2014/07/30

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

Chris-Evert

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

 

ESPN Broadcast Schedule for Wimbledon

Topics on the call included:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

EVERT:  Yeah.

 

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

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

 

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

EVERT:  Yes.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Q. Was on both hips. 

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

 

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

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

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

EVERT:  I’ll pick Dimitrov for the guys.

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

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

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

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

EVERT:  But what is his ranking?

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

Q. He’s 13. 

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

 

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

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

John, what do you think?

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

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

McENROE:  Who is she playing with?

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Evert

Chris Evert

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

Topics on the call included:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

McENROE:  Yeah.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

EVERT:  Where is Madison?

McENROE:  Madison is around 40 or so.

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

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

EVERT:  What about Cilic?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Patrick, what is the furthest he’s gotten?

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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ESPN Broadcast Schedule for the French Open

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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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