serena Williams, the Big Four of men’s tennis, the emerging new generation of U.S. players and the magic that is Wimbledon…both saying if they could only win one major, it would be at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  Highlights:

 

Q.  Think like a coach for me and explain how you would tell a player to try to beat Serena Williams on grass.  Where, if anywhere, do you see a weakness or vulnerability in her game?

JOHN McENROE:  I don’t see a weakness.  I see someone who perhaps is more comfortable at the baseline.  I thought they did a pretty darn good job at the French at the net.  What I would tell her is she can do pretty much anything, but she may have a little bit more difficulty in handling sort of off-speed, junk-ball type stuff where it might entice her to go for too much.  Her serve is the best serve in the history of women’s tennis by far.  Her presence is very intimidating.  But I would not try to match power with her, I would try to do anything possible, if they’re capable of that, to throw off her rhythm.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, it’s interesting you say that because I was thinking about that.  Even on the red clay, I kind of had my feelings about how to play her.  But on the grass, it’s a little different.  First of all, I would hope I would have a big serve, my protege, would have a big serve, or you’re going to lose 0-0.  You have to have a big serve working.  Anytime Maria Sharapova had success against Serena it’s because she’s been serving big and consistently.  Your serve better be working that day.

 

The other thing, when I’m returning serve, I wouldn’t stand back that far.  I would actually chip the returns back.  I would really just chip the returns back.  At this point Serena, you know, she beats everybody in the world from the baseline, but nobody’s really tried bringing her in, forcing her to come in.  As good a volleyer as she is because of doubles, she’s still not as comfortable at the net as she is on the baseline.  I would take off some of the pace.  John McEnroe would have had a great game to play against her because he could just chip it back and be prepared for the next shot because she’s going to come in, be prepared for the next shot.  If she comes into the net, if she misses it, hits a winner, you have to accept it.

 

I just think you really can’t hit with her from the baseline.  You’ve got to either hit short angles, dropshots, chip, do something to throw her timing off.  Once she gets in a rhythm, she’s deadly.  But you got to have a big serve.  You have to be able to hold your serve most of the time.  You can’t be just slugging balls with her.  That’s been proven a thousand million times.  It doesn’t work.  If Maria is holding serve, once the point starts, she has about as good a chance as any.  On the grass, it’s going to be more difficult for Maria because of the movement.  You just have to try to throw her timing off.

 

Q. Would you be surprised if she didn’t win this title? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I would be surprised.  Trust me, nothing is set in stone.  It’s a two-week tournament.  I don’t care what anybody says, when you get to be at the 28, 30, 31 age, you played 10 years, 12 years, 15 years on the tour, there are days that it isn’t there.  There are days your body is not working.  There’s days you would rather not be out there, you’d rather be in bed, not get out of bed.  Roger Federer, I think we’ve seen a couple days like that with him.  I know Serena has been out of the game, she’s pumped up, and that’s probably not going to happen.  Sometimes it does happen to players that have played a lot.

 

JOHN McENROE:  I would be very surprised.  I think she’s playing the best tennis of her career.  She’s not only in the best place I’ve ever seen, I think she’s the best player that’s ever lived.  I said that a while ago.  But she’s cementing it in everyone’s mind.  She’s just a level above anyone.  There’s no doubt about it.

 

I think actually in a way what’s happened with her sister, the difficulties she’s had as she’s gotten into the later stages of her career, actually in a way helped Serena because it made her realize she wanted to enjoy and take advantage of these last couple years.  She realized and maybe appreciated a little bit more the talent that she has.

 

Q. Do you think on the men’s side in the U.S. there’s a lack of a major personality since Andy Roddick has gone?

JOHN McENROE:  Well, I think these players, we’re at an exceptional time in our sport certainly.  What we’re seeing is something the level of which we haven’t seen before.  In a way, the players are doing anything and everything to sort of allow the tennis to speak for themselves.  I think Djokovic is making an effort to spread the word, spread his personality.  I think Nadal has a lot of personality on the court.  Federer is the most beautiful player I’ve ever seen play.

 

None of these guys are out there doing the things that Connors and I were doing.  That’s the way they are.  They choose to do it in a different way and that’s perfectly acceptable because there’s a variety of reasons.  That’s a whole other issue, a whole other question about why that is.

 

But certainly in any one-on-one sport, it’s imperative, when people are getting behind cities or teams, when they root for what we call soccer, you call football, American basketball, whatever team you’re behind, you’re behind the whole city and team as opposed to an individual.  We need to do more to make people have a rooting interest, get to know the players a little more, do a better job promoting them, et cetera.

 

Q. Recently at the French Open there was a lot of talk about the top four, the dominance of the top four, making men’s tennis boring.  I wanted to know what your feeling about that was. 

JOHN McENROE:  I think it’s important that you have people that separate themselves and there’s great rivalries like Nadal/Federer, Nadal/Djokovic, now Murray trying to break into the mix.  They have been unbelievably dominant, how successful they’ve been.  If you look at the run that some of the other guys, when I played Connors, Borg, Ivan, there were four guys separated from the pack for a while.  There’s times where that happens.  This isn’t that unusual.

 

I think in a way it should be, if anything, an incentive to the other guys to try to break into the mix.  If these guys are too good, more power to them.  I think it just shows you how great they are.  Everyone is saying how athletic the game is getting, equipment is an equalizer for everyone, but these guys are still winning.  I think we should enjoy it while we can.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  There’s nothing boring about greatness.  Those top players, like John said, are at a level by themselves.  That will form rivalries.  Hopefully there’s one stirring up right now with Nadal/Djokovic.  Their matches are epic matches.  So I don’t think ‘boring’ is the right word.  I wished the women had four up there like the men do right now.  Right now it just seems to be one.

 

Q. John, you talked earlier about Serena being a favorite for the women’s side.  Could you tip who you have for the men’s title this year.  Seems like it’s a tough pick coming in with different forms, Andy Murray having skipped Roland Garros. 

JOHN McENROE:  Yeah, I think it is a tougher call to see who the favorite would be.  I would pick Djokovic 1 and Murray 2.  This is me personally based on sort of what’s been going on.  I think Murray will be hungrier not playing the French, maybe a little fresher.  Then Roger, because he still has such a great game for grass.  It’s tough to win it back-to-back at his age.  Rafa having come back so great, maybe I’m wrong, ’cause I thought he would be a little tired.  After the Djokovic semi, there will be some type of letdown, and he can’t impose his will as easily as on other courts.  I would put him a close 4.  That would be the order if I had to pick 1 to 4.

 

Q. What about for you, Chrissy, a thought on the men’s side? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I think this is the beauty of having the top four players playing so evenly and closely.

Djokovic comes to mind only because I think the disappointment at the French Open.  Then Federer, you know, the thing is that I have a sneaking suspicion that Federer has put all his eggs in one basket and he’s gunning for Wimbledon.  It’s the only Grand Slam that he really has a legitimate chance.  I don’t mean that against him, it’s just that the competition is so good.  Then, you know, Andy Murray, really depends on the nerves, how he reacts.  Every year that he doesn’t win it, there’s more and more pressure on him.  Nadal, I mean, he could come out of the gate and just surprise us all.  I think you kind of wonder after winning the French, I know he’s always hungry, but I think this court doesn’t suit him as well as it does the other players.

 

It’s just totally up in the air.  That’s the wonderful thing about it.  That’s the wonderful thing about having the top four men playing so closely and evenly.  It’s a hard question, and I don’t know if John agrees with it, coming into a tournament, as an analyst, you like to see the first few rounds and see how they’re playing.  Especially after the first week, you kind of have a better view.

 

JOHN McENROE:  Nadal seeded 5, and he plays Djokovic in the quarters, that’s going to impact more than just those two people.  We have to first wait and see what they decide to do with Nadal.

 

Q. John, you mentioned a moment ago that Serena you thought was the best player that ever lived.  If she creeps up in singles Grand Slam titles to Roger, I’m wondering if it’s fair or your thoughts on whether or not she’s the best player of her generation, male or female?

JOHN McENROE:  Well, that’s a difficult one to answer.  I mean, I think you’re talking about apples and oranges.

She’s certainly one of the greatest athletes in the history of our sport, male or female, there’s no doubt about that.  I mean, that’s a given.

 

I don’t see where you can really get very far saying — when you get in direct comparisons with both of them.  That’s like saying, Who is better, Steffi or Andre?  You get into all different types of things.  And I don’t think there’s an answer.  I would definitely say she’s one of the greatest athletes and players, male or female.  I would definitely say that.

 

Q. They’re both defending champions.  Talk about their sort of preparation, their momentum going into Wimbledon, both Federer and Serena. 

JOHN McENROE:  Obviously they do things different.  Roger played and won Halle.  Serena, as far as I understood, went back to the States.  They know exactly what they need to do now more than ever.

I think clearly it’s tougher for Roger at this stage ’cause he has to go out and play best-of-five.  The recovery for longer matches would be tougher, especially if he had to do a few in a row.

 

I do think for Roger that his best chance remains Wimbledon.  As I said last year, it’s his best bet to win a major.  And Serena has proved she can win and is a big favorite anywhere.  She’s got such an intimidation factor that it’s going to be difficult for anyone to beat her.

 

As we all know, everyone has bad days.  She was down 2-Love, couple breakpoints to Kuznetsova in the quarters, had to pull out.  In almost any tournament, you’re going to have one or two days where you’re going to be struggling a little bit.

 

There’s perhaps a handful of players on the other side of the draw that could possibly be able to step in and pull off an upset in that situation, more so on the men’s side than the women’s because there’s huge guys like Rosol type of guy who on a given day could provide more problems.

 

Q. John, I wanted to ask about Nadal.  Do you have any insight into the toll that winning the French this time around took on him, especially the five-setter against Djokovic?  As part of that, could you discuss the pros and cons in Nadal’s case of skipping a grass court tune-up this year heading into Wimbledon?

JOHN McENROE:  First of all, I think he made the right move not playing.  Last year when he played the French, he went and played Halle.  I can’t say this because he was probably having trouble with the knees already, but to me it did contribute to make them even worse, his uncertainty.  I think he needed the break, particularly since that was the first best-of-five set, first major he played since Wimbledon of last year.

 

As far as the wear and tear, emotionally, physically, it’s difficult to say.  I interviewed him after he won the French.  I was amazed how well he bounced back from the Djokovic match, given the fact he hadn’t played as tough a match as that.  He’s certainly phenomenal.  He’s unbelievable.  I hope that he stays healthy.  I would just say emotionally after everything he went through, it would be hard not to have some type of letdown for a period of time.

 

I think for me coming into Wimbledon, because of everything that sort of goes into winning an event like that, to me I would pick him the fourth most likely guy to win it.  I would drop him down below the other three guys there because I think there will be some toll that will be taken, maybe even more emotional than physical.  The movement that he banks on on clay is not going to be quite as easy on grass for him.  He may not be quite as confident.  Having said that, maybe he’ll take the opposite and he’ll be so happy he’s back out there, it wouldn’t shock me if he won it.

 

Q. (Question regarding the men’s seedings and whether they should deviate from current rankings.) 

JOHN McENROE:  I think they should seed Nadal in the top four.  I don’t think anyone would murmur any complaint whatsoever.  I think Wimbledon is the only tournament I’m aware of out of the four majors that does change the seedings.  I don’t know exactly how they do it.  Apparently there’s a formula, a committee, a combination.  But clearly he should be one of the top four seeds in my book.

 

Q. Let’s say they don’t.  That would obviously have an enormous effect on the other four. 

JOHN McENROE:  Ferrer is going to be the five seed if he’s not the four seed.  Therefore, if he played Nadal in the quarters anyway, it would be like the same old, same old for him, because he’s always had to play one of those four guys in the quarters.  If you were to, say, have Nadal play Djokovic in the quarters, possibly Murray or Federer, that would be a big difference, yeah.  It would be absolutely wrong for that to happen, in my opinion.

 

Q. We saw Rafa do an incredible exhibition at Roland Garros.  How do you break down Rafael Nadal on clay?

JOHN McENROE:  It’s sort of like what the person asked before about breaking down Serena on grass.  I’ve watched and played a lot.  I grew up playing a lot of clay, certainly experienced the ups and downs.  Watching the best of the best, Borg and others.  But this guy is without a doubt the ultimate nightmare to play on that surface because I used to think you could take advantage of his serve.  His serve has gotten a lot better.  I used to think maybe you could bring him in.  He’s one of the best volleyers in the world.  He’s certainly one of the fittest in the world.  He’s certainly got more topspin than I’ve ever seen.  He seems to have more shots than anyone on that surface.

 

The only hope you do have is if you were blessed to be born 6’5″, 6’6″, you swing for the fences, you have one of those days where everything works, you basically go for broke the way everybody did, the way some guys that beat him.  Otherwise, you’re in for a nightmare of a day.

 

Having said that, I think it gives you an idea of how determined and well Djokovic was that he put himself in a position to be up 4-3 in the fifth on a pretty hot day, be that close to winning, five points from winning the match.  To me that was the greatest clay court match I’ve ever seen.

 

Q. You were both talented enough to win multiple major championships.  If you could only win one major in tennis, is Wimbledon the one that everyone wants to win? 

CHRIS EVERT:  For me, yes.  If I were to only win one, I would prefer to win Wimbledon rather than any of them.

 

JOHN McENROE:  Growing up as a kid in New York, even though it’s very special to be close to home, ball boy at the event, there’s something magical, it seems so far away when you’re a kid, so beautiful when you’re on TV, to see grass courts, it’s certainly the one growing up that’s the most talked about.  I think it still continues to be.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  It’s the first one we saw on TV.  I remember watching Margaret Court/Billie Jean King play the finals.  I don’t know if it was black and white, but it pretty much was black and white.  Like John said, I remember all the way across the ocean, the history of the event adds to it.

 

Q.  Do you have any quick one final memory from any of the Wimbledons you participated in, something that sticks in your head about the event itself?

CHRIS EVERT:  I mean, it’s hard because we had 15- to 20-year careers.  It’s the one tournament that’s bigger than the players.  Wimbledon is the star more than the players.  It’s the showcase.  That showcase is more the star.  That’s all I can say.

 

JOHN McENROE:  For me personally, it was the tiebreaker in ’80 when I played the match with Borg that people come up to me a hundred times more than any other match I played.  That would be the moment for me.

 

Q.  Chrissy, a question about Madison Keys.  What do you think about her potential? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, she definitely has the weapons to be top five.  She has the weapons to be number one.  There’s so much more that goes into it than physical weapons.  I can almost say she almost matches Serena’s serve as far as power.  Out of all the players out there, she comes the closest to Serena’s serve.  The power off both sides is tremendous for someone that young.

 

So much remains to be seen.  That’s the mental side of the game, which really hasn’t been tested as much because she is an up-and-coming player and she has no pressure when she’s playing these players right now.

That remains to be seen mentally how focused she is, how hungry she is for success.  That remains to be seen.  Of all the young players, I would have to say she, even more than Sloane Stephens, has the potential to be top 10.

 

Q. I’m curious to know who of the up-and-coming players will win their first slam, whether it be this Wimbledon or down the road? 

CHRIS EVERT:  You have to be a soothsayer to predict that.  The head of the list would be Madison Keys, I think, along with Sloane Stephens.  Bethanie Mattek, she’s had a lot of success the last three months.  She’s like a different person, different player out there, so I wouldn’t rule her out.  I think of the Americans, again, I think Madison or Sloane would have to be the next Grand Slam winner.

 

JOHN McENROE:  If I had to pick one guy, I’d probably pick Dimitrov right now if you have someone who is going to do it.  I think he’s on the right track again after sort of disappointing some of the people that predicted greatness early.  He’s moving in the right direction.  Then there’s going to be someone like Raonic, one of these guys, that gets it, figuring out how to utilize his weapons more on a court like Wimbledon.

 

Q. I wanted to see if you could weigh in overall on the state of American tennis. 

JOHN McENROE:  Basically, certainly we had a lot of success in the past, probably became pretty spoiled.  Clearly Americans have come to expect and want Grand Slam contenders and winners.  We’ve had some excellent players.  Sam Querrey has been a solid professional, very solid.  John Isner got to 10 in the world.  Mardy Fish got to the top 10 before it overwhelmed him.  If you want to compete and win majors at this stage, the athleticism necessary is becoming even more exceptional.  That’s something we have to try to search out and provide the opportunity for kids that don’t have it.  That’s the biggest thing.

 

Unlike women, or girls, I believe girls are much more likely to play tennis than boys.  The greatest American athletes played football or basketball.  We’re lower down on the totem pole.  We need to do something like that.  Unless you get a guy like John Isner, 6’10″, one of the biggest serves ever.  Therefore, he can be a threat to anyone.

 

To go all the way in a major, you need a combination of things.  That’s what we need to push towards.  That’s a whole other discussion.  But we’re certainly not where we want to be, no doubt about that.  Ryan Harrison is a solid pro.  He’s trying to make headway.  Jack Sock is athletically good, but you have to be incredible.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, the next five, ten years, how we veer toward better and better athletes in our sport.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  On the men’s side, all those guys that John mentioned, those guys came out in the last few years.  On the women’s side, I think we have 10 in the top 100.  That’s more than any other country in the world.  That was at the French.  That’s a big statement for some of the critics that have been criticizing American tennis, USTA, whatever.  We’ve got a good stable of players.  We’re not even naming Jamie Hampton, Melanie Oudin0, Alison Riske.  There’s a lot of girls I see down in Boca Raton at the USTA center hammering it out every afternoon.  There’s playing matches and matches, competing against each other, getting better and better as a result.  I think it’s a good time for American women’s tennis.  I think now people can kind of be quiet about their criticism of American tennis ’cause things are definitely starting to happen, pretty exciting things.

 

Q. Who could be the biggest surprise at Wimbledon this fortnight?  Maybe Berdych or Del Potro, maybe Wawrinka is having a good year. 

JOHN McENROE:  First of all, Berdych has been in a Wimbledon final, and Del Potro has won a major.  Stan’s game I don’t think is as well-suited.  All those guys are veteran players.  Certainly one of these big hitters, and Tsonga, are looking to have a better chance.  Out in left field would be the guys I mentioned.  These guys have worked hard to get in a position where they’re trying to get closer and closer to the top guys.  I think that this would be a perfect opportunity depending on what happens.  If they seed Nadal 5, that would open the door up for a couple of these other guys that could make a run a lot further where they wouldn’t have to play one of those guys in the semis.  Berdych beat Djokovic and Federer one year and still had to beat Nadal in the final.  Some of it’s going to depend on what happens with the draw.

 

Q. You spoke generally about U.S. players who might break through.  Can you look ahead to the US Open and speculate about how you think the Americans will perform this year. 

JOHN McENROE:  Pretty hard to jump ahead.  Most of the guys that we’ve talked about, Isner, Querrey, Ryan, they all seem to prefer the hard courts.  That would improve our chances.  Obviously they’re going to have the crowd in their favor, so that would help.

 

You have a lot of things leading up to it.  The obvious ones:  health, how they do leading up to Cincinnati.  It’s difficult to say.  Again, it’s not just the luck of the draw, but to some degree you have to see those things.  Otherwise, I think the upside for Jack Sock is he’s probably the biggest upside we have for a young guy.  Ryan would be close behind him.  Those are the two guys that have the most room to improve to me right now, other than the juniors that we’re waiting to see who is going to break out.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I think the Americans, young Americans, get really, really excited about the US Open, I think more than any other Grand Slam tournament.  I think consequently they have good results because we’ve seen them.  Primarily, like John said, they’re hard court players.  American players are not natural grass court players or clay court players, they’re hard court players.  Most of them have been brought up on the hard courts.  I think with all that, the spirit of playing their country’s championship, the fact that they’re hard court players, the fact that I know on the women’s side they’re all pretty much supporting one another, I think we’re going to see some upsets, definitely upsets, some good results from the Americans.

 

Q. John, with Roger Federer winding down, do you think if he would win Wimbledon he would retire at the end of the season? 

JOHN McENROE:  I don’t know.  I don’t think he’s going to retire for a couple years, he loves playing too much.  The last guy that did that was Pete Sampras.  Very few guys sort of go out winning a major.  He quit right then.

Even though it was an awesome move and I respect it, I think sometimes even he questions it.  He left a big void.

Roger seems to enjoy it almost more than any player I’ve ever seen.  It would shock me if he would do that, absolutely shock me.

 

Q. Chris, this is really not about Wimbledon, per se, but it’s about the Women’s Tennis Association, I know their 40th anniversary is coming up.  Could you speak about what the kind of risk and rewards seemed to be at the time that the WTA was formed, and in retrospect what has it accomplished in your view in terms of making tennis a viable career for women?

CHRIS EVERT:  Let me just say, I was lucky enough to be around 40 years ago.  I was not a part of the beginning.  Basically I was a school girl.  I just listened to everything my dad told me to do.  I didn’t get involved in the politics of it.  But I was aware of what was going on and thought it was pretty progressive, pretty ahead of the times that Billie Jean got these women together to form a union.  I didn’t even know what a union was at 18 years old.  I thought of maybe going down in the coal mines or something when I heard ‘union’.  It was really pretty daring.

 

Then they formed the WTA, where they would have a president, officers, meetings, and basically the women would make the decisions, all the politics of the game, instead of having somebody tell us what to do all the time.  I thought that was great.

 

Then Virginia Slims came along.  I stuck with the WTA, being conservative.  We had two tours.  When Virginia Slims became the one tour, that’s when women’s tennis really took off.  We were making good money.  We were providing a living for a good 200 players down the road.  Funny enough, that circuit at that time meant more to us than Grand Slam tournaments.  That’s where it’s really changed over the years.

 

But if it wasn’t for Billie Jean, if she was in golf, golf would have been the premiere sport for women, not tennis.  So thank God for her.

 

Q. John, you’ve said that Nelson Mandela is the most special person you ever met.  What does it mean to you that he listened to your match from his cell, and did you go out there to the island? 

JOHN McENROE:  I didn’t go to the island, but rather felt like a complete jerk that he listened to the match at the Robben Island prison when I was whining about the call.  It certainly gave me some perspective about the situation I was in.  I shouldn’t have had a whole lot to complain about.

 

At the same time I feel immensely proud that in some way I was able to connect with people beyond your wildest dreams, the type of people you would be able to connect with that said I would have given $10 million that he felt it was an honor meeting me.  I felt ludicrous him saying he was honored meeting me.

 

It was amazing he didn’t seem to have an ounce of bitterness or resentment towards anyone when I was lucky enough to meet him.  It was certainly a moment I will never forget, or an hour.  I gave him my racquet that I played with at that time.  I saw him pick it up and hold it.  I felt lucky that I was able to be part of that.

 

Q. Can you talk about the experience you have of meeting celebrities, whether it’s Pele, the Stones?  Who are some of your favorites?

JOHN McENROE:  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  There’s a mutual respect on some level.  Sometimes you pinch yourself that you’re even hearing people like Pele, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, all these great players, that sort of on some level look at you on equal footing.  To me, that’s always been the greatest perk that I’ve been able to have, being lucky enough to be good at what I did for a living, playing tennis, that I could meet people, whether it was incredible athletes, a couple guys from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Beatles, whatever it is.  It’s unbelievable.  I’ve never taken that for granted and I never will.

I think while it gives you a certain humility, it also gives you a great deal of satisfaction and pride that you feel on some level you’re inspiring in some tiny way, that they have even close to the same level of appreciation that I have for being around them a little bit.

 

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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.

 

Related article:

ESPN Broadcast Schedule for the 2013 French Open

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Oz and Ends – Day One at the 2013 Australian Open

Melbourne park grounds

Oz and ends  and bits of news from the Australian Open for January 14, 2013

 

Bagels and breadsticks

Maria Sharapova won her first match of the Australian Open 6-0, 6-0 in 55 minutes over fellow Russian Olga Puchkova. It was her third career “double bagel” in a major tournament. She only needs a double bagel at Wimbledon to complete a “double bagel slam.”

Three women have completed the “double bagel slam” – they are Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.

Venus Williams added to the bagel set count with a 6-1, 6-0 demolishing of Kazakhstan’s Galina Voskoboeva.

 

Win streak continues

Agnieszka Radwanska has extended her 2013 win streak to 10 by defeating Australian wild card entry Bojana Bobusic of 7-5, 6-0 on Monday.
Twitter News

Maria Sharapova has officially joined twitterverse. Follow her at @MariaSharapova

[tweet https://twitter.com/MariaSharapova/status/290778598774829058]

 

Tweets of the day

 

 

Lucky Loser is a winner
Tim Smyczek is lucky loser was a winner on Monday with a 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Ivo Karlovic. The American it into the draw thanks to housemate John Isner who pulled out of the tournament with a right knee injury.

 

Tough day for Aussies

Matthew Ebden, Ashleigh Barty, Olivia Rogowska, Sasha Jones,  John Millman, Lleyton, Hewitt and Casey Dellacqua all exited on day one of Australian Open. Sam Stosur was the only victorious Australian on Monday.

 

Two seeds falls

The 11th seed Juan Monaco was the only seeded played not to win on Monday. The Argentine who withdrew from last week’s Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament with a hand injury was clearly stuggling clearly struggling on the court in his straight set loss to Alex Kuznentsov, was applauded by spectators for not retiring from the match.

Monaco told Reuters: “My leg tightened up at the start of the second set and it was very tough for me,” pointing to his right leg.

On the women’s side Ksenia Pervak  stopped 32nd seed Mona Barthel 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

Federer out of Davis Cup

Roger Federer will not participate in Switzerland’s first round Davis Cup tie versus the reigning champions, the Czech Republic

 

Five set marathons

[22] Fernando Verdasco def. David Goffin 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
[10] Nicolas Almagro def Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2
Edouard Rogers-Vasselin def. Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 11-9
Daniel Gimeno-Traver def. Lukasz Kubot 6-7, 6-4, 6-0, 4-6, 6-4
[23] Mikhail Youzhny def. Matt Ebden 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3
[28] Marcos Baghdatis def. Albert Ramos 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Roberto Bautista Agut def. Fabio Fognini 6-0, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1
[31] Radek Stepanek def. Viktor Troicki 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5;
Brian Baker def. Alex Bogomolov 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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“On The Call” With ESPN’s Darren Cahill and Chris Evert on The 2013 Australian Open

Chris EvertDarren Cahill

(January 9, 2013) On Tuesday, Jan. 8, ESPN tennis analysts Darren Cahill and Chris Evert spoke with media about the Australian Open, tennis’ first Major of the year, on ESPN2 and ESPN3 starting Sunday, January 13, through the finals two weeks later. This press release has all the details.

 

Highlights from the conference call:

 

Q. Watching Serena and seeing what shape she’s in, watching what she’s done early in the season, is there a chance she could win the calendar slam? I know it’s hard to do. Obviously she has to stay healthy, which is a question. Looking at the way she is right now, certainly seems she might want to do that. What do you guys think?

CHRIS EVERT: Is it possible? Absolutely. It’s absolutely possible. I think you nailed it when you said the thing with Serena is not only her health but her motivation. I think she’s got the motivation, there’s no doubt about it, because she’s been out of the game so many different times, either for injuries or for other interests in her life, whatever, so she’s still a fresh older player. So I don’t think that motivation will be a factor.

 

To stay healthy in this day and age is, as we’ve seen Nadal and other players, I think more difficult, especially for someone like Serena who is such a physical player and has a tendency to get injured. When she’s on, she’s unbeatable. She’s dominant and unbeatable. I don’t know if anybody can really stop her. But you have to remember that we’re talking Grand Slams in the same sentence, and they’re two-week tournaments and have always provided surprises for us.

 

So the big question is for those two-week periods, can she keep the high level of focus and fitness for 14 days in a row. There’s no easy matches anymore, as we saw last year here when she lost, and also last year at the French when she lost. You got to start out 90% to 100% from the first match.

 

But is it possible? It’s absolutely possible. Do I think it will happen? I have my doubts that it would happen only because she is human.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. I think at the moment she’s playing a level or two above the opposition. She’s a stronger, faster athlete than she was maybe three or four years ago. I think she’s a more intelligent tennis player now. I think the fact she’s been looking to take other people on, other people’s advice, has helped her tennis. I feel like she’s always learning. I think it’s a great example for everybody, that even once you reach your 30s there’s still ways to improve your tennis. That’s why Federer has been so good over the years and with Andre lasted until he was 36 inside the top 10. He was a student of the game and was continuing to try to get the most out of himself.

 

I agree with Chrissie. The reason so few people have won the Grand Slam is because it’s such a very difficult thing to do, different surfaces, different balls, different challenges along the way, stumbling blocks along the way, they’re enormous. Some of them you do see, some of them we don’t see. But a fit and healthy Serena absolutely has a chance. I think if anybody can do it on either side, Serena can do it.

 

Q. Can I ask you what you’ve seen from Sloane Stephens this year? What are your impressions of her coming back this year?

CHRIS EVERT: Well, I think that last year really helped her as far as experience. She went into last year with these big eyes, you know. She was a novice. She was finally on the big stage, on stadium courts. I think it was an awakening for her. It was like a dress rehearsal for her. Now I think she’s had that experience behind her and it seems to me that she’s moving better and she’s also more relaxed in the position that she’s in, you know, in the top 50 in the world. She certainly was one of the more touted players as a junior. I think there are a lot of expectations. I think finally now she’s mature, she’s calmed down. I for one think she does have the talent to win a Grand Slam title. So I think she’s on the upward swing.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that as well. We see a couple of kids, male and female, come through every year that to me have top 10 written all over them. Sloane is one of those players. I feel she’s matured in the last 12 months. Her game is great. It’s always been good. I feel like she’s got that personality that expects to be in the top 10, and that’s half the battle, feeling like you belong on the big stage, you belong playing the greatest players in the world.

We even saw that last week in Brisbane, when she was playing Serena, she maybe gave Serena her toughest match of the week. Even in conversations with her coach, you can see it’s a confidence, not an arrogance, it’s a confidence that, Okay, when everything comes together, when she gets a little bit faster and stronger, becomes a more intelligent tennis player, this is going to be her stage.

 

You just have to play a little bit of a waiting game with a player like her because she has a lot of weapons. She needs to find the best ways to utilize those weapons. Maybe that might come in three months, maybe that might come in three years, but there’s no question she has top 10 written all over her and can certainly win a slam.

 

Q. Could you say the same thing about Laura Robson?

DARREN CAHILL: Absolutely. I think she’s a half a step behind Sloane as far as the development. She’s certainly got a lot of weapons. Laura has improved her movement around the court, which is going to be a big factor with her to deal with the strength of shots, a lot of the top ladies, what they play with in today’s game.

There’s no question Laura has the talent. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in the ladies’ game that varies the spin the way she can do it. The fact she is a lefty is a slight advantage going forward. She also understands the game extremely well. She certainly has the weapons. But there’s the court speed and the ability to play a little defensive tennis at times that is going to be important for her to evolve and improve. But there’s no question there can be a rivalry there.

 

Q. Back to Serena real quick. She’s done so much in her career, has had an amazing career already. Getting a Grand Slam this year, where would that rank her in terms of all time with Chrissie and Billie Jean and even some of the other international players? Then if y’all could talk a little bit about Ryan Harrison and what he needs to do this year, where he’s at.

CHRIS EVERT: Let me tell you, if she wins four Grand Slams in a row this year, I would think she would be the greatest of all time for the simple reason that, first of all, does she have 14 now, is that what she has?

 

DARREN CAHILL: 15.

 

CHRIS EVERT: She has 15. Anybody who wins a Grand Slam in this era with the level of tennis as high as it is, because the level of tennis gets higher every single year, would currently have to be the greatest player that ever lived. Point-blank, that’s all that needs to be said. She would still be the greatest player that ever lived even if she didn’t win four in a row, in my mind.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I would agree with that, Chrissie. I think in the era we’re playing in, it’s so competitive, so many different countries competing. Look, the game has changed. It’s improved every year. I feel the players now are more professional in turning over every single stone they can, not just on the men’s side but the women’s side as well. If she would go through and win the four majors in a row, that would mean she won six in a row. If she won six in a row, there’s no question in my mind she would be the greatest female player that’s lived.

 

CHRIS EVERT: You asked about Ryan Harrison. Go ahead, Darren, you can take that one.

 

DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, look, I’m a big fan of Ryan’s. There’s talk down here in Australia about Bernard Tomic, how it was last year. He’s a young guy that’s made a bunch of mistakes off the court. Some of those mistakes have come on the court as well with a lack of effort the last two or three months of last year. I’m sure he’s very happy to see the rear-end of 2012 and look forward to 2013. But always the second year on tour is always an extremely tough year for these players. You make a break as a youngster, break into the top 50 in the world, people pay more attention to you. They work out your strengths and weaknesses, they spend more time breaking down your game. All of a sudden, players are coming onto the court to play these kids and they have game plans which they’ve never seen before.

 

The second year on tour is a real learning year for a lot of these players. It’s what happened to Ryan as well. Exactly the same at Bernard Tomic. What would be a pretty good ranking for Bernard Tomic this year, I would have said around 50, because it’s going to be tough to replicate what he did in 2011, and I would say exactly the same for Ryan Harrison. He slipped down a little bit after having a breakthrough in 2011. It’s a learning year for him. I feel that this is a kid that takes the right steps to be as good as he can be.

 

He’s changed coaches a few times. He works incredibly hard off the court. He’s taken on a mentorship with Andy Roddick, which I think is a good thing for him. I think you’ll find in the next few years, with Tomic, Goffin, Raonic is already up there. They’ll be around the top 10 if not in the top 10.

 

If you have a look at the top 20 at the moment, most of these guys are approaching 30, if not 30. The shape of the men’s game is going to change in the next three or four years. These guys need to keep working on their games, staying healthy, getting the best out of their games and they’ll find themselves at the top of the game very soon.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I’d just like to add that I think the men’s game, as far as American men players, was a bit disappointing last year. I think the women’s game, the American women’s game is looking stronger than the men’s. I think Ryan and even Jack Sock, Isner, these players – not to be too critical – but need that hard work ethic where they look and see how a Nadal trains, Djokovic and Federer and Ferrer. The top players are at a different level when it comes to hard work ethic and the training and even the dedication. I think it’s just brutal now. I think that’s got to be one of the things, intangibles as far as, Okay, you got a great game, but how much do you want it and how much are you willing to work for it? I think there’s a lot of talent in those two players I mentioned, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison. But I think they’ve got to maybe go up a little level as far as their fitness and their hard work ethic.

 

Q A question about Federer and Nadal. Do you think this is going to be the first year in what would be 10 years or more that neither one of them wins a major? What are the chances that neither one of them wins a major this year?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, heavens. It’s all speculation, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know how you can say. First of all, Nadal, we don’t even know if he’s going to come back, right? I think it very well could happen. Yes, it very well could happen. But I just think if Nadal gets his act together in February, March, and he gets healthy, he’s pretty invincible on the red clay, even though Djokovic did have a good match with him last year at the French. I think Nadal, he puts all his eggs in one basket when it comes to winning at least that one Grand Slam. I think he’s going to do everything he can to prepare for that one Grand Slam. So in that respect, you know, no, that won’t happen. I mean, I predict Nadal is going to come back and win the French. I think Murray is also going to win a Grand Slam this year, and Djokovic also. And Roger, you can never count Roger Federer out, especially on the grass. But I think, gosh, each year gets a little bit tougher, you know, for him.

I would love to see him win a Grand Slam, but I don’t know. I don’t think you could ever be 100% sure with him.

What do you think, Darren?

 

DARREN CAHILL: I have a question for you in are you willing to go bet against Nadal?

 

Q. I’d never make that bet.

 

DARREN CAHILL: Then you can’t expect us to make that bet!

 

Q. I don’t expect you to. I just see it as the first time in a long time where that’s a possibility. It never even used to be a possibility.

 

DARREN CAHILL: It’s always been a bit of a possibility because these players, the ones that have been chasing Federer and Nadal are so good these days. No question Nadal, I think he’s going to come back and he’s going to be just as strong as he was. It was three years ago at Wimbledon that we were all throwing our hands up. I went through the same thing, patellar tendonitis, not to compare myself with him, it’s in a different world completely, but I understand what he’s going through when it comes to this knee pain. It put me out of the game when I was 25. I was going, you know what, this is going to be tough to get back to the level he was at. Lo and behold, he came back a better tennis player.

 

Anything he achieves on the tennis court is not surprising. Everything Federer achieves on the court is not surprising considering what he does to get the best out of himself and what he’s achieved in the past. I do think you’re right that 2013 might shake the future in the men’s game. We might get an insight as to how the men’s game is going to look at from the next five or six years and beyond from the results in 2013. But there’s no way anybody is going to put a red line through Federer and Nadal just yet.

 

CHRIS EVERT: If I were to be a betting woman, you know, you can never bet against Djokovic on a hard surface, like an Australian or a US Open. And Federer certainly I think is going to be — I think Wimbledon is his goal in his life. And Nadal, the French Open. Murray, he’s going to be the spoiler this year. Somehow he’s going to be the spoiler. He can play great grass court tennis, as we saw last year at Wimbledon. And he’s a great hard court player also. So he’s going to be the one that’s going to be the spoiler, I think.

 

Q. Around the time when Nadal or Federer were winning everything, 2005, 2006, I think everyone saw Murray and Djokovic as strong, probably going to get to the top, the only thing holding them back were these two guys. I don’t know if you would say that now about some of the guys younger than Murray and Djokovic. What do you two think? Is that next generation maybe a little bit behind where this generation was a few years ago or are they coming along okay?

CHRIS EVERT: I’ll just say briefly, because Darren knows a lot more about this than I do, I’ll say briefly I think this is the year, 2013, for these players to emerge. I think we kind of saw hints of it last year.

But especially this year, with Nadal not being 100%, Federer, like I said, as each year goes on, it’s going to be harder and harder for him to be mentally tough for every match. I think this is the year that some new faces are going to pop up, and have to. That’s always been the way it’s gone in tennis.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. You’re right, absolutely. This generation of Murray and Djokovic, the one previous in 2005, 2006 that came up, were right there with these guys.

 

I remember a little story actually with Andre. Remember back at the French Open in 2006 when Djokovic got through the quarterfinals, played that match against Nadal. He walked off the court after a couple sets because he was injured. Obviously it was a big thing for the young kid to get through to the quarters. In the after-match press conference he said he felt comfortable on the court against Nadal. That caught the attention of Andre back in 2006. I remember vividly the tournament right before Wimbledon, just before Andre announced it was going to be his last Wimbledon ever, and the US Open was going to be his last tournament, he played an exhibition against Djokovic.

 

Andre said, The kid just played Nadal, right? This is the kid that said he felt like he was the better player at the French, right? I said, Yeah, this is the kid. So walking out from the locker room onto the court, I remember walking next to these guys, and Andre peppered him with questions about his career. This is an 18-, 19-year-old kid that came out and said he felt like he was a better player than Nadal on clay. Obviously I’m paraphrasing him a little bit.

 

Andre peppered him with questions about why he would make such a statement. Novak wasn’t being cocky, he wasn’t being over the top. He basically answered each question with, No, I just felt for this reason, if I could play my game off the backhand side, I have a big pocket. I felt if I could push him back on the backhand side I would make this progress, my forehand down the line, I could make this progress. He answered every one of Andre’s questions like a true pro. That’s the intelligence and the thinking of that generation of player.

 

Now, Murray was exactly the same. You’re right, that generation of player is slightly ahead of the generation we see right now. I think Nadal, Murray, because Nadal is only a year or two older than those guys, but Nadal, Murray and Novak was a unique circumstance for men’s tennis to get those three guys into the game. But they are special tennis players that you rarely see. We haven’t got those generation of players coming through. We have some really good players. But it might be the generation after that that comes through and pushes them. But you are right, they are a level ahead of what we have at the moment.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The four men are so dominant, they’re so close. They beat each other. They just keep beating each other. Nothing is predictable when they play one another, whereas that’s so different in the women’s game.

Like you said, Darren, they can sort of rationalize and speak intelligently, have intelligent strategy against the other men. In the women’s game, I think the top players look at playing Serena, and they’re hoping that she just has a bad day. It’s hard to figure out what the winning strategy is against her. That’s where it’s different.

 

Q. In Abu Dhabi, Janko Tipsarevic described Andy Murray as a different animal. Have you seen a difference in the way Andy carries himself on the court, his attitude? Can you see him going on to win multiple majors this year potentially?

DARREN CAHILL: Look, I do see a slight difference on the court with his attitude. I feel like he spent 12 months now with Ivan. He knows exactly what the plan is. This time last year, it was a little bit, Let’s look and see how this goes. Obviously it was a big step for him to take someone on like Ivan. He knew what media attention it would gain. He never won a Grand Slam tournament before. Obviously all eyes were going to be on the Murray/Lendl partnership.

 

They’re 12 months down the road now, they have an Olympic gold medal under their belt, a US Open under their belt. I see a little bit more swagger on the court. It doesn’t mean anything when it come to playing these top guys. It means he’s not focusing on that one major; he’s focusing now on multiple. There’s no question he’s capable of winning multiple slams.

 

Two or three years ago in 2010 when Novak was going through the rough spot, the serve was all over the place, the forehand was all over the place, he was struggling in the heat. Chris Fowler was doing a tournament with Brad Gilbert and myself, posed a question to us, if we could go back to coaching, who would we take on at that particular time, and both of us in unison said Novak Djokovic. The reason for it is we saw the most improvement coming from someone’s game in the top 10 from. Credit to his coach, Marian Vajda, to get him to where he is. I look at Andy Murray’s game a bit the same. Even though he’s achieved what he’s achieved, there’s still an enormous amount of achievement that can come from Andy Murray’s game. I think if they stay together the next couple years, I think you’ll see him realize a lot of his dreams and win more major championships.

 

Q. Do you think Ivan would be the key then?

DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, I think it’s important. I think stability in a relationship, in a player and coach partnership, is more important than people realize. The message sometimes is the same message. There has to be that belief and that trust between the player and the coach. You don’t get that from spending a couple of months together; you get that from spending years together.

 

I feel like in the next couple years, if they can stay together, it will only be good for Andy. Obviously the big question mark is the amount of travel is takes on Ivan with his family. The fact that he’s stepped up and committed to Andy to do this job, it was a little bit surprising for me that he would do it. But also I think it brought a smile to everybody’s face in tennis that somebody that achieved so much in tennis in the game would be so willing to invest in somebody else’s career. It’s great for everybody on a whole and specifically for Andy.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think Ivan Lendl was the perfect, perfect fit for Andy Murray because Andy Murray’s attitude has completely changed and his demeanor on the court. It still shows up now, but Andy used to be a very emotional and very passionate and very impulsive, would just get down on himself so easily. Then you would have Lendl on the other side known for being stoic and unemotional. He didn’t let anything bother him.

 

I just think that nowadays when Andy is about to erupt, he’ll look over and Ivan will give him a look like, Don’t you even think about starting that kind of crap, you know. And Andy Murray will just go back to being more serious.

I think temperament-wise he’s really helped him. I think that’s exploded into his game. He’s just playing so much better. I think they need to stay together. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. I don’t even know where Andy Murray would be today if it wasn’t for Lendl because I think he significantly changed him and changed his temperament and his whole personality out there.

 

Q. The weather. It’s usually very hot in Australia. It’s particularly hot this year. Do you think that may play a bigger factor this year than in previous years at the Open?

CHRIS EVERT: Conditioning is always a factor. It’s 100% a factor. Especially coming off of everybody had a rest. Who knows, some players went skiing, some players really did take time off and are kind of working their way into the beginning of the year. Some already have worked hard and are very fit. I think conditioning and fitness is definitely going to be a factor with the heat. You’re going to have some players that are going to fizzle and some players that aren’t going to be able to cope as well as others. It’s just a matter of conditioning for the players.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I think that’s also why you see so many players get down here much earlier than they used to with the Australian Open. It’s to get used to the climate in Australia. Everyone is coming from Europe or America. The weather over there is pretty average at the moment. Ana Ivanovic was down here on the 21st of December to get ready for the Australia summer. Daniela Hantuchova was down here two or three weeks before Christmas to get ready. Most of the players are either doing their pre-season in Australia or they’re coming out before Christmas to make sure they hit the ground running. By the time they get to the Australian Open, they are well used to the heat, if they have to play matches in those 35, 36 degree days.

 

Q. I wanted to go back to the Andy Murray/Ivan Lendl partnership. Are there technical differences that Lendl has made in his game so far or would you just say it’s temperament-wise?

CHRIS EVERT: I think definitely there’s been some technical changes. But to me it’s mostly been attitude.

Go ahead, Darren, about the technical.

 

DARREN CAHILL: You know, I spent a lot of time with both these guys, especially with Andy back in 2011. It’s a little difficult for me to comment on the Lendl/Murray partnership because I played a small part in it. I’m sitting back now wondering how it was going to go last year. Like everybody else, I’m happy that it worked. Getting any real information out of Ivan is like pulling blood from a stone. The guy keeps everything really close to his chest. That’s what good coaches do. They reveal little bits of information but nothing too specific that is going to give you an insight as to what they’re actually working on because they don’t want to give any ammunition to their main rival.

 

Nadal doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when it comes to the serve. Federer doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when he’s working on the backhand, the net game, or being more aggressive. These guys don’t give you much and the coaches don’t give you much as well. Sitting on the outside looking in, there’s no question that he’s trying to get more weight behind that forehand side of Andy. If you go back to tape three years ago and watch Andy Murray hit forehands compared to the way he’s hitting them today, there’s a stark difference in the amount of weight behind each and every one of those forehands and his willingness to take that forehand up the line earlier in the point. That creates much more open court for you. While you can do it well, you can also look to the direction in which Andy is hitting the second serve. Used to hit it the same spot in the court every time. Now he’s moving around the service box to possibly get free points off the second serve. He didn’t serve great, even though he won the tournament in Brisbane. On the whole, there’s also a lot more miles per hour behind that second serve than there used to be. The first serve is now considered a big weapon and one of the biggest shots in the game. There’s no question that he’s targeted four or five different areas in Andy’s game. Again, that takes time to work on. You can’t fix that stuff in one week, in two weeks, in one month. It takes a lot of time. I think you’re starting to see the benefits of late last year, the Olympics, US Open time. All that came together for Murray and Lendl.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think with Lendl, the attitude is a big thing, but I also think second would be he’s a more intelligent player. I think Lendl really helps him with strategy with these players. I saw that when he played Djokovic, when he plays Federer. Actually, he was playing Djokovic last year at the Australian Open. He’s just slicing his backhand, giving him no pace. That was something that had been talked about with Lendl.

I think Ivan is really one for exposing what weaknesses these top players have. So I think he’s become a more intelligent player as well as a more focused and more calm player on the court. Like Darren said, that’s why I gave him the question, Lendl doesn’t say anything. You are not going to get anything out of him (laughter).

 

Q. A lot of the Andy Murray stuff has been covered, but a quick one. Darren, how do you see the head-to-head between him and Djokovic if these are the two strongest guys? Who do you think has the upper hand mentally between the pair of them? Considering the kind of improvement you see is possible in Andy’s game, would you put a number on the amount of Grand Slams potentially he could be winning in his career?

DARREN CAHILL: Look, I think it’s a little bit, as I mentioned before, in the men’s game, it’s going to be really interesting how everything plays out in the next three or four years because of the fact that we see so many guys in the top 20 around that 30-year mark. These two guys might be completely dominating every single major like Nadal and Federer did. I think it’s impossible to put a number on it.

 

I just know from Andy’s perspective, even though Federer and Nadal were dominating the game a number of years ago, the guy he spent more time thinking about was Novak. These two guys, they’ve known each other since they were 12, 13 years of age. They were born a few days apart. This was his main rival, was Novak Djokovic. They both knew they were going to be good tennis players. Who knew how good they were going to be. This was his measuring stick for success or failure. He had to be competitive with Novak Djokovic.

I think you saw him go through a little period when Novak came out in 2011 and dominated, you saw some frustration in Andy’s game, in his demeanor on the court, the way he handled himself. He made the changes to fix that up by employing Lendl.

 

Who knows how much that win at the US Open is going to help Andy in the big situations. We get the Australian Open to see that for the first time. This is the first time Andy has ever walked into a major championship as a major winner, as a Grand Slam winner. Who knows how much confidence that will give him.

 

Now, we’re in unknown territory here for the next 12 months for many, many reasons. Novak is really the only sure thing we know at the moment. That is that he’s going to put himself in a position to win majors time and time again. The rest of it we don’t know. We don’t know how Federer is going to be, how good he’s going to be. We don’t know if Nadal is going to come back. We don’t know how much that US Open win is going to help Murray. I think that’s why it makes this year a real fascinating year for the men’s game.

 

CHRIS EVERT: You’re right, it’s an unknown about Federer because he put so much into winning Wimbledon last year. You wonder how much it drained him. The other thing, Djokovic has an advantage over Andy Murray. Unfortunately, when you know somebody so well, you have an advantage. Djokovic has played him so many times, has seen him lose his temper, seen him lose focus, get ruffled and riled on the court. I think as much as Andy Murray has improved, I still think Djokovic, when he plays him, he has still that little mental edge because he knows he still could erupt. Andy Murray, again, he’s improved so much. Hopefully we won’t see that. If we don’t see that, then I think Andy Murray definitely will reach a higher pinnacle in his game.

 

Q. This question is about the game itself. This year it seems that the umpires are more strict about enforcing the 25-second time limit between points. Do you believe it to be good for the game or do you think it will hurt the players that will have to rush themselves now?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I’m a rule person. I mean, there are a lot of players that have taken advantage of that rule and have gotten away with it. So I think it’s good to enforce the same rule on everybody.

DARREN CAHILL: This generation of tennis player, it’s not their fault that they’ve been allowed to change the rules, this time violation rule in the last five to 10 years because the rule hasn’t been enforced. This particular generation of tennis player doesn’t understand playing to a time limit. We’ve had 45, 50, 55 seconds between points. We were never able to get away with that. While it’s not their fault, this generation of tennis players is not the first generation to play long rallies. You look to Connors, Wilander, Lendl, they used to play just as long matches, and maybe the game is more physical now, but it’s become more of a physical game, taxing on the body, sliding on the hard courts, whatnot. But it’s not the first generation of players to play incredibly long rallies, where they have the heart rate up around 190 after every point. Because they don’t know it, because that rule has never been enforced, it’s a bit of a shock to the system for these guys.

 

But I believe for the good of the game, for the game moving forward, not just from a spectator point of view, but also from a television point of view, even from a player point of view, because the fittest and the strongest will benefit from this, that time violation has to be enforced.

 

I have a little flexibility with it. I feel like maybe 25 seconds might be a little too fast. 20 seconds at the Grand Slams, that’s just ridiculous. I believe 20 seconds is going to be enforced again. They don’t actually enforce it at the Grand Slams. This is an ATP thing, where the ATP is becoming much more stricter on the time violations.

I think there’s an easy way around this. After you hit a serve, it’s an ace, no problem, the umpire calls the score, starts the clock, there’s a pregnant pause in the time between when the crowd applauds, 5 to 10 seconds, the umpire calls the score, then you start the clock. At the moment, no matter if it’s a one-shot rally or 50-shot rally, as soon as that point is dead, the clock is being started. I think there’s a little adjustment that could be made. But I applaud the ATP for taking the stance. I believe this is a good thing for the game of tennis and tennis moving forward, no question about it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Boy, you put a lot of time into researching that one, huh (laughter)?

 

DARREN CAHILL: More time violations given out in the last couple weeks than all last year. A real big shock to the players. All of a sudden they don’t know what’s going on. A couple players have lost a couple of first serves in big moments. I think Baghdatis lost a first serve for a time violation in Brisbane. It’s been a real shock to the players, but it’s not their fault. They’ve never played to a clock before. It’s going to take a little time for the players to adjust.

 

Q. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about Caroline Wozniacki. Do you think she’s able to win the Australian Open and how do you see her year in general after a really bad 2012?

CHRIS EVERT: I think that’s a question that we’re all wondering. Anybody who admires her, there’s really no harder worker out there than Caroline. She trains so hard. You can tell she wants it so much. She’s had trouble with the coaching situation. She had her dad, then she tried two coaches, that didn’t work out, so now she’s back with her dad again. I think that’s probably a good idea. You have to get the person back that you feel the most comfortable with. And I think it’s just obvious to everybody and to her what she has to do, and that basically is just to hug the baseline a little more, take the ball earlier.

 

She’s playing the tennis of the last generation. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She never misses a ball, she’s consistent. She’s got great feel, great concentration. But the fact of the matter is she’s giving her opponent too much time on the other side of the net, when she could be offensive. She has to take a few more risks off the second serve. Anything inside the baseline she should go for. It’s a tough task for her. You know, I think her goals have to be she has to take baby steps. Right now she’s not looking to be No. 1. She should be looking to be in the top 5, top 6, work her way to be back in the top 5. That would be a reasonable goal for her. She has everything else. But I think her game, her thinking is going to have to change and get a little more offensive and a little more aggressive.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree. You know I know Caroline quite well and I think the world of her. I think the game is better off if she’s in the top 5, pushing for majors. I think she’s good enough to eventually win one, no question about it. I think she’s got herself into a little bit of a rut at the moment because she doesn’t know what type of game she should be playing. I agree with Chrissie. She builds her game on making her side of the court feel so small to everybody. At the moment she’s trying to be the player that she’s not really comfortable with.

 

You have to evolve as a tennis player; you have to get better. She needs to pump up her serve. She needs to find spaces in the court, not being three meters behind the baseline and wait for the game to come to her. You have to become better at her game. You can’t go away from what’s made her a great player.

 

About Lendl and Murray, stability, there has to be stability in the camp. I think you’ll find that Piotr is a very intelligent man. I think you’ll find that he gets a bit of a hard time because of his whole coaching scenario. But Caroline is just as strong minded as what Piotr is and she wants Piotr around. She wants her dad in charge of her career. If that’s the case, call her shot and say, This is the way it’s going to be. Stop messing around with the trial coaches. She has the ability to get some advice off other coaches in the game as well through the adidas program. But get that stability that she’s looking for.

 

I think the other factor, she fell into a little bit of a trap that a lot of players do when they have success on tour. She made a change to equipment. She was the No. 1 player in the world. All of a sudden you get these major contracts being offered to you. The two things, unless it’s going to do your game a lot of good, that you should never mess with, I believe, it’s my personal opinion, I talk about this all the time, never mess with the shoes you’re wearing and never mess with the racquets that you’re using. They are the two most important pieces of equipment that are going to determine how many you’re going to win and how many you’re going to lose. Any change you make to that, it takes time. You can never turn a career around because of that particular change. I would have loved to see her stay with what she had and keep evolving her game from there.

 

Look, I can point to a hundred examples where a change of equipment has been a negative for a player. I can maybe point to a handful where it was a good one. A good one last year was Sara Errani. She handed back a big check for her racquet sponsor because she found a piece of equipment that was better for her game. Look what happened to her. Unless you find a piece of equipment that you know is going to be better for your tennis game, stay with what you have.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I agree. Darren, you made a good point about, I think she does feel comfortable with her dad. You know what, she tried it the other way. She went past her safety zone and she went to two coaches and she tried it and it didn’t work. So now she’s back with her dad. My dad was my main coach for my whole career. But I had hitting partners. I had other coaches come in and out, travel to tournaments with me. But my dad was my main coach. And I think she makes that decision and now we’ve got to respect that.

 

The other thing is, you have to change with the era. When I played, when Martina played, we played through three different eras. I started with Margaret Court, then I went through Martina, then I ended up with Steffi and Monica. I had to change my game and I ended up being a better player than when I was starting out and when I was No. 1. You have to be flexible, you have to really understand that the game has changed and you’ve got to make those minute, and they are, you keep the main focus of your game and the main strengths, the base of your game, but you do have to change certain elements of it to really play in that era. And that’s what she maybe hasn’t adapted as well as she could have.

 

Q. I also wanted to ask both of you guys where you feel Rafa is right now. Should we be worried about Rafa or not? What other girls are there that we should watch? Petra certainly has had a slow start. Who else can challenge?

CHRIS EVERT: I’m going to give you the girls and Darren can do the Rafa. I mean, I have one eyebrow up when it comes to Rafa because I don’t know. He’s been out of the game really since the French. Even at Wimbledon he played, what, one or two matches. That’s a long time. So, yeah, I think everybody is concerned.

 

As far as the American girls, I think we’ve had four girls do extreme think well at the start of the girls. Madison Keys, I like to mention her because she’s had two big wins. She had two upsets actually. She’s in Sydney right now in the quarterfinals. I mention her because she, like Serena, is a power player. I think her serve even rivals Serena’s. I think it could be just as good if it isn’t now. So I think we’ve got to watch her.

 

Jamie Hampton, I have to give her kudos because her work ethic is unbelievable, she’s a fighter.

 

Then Lauren Davis, she had a big win over the 27th-ranked player in the world, Cirstea. I think between Lauren Davis, Jamie Hampton, Madison and Sloane, starting out the year the way they have, I would like to personally keep my eyes on them.

 

Q. Then we can watch Taylor Townsend.

CHRIS EVERT: Then there’s Taylor Townsend and CoCo. And Donna Vekic, being 16 years old and being in the main draw of Australia, I think that merits having a look at her also.

 

Q. Is there hope for CoCo?

CHRIS EVERT: There’s always hope for CoCo, but CoCo has to get in better shape. She’s got to drop a few pounds and get into better shape and she knows it.

 

Then I’ll throw in Maria Sanchez who went from 800 to 127 in a year, too. She’s an American player that graduated from SC. She’s out there on the tour, too. She was actually 800 last summer. At the end of this year, she’s 127. She’s taken a big jump. She’s an American player. But I think between the American players and Ashleigh Barty and Donna, I think it’s looking really exciting.

 

Q. So the American women look promising coming up?

CHRIS EVERT: Yes, because there’s 10 in the top 100, and that’s more than any other country. I think Russia might have 10. So it’s looking good.

 

Q. Darren, can you address the mysterious Rafa.

DARREN CAHILL: You know what, for me I look at him and we never quite know the stuff that flows through the veins of champions. It’s a little bit different from us normal people. I feel like whilst there’s a big question mark about his game, I know he’s been out for seven or eight months now, this is a guy that you can just see it in his eyes when he steps onto a tennis court, you can see it when he’s put into a position when somebody is threatening him. The guy hates to lose.

 

He won’t put himself back on a tennis court unless he’s ready to win. The guy will do everything he can to get back to where he was. If he does come back, he’s not coming back to be top 10 in the world, he’s not coming back for the money, he’s not coming back for anything but to win majors. When he does come back, and hopefully he will, he will be 100%. He will put himself into a position that he feels like physically he can compete with these best players in the world again.

 

So that’s why I feel it was a little blessing in disguise, I know it’s not perfect for him, but blessing in disguise that maybe he’s not restarting his career in Australia because it’s a brutal thing for him to do on the hard courts. Looks like he’s going to play his first tournament in Acapulco, a clay court event, to ease his way back into the game.

But make no mistake, if Rafa steps back onto the court, he’s stepping back onto the court to win tennis matches, simple as that.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Also history has shown, if you look at Serena, players that have had injuries and taken time off, they come back with more of a vengeance, more passion. They appreciate their health and life so much more.

If he can get himself back physically at 100%, he could be a better player, no doubt about it.

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Chris Evert – A Life Devoted to Tennis

NEW YORK, NY – From hoisting 157 singles trophies during her career on the court, to her current role as tennis commentator for ESPN, tennis hall of famer Chris Evert continues to be very active in the sport.

 

Evert was ranked No. 1 in the world for seven years, won 1309 matches, captured 18 majors titles, and won one slam each year for 13 years in succession.

 

Not resting on past laurels, the Floridian has stayed involved in the sport since she retired in 1989.

 

On Friday night the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum honored the Class of 2012 at the “Legend’s Ball”  at Cipriani – the inductees included Jennifer Capriati, Gustavo Kuerten, Manuel Orantes, Mike Davies, and Randy Snow (posthumously).

 

Also among the award recipients was Chris Evert, inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame back in 1995. She was being honored for her dedication to tennis and the positive impact she has made on the sport with the Eugene L. Scott Award. Scott was a US Davis Cup player, tournament director and the founder of Tennis Week magazine. He wrote a column for magazine called “Vantage Point.” Many referred to Scott as “the conscience of the game.”  He died in 2006. Former winner, Billie Jean King presented Evert with her award.

 

“I don’t win any trophies anymore for tennis on the court so it’s nice to receive a service award to put me back into the game and I never really retired,” the 57-year-old Evert said.

 

Past recipients of this award which were selected based on their commitment to communicating honestly and critically about the game, or has had a significant impact on the tennis world have been John McEnroe (2006); Andre Agassi (2007); Billie Jean King (2008); Arthur Ashe and his wife Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (2009); Martina Navratilova (2010); and Dick Enberg (2011).

 

“I stopped playing professional tennis but it’s still my life and I still talk about it on ESPN and I write about it in Tennis Magazine, Evert said, “and I have a tennis academy. It’s been a great livelihood for me.”
Evert also reflected on this years’ US Open.

“It’s kind of a sad, bittersweet US Open,” Evert said due to the retirements of Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick.

“It’s not really a happy US Open with those two players gone because they’re very well-liked and they had a lot of presence on the court lot of personality. But that’s how life is. We also saw the emergence of Laura Robson and some other young players. And we’re going to see some young players not. It’s kind of like the changing of the guard right now.”

Speaking of young players, Evert noted the success of a player in her own academy in Boca Raton, Florida. “We had one girl Anna Tatishvili get to the round of 16,” Evert said.  Tatishvili lost to Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-2.

“So she had been training with us for like 10 years. We have a lot of young kids and if their goal is to get a scholarship to college or to win their local tournament or to be on their high school team, it’s the same to us as if they’re going to be on tour.”

On top of her academy, her broadcast work for ESPN and her work as publisher and contributor roles for Tennis Magazine, Evert also hosts a charity event each year since she has been retired. Over the years, her philanthropic endeavors have raised more than 20 million dollars to fight against drug abuse and child neglect in Florida.

Her playing days may be long over, but it doesn’t stop her from serving the game that has been her life.

 

Karen Pestaina is the founder and editor of Tennis Panorama News.

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“On The Call” with Brad Gilbert and Chris Evert

ESPN Tennis Analyst Brad Gilbert

On Wednesday ESPN’s Chris Evert and Brad Gilbert discussed the US Open which begins Monday, August 27, with extensive coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN3.  Jason Bernstein, senior director, programming & acquisitions, and Jamie Reynolds, vice president, production, were also on the line.

 

Q.  Wonder if Chris and Brad can both talk about Roger.  He’s pretty much had a great year and some people had not really written him off but sort of thought he was kind of the third or fourth guy, and will he ever win a major again and all that.  So he’s done real well and I’m just wondering what you think his chances are of winning the U.S. Open.

CHRIS EVERT:  You’re right.  I think a lot of people did write him off because Djokovic, the engineer that Djokovic had last year was phenomenal, and Nadal was looking sharp and he was looking like he was going to play seven to ten more years. Nadal, physically, to me, those two players looked a lot stronger.  And Roger almost looked a little bit frail in comparison, because, you know, just the training that they had done and how fit they were.

 

But, you know, Roger surprised us all.  I don’t know he’s gotten his second wind in his career.  It just seems likes there’s been a little bit of luck in the sense that Nadal seems to be injury‑prone and Djokovic, because he had such a great year last year, was sort of in and out this year, and really was inhuman to ask him to duplicate the year that he had last year.  So he had a few more up‑and‑downs.  But Roger came through and I guess it took the pressure off him when he was No. 3.  He wasn’t No. 1 and he wasn’t No. 2, and when he was ranked No. 3, I think not many people were talking about him; people were counting him out and I think it took the pressure off.

 

Certainly the last few months, he played the most beautiful tennis that we have seen in a long time.  And the fact that at the end of the year, he’s still playing so well, is remarkable, because this year has been as we all know, such a long year.

 

I already feel like we’ve had four Grand Slams, and now we are going to have a fifth Grand Slam coming here.  It’s just been a really rugged year for everybody.

 

BRAD GILBERT:  First of all, I think he’s the youngest 31‑year‑old ever and I think he can take a lot of stock in what Andre did about six or seven years, seeing somebody that he can remember that played great until he was 35.  He takes amazing, good care of his body and he never gets injured.  Has not missed a major in numerous years.  Has not in any injuries in his entire pro career.  And obviously his team does a great job of keeping him ready and he paces himself unbelievable on the schedule.  Doesn’t overplay and seems to know when to take breaks.

 

I’m a little bit surprised that he made this re‑push, but it’s not like baseball, he went from .370 to .220.  He just dropped off to No. 3, and the two guys, maybe the best top three of all time, and he just turned around a couple of matches that he had lost.

 

I remember the last two Opens he lost were matches where he had match points.  He’s been right there.  So it’s not like he fell very far and he’s regained his confidence in winning some of these big matches.  But the thing that amazes me more than anything, he never looks stressed on the court.  He barely even sweats.  He’s younger at 31 than Nada at 26.  Nadal seems older at his age than 26 than Fed does for his age at 31.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Also, Brad, to take it one step further about his attitude, the beauty of him is that when he loses a match, even if it’s a big match, he just let’s it roll off his back.  And as you said, that’s part of being relaxed.  He physically plays a very relaxed game out there. The other two, I think, have to work harder when they play a match.  But Roger physically is relaxed; emotionally and mentally, he’s fine, but if he loses, he let’s it roll off his back.  He goes back to his family and he’s got another life outside of tennis that maybe keeps him fresh.  I think the attitude has a lot to do with it, too.

Q.  It does feel like there’s been four majors and I totally get that, given the Olympics.  I guess each guy has one, right?  So you have Federer, Djokovic and Murray each winning one.  Do you view the US Open as kind of settling anything?  Can you sum up who has been the dominant player?

BRAD GILBERT:  Well, you can definitely argue that whoever wins between Federer and Djokovic wins the Open, will more than likely be the Player of the Year and will almost certainly be the No. 1 player in the rankings at the end of the year. If somebody came from outside of ‑‑ we have not had somebody win four different majors in a season since 2003.  So if Murray were to win the Open, it would be four different winners.

 

I, like Chris, also feel like winning the Olympics is like winning a major, but we do have four majors, and so whoever wins this major will have a huge jump up on not only being the No. 1 player; being the Player of the Year, and I think there’s tons at stake in this event.

 

It’s just a little bit of a bummer that one of the leading singers in the band is not there in Nadal.  So that will completely change one‑half of the draw.  It will be interesting to see which half Murray goes on; whichever half he goes on, maybe the other path is the easier path this year to go to the finals.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I agree with Brad in a sense that I think the Olympics is a fifth Grand Slam.  I still think of the top four Grand Slams, because of history and obviously more people play in the Grand Slam tournaments; bigger draws.  I think it is a different sort of setup than the Olympics.

 

But I think Djokovic, Federer, and I think you can say the same thing on the women’s side.  The last seven Grand Slams have been won ‑‑ the thing is, Serena is not a lock.  If Serena wins the Open, she would be a lock.  But if Sharapova wins the Open to win two Grand Slams, that would be a lock.  Azarenka won the Australian.

 

It’s the same thing in the women’s, and I think there for that’s why I think it will be such an exciting US Open, and because there’s so much at stake for both the men’s and the women’s draw.  And the fact that I think just so much has to do with how sharp they are mentally, how fresh they are.  Everybody’s body seems to be breaking down a little bit now and they are starting to get fatigued.

 

As we said before, it has been an usually tremendous year for the players as far as opportunities, but really, there’s been a lot of tennis.  You throw in a Davis Cup and Fed Cup, it’s been grueling.  It’s been a grueling year.  So the US Open comes at a time when it’s the hottest.  I always felt like I had to be in the best shape for the US Open condition‑wise, because of the heat.  You go over to Europe and it’s 70, 75, 80 degrees.  It’s almost like the heat doesn’t bother you as much.  It’s the end of the year, the toughest tournament on hard court, which is going to be maybe even hotter, and you just have to be physically in your best shape at the US Open I think of any of the Grand Slams.  That’s going to be a factor physically and mentally how fresh they are, and hopefully ‑‑ I don’t know, the creme is going to rise to the top during this tournament.

 

BRAD GILBERT:  You bring up a good point, the first week is a lighter week because they stretch the first round over three days.  And then if there’s any rain the second week, potentially ‑‑ you know, the last few years, there’s been at the back end of the tournament, sometimes guys having to play three days in a row is a brutal prospect, and it will be, you know, a big thing on who was the most economical in the early part of the tournament, or who is in the best physical shape.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I just remember the French and Wimbledon, we had jackets on at some times.  I mean, it was cold.  And the weather was ‑‑ and let me tell you, I mean, I get out here in Florida, I walk outside, and even in New York, you walk outside and you’re sweating in your clothes already.  It’s almost too bad that almost the Grand Slam of the year, when everybody is starting to get a little tired, has to be the one that you have to be in the best shape.  I mean, even though Australia is a hundred degrees, you still have two months to prepare for it.  You know, you don’t really have that time before the US Open to get used to the heat after being in Europe.

Q.  With regard to the US Open, for both of you, what makes it special?  And secondly, some of your favorite memories from opens you’ve played in the past.

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I guess you’re talking to two Americans, so it’s obvious that, you know, I think for me, just being an American and playing my country’s championship was, you know, was always special.  Because when you go to Europe, it’s not the same.  In France, I never knew what they were saying, saying about me or saying about anybody.  England, you go over there and it has its own charm and prestige and it’s a wonderful, wonderful tournament.  But when you go to the US Open in New York, and it’s all about Americans and it’s all about supporting the Americans, and you feel it.

 

And even though ‑‑ and I don’t mean to complain like it’s the last Grand Slam and everybody is starting to get tired.  But I honestly did start to get tired around August, September.  But it lifted your spirits and it inspired you to still work hard and grind it out and just try to play your best tennis.  It really lifted you up to hear that crowd.  And to ask me what my favorite moments are, I can’t even ‑‑ gosh, I can’t even start to, I really can’t.  Brad, you go on and I’ll think about my favorite moments.

 

BRAD GILBERT:  Also, too, the US Open is the first major that went to a night session.  It’s the biggest tennis stadium in the world.  You have the most interesting mix of fans; they come from all over the world, all over the states.  You’ve got the hard court fans.  To me, you have small side courts, you have big courts, you have ‑‑ if you play on a side court, you’ve got people walking and going.  You’ve got music playing.  It’s one of the most interesting, I call it, two‑week parties, of all time.

 

As a kid, obviously as an American, you know, growing up and wanting to be in the Open and it’s one of the greatest cities in all of the world.  They just really know how to host the event.  I think some of my fondest memories, obviously when I was a kid, I think a crazy one, just remembering ‑‑ I think I just saw a replay of it was when McEnroe was playing Nastase and they got the umpire removed from the chair, Frank Hammond.  They got him removed from the chair. And Mike Blanchard, the tournament referee says, “I’ll umpire the rest of the match.

 

And just seeing night matches for the first time.  It was a tough night, but incredible match, sitting there for four sets watching Andre and Pete have no breaks and four sets, one of the most amazing matches that I ever saw in a night match there.  Unfortunately didn’t get the last point but it was an amazing match.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Jimmy Connors, I guess the electricity in the crowds when the American players played, especially Jimmy and McEnroe, I remember Nastase, just with his antics.  You took me by surprise with that question, but my first US Open I think was just very special for me because that was sort of the beginning of ‑‑ it was a Cinderella story for me.  It was the beginning of my career.  Just the women that I had to beat to get to the semifinals and lose to Billie Jean, but having her say to me while we are walking out to the course, “You’re riding on the crest of a wave, enjoy it.”  I still remember those words.

 

I remember Tracy Austin with her pinafores and pigtails.  And I remember her beating me when she was 16.  It’s the one tournament I remember my losses just as vibrant as my wins.  I think that says a lot.  I think that really, because it affected me, I remember losing to Tracy and then I remember beating her a couple years later in the semifinal after I had lost to her five times in a row in tournaments, and never lost her again.  So it sort of revitalized my career over that win, and I remember that big Super Saturday match with Martina, which I lost.  But it was the loss ‑‑ the Super Saturday was bigger than any one match, and I remember that pretty much made history, that one Saturday that you had those three great matches.

 

I remember Renée Richards coming out and playing at the US Open and what a sort of enigma she was and the curiosity everybody had.  A lot of issues, you know, social issues were brought up.  Even Arthur Ashe, naming the stadium after him, and Billie Jean naming the whole ‑‑ the same sort, and then Billie Jean naming the whole US Open.  Wow, a lot of great things happened to American tennis players.  Very poignant.

 

THE MODERATOR:  From a TV production standpoint, Jamie, you’ve mentioned over time how the four slams, all of their different personalities, how does that play out in your efforts?

JAMIE REYNOLDS:  I think that’s a great point.  The point about this particular event, as everyone knows, the unique character of being in New York and being one of the hottest tickets available, it’s clearly the extravaganza; it’s the paparazzi and the red carpet treatment as the summer wind down and concludes.

 

With the personalities like Chris and Brad and the rest of our team, the family captures the historical perspective and the energy and excitement that comes across in this event; either through the day session here or certainly during primetime theatre at night, which is our focus through many of these windows to just have an evening that goes well on past midnight more often than not.

 

So that’s really our approach.  When you look at the four majors and the Australian Open, which is great fun in the sun during the winter months here in the northern hemisphere; and the French with its Parisian flair, obviously, and the tonality of what that city offers in a backdrop; and obviously the cathedral that is Wimbledon, is a whole different event.

 

Now being able to ride the wave of Wimbledon, the success there, and then on through tennis, the buzz that came through tennis in August back at SW and coming now back in New York, it’s a great amount of energy and terrific amount of enthusiasm surrounding this event now, which as Brad and Chris so poignantly pointed out, there are terrific stories that will shape this year and define this year that will certainly make 2013 a great run for all of us.

Q.  Brad, how big of a psychological boost do you think the Olympics will be for Andy, and how do you sense the last couple of weeks he’s had where there’s been a few issues?  And for Chris, with everything that’s Serena has been through the last couple of years, is it written in the stars that she’s got unfinished business there?

BRAD GILBERT:  I think the Olympics was a huge boost to his confidence, because it’s the first time that he beat the No. 1 and 2 in a world in a major.  He had done it in Masters Series but never in a major.  I think that was a huge piece for him, and especially he lost three times to Roger in best‑of‑five in the finals.  And to do it the way he did; I actually thought that would lead him to have a pretty big summer.

 

But I’m sure made the right call in pulling out of Canada and not stressing.  He said he had some sort of knee injury that he never had.  I was surprised he lost early in Cincinnati, but you know, I see that Lendl is already there with him in New York and I’m sure that he’ll be able to put all of this behind him and just work his way in the tournament.

 

I think the big $64,000 question, which half will you go on, will he go on the Djokovic half or will he go on Federer’s half.  But the way he was playing at the Olympics, if he can sustain that level for 21 sets, I have no doubt that he can win a major.  It’s just the way he played the last two matches in beating Djokovic and Federer both in straight sets; but the way he did it, he did it by winning it, by going through guys.  Not waiting for guys to make mistakes.

 

I think ultimately, that’s what will push him, and I’m sure that’s what Ivan is looking for him to do more of; be more proactive on the court.  You know, if he won, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.  I feel like the tournament is about three deep to win it, maybe, maybe four if he won, include Djoko, that’s about it.  That’s just kind of the way it is in the men’s.   It’s obviously a little bit different this year with Nadal not in it, but I’m expecting exciting ‑‑ and I would love to see Andy in the business end of the tournament.

Q.  And Serena, the last couple of years, all sorts of things have gone wrong; is it written that she’s a dominant player and she can confirm that again?

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I think Serena has proved more times than none that when she’s motivated and healthy and playing well, she’s the player to beat.  I think that’s obvious.  If you put Sharapova at her best against Serena at her best playing for a title, you know, Serena is going to be the one to win.

 

The question is:  As we saw at the Australian when she was out early and the French Open when she was out early, and a couple weeks ago when she lost a match, the question is, can she keep that level of tennis for over a two‑week period consistently.  The danger, she is going to be her rival or worst opponent.  I don’t think it’s going to take a player who has a hot day to beat her.  I think it’s more like going to take Serena, if she’s below par, and that very well happens the older you get.  You have more flat days.

 

You have to remember, also, two other things.  No. 1, he dominated on the grass.  I mean, it was really good luck to her that the two big tournaments, Wimbledon and the Olympics were on grass.  Basically that’s her surface and that’s basically where no one is going to return her serve and she’s going to get 20 aces a match.  That’s the surface that balls don’t come back as much as they will on the hard court.

 

She’s going to have to work hard the next two weeks, because there are a lot of eager players out there, as we have seen the last couple weeks, with Li Na and Kvitova and Wozniacki and Sharapova, Azarenka.  There are a lot of tough players that are good, solid hard court players; that she’s going to have to play her best tennis.  Kim Clijsters, her last year.  She’s going to have some momentum going in.

 

Serena will have to work harder the US Open than she did at Wimbledon.  She had a lot of free points at Wimbledon and the Olympics because it was on grass and shots didn’t come back, and she dictated every point.  This is going to be a different story.  She’s going to have to run down a lot more balls and get a lot more balls back, be more consistent and probably be even in better shape.  So therein the question lies; can she do it.  Of course she can.  But will she do it?  I’m not sure.  I’m not 100% sure.

Q.  Kevin Anderson is really struggling at the moment and probably won’t be seeded; I wanted to know, in general, what does a player have to do when in a slump?‑

BRAD GILBERT:  You know, that’s a great question.  He’s a big guy, at 6’8″, and about three years ago, he dramatically changed his game.  He used to be much more of a counter‑puncher for a 6’8″ guy and then started working with this Australian guy, besides the South African guy he works with.

 

He’s a statistic ‑‑ a static‑guru guy, and he started working with this guy.  And he also works with a few of the other guys that played with him at the University of Illinois on changing his game to being like one of the biggest hitters.  I guess he showed him these statistics, this Australian guy, about being aggressive.

 

Now when I watch him play, it’s almost like he plays too aggressive.  You know, he just tries to play maybe too big on every ball.  And now, at about 34 I think he is in the rankings, he’s obviously the biggest and he’s going to be a little bit at the mercy of the draw.  Because now obviously he won’t be seeded and, you know, potentially, if he doesn’t play a seed first round, he’s got to play one second round.

 

You know, sometimes with tennis players, it’s quickly as you lose the confidence, sometimes you win one close match, you win a 7‑6 in a third, you win one of those close matches, you can regain the confidence.

 

I think it’s easier for a guy at 6’8″ possibly than a little guy, because the way he plays, his serve, if he’s having a big day on a serve, he’s tough for anybody to beat.  So I think that’s his big shot, big weapon, at 6’8″, and sometimes when I do watch him play, I feel like it’s a guy on the end of a ten‑meter diving board.  He’s on the edge by how aggressive he does play.

Q.  My question to you about is the depth of American men, there don’t seem to be many players coming through.  And I wanted to ask how you feel about the chances of Kim Clijsters.

BRAD GILBERT:  Obviously the Americans have four guys in the top 28, but for most countries, that’s pretty good.  Obviously for our pedigree and where we’ve been for the last 50 years in tennis, any time we don’t have someone in the top 5, you know, people ask these questions.

 

Unfortunately, if you look at the rankings, the top four guys haven’t moved.  Just because we want to have a top guy in tennis, so does everybody else.  I mean, before Fed, Switzerland never had anybody great.  It just slows how global the game is, where they are playing all over the world, and there’s just no birthright that you can have a great player.  We want to, desperately, and as you know, we have lots of great athletes and lots of many other sports.  And hopefully, I’m a patient person, and hopefully, somebody will come.  And you know, the USTA is doing more.  We are doing a lot more with QuickStart Tennis to try to get a lot more kids involved in tennis.  But me included; I want to see somebody in the business end of the majors.  I want to see somebody in the semifinals or finals of a major, but we might just have to be patient.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  With Kim Clijsters, she’s won it twice before and she has the game, she has that hard court game.  She has every ingredient to win it again.  She’s one of the few players that plays great defensively, as well as offensively.  So she can run down balls all day.  That’s why she needs her body to be healthy and that’s sort of a question mark right now is just the last few weeks, she has been injured.  But I think she’s got every shot in the book.  She can volley and hit ground stroke and she’s got a good serve.  She moves well.  She can handle a Serena or a Marina Sharapova’s power very well.  Mentally she’s tough, and it is her last tournament.  Will she just put everything she has into this one last tournament?  I think she’s been a little disappointed with the way her summer has panned out.  I think she would have liked to have done better at Wimbledon and the Olympics.  But I think at this point, hopefully she’s excited about her last big hurrah coming at a very special time in her life and coming at a very special place where she’s had so many fond memories.  But, you know, her body is a big thing.  That’s the question mark.

 

THE MODERATOR:  I have a question for somebody who e‑mailed and said they are going to work off the transcript we send out.  We brushed by this topic, but what is the impact of the Olympics on players physically, having that extra big event this summer, making it a really crowded schedule?

BRAD GILBERT:  Obviously, the hardest thing is most of the top guys, after Wimbledon, they rest for about a month to get ready to play on hard court in Canada. Now, I think the hardest transition is going from grass to hard court, because it’s a surface that’s the toughest on your body.  So now, a lot of these guys ‑‑ I mean Djokovic went right from playing the last Sunday at the Olympics to playing right away at Canada.  So it’s like these guys had no rest time to prepare for two Masters Series, week off, US Open.

 

I think that obviously, physically, it’s going to be about how they manage their body and how they can just keep their mind and body free of injury.  I mean, I just think it’s a really tough transition going from grass to hard court with no time.  So maybe, the guys that played at the end of the Olympics, you might say it’s a little bit of an equalizer potentially; for the guys that didn’t play in it, maybe somebody might have an off‑day or they are tired from the grind of this whole summer.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I think that players, when they look, when they map out their year, they like to have certain periods of the year where they had rest and like to have certain periods of the year where they train a little bit harder.  You really have to pace yourself during the year. I think as Brad said, after Wimbledon is one crucial time for a tennis player to take their rest.  Because most of them have been over in Europe for anywhere from six to eight weeks, and they have been playing tournament after tournament after tournament.

 

And before they get ready for the heat, which is going to be ‑‑ which is a factor, along with the hard courts, getting used to; to gradually get used to the heat and to rest, you really as a player ‑‑ I mean, I remember I liked to, anyway. You like to take anywhere from two to four weeks and sort of relax and rest and then slowly get back into, okay, I’ve got one last go here and it’s on hard courts and the heat at the US Open, and then you just start gradually training.  Well, the players didn’t really have that this year, at all.

 

BRAD GILBERT:  After the Open, they step it down a little bit.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  And if you look at the women right now, Sharapova, she pulled out of two tournaments because of a virus.  And you look at Radwanska, she’s in trouble.  She had to pull out of New Haven.  I think the players already have showed signs of fatigue; the ones that did well, so far that had played in the Olympics and had grueling summers, and this is actually the right time for those players like a Clijsters or Azarenka or a Kerber or Wozniacki, players that maybe didn’t have that great of a first half of the year to kind of sneak in there and they are going to be the fresher players.  So it’s definitely ‑‑ I think we are going to see some effects from some players.

Q.  Do you have a dark horse, somebody under the radar that might sneak in and steal it?

BRAD GILBERT:  I always like to call dark horses when I see the draw.  Sometime it’s easier to prognosticate where guys are.  We’ll know the draw more tomorrow.  It will be interesting it see where Isner falls in the draw, because I think he is somebody that has potential.

 

I think the ‘Missile’ from Canada, Raonic, is somebody that has potential, very soon, to make a major breakthrough.  I think he’s got firepower, and I think he has next‑level capabilities, where he falls in the draw.  Those are two people right away where you kind of see where they are going to be in the draw.

 

And if anybody, you know, is capable of really making ‑‑ it’s a stretch to say somebody is a dark horse.  But I mean, Del Potro, I think is starting to get back.  I don’t think he’s back to where he was in 2009, but he’s starting to get a lot better and he’s somebody that obviously has won before.  I think that he’s potential to being close to back there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a big Open, as well.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  When I look at the Top‑10 women, it’s so good and so solid and so close that I really don’t see anybody creeping into making any sort of statement outside the Top‑10 as far as reaching the final or winning it or whatever.

 

You look at Kerber, and even though she’s ranked, I think, what, five in the world right now, she was out of the Top‑100 at this time last year.  She’s got that fire in her; she’s got that look that she wants to annihilate you.  I don’t think the American public has probably has heard of her as much as some of the other top players, so she can sneak in there, as Kim Clijsters if she’s healthy.  Kim Clijsters, again, everybody wishes her to do well, but if she’s healthy, she’s beaten everybody in this draw; she’s beaten everybody in the past five, six, seven years, and she knows how to win.  So she could sneak in there. But you know, it’s pretty solid.  And I didn’t even mention the defending champion, Sam Stosur; people are not even mentioning her and she won it last year.  You know, again, Wozniacki, she was No. 1 last year.  Just to look and see how well Radwanska has done this year, and Li Na with the new coach is starting to hit her stride and Kvitova, who won Wimbledon last year.  This Top‑10 is so solid and so strong depth‑wise, that I just think the winner is going to come out of the Top‑10.

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

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New Haven Open Preview: Wozniacki’s Drive for Five is Alive

By Jack Cunniff

NEW HAVEN – For the fifteenth straight year, several of the top Women’s Tennis Association professionals will be at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven the week prior to the U.S. Open.  And defending New Haven Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark, hopes to be holding the winner’s trophy for the fifth straight time.  As always, the path to the title has a lot of obstacles, with eight of the Top Twenty ranked women entered in the draw.

When Wozniacki defended her title last year, she was holding seven other tournament titles and ranked No. 1 in the world.  Her form has dropped off in the last 12 months; she’s been unable to win a title since the 2011 New Haven Open.  As a result, her ranking has dropped to No. 8, and she’s seeded third.  But Wozniacki still has to be considered a title contender.  She holds a perfect 17-0 record at the event, and nine of those wins have come against opponents ranked in the Top Twenty.  Is that enough to snap a streak of twenty straight events that Wozniacki has lost? She will make history if she can win her fifth title; only three other women in tour history have won an event in five consecutive years, Chris Evert (Charleston), Steffi Graf (Hamburg), and Martina Navratilova (Wimbledon, Eastbourne, and Chicago).

The top seed at the 2012 New Haven Open is Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.  Radwanska had her best career result just a few weeks ago, reaching the finals of Wimbledon before losing to Serena Williams in three sets.  She’s improved her world ranking to No. 3 on the strength of five titles in the last 12 months, including three Premiere events (Miami, Tokyo, and Beijing).

The hottest player coming into this year’s event is Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.  She is the only woman who has reached the quarterfinals at each of the 2012 Grand Slam events.  More recently, she won the Canadian Open in Montreal last week, and reached the semifinals in Cincinnati this week.  But on the downside, that’s a lot of tennis for Kvitova, and she could be feeling the effects here.

Rounding out the Top Four seeds in New Haven is the Italian who made a surprise run to the French Open final a few months ago, Sara Errani.  Since moving off of clay courts, Errani has found things more difficult, winning only four matches on grass courts or hard courts since June.  She has been able to show winning form on hard courts earlier this year, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

In looking at title contenders, recent history in New Haven shows that you must look past the seeded players.  While the first nine New Haven finals did not feature an unseeded player, there has been an unseeded surprise finalist in four of the last five years.  Some names who could continue that trend in 2012 include Andrea Petkovic, Sloane Stephens, and Laura Robson.  Petkovic, the entertaining German player, reached No. 9 in the world last year, but has played only a few events this year because of injury.  New Haven marks her return to the tour after a four month absence.  Stephens, from the United States, has made her breakthrough this year reaching the fourth round of the French Open.  She is also the youngest player ranked in the Top 50, at age 19. Robson is even younger, at 18, and is coming off a silver medal win in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, where she partnered with Andy Murray in Mixed Doubles.

It’s a difficult field to handicap, but one thing is for sure: whoever is holding the trophy next Saturday will have a great chance of making a run at the U.S. Open title as well.  In the last fourteen years, the New Haven champion has reached at least the semifinals on ten occasions.

Around the Grounds – Saturday August 18th: Nicole Gibbs, the Stanford sophomore who swept the NCAA singles and doubles title this year, defeated her first Top 100 opponent Saturday, dispatching No. 77 Lourdes Dominguez-Lino of Spain in the second round of qualifying… Melanie Oudin, the surprise 2009 U.S. pen quarterfinalist, continued her comeback by ousting Silvia Soler-Espinosa in three sets.  After her win, Oudin confirmed that she and Jack Sock would be attempting to defend their 2011 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title… Andrea Petkovic isn’t the only player on the comeback trail at New Haven; 2007 runner-up Agnes Szavay of Hungary is playing in her first WTA main draw of 2012. Szavay also played in The London Summer Olympics this month as she returns from a career-threatening back injury.

Jack Cunniff is covering the New Haven Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN. His personal twitter is @JRCunniff.

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