April 27, 2017

On The Call with ESPN’s Chris Evert and Brad Gilbert

 

 

    ESPN Tennis Analyst Brad Gilbert

 

(March 15, 2017) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Brad Gilbert spoke with media on Wednesday about a wide range of current tennis topics, focusing on the two big events this month with extensive ESPN coverage — the BNP Paribas Open from Indian Wells, Calif., and the Miami Open.  Highlights of the call, followed by the full transcript:

 

Soundbites:

On:  The Women’s Field at Both Events, Without Serena.

  • Serena not being here and Kerber all of a sudden not playing at what the level she played at last year, one word jumps out: Opportunity. You know, there’s opportunity for every player. All of a sudden every player thinks about, you know what, I can make a deep run.” – Gilbert
  • And if you let nerves and everything affect you, it’s going to hold you back.  I think this prospect of the opportunity tightens up a lot of players, so who is going to be the one or two emerging players that get through this successfully. I think it’s all about the mental part, how are they going to handle the nerves.” – Evert

 

On:  The Men’s Top Stars Fending Off the Next Generation.

  • As long as I’ve been in the game of tennis, it is the most exciting time. You’ve got icons, the greatest players ever at the top who will go down in history, then you’ve got some very consistent players that have been in the top ten like Raonic and like Berdych and Nishikori and Cilic, and then you have the young guns that are so exciting like Zverev and Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios. It’s not only a high level of tennis but it’s different generations, and it’s different styles, and it’s all different personalities. It just is so exciting right now. I’ve always sort of been a spokesperson for the women’s game, but I’ve got to say, I’m probably a little more excited about the men’s right now.” – Evert

 

On:  The Prospects of Madison Keys

  • But right now, it’s just great to see her back being healthy after a wrist operation. I still think she’s definitely going to win a Grand Slam, whether it’s this year or next year. I think it’s in the cards for her, and we all know the potential is there.” – Evert
  • I think the talent is there. I think her big thing to – for the next 12 to 18 months – is just to be healthy….So I think once she can get that worked out… I think that she’s incredibly underranked because with her talent level, she should be top five.” — Gilbert

On: Maria Sharapova Receiving Wild Cards for Upcoming Events

  • Maria has served her term, and she — this decision of playing is really within the rules as far as the wild card entry…You can’t blame the tournament really for wanting to be successful and wanting to enhance their tournament by having a big draw like Maria Sharapova. I think we’re making a big deal about it.” – Evert
  • “(W)ild cards are for the tournament directors to give to whoever they want…it’s completely within the rules and fair of the tournaments to reward whoever they want.” – Gilbert

 

For the men’s, what do you make of Novak Djokovic’s year so far? Two seasons ago we were saying he had one of the best seasons of all time, and right now he’s kind of playing inconsistently. Do you think it’s more of a mental thing? What does he need to do to kind of get back to where he was before even though he’s not playing poorly but up to the standards? And what did you see in Madison Keys’ return from surgery, and I guess what is her potential?
GILBERT: Well, I mean, the greatest thing about tennis and any sport is when you’re winning these matches, that’s a way of winning more, and that gets you three zero out of the game, and Djokovic dominated for so long, so many players just dreaded playing him, and then all of a sudden, since Wimbledon last year, you know, he hasn’t played to the same level that we’ve seen from him, and that changes the attitude of the players going out playing against him.

So the only way to get that back, you know, is go out there and dominate again. It’s not that his game has come down that dramatically, but it’s come down a little bit. He’s had some tougher draws. He’s had some injuries. So there’s definitely some reasons. He played well last night and has got a rough act today against Kyrgios. But he’s 29, going to be 30 in May. He’s still got time.  But like I said, the only way to get back to where he was is by winning these matches and then winning becomes contagious, and then that puts that element in the thought of the opponents like, damn, he’s not beatable?

Q. So has his domination peaked do you think?
GILBERT: Well, for the most it certainly has, but I’m not going to say that at 29 about to be 30 that he couldn’t all of a sudden get it back. 10 years ago or 15 years ago you say once a player starts turning 30, it’s very difficult that maybe you’re going to see another great chapter, but that doesn’t exist anymore. So many players are playing great into their 30s. You know, it’s entirely possible that he could get it back and have another run again. I mean, he’s got all the physical capabilities. He’s got the tools. It’s just a matter of being able to get it done. I certainly don’t think that that couldn’t happen again.

EVERT: I’m going to just add on to that. I think if there’s anybody in the past, any champion in the past you’d consider like machinelike, it’s been Novak, and I think to be No. 1 you have to be 100 percent focused physically, mentally and emotionally, and sometimes life gets in the way, and there are distractions. I think I agree with Brad; it has nothing to do with the physical game. The game is there, and I think that this is a guy who — I think the mental and emotional aspects, there have been some distractions. I don’t know what they are, but I think that probably has affected him more so than the physical.  But the game is there, and there have been signs this week that he still wants it, he’s still going for it. But you know, the competition is only going to get better, and at some point he’s got to really jump up to that extra level of focus again, the focus that he had really the last five years. Just it hasn’t been there for whatever reason.  So once he gets that worked out, and that could be just life intervening for a moment, once he gets that worked out, I think he’s going to go back to being the Novak that we’ve seen the past few years.

As far as Madison Keys is concerned, I think there, again, there were definite signs, especially in our match against Naomi Osaka that she played pretty flawless tennis, and last night against Caroline Wozniacki, I think you saw the rustiness a little bit more.  But I think that being back with Lindsay is a good thing. I think Lindsay has a similar style and a similar game to Madison, and I think where Lindsay can help her is just to be more patient and more consistent with her power, and I think she definitely can help her in these areas.  But right now, it’s just great to see her back being healthy after a wrist operation. I still think she’s definitely going to win a Grand Slam, whether it’s this year or next year. I think it’s in the cards for her, and we all know the potential is there. But it’s really up to her, when the time is right for her.

GILBERT: I’ll just add one thing on Madison. I think the talent is there. I think her big thing to — for the next 12 to 18 months – is just to be healthy. She just has been dinged up a lot, and obviously this was a major one, but that seems to be kind of her sticking point a lot of times in majors is getting hurt. So I think once she can get that worked out…I think that she’s incredibly underranked because with her talent level, she should be top five.

Q. I was hoping you could each weigh in on the ongoing debate about dopers getting an automatic entry into tournaments, and of course I’m referring to Maria getting the wildcard after her return to Germany in April. I’m wondering if you could weigh in on that.
EVERT: I’ve been reading a lot about that, too. I mean, Maria has served her term, and she — this decision of playing is really within the rules as far as the wild card entry. I remember many weeks I started out on a Wednesday playing a match, so it’s not like — first rounds aren’t on Wednesday. You can’t blame the tournament really for wanting to be successful and wanting to enhance their tournament by having a big draw like Maria Sharapova. I think we’re making a big deal about it, but the fact of the matter is she’s doing everything within the rules, and she has fulfilled her obligation of 15 months. I’m one to say I’m not critical of that decision that the tournament made whatsoever.

GILBERT
: I mean, wild cards are for the tournament directors to give to whoever they want. I get asked this all the time on Twitter and everybody’s opinion. It’s not really what my opinion is. I like to see some of the players positively and negatively are saying about Maria, and I think that’s for them to voice their opinion about what they think is fair. But it’s completely within the rules and fair of the tournaments to reward whoever they want. It will be interesting to see what the Slams do because they do a little more business with the ITF, and so will they — especially the federations, will they give her a wild card? Wimbledon is a club, so that’s different, but the tennis federations, the USTA, the Aussies, will the federations give her a wild card. But I like to see the players voice their opinion, and like I said, I think it’s completely up to the tournaments to do, the director, what’s best for his tournament.

Q. I would like each of you to comment on why we are having so much trouble getting a WTA player who can really consistently come up and challenge and establish herself as a legitimate threat. Now that Serena is not playing, of course, for the foreseeable future and Kerber is out again at Indian Wells, what are you seeing and what theories do you have about why it’s been so hard to get players who can play and consistently establish themselves a solid No. 2 or 3 or even a 1?
EVERT: Gosh, that’s a good question. I think a lot of the problem has been Serena Williams. I honestly think, as I look, especially the past five years, I think Serena has played at such a high level, and no one has been able to match her power and match her athleticism, and I think she’s at such a high level that the other players are two levels below.  We see slowly there’s been a catching up. I mean, Madison Keys is really the only one that I could see, Muguruza maybe but she’s been inconsistent, that even has any sort of power comparable to Serena. I mean, Naomi Osaka coming up has that power, but she’s very young and inconsistent.

I mean, it’s all about — so far it has been all about the power game, and even though Kerber — like I said, Kerber had a couple of really good matches against Serena, or one for sure, Wimbledon was good, too, but you’re right, she hasn’t been able to maintain that top form of playing relaxed and playing loose.  You know, so it’s the physical power, but I also think the fact that you said consistently, you’re right, you don’t see a player mentally so tough and so hungry match in and match out that really — I mean, the last player I saw that was Victoria Azarenka, and she’s been out of the game. Maria is and was one of the mentally toughest, but she’s been out of the game.  I just think it’s the superb superiority of Serena more than anything.

GILBERT: It’s a tricky thing. You know, obviously the women have had long history of somebody dominating the game. That doesn’t mean it always has to happen. When the Williams sisters at some point — heck, maybe they go until their early 40s, but at some point — at this moment, I can’t tell you a player who’s ready to step forward and is going to win five or ten Slams. That’s not to say that it can’t happen, but it’s becoming much more difficult, especially on the men’s and even more so on the women’s, that you’re seeing young players be able to do the things that they’ve been able to do in the past.

And I think the game has gotten more physically demanding, and I also think that especially the women’s side of the game has gotten deeper, and the word that you heard Chrissie say a lot is consistency, and that’s what you need to dominate is consistency, and you can’t have two or three good weeks, two or three bad weeks. Kerber had an amazing year last year out of nowhere, and now the expectation is can she do that again and then maybe she’s feeling that a little bit.

But I certainly don’t see anybody capable at the moment of being that next dominant player, but like I said, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or it won’t happen. It’s not like it’s just a given that that’s going to happen. We could easily have some period where you have six or eight Slams, six or eight different winners after the Williamses go. That’s just I think the way we’re headed now with the depth, and I’m just not ready to say somebody is ready to dominate.

EVERT: I also see, just thinking about it, I also see that the game is so different. I mean, the only — I feel that when you look at Simona Halep or you look at Radwanska, even if you look at Kerber to a certain extent, those players don’t have the power to blow people off the court. So I think it’s going to be tough — I think it’s going to be tough for Kerber even to keep the No. 1 ranking with how power is taking over the sport, but with power comes high risk.  That’s the thing. It’s high risk. Serena plays high risk. She’s had so much experience, and she’s been able to really now come to an age where she can be thoughtful on the court and she can really know how to handle, know how to harness that power well. But these other players that have the big power games, like I mentioned, Madison Keys or any of these players with the big power, Pliskova, they still are up and down because it is high risk, and they haven’t had the experience that Serena has had, and you can’t keep that up week in and week out.

I’ve said the last few years, I’m disappointed — it’s disappointing that somebody hasn’t stepped up to the plate, but we saw Azarenka step up last year. She really did. She won this tournament, she won Miami. She really started to show signs that she may be able to compete with Serena, and then she — fortunately for her has a baby, got pregnant and has a baby, so it’s all good, but she got out of the game.  Like Brad said, it’s tougher and tougher. There’s so many more distractions with money and endorsements and lifestyle, and it’s maybe taken away a lit bit of the hunger from these players, also.

Q. The last time we had one of these calls I think before the Australian Open, we were talking about how don’t count out Roger and Rafa, but we don’t really expect them to be lifting a trophy anytime soon. I went back and looked at the transcript. Patrick specifically said, Roger, he doesn’t see him winning any more majors.
EVERT: Well, you know what? That’s why Patrick is not on the call today!

Q. That’s right. That’s right. We don’t need his comments. We’ve got Brad now. I just want to know what Roger did down there, and Rafa making the final, what does that say about those two, and what does it add to the story line of men’s tennis that those two guys made it that far, and on the women’s side, following up on what we were just talking about, with Serena out and Azarenka out, Maria not back yet, what do you see from the women’s side coming into the Miami Open? Who do you see in the conditions here knowing about the swirling winds and everything that Miami has, who might be some of the contenders on the women’s side here?
GILBERT: Well, I’ll just say obviously about the Australian Open, with Djokovic going out early and then Murray going out in the top half of the draw, Roger just did what he had to do. He got better every match. It started with the first couple of matches, and then amazingly he pulled a rabbit out of his hat, and I was sitting courtside, from 3-1 down in the fifth set, I think that was the best five games of his entire career, and I think it was the most important win of his career.  It was just so great for the men’s game to have that final. I know that I was already talking about it in the third and fourth round, and ESPN were getting all mad at me, don’t talk about it; it’s like talking about a perfect game. I’m like, I’m that guy like if I was on the same team as the guy pitching the perfect game, I’d be sitting next to him and saying, isn’t it a fun moment. I wouldn’t be getting away from the guy. But I just think it was a great breath of fresh air.

And with Fed, he’s a young 35. Look at Tom Brady is 39. I mean, I think the one thing that we’re seeing is that athletes are figuring out what they can do in their training and technology and diet and they’re pushing the envelope. Derek Jeter had a fan base — these guys’ fan base, and Rafa, these guys are like the biggest global tennis icons I’ve ever seen and conduct themselves with the utmost class, and it’s just great to see for our sport.  I think that obviously the story lines now are massively changed for 2017 because obviously Murray and Djoker haven’t played like they’ve done, and Fed fans and Rafa fans are starting to get excited that their guys — who knows, maybe they’ll push the envelope back to the top spot.

EVERT: Yeah, I think my doubt with Roger has always been in Grand Slams three-out-of-five sets, putting together three or four big matches in a row, which is what you need to do to win a Grand Slam, and I think like Brad said, there was a little bit of an opening there without Murray. He didn’t have to beat Murray, he didn’t have to beat Djokovic, and the draw favored him. It opened up a little bit.  But if you put your money on Roger Federer for one or two key matches, he still can win those key matches, but it’s just the accumulation of three-out-of-five-set matches leading up to a final. That’s always been my concern at his — with Roger Federer.

But again, everything worked out for him very well. Nadal is playing so good. Nadal looks like he’s so good now, he’s got to be favored for the French Open, the way that Andy and Djokovic so far have played, unless Djokovic certainly as defending champion has a great shot and is going to be a favor, but you’d have to say Nadal has got a really good shot to win now 10 French Opens. He’s still there. You can’t count Roger out knowing how well he’s playing for Wimbledon. It’s just amazing how things can turn on a dime.

I just think Andy Murray played so much the last two years, and maybe that’s starting to have a little wear and tear on his body. Maybe he’s feeling it on his shoulders being ranked No. 1 very much like Kerber. I think the fact that her in this tournament, she showed none of the fearlessness and aggressiveness she did when she won the Australian or won the US Open. That No. 1 on your back always is a question mark.  Anyway, that’s my answer for that.  And the women’s, what was your question about the women?

Q. Yeah, who do you see emerging for the Miami Open with Serena out and —
EVERT: Yeah. You know, we’re Wednesday of this tournament so it’s hard to predict how — I’m looking at Wozniacki and Mladenovic are the two left in this tournament that have had the easiest road, and they’ve looked so good. I mean, they’ve looked pretty relaxed, and they’re playing some aggressive, consistent tennis.  I don’t know how you can — they started out the year well with good results, so I think that confidence is building with both these players.  Muguruza is getting stronger and stronger. She really looked shaky against Kayla Day, who by the way looked fantastic this tournament, the 17 year old. That was really the first match, big match I’ve seen her play, and I was very impressed with her power and her game.  But Muguruza is looking better and better.  I think Madison is only going to get better. But I think probably Wozniacki and Mladenovic, if I’m going to predict this tournament, I’m curious to see how well they do because they are on form here.

GILBERT: I’ll just say this: First of all, Venus…being that she’s got as much tape on her as I’ve ever seen and still winning matches…but Serena not being here and Kerber all of a sudden not playing at what the level she played at last year, one word jumps out: Opportunity. You know, there’s opportunity for every player. All of a sudden every player thinks about, you know what, I can make a deep run, and that one word that we’ve heard a lot is a lot of players have one good week and not, so there doesn’t have to be a consistency, so that leads to opportunity.

EVERT: Well, and how much do they want it.

GILBERT: I think if the consistency isn’t — I think they all want it badly. I think it’s a consistency issue, and now that Serena is not here, a lot of players feel like they can win this.

EVERT: Yeah, but Brad, if you want it, I mean — I remember being in this position. If you really want it, you put yourself — you make it happen. You really have a better chance of making things happen. And if you let nerves and everything affect you, it’s going to hold you back.  I think this prospect of the opportunity tightens up a lot of players, so who is going to be the one or two emerging players that get through this successfully. I think it’s all about the mental part, how are they going to handle the nerves.

Q. We mentioned Keys and how her potential is really high but she’s injured a lot. A similar situation on the men’s side, with Milos Raonic being up close to No. 1. If he’s not going to be one of the new guys to win a Grand Slam, then who will?
GILBERT: You know what, unfortunately that word, injury, it’s happening more. I mean, Nishikori is another young guy that’s had to battle a lot, so that’s obviously his $64,000 question is being able to stay healthy.  You can’t answer the questions for him what he can do until he has a whole season being healthy. So he’s a big guy. He’s probably 6’5″, 220 pounds, but that definitely is the No. 1 question for him is staying healthy.

So I can’t answer whether or not he will win or where he’s going to go or who’s going to be the next young person to do it because, you know, the big four, and then throw in Stan, have been incredibly stingy. Nobody born in the ’90s has been able to win a Slam. So it’s not like, you know, it’s happening. Everybody wants to know that, but it’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen, and then for — and then we’re going to have some of these guys that are much younger like Kyrgios and some other younger guys that maybe are going to have an opportunity maybe before Nishikori and Raonic. But you just don’t know.  But definitely he needs health, and that’s his No. 1 thing he’s got to be able to figure out.

EVERT: Yeah, I think I look at Kyrgios, and he’s very capable, and I look at Zverev, those two to me would be the next in line that might not happen until next year or the year after. But you know, I agree; it’s all about being fit. These three-out-of-five-set matches on a hard court just — your body is just being slammed every time, year after year after year, and it’s really becoming more and more important to stay in shape and heal your body and take those rests and rehab what’s sore and what’s injured. That part of the game is almost like 75 percent of the game now, and actually going out and playing is like 25 percent because it’s all about being injured now and being healthy with these long matches.  But I mean, when I look at the way Kyrgios has played this week, and I’ve always liked Zverev — well, in the last year I’ve liked him, so I predict one of those two is going to be the next one to win a Grand Slam.

Q. On the men’s side of who’s next in line, as far as the golden era of men’s tennis, I don’t know if it’s ever been better. Obviously the top five aren’t going anywhere, and then we’ve got DelPo and Nick and Ramos and Dimitrov and Zverev and even Jack Sock, who has surprised me lately. Talk about the golden era right now, what we’re experiencing in men’s tennis, the depth and quality, and then give me something — like Chrissie, add on to what you said about Nick and maybe Jack Stock about potential future winners.
GILBERT: I think it’s an amazing time for men’s tennis with the reemergence this year of Rafa and Fed, and we’ve got young faces, we’ve got older faces. The quality of tennis and the level — I think it’s off the charts.  But I guess everybody is just curious when somebody can break through and go all the way. But as a tennis fan right now, I think this is as good as it’s ever been, but I’m one of those people that feel like the sport is like a treadmill. I think maybe five or ten years from now, we’ll be saying, God, I can’t believe how good these guys are. Sports is getting better. Competition is getting better. And I just think it’s a really exciting time in the sport except if you’re born in the ’90s and you’ve wanted to win Slams already.

EVERT: I agree with Brad. It is, as long as I’ve been in the game of tennis, it is the most exciting time. You’ve got icons, the greatest players ever at the top who will go down in history, then you’ve got some very consistent players that have been in the top ten like Raonic and like Berdych and Nishikori and Cilic, and then you have the young guns that are so exciting like Zverev and Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios. It’s not only a high level of tennis but it’s different generations, and it’s different styles, and it’s all different personalities. It just is so exciting right now. I’ve always sort of been a spokesperson for the women’s game, but I’ve got to say, I’m probably a little more excited about the men’s right now, I have to admit. I’m looking at these match-ups, and I just can’t believe that there are this many great players that are still around and that there are this many great players that are just starting out, and then you’re not even looking at — look at the Americans, Donald Young, look at when he’s doing, look at Jack Sock, look at Taylor Fritz. There’s even younger guns waiting in the wings to really explode into the mix.  I just have a big smile on my face when I talk about the men’s game right now.

Q. I’ve got one quick follow-up on Jack Sock. I saw him in Del Rey. I think he beefed up his weaknesses and fortified his strengths. I’m firmly a Jack Sock believer for the first time in years. Can he make a breakthrough this week or in the nearby future?
GILBERT: I think last night was maybe one of the best wins that I’ve seen from him. He came back from 4-1 in the third. He’s got a great draw, played Jaziri, so he’s got a great opportunity to make the quarters, and he’s making progress. He’s up to 18 in the world, and I think a big goal for him is to maybe finish the year in the top 12. I think he’s got one of the biggest forehands in the world. He moves tremendous. Yeah, so he’s making progress, a lot, in the last 12 months, and the big thing is can he make a deep run in a Slam. Can he make a quarters or semis this year, and can he make a semis of a Masters Series because that’s what you’ve got to do to make the top eight in the world and make London.  I do think those are realistic goals, and I think he right now is clearly the best American player.

EVERT: Well, and when I watched that match last night, I honestly could not believe how well he moves and how well he sprints to the ball. I don’t know anybody that I could say is quicker that I’ve seen is quicker than him as far as his movement, and I do think he has the best weapon in that forehand. He has the best forehand in the game I feel. He reminds me of a male Madison Keys in the way he plays. I mean, Madison, same thing with her forehand. I mean, she rivals it, and so does Jack.  Again, it’s all about maturity and it’s all about managing himself and his emotions on the court, and with all this experience and with some success, I think it’s going to come to him, and I would say the same thing with Kyrgios. You see he’s got every shot in the book, also, and as he gets older and more comfortable in his role and in his lifestyle and with fame, I think it’s all about the intangibles that he’s got to become a little bit more comfortable with, and I think that’s starting to happen now with him, and wouldn’t it be great to see. He’s at another level when he’s playing.

Q. I had a two-part question, first on Roger and Rafa and their great starts. Do you see anything technically that they’re doing differently? I know Federer is serving really well and Nadal leads the tour in second serve points, and then secondly, to follow up on all the stuff you’ve already said about Kyrgios, do you think in the way that Donald Trump was the chaos candidate, Kyrgios is like the chaos player, that he just thrives on chaotic craziness around him, or do you think that getting a coach would be dramatically better for him? He said this week that he’s not really thinking about hiring anyone.
EVERT: You know, Nick is a different kind of guy. He’s got a different approach to the game. I mean, I first remember a couple years ago or maybe he’s even saying it now, he said he doesn’t like to play tennis. He doesn’t even like the game. He’s been quoted as saying that. And I think that, again, I really deep down think that he does like the game, but he doesn’t especially like the attention or what goes on around it.  I mean, I think he’s basically a shy guy, believe it or not, and I’ve spent a little time with him down in BOCA, where he practices with — it’s so funny, he practices with our boys at the academy, and it’s like, I can’t believe that he’s practicing with 18-year-old kids as preparation for his Grand Slams. But he loves it. He loves practicing with the kids, and he has fun. Maybe so far that’s what he’s done.

As far as getting a coach, you know what, if he’s not in the right mindset, as it seems he’s not in the right mindset to get a coach, he shouldn’t get a coach. I think he’s got to — it’s got to be on his terms. He’s got to be ready. He’s got to make the commitment. He’s got to take responsibility for winning and losing, and he’s not probably at that point yet.  I’m like, give the guy time. Give him his space. Give him time. And I think it will happen because I do think he does love the game.  What was the first question?

Q. On Federer and Nadal and anything different you’re seeing.
GILBERT: I’ll piggy-back on Nick a little bit. I watched the performance last night against Zverev and what you’ll see tonight against Djokovic, this guy gears up for big matches, and he’s got a level and intangible that — I call it almost uncoachable in that he doesn’t feel like — you know, when he’s playing these unbelievable opponents, I actually think he’s more relaxed. I think that he sometimes struggles when he’s on the outside course and playing lesser opponents. All of a sudden you’ll see him tonight against Djokovic unbelievably focused and determined.

I do think there is nobody, anybody close to his talent level physically, and he is a closer. I mean, you give him an early break and he’s a closer for 25 and under. But the maturity and match in, match out, that’s something that he’s searching for, and I do think that at some point when he does want to add a coach, I think it could only help him. But he’s got to want to do that.  But I just sit there and like I said, last night, watch him and just marvel and his athleticism. I can’t believe for his size how well he can move, how explosive. He ticks all the boxes for me game-wise. But just there’s sometimes more to winning Slams and being great than just that.

I think about Fed and Rafa, the most amazing thing is both of them are still unbelievably motivated after all the time they’ve played to continue to play at this level. They both are playing healthy so far in 2017, and I also think that maybe, maybe they’re both starting to feel a little bit better about their games and where they’re at because the guys from the ’90s haven’t broken through, and for the first time, Murray has had a little bit of indifferent results the last couple months, and same with Djoker, so maybe that’s giving them more faith that all of a sudden there’s still more of a window for them.

EVERT: I’m going to piggy back, too. When you hear Roger Federer say my dream is to play another five years, you know that he wants to play, because it’s when they say, well, I’m thinking maybe another year, that’s when they’re thinking retirement, and that’s when they’re thinking maybe they’re losing what it takes. But when he says I’d like to play another five years, you know that he’s motivated and he’s ready to go.

And Nadal, I mean, that guy, you can still see it in his eyes. He still wants it. He’s still intense. He still wants that tenth French Open. The only other thing I can say about Kyrgios is remember he does have mentors like Lleyton Hewitt who’s advising him. He does have his manager, he does have his mom. It’s not a full-time coach, but he is getting advice, but at the same time, he is playing to his own tune, and when he gets in a point, he has that natural instinct as far as how to play a point. Like he’s not going to listen to anybody say go cross court, cross court, cross court, and then go down the line. He knows the ebbs and flows of a point, and he has that natural ability.

Q. Earlier we touched on Kerber. Can you just go back to that and talk a little bit about what she has to do mentally just to deal with the pressure of returning to world No. 1, especially when she’s heading to Miami now as the No. 1 and top seed and last year she struggled with the pressure of initially having the ranking, so now that she’s going back to the top, what does she have to do mentally to adjust?
EVERT: You know, for me it’s nothing really to do with the physicalities of her game. It’s not that the game is not there, the same game that she won the Australian Open with and the US Open with. I think it’s all in her head, and it is a big adjustment to have that No. 1 sort of bull’s eye on your back and to continue to play with the fearlessness and — the fearlessness, really, that it took for her to get there. And that’s what I saw. She went out of the box in big matches that she won last year, and by out of the box, what I mean is she took more chances. She played more fearless tennis. She went for more shots. She went for bigger serves. She went for bigger second serves. She really to me this year has gone back into the type of tennis she played two years ago when she was top five in the world but not No. 1.

She has to get back that aggressive mentality, and she’s got to really force it on herself because she’s not going to be No. 1 until she plays like she did at the US Open and like she did in Australia. So the tennis is there, but she’s got to get back into that frame of mind, and she’s got to work on that. Only she can do it. You can listen to a thousand people or the best coaches in the world, but only she has to come to terms with that.

GILBERT: I feel like her game is a lot about grit, determination, focus, competing, and she’s playing, Chrissie brings this up a lot about stress and feeling the pressure. All that matters is your opponent on the other side of the net, and what’s happening is opponents are playing against her freer because obviously she’s not dominating, and the one thing that I have noticed a little bit from her this year is she’s been flat starting matches. Like last night she was flat starting against Vesnina. I don’t care who you are, if you’re getting down consistently to start matches, it makes them tougher situations to come back, and the only way you get it back, her game. She’s not going to just go through everybody. But she has an unbelievable level of fighting, competing, of counterpunching and doing some fabulous things out there, and all those things for her to play at her level, she has to tick all the boxes to make that happen.

EVERT: I think she has — all those come naturally to her, and I don’t think she has to work on that as much as — she has to do with Wozniacki is trying to do now and that’s taking a few more risks and being a little more aggressive. Those two, I see their games similar as far as they’re unbelievable defense and counterpunchers, and it goes against their nature to really wind up and to attack right from the start. But they’ve got to learn to do that a little bit more.

Q. Brad, I wanted to ask you about Dominic Thiem, a guy maybe not with a top of personality but really a gorgeous game, kind of flying under the radar here, will be playing Monfils tonight, and Chris, wanted to ask you about rivalries which of course you know a thing or two about with Martina and just what really kind of makes that Rafa-Roger rivalry so special, sort of transcending the sport in a lot of ways.
GILBERT: I like “Home Team” a lot. I think nobody hits the ball bigger than he does. His forehand is massive, and for a guy who’s not that big, he can serve in the low 140s. He’s got an impressive game.  I think the biggest thing for him is to figure out his schedule sometimes. He seems like a few of these majors he’s played a little too much coming in, and he hasn’t been as sharp, and he said that he’s not going to change his schedule from last year to this year, so that’s something that — the big thing is learning how, for these young guys, to be able to peak for the majors. Obviously these great players know how to do it, and so that’s the biggest thing is learning that for these young players.  But game-wise, I think he is the most explosive offensive player, but I do think the one part of his game that he can improve is his defense. He can go through you, but you know, not everybody can always just go through you. So I’d like to see him add a little more willingness to play defense. It’s great on offense, but you’ve got to be able to do a little better when you’re on defense, and he’s got to learn to schedule a little better.

EVERT: As far as rivalries, the No. 1 word that comes to my mind is contrast, and I think that Martina and I had it in every way, shape and form, and I think Rafa and Roger have it, also. When you look at their style of play, you couldn’t have two more different players. You’ve got the flashy magician against the warrior, the player that’s going to grind it out. As far as personalities, they’re very different. As far as where they came from and how they were brought up, very different.  So it’s such a contrast that they each bring their own set of fans to the plate, and that is just great for tennis. I mean, it’s almost — I don’t know, it just expands the whole tennis horizon even more because they draw people that aren’t even tennis fans. They draw people that are sports fans, or they just draw curious bystanders because they’re so special, those two.

And also I think they’re both gentlemen and they’re both great for the game, and they’re both great sports. People like to see that and people like to see either of them win. I mean, there’s not a bad guy versus a good guy. They’re both good, great guys, but their style of play and their personalities just are so interesting because they play into one another.  And also the fact that there’s always that who’s going to win, because nobody — they don’t dominate each other. One of them doesn’t dominate the other one. It’s always like an interesting sort of question mark, who’s going to bring their A game to this match and who’s going to win this match. It’s all about the contrast.

GILBERT: To me, they’re everything that’s right in sports. I mean, they’re just two incredible competitors, classy guys. Don’t make excuses. And they have two of the most loyal fan bases I’ve ever seen globally. Their styles make you want to watch them play. I mean, one guy plays like a maestro, and the other guys you feel his heart and passion. So I just think that it’s must-see TV, and people that aren’t even really tennis fans want to see it.

I think the great thing about when they play, you’ll see so many athletes from other sports, geez, I’ve got to see Rafa courtside, I’ve got to see Roger courtside, and the feeling that people have when they have seen those guys play for the first time courtside, it’s just absolutely a treat, and like I said, these two guys conduct themselves with the utmost class that all tennis players should aspire to.

Q. Brad, how alarmed should Andy Murray’s fans be about his start to 2017? Or is it not surprising, given how much he played last year?
GILBERT: You know, everybody asks those questions any time that — all of a sudden you come down a little bit, and I can’t answer the question for him. The results answer the question. I think that he had an amazing run, and I’m not going to say that he overplayed or underplayed. He’s lost a couple of matches that — to Pospisil and to Zverev, and at the Aussies you never expect him to lose. But also that reminds you the great thing about tennis and sports. That’s why you lace up the sneakers. Every once in a while the underdog can come up with this incredible win, and it gives everybody hope.  It’s so early in the year, and I felt like last year he played his best tennis by far on the clay court season, and I think that sets everything up for him, so I do think that the clay court season once again will be a really important time for him to really set the time frame.  If all is said and if things don’t go well during the clay court season, then maybe we’ll reconvene, but I’m not ready to all of a sudden say that, okay, he’s not going to win a major this year and he’s going to really drop off. But I need to see the clay season, and I’m not worried, but a couple results that definitely have surprised you.

EVERT: I don’t think the fans should worry. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it, Murray fans. You know, it’s all part of the game. You just can’t keep up a certain level forever, and very much like Djokovic has gone through, we saw Nadal go through it, also, and I think Andy — it’s not only last year, but look at how much he played last year with the Olympics, but look at the year before, he played a lot, and I think he has to work so hard, like Nadal, he has to work so hard, he doesn’t get very many free points, so he’s putting in extra work in his matches.  It doesn’t surprise me that maybe he’s a little weary at this point. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Any of us who have been through that grind and who have been No. 1 and who have played a lot understand that there are going to be times when you’re weary, times when you have letdowns, and it’s the mark of a champion that you get it back. It’ll be a nice challenge for him.

 

 

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On The Call: ESPN / Australian Open Conference Call with Chris Evert and Patrick McEnroe

Patrick McEnroe

(January 11, 2017) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media Wednesday about the Australian Open, which starts Sunday, Jan. 15 (Monday in Melbourne), with 100 live hours over two weeks including the usual marathon overnight telecasts on ESPN television and 1,400 on WatchESPN that includes every match – singles, doubles and juniors, culminating with the women’s and men’s championships.  Highlights of the call, followed by the full transcript:

 

Soundbites:

On:  The State of Serena

  • This is a woman with pride and ego and used to being No. 1, used to being the queen at the top. I’m sure that’s going to be motivation for her, not liking to see another name up there…I don’t think it’s a matter of if she’s going to win another Grand Slam, I think it’s when, and I think it will happen this year.” – Evert

On: The State of U.S. Tennis.

  • At one point we had hardly any American players in the top 100. Now women-wise anyway, we have 17. I think that’s more than any other. So we’ve got the depth. Congratulations, U.S. tennis. We have the depth, but where is that Grand Slam champion?” – Evert
  • There’s a group of seven or eight players, American men, 21 or under, that can be legit Grand Slam players.  Out of that group, none of them are ready to be a Grand Slam winner or compete for a title at this point, except for maybe (Jack) Sock. I think within the next two years, it is finally realistic to say we might have someone come out of that group that could do it.” – McEnroe

 

On:  Which is the bigger issue in tennis, PEDs or match fixing?

  • I’m going to say unequivocally match fixing is a big threat to any sport, not just tennis, but the integrity of that sport. That’s not in any way to minimize PEDs, what they can do…I think tennis generally has a better handle on the PED situation with the testing that’s done….The match fixing thing clearly is a huge problem potentially, but I don’t think it’s a huge problem at the highest level of tennis. I think it’s proven to be a problem that definitely is significant at the low levels of tennis, the minor leagues, so to speak, the challengers, et cetera. That has to be gotten more under control.” – McEnroe

 

On:  What’s the one thing you would change about tennis?

  • Because I’m a TV girl now, I think more access to the players. I still don’t think it’s a bad idea to interview a player after a first set or after a second set. I think that’s very do-able. I think it’s progressive thinking.  We’re really kind of in the Dark Ages when it comes to getting the players out there, just having a little more buzz about the players. I think on TV I’d like to see more coaches being interviewed.” – Evert
  • When we say the match starts at 7 p.m., it’s actually going to start at 7 p.m., not 7:13, which is basically what happens because the officials don’t have the gonads to tell the top players what to do.” – McEnroe

 

  1. I’ll start with some big names. What are your expectations for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for this tournament? They both said they want to play two to three more years. Patrick, do you see that happening? How long do you see both those players playing? What do you see from those two? What are your expectations? How long do you think they’ll keep playing?
    McENROE: Let’s hope they keep playing like 20 more years because they’ve been unbelievable for tennis. They’re two of the all time greats, two of the all-time class acts in men’s tennis.

    Let me address the first part of your question.  I don’t realistically expect either of them to be holding up the trophy at the end of the tournament. I think probably if they took a truth test, they’d probably agree with that. But being as great as they are, I would guess three, four matches, wins under their belt, they’ll think they have a chance to win it.  I think realistically getting to the second week should be their initial goal. Obviously seeing how they’re doing as they progress, the expectations would rise for them. I don’t expect either of them to be able to hold the trophy, particularly when you look at just the way Djokovic and Murray have looked in the last couple years, and have also started out the year.  They played a great match already against each other in the Middle East. I’d really have to convince myself that they could pull something extraordinary to beat one or two of those guys in best-of-five sets, not to mention the rest of the field and the other players, the younger guys coming up like Thiem, Zverev, guys like that. I think it’s going to be tough for them to do that.

    I think it’s realistic for both of them to play two, three more years. Obviously for Roger it’s a little more precarious because of his age. Overall he said he had the surgery so he could give himself the opportunity to do that. As long as they’re playing at a relatively high level, and I think that’s really the key for those two guys, if the next year neither one of them makes the semis of a major, would they be willing to continue to play if they’re not a top five or even a top ten player. I would probably say that Roger is more likely to continue to play because he just loves to play so much. That’s something only they can answer personally.

    Q. We head into 2017 with the old question. We’re talking about players who aren’t American. Is there anybody on the horizon that looks like they could be somebody that we’re going to be talking about?
    EVERT: I love your expressions when you ask that question. Is there anyone? Oh, boy (laughter).  Yes, this is the question. At one point we had hardly any American players in the top 100. Now women-wise anyway, we have 17. I think that’s more than any other. So we’ve got the depth. Congratulations, U.S. tennis. We have the depth, but where is that Grand Slam champion?  To me, I’ve always looked at Madison Keys, only because of the power. To me, she matches Serena’s power, on the groundstrokes, on the first serve for sure. When I look at a surface like grass, Wimbledon, she to me is potentially a Wimbledon champion.  In saying that, yes, a lot of things have to happen. She has to be more mature. She has to be smarter on the court. As far as raw talent, she’s got the weapons to win a major.

    As far as any other woman is concerned right now, I wouldn’t put my money on anybody else in American tennis. But the progress that has been made is the fact that we do have depth and we do have a lot of Americans in the top 100. I guess that’s the first step to getting a Grand Slam champion.

    McENROE: Well, the short answer to your question is no. That’s the short answer. I agree with Chrissie on Madison Keys. She’s not playing in Australia. We hope she gets to be 100%. I think having Lindsay Davenport back in her camp will be a positive.

    As far as the men go, there’s nobody. I mean, there’s nobody that can realistically win one. Certainly Jack Sock has made a lot of strides. I expect him to continue to make strides to where he could, I believe, threaten to be a top-10 player. If his backhand gets 25% better, he’s the type of player that could go deep in a major. That’s a big ‘if’, but he’s definitely gotten fitter, stronger. Mentally he’s better than he’s been.  To sort of echo what Chrissie said on the women’s side, on the men’s side, there’s not as many numbers as the women, but for the first time for 15 or 20 years, we’ve got a group of players that can all legitimately be top 100, maybe top 50, and maybe a couple of them could be top-10 players. That’s Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Michael Mmoh, Tommy Paul, Stefan Kozlov, Reilly Opelka, Noah Rubin, Escobedo. There’s a group of seven or eight players, American men, 21 or under, that can be legit Grand Slam players.  Out of that group, none of them are ready to be a Grand Slam winner or compete for a title at this point, except for maybe Sock. I think within the next two years, it is finally realistic to say we might have someone come out of that group that could do it.  The worst-case scenario is I think we’re going to have multiple players flooding the top 100, which as Chrissie said is the first step. There’s nobody here that you can see is a threat to win this title, no.

    Q. On the women’s side, Serena, what do you think getting engaged will have as far as an effect on her? On the men’s side, by Novak’s standards, had a little bit of a slip toward the end of last season while Andy Murray went on that big run. Do you think that sort of makes their rivalry even more interesting now that their positions are swapped?
    EVERT: As far as Serena, that remains to be seen. You can’t predict when somebody gets engaged. It can go one of two ways. It can be a very pleasant distraction. You can lose your focus a little bit at the task at hand. Or it can be so inspiring, you feel so good, that you’re more settled. You really are in a really good place emotionally, and your tennis can improve. We’ve seen it both ways in tennis players. I don’t think we can predict that.  In saying that, you know, the one good thing coming into the year, Serena seems to be healthy. She was fighting all kinds of things. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. The shoulder. If it wasn’t the shoulder, it was something else.

    She had a long break, took the fall off. I’m sure, knowing her, you can only do so many appearances, endorsements. She was champing at the bit to get back competing. I think it’s motivation for her she’s ranked No. 2. This is a woman with pride and ego and used to being No. 1, used to being the queen at the top. I’m sure that’s going to be motivation for her, not liking to see another name up there.  So if she’s healthy, she’s happy, I don’t worry about the fact that she already lost a match, because basically she needs a couple matches to really get into it. I don’t think it’s a matter of if she’s going to win another Grand Slam, I think it’s when, and I think it will happen this year.

    McENROE: I don’t think the engagement will have anything to do with how Serena does. I’ll add to what Chrissie said. I think because of how little she played, this happened last year as well, she made it to the final, or the year before, she’ll be susceptible early in the tournament because of that. If she can get through the first couple of rounds, obviously she’ll be fine, I would expect.

    I’m always excited for the Australian Open because it’s one of my favorite events. I think there’s a lot more buzz this year because of what you said partly, that Murray has taken over No. 1, not by a long shot, but an amazing effort to do that. Djokovic is going to feel like he’s got something to prove, even though he’s had a couple of the greatest years ever in the history of men’s tennis in the last couple years. Then you have Roger and Rafa coming back. You have still the guys knocking on the door, Nishikori. We haven’t mentioned Wawrinka, who has had an unbelievable couple years. He got down there early this year. There’s no reason he can’t make a big run there. He loves the conditions there.

    The younger guys…Thiem had a great year in 2016. He could be a factor. Again, Zverev is a great young player. I think Kyrgios could definitely be a factor, although you wonder about him health-wise, how fit he is. Obviously mentally is another story.  I think there’s a lot of storylines for the men. I do think that having Murray come in there as the No. 1 player, having never won down there, and Djokovic has really been the man the last four, five, six years in Australia, that adds a little extra spice to it in addition to those other guys coming back.

    Q. How do you see Murray and Kerber handling the pressure being world No. 1? It’s the second year in a row the tournament is starting with a match fixing story that hit before it began. Do you think that match fixing is a bigger threat to tennis than PED use? What one do you think tennis has more effectively addressed?
    EVERT: I’ll take the easy way out and go with the Kerber question.  The thing about Kerber, there’s a saying that it’s easier to get to No. 1, it’s harder to stay there. I think she’s going to be tested. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how mentally tough she’s going to become and how she’s going to fend off the competition, because there’s some dangerous players: Pliskova, Muguruza, Konta. Very much like the men, you have really like 15, 20 tough, tough players, and good depth at the top now. Then with Serena, who is going to be even more motivated than before. I think it’s going to really test her toughness.

    But in saying that, when you look at the top 10, I look at the list, to me Kerber is mentally the toughest of all of them, aside from Serena when she’s really focused. Angelique Kerber, her main strengths is her mental toughness, because she improved so much. Years ago, she was the one that was rough on her player box, kind of whining out there. She has improved that so much. So the mental toughness, and her I think physical fitness are the two things that she is head and shoulders really above everyone else.  If anybody can maintain No. 1, I think that she will do it for a while. I think it depends on Serena, how much she wants it, how hungry she is. She’s really going to be the one that’s going to challenge her the most of anyone.

    McENROE: I’m going to say unequivocally match fixing is a big threat to any sport, not just tennis, but the integrity of that sport. That’s not in any way to minimize PEDs, what they can do.  Baseball went through a pretty heavy-duty PED problem. They’ve done okay. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen in tennis. I don’t expect that it will. I think tennis generally has a better handle on the PED situation with the testing that’s done. It could be better, but certainly it’s happened that they’ve been able to manage that and catch people, et cetera.

    The match fixing thing clearly is a huge problem potentially, but I don’t think it’s a huge problem at the highest level of tennis. I think it’s proven to be a problem that definitely is significant at the low levels of tennis, the minor leagues, so to speak, the challengers, et cetera. That has to be gotten more under control. I think the Tennis Integrity Unit is doing what it can do to address that.

    I think part of the issue with this is what I think has been a problem in tennis, as the prize money has grown at the big tournaments, particularly the Grand Slams, it’s to me gotten more and more top-heavy. The top players, meaning the players that win the tournaments, are making exponentially more money than the guy that gets to the third or fourth round. While I certainly believe that Djokovic and Serena certainly deserve to make more in prize money, I don’t believe it’s fair that they make that much more.  I think the prize money distribution at the highest level of the game, it filters down into the rest of the tour events, should be more evenly disbursed, meaning more similar to the way they do it in golf.  Basically now in a Grand Slam tournament, each match you win, essentially your prize money doubles. US Open last year I believe was $40,000 for the first round. People say, Wow, that’s a lot of money. That’s not really that much money when you compare it to what that similarly ranked player in basketball, baseball, soccer or golf around the world makes.

    Look at the prize money that Djokovic and Serena make compared to someone who is, say, No. 10 in the world. I think it’s too significantly different. I think that is something that should be addressed. I think the Grand Slams have the opportunity to be the leaders in this area instead of saying, Hey, look at us, we have the biggest prize money winner check, two and a half or three million dollars. Don’t you think 1.7 is enough, and some of the other money gets filtered down to other players?  The other players could make a lot more money, which they deserve to make, through other tournaments and guarantees, et cetera. I don’t think it needs to be that extreme a difference in the prize money distribution.

    (As for Murray being No. 1) I think Andy will handle being No. 1 just fine. He’s been around long enough to know what it takes. He’s worked extremely hard to get there. Quite honestly, I didn’t think he could get there. I didn’t think he could certainly get there last year. But it was a hell of an effort to do it.  The biggest difference in why he was able to do it was his consistency, being able to win a lot of matches every tournament, to be able to win on clay, which he hadn’t done in the past.  I don’t think he’s going to lose it because he can’t handle being No. 1. I think he’s going to lose it in Djokovic steps up and plays better, which I think is certainly possible.

    EVERT: I think he’s going to be comfortable, very comfortable, at the No. 1 spot because it’s been a gradual progression. It’s not like the guy went from No. 10 to No. 1. He’s been No. 3, he’s been No. 2, and now he’s No. 1. The fact that he’s won Grand Slams already, Grand Slam tournaments, that’s going to help prepare him for the pressure of being No. 1.  I think Patrick said it the best. The same with Kerber. It depends on Serena, it depends on Djokovic, if these two are going to hold onto their spot.

    Q. Maria Sharapova is supposed to return from her suspension the end of April. Do you think she could be top ten again, top five? How do you think the other players will react once she’s back on the circuit?
    EVERT: I have a feeling there’s going to be a little different Maria that’s coming back. I think that she’s had a little bit of a wake-up call as far as living life. I feel like she’s out of her bubble now, as far as she went back to school for a little bit, she’s gotten better in her business, she’s made more appearances, she’s socializing more with her friends.  I feel like it’s sort of a silver lining, this whole taking off the whatever it’s been, 18 months, year and a half. I think she’s going to be a little different. I think she’s going to be more open. I think she’s going to be friendlier. I think that she is going to come back a little more evolved as a person.  This is all me thinking. I don’t even know, okay? But I just have a feeling from what I’m hearing when she does talk and do press conferences, does her exhibitions and this.  Do I think she can be top 10? Absolutely. It’s so close, like I said before, the top 20, 30, it’s so close at the top, there’s no big gap in the top 20 or 30. Could she get back to the top five? I don’t see why not. Absolutely. She’s one of the mentally toughest, along with Serena, probably the mentally toughest player out there, plays every point like it’s match point.  Again, she might have a different approach. She might go out there, she might have been working on her fitness even more so with this time off. She might be having a little more variety in her game. I think life for Maria Sharapova is looking really good on the court and off the court.

    I think the players are going to be fine. I think it depends on her. If she’s going to come back with an open mind and friendlier, I think the players will definitely welcome her back.

    Q. Chrissie, Pat just spoke with his wisdom on having more equal prize money distribution. It’s a new year, but if you could step back and choose one rule or one tradition that you might want to tweak or introduce a new rule or one change, what would that be?
    EVERT: Wow, put me on the spot here. Because I’m a TV girl now, I think more access to the players. I still don’t think it’s a bad idea to interview a player after a first set or after a second set. I think that’s very doable. I think it’s progressive thinking.  We’re really kind of in the Dark Ages when it comes to getting the players out there, just having a little more buzz about the players. I think on TV I’d like to see more coaches being interviewed. I would like that to be mandatory. I think having a player after a set, that would be really good.

    I think we need to improve ratings in every aspect, sort of get more of an audience to appreciate the game and feel like they’re involved in it, see a personality on the court.  I think just the viewership, that would really help. I guess putting my hat on for TV, having that more interesting for the viewer.

    Q. If you could go out and get a selfie with anyone in the world not in your family, who would that be?
    McENROE: First of all, I’m offended that you didn’t let me answer the first question.

    Q. You go, guy.
    EVERT: That’s because you kind of did answer it about the prize money.

    McENROE: I have another one.  I would take the selfie with Chris Evert. That’s what I’m going to do on the plane to Australia tomorrow. I’m going to tweet it out.

    Let me answer the other one, because it’s a quick answer. I think it’s relatively easy to do. It’s already a rule that’s in place. Can we please start to actually pay attention to the time and to the clock. That comes to when we start the match. That comes to after we warm up for the match. We don’t take bathroom breaks. We don’t sit on our chair for two minutes because we’re some great player who can just do whatever they want. We don’t take bathroom breaks every time we lose a set.

    Let’s come up with clear-cut rules, which are already fairly clear, and let’s actually start to penalize players for not abiding by the rules. You can take one bathroom break a match, whatever it is, I think it’s two. When we say ‘time,’ we play, you don’t take a bathroom break. When we say the match starts at 7 p.m., it’s actually going to start at 7 p.m., not 7:13, which is basically what happens because the officials don’t have the gonads to tell the top players what to do.

    Q. What about Nadal’s objection?
    McENROE: I’m not talking about in between points, the shot clock. I’m talking about a simple thing. When we come to the locker room to get you, we tell you we’re going to come five minutes before television comes on, you’re going to walk out and be on the court then and you’ll warm up. If you don’t, guess what, it’s Love-15, then it’s Love-30. People will start paying attention. Unless we just don’t think it matters, we can let the players continue to do whatever they want to do. But I happen to think it matters.

    Q. Chris, selfie with someone, excluding Patrick?
    EVERT: Probably Madonna because I’ve never met her. She’s fearless and totally the opposite of me.

    Q. Some of the rallies in the final between Novak and Andy in Qatar were superhuman. How far do you think they both are ahead of the rest of the pack? Who can realistically stop 2017 being a year defined by their rivalry?
    McENROE: Realistically, I think you’re on to it. I think these two guys are a couple of steps beyond everybody else. That being said, I do think there were signs last year that players were starting to make inroads, like Thiem coming up. He probably still has another year or two to go. Zverev, the younger guys. I don’t know if it’s going to come from the older group like Berdych and Tsonga, Nishikori.

    EVERT: Raonic.

    McENROE: Raonic has made some big steps. He’s a guy that could do it. I’m happy with what I’ve seen from Dimitrov, because I like to watch him play. He could be a big threat this year. I do think at the end of the day, those two guys, because of their movement, their defense, their mental skills, are pretty solidly ahead of the pack. But things can change quickly in tennis. We saw it change between those two the second half of the year. It’s possible that it could change. I still think that Rafa is going to be a serious threat.

    EVERT: I think when I look at Andy and I look at Novak, to me they are the fittest players on the tour, and they’re going to peak when it’s 5-all in the fifth set. When I say that I mean peak physically and mentally. The mental toughness between those two is a level better than anyone else. As Patrick said, no one has better defense and offense, having that combination. No other player covers the court as well, no other player is mentally as tough. They keep pushing each other. It’s like when Martina and I were playing. They’re pushing each other. Novak is working out, training even harder knowing that he’s No. 2, knowing that Murray is training harder.  I think it could pan out to be really a wonderful rivalry. But the exciting thing is, there is Thiem, Kyrgios, Zverev, other exciting players waiting in the wings who I think could upset one of them, but maybe isn’t ready to win four big matches like these two are.

    Q. Paint a bit of a picture of how you and Martina pushed each other along. That was a long-term thing. We know Andy and Novak have been playing each other since they were 11. Can you give us a bit of a flavor of how that works when two players are the best of the field.
    EVERT: It was interesting because it was almost a little easier with Martina and I because we had contrasting styles. I got to work on my volley. I got to work on coming in. I got to work on my physical strength. She already had that. She had to work on the mental side of the game, her groundstrokes, because I already had that.  There were more gaps in our games, kind of more weaknesses in our games that we could work on. With them, they’re so similar in style. Their athleticism, the way they move, they can counter-punch really well. Their defense as well as their offense. They’re so similar.  I guess they just have to continue just to be physically cardiovascularly strong, who is going to be the hungrier, the more eager when they play a match.  Do you understand what I’m saying? There were more gaps with Martina and I that we could work on. With them, they’re so similar, it’s hard to know what they’re going to work on. They just have to keep doing what they’re doing. At the end of the day when they play a match, it might come down to really who is hungrier.

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Wimbledon Preview Conference Call with ESPN’s Chrissie Evert, John McEnroe

John McEnroe

John McEnroe

Wimbledon Preview Conference Call with ESPN’s Chrissie Evert, John McEnroe

 

(June 21, 2016) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media Tuesday to preview Wimbledon, which is exclusive to ESPN starting Monday, June 27.  Highlights of the call are followed by the full transcript.

 

Soundbites

On:  Are nerves the reason Serena is “stuck” on 21 Majors, one short of Graf?

  • I think it has gotten to her a little bit nerve-wise, no doubt about it. Especially against Kerber and against Muguruza, she wasn’t able to dig herself out of the hole like she has in past years, which was surprising to see that, because that’s what she is infamous for. When she’s down, she can get that next gear, that next level, play some great tennis. We didn’t see that in both those matches when she was in trouble. That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves….(that said) In the last few years, she’s been good enough at 60%, 70% to win matches. Now I don’t think it’s going to win matches for her.  The competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her. They have strategy when they go out against her. They’re just not intimidated. They know she’s human.” – Evert

 

On:  A quick look at the top men.

  • “Everyone is chasing Djokovic, there’s no question about it. Everybody else is trying to bridge the gap between Andy and see what else is out there. Rafa not playing, Roger has been struggling to stay healthy for the first time really. Losing to Thiem, Zverev, these guys can see light at the end of the tunnel maybe.  It’s going to be interesting this year, but clearly at the moment these guys have put themselves out here, Andy and Novak, and these other guys have to figure out ways to add to what they’ve got and to bridge this gap.” – McEnroe

On:  The Lendl-Murray Reunion.

  • I think Lendl did more for him than anybody. I think it’s a great combination because Lendl’s strengths are Murray’s weaknesses. Lendl, mentally and emotionally, he managed himself so well on the court. With Andy, that’s been sort of his downfall a little bit in the past, he’s gotten so emotional in these matches.  It was noticeably different when Lendl was coaching him. He was a bit quieter. He seemed to have himself under control a lot more.  I think it’s a great fit. I’m happy for both of them, that they’re working together. Again, that’s the best scenario for Andy Murray right now, to have him in his corner.” – Evert

On: Working with Raonic between the French Open and Wimbledon

  • He’s a great young kid, extremely professional and dedicated.  (My role is to) Try to hopefully help him a bit. I think he’s one of the contenders….. (he) has a big game, obviously got a lot of shots. One of the best serves in the history of tennis. He has a huge forehand.  I think he understands that he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people.” – McEnroe
  1. I’d like to talk about Serena. Talk us through, how much do you think this chase for 22 has gotten to Serena, if at all? We saw her stall a little bit for 18 a couple years ago. I just wonder if there’s any correlation to be made, or Serena has put this to the side and trying to do what she always does, which is win the tournament?
    CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it has gotten to her a little bit nerve-wise, no doubt about it. Especially against Kerber and against Muguruza, she wasn’t able to dig herself out of the hole like she has in past years, which was surprising to see that, because that’s what she is infamous for. When she’s down, she can get that next gear, that next level, play some great tennis. We didn’t see that in both those matches when she was in trouble. That tells me something is holding her back, and it could be nerves.

    Saying that, I’ve always said, John can weigh in on this, too, after 30 years old, when you’ve been on the tour for 15, in her case maybe 20 years, you don’t have 100% on days every single match. That’s what she’s experiencing now, in the last few years. In the last few years, she’s been good enough at 60%, 70% to win matches. Now I don’t think it’s going to win matches for her.  The competition has gotten better. They’re less intimidated by her. They have strategy when they go out against her. They’re just not intimidated. They know she’s human. They’ve seen a couple bad losses, a couple nerve-struck losses. There’s a couple different ingredients.  In saying that, Wimbledon is the perfect time for her. I think the surface is tailor made for her game. Power and athleticism, John has said this, is the key to playing on grass.  If she can just focus with each match, her game, she can just play it out, and her game is still the best on grass as any of the other women right now.
    JOHN McENROE: The only thing I would add is obviously for quite a few years it’s been hers to win or lose. Going for the slam, obviously it’s done so rarely, the pressure is amped up that much more. She was trying to tie Steffi. When she lost at the Open, there was a big letdown. She didn’t play much at all. I don’t think she played for three, four months.  She almost pulled out of the Australian. I was extremely surprised, as well as most people, that she lost that. Not as surprised at the French, the way Muguruza was playing.  It’s not easy to try to do what she’s doing, to make history at this stage. Knowing that motivation is an issue at times between the majors has made it a little trickier probably.  There’s not that many people that wouldn’t pick her here. So it is a surface, if she’s playing well, she’ll win the tournament. But I think, as Chrissie said, there’s more days when you’re not playing that well, and that’s where she can get in trouble.

    Q. CoCo Vandeweghe has been playing pretty well on the grass. She reached the quarterfinals last year. Chrissie, how do you see her doing this year? Do you see her reaching the second week and possibly going further than her quarterfinals last year? On the men’s side, for John, del Potro is back after a two-year absence. After seeing him play a couple matches this year, how do you expect him to do at Wimbledon?
    CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, we’re seeing some of her best tennis. Again, I have to say that a lot of it’s because of the surface, grass. As I said before, athleticism and power have a lot to do with her success.  Again, her game is tailor made for the grass also. She doesn’t like the clay. She doesn’t have a lot of patience. She doesn’t like to move a lot. I think the grass accentuates the strengths in her game, which are the big first serve and the fact she can volley. She likes to come into the net and volley.  Craig Kardon I think has done a great job with her.

    You know, it depends on the draw really. It really depends on the draw. When you say, Can anybody make the second week? The draw, the weather conditions…  She’s capable very much. I think the last few tournaments will give her confidence. But, you know, she’s still building I think on the emotional and the mental part of the game, not getting down on herself. She’s such a perfectionist, I think that area can still improve.  Again, this surface is easier on her, shorter rallies, she doesn’t have to stay out there and be patient. She can hit that winner on the third or fourth shot. It just depends on if it’s working that day, she can beat almost anyone. But we’ve seen her with a slew of errors, too.  She’s still an unpredictable player. If she’s going to have any success, it’s going to be on the grass.
    JOHN McENROE: I like Juan a lot, but I’m believing he’s not totally sure of himself with his wrist. I talked to him recently. He says he’s getting better. Hopefully he is. I’m taking his word for it. The guy was 5 in the world at one stage. He battled back to the top 10. He can obviously still play.  He’s got to be able to not just slice his backhand. Obviously even at Queen’s and the week before, I forgot where he was the week before that, Stuttgart or something, he does predominantly do that. So it’s sort of a work in progress.  I think hopefully he’ll get healthy. That’s what it boils down to. He still has got game. He’s had a rough patch. I hope he gets it together. He’s on a protected ranking. He has some opportunities. He’s protected ranking 7, but he doesn’t get seeded. That means he could play anyone in the draw, which wouldn’t be the best thing for some of the top players, but it’s not the best for him either to try to get back to where he sort of deserves to be if he can stay healthy.
    Q. How did he seem to you when you spoke to him?
    JOHN McENROE: He’s obviously been extremely frustrated and upset. He’s been out of the game way too long. He was at 5 in the world, got hurt, then he battled back to the top 10. I think he was 6 or 7 when he got hurt again. 7, that’s his protected ranking. It’s a shame, in a way.  So, you know, I’m reading between the lines. I’m sure he’s still scared, a little worried. I don’t know. He’s tried all different types of surgeries and things. I didn’t get into the exact specifics.  Just as someone who hates to see someone lose a career over getting hurt, it’s sort of unfair when you see good guys get burned by injury. If he does get healthy, I don’t know if he’ll get all the way back to 5 in the world, but he can still do some damage.

    Q. Serena, in the last three slams, she’s lost to first-time slam winners. I wanted to sort of revisit, Chrissie, what you were saying before that to the rest of the field maybe she doesn’t seem invincible anymore. Players are beating her in big matches, and they’re players who have not won a slam before. I also wanted to ask about Andy Murray. He’s right there at all these slams. He won three years ago. How do you see his chance against Novak, if it were to come down to those two?
    CHRISSIE EVERT: As far as Serena, I’ll reiterate, from my observations when I’m calling her matches, I’m seeing these finals, again, it’s twofold. What I’m seeing is the fact that she hasn’t been able to, the last three Grand Slams, get herself into that next gear when she’s in trouble. This is what she’s been famous for in her whole career, especially last year when she was in like, what, nine three-set matches in Grand Slams. It was just incredible to me to see her down a set and a break against an Azarenka, down a set against Safarova, Bacsinszky, and come back. She was able to find that gear and that level. We haven’t seen that.

    But the other thing, maybe even more important than what we’re seeing now, is the belief we’re seeing from other players. That’s what Kerber talked about, that’s what Muguruza talked about. They are starting to believe they can beat Serena. We’ve never seen that in Serena’s career when she’s been dominant. There’s always been a little bit of resistance or a little bit of doubt, and they haven’t been able to play their game aggressively on the big points in the third set, and Serena has been able to.  It’s twofold: it’s Serena and it’s the field having that belief. Again, Kerber, Muguruza have talked about that belief. I think more and more players are finding that belief as Serena loses more and more, she becomes less and less untouchable.  In saying that, it sounds like a negative for Serena. But for her to even be in this position is historical. I believe, along I’m sure with John and other champions, that she still can get that one, which would tie her with Steffi. To me, this is her best shot.

    One thing I didn’t bring up is she did have a big week with Mackie Shilstone last week in Palm Beach. She did go over a lot of fitness. She hasn’t had Mackie really on her team until I believe last year, in the summer of last year. Hopefully that was a green flag saying, I want to go that extra mile, get in better shape for Wimbledon, come visit me. He did work with her. In saying that, that’s a good sign for her.

    Q. John, if you want to talk about Murray?
    JOHN McENROE: I got a firsthand look because I’ve been working with Milos. He was playing great. Andy stepped it up. Like Milos is trying to do with him, he’s trying to do with Novak, bridge that gap a little bit, try to figure out what little bit extra he can do. He’s obviously put himself in position numerous times.

    Novak went into the zone at the French. Andy was playing the best tennis of his life on clay for sure at the French and won the first set, looked great. In ways he’s getting closer. I do think his best chance, if you were to say in terms of surface, I think he’s best suited, just having the crowd more on his side here at Wimbledon. So I think his best chance, not that he can’t beat him at the Open, he beat him in Rome not long ago, but his record has recently not been good.  Novak has handled it tremendously, what he’s been able to do, like Serena. He’s won four in a row. He’s trying to do something that only one or two other people have done. He’s unbelievably consistent and prepared.  I think him adding Ivan, he’s trying to get that little bit extra, just like other players are trying to do the same. We’ll see how it all plays out.  Murray is playing great. He’s a great player, there’s no question about it. But at the moment there’s no question that the level that Novak is at is something that you rarely, if ever, see, that consistency. He’s impenetrable in a way. He’s able to play good offense. It’s a tall order for anyone.
    CHRISSIE EVERT: With Lendl back on the team, I think that’s all a positive. I think that’s going to give also him maybe a little bit more excitement. I think Ivan was so good for him mentally and emotionally more than anything. We maybe have seen a little bit more focus. I just think that’s going to be great.  I agree with John. With him playing at Wimbledon, his home crowd, him playing some of the best tennis of his life, playing more aggressively, and with Lendl back, I think it’s all looking good. It’s about as good as it’s going to get, let’s put it that way. If that’s good enough to win the tournament, so be it. But is that enough? That’s the big question. Djokovic is just playing so great.

    Q. John, sticking with Lendl, what are your thoughts on Murray’s reappointment of him? Do you think he can add that missing ingredient to that rivalry with Djokovic? How much would you enjoy a reunion with him at Wimbledon?
    JOHN McENROE: I just saw him the other day. Milos had a great shot at a set and 3-Love, playing really well. You have to credit him. He seized an opportunity and stepped up. That’s what great players do.  As Milos is trying to do, not just him but others, leave no stone unturned, try to maximize what they have. To me it’s not surprising. It’s not a no-brainer. But I think the fact that his best success was with Ivan, it makes sense to give this another shot given the circumstances.  It doesn’t surprise me. I think it makes people think if you get in someone’s head in any way, whether that can make a difference, whether he makes a difference. We all hope he can make any difference. He’s done an excellent job in the past.

    Everyone is chasing Djokovic, there’s no question about it. Everybody else is trying to bridge the gap between Andy and see what else is out there. Rafa not playing, Roger has been struggling to stay healthy for the first time really. Losing to Thiem, Zverev, these guys can see light at the end of the tunnel maybe.  It’s going to be interesting this year, but clearly at the moment these guys have put themselves out here, Andy and Novak, and these other guys have to figure out ways to add to what they’ve got and to bridge this gap.

    Q. Chrissie, we saw today that Mouratoglou thought it was strange that Murray hired Mauresmo. Do you think we’ll see a top player hire a female coach in the future?
    CHRISSIE EVERT: Who said that? I didn’t hear the first part of that.
    Q. Patrick Mouratoglou said it was strange for Murray to hire a woman as a coach.
    CHRISSIE EVERT: Wow!
    Q. He said it’s strange because they don’t know the men’s game as well as the women’s game.
    CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I disagree with that. Billie Jean was a coach. I think she coached Todd Martin. Both of those players are serve and volleyers, played an aggressive game. I’m sure Mauresmo did a lot of homework. That’s kind of a little bit of a sexist statement.

    In saying that, I think Lendl did more for him than anybody. I think it’s a great combination because Lendl’s strengths are Murray’s weaknesses. Lendl, mentally and emotionally, he managed himself so well on the court. With Andy, that’s been sort of his downfall a little bit in the past, he’s gotten so emotional in these matches.  It was noticeably different when Lendl was coaching him. He was a bit quieter. He seemed to have himself under control a lot more.  I think it’s a great fit. I’m happy for both of them, that they’re working together. Again, that’s the best scenario for Andy Murray right now, to have him in his corner.

    Q. Every now and again there’s the subject of whether the men should go back and maybe play best-of-three sets in the early rounds at Grand Slams. John, I don’t know if you remember, but when you first started playing the US Open in ’77 onwards, the first rounds were played over three sets.
    JOHN McENROE: My memory is not that bad (laughter).
    Q. You’re one of the few that can remember it. Can you remember what the reason was behind it, what you thought of it, and what you think of the principle in general?
    JOHN McENROE: Well, the principle in general to me is that the players are so well-prepared, a lot of them, but especially the top players, with their teams, et cetera, I believe they’re more difficult because there’s such a premium on fitness.  Why don’t you see teenagers win? The breakthrough is harder physically and mentally. You don’t see the success as early. You have to sort of work your way up to that astronomical level of fitness in a way.  These guys to me prefer, even though there’s a stress obviously to playing best-of-five, especially if there’s delays, rain, if you had to do it a couple days in a row, they’re much more difficult to beat in best-of-five than best-of-three.  I would guess that the top players would shy against that, even though I think there’s an argument for it. We used to have 16 seeds and they did it. 32 seeds, you could think to yourself, I’m better than the 33rd player on. So you should be able to handle those people as well.  I think tennis should always think of ways to improve itself. I don’t think the door should be closed on saying that women would never play best-of-five or guys will never play best-of-three. I think it’s something that’s an ongoing discussion.

    I played tennis. Chrissie played for many years. Now we’re doing commentary. You sort of see it from both sides. You can see where the length of the match can be a problem because people’s attention span is much less than what it used to be. I’ve always wondered why at the very least there’s not tiebreakers in the fifth set in majors so there’s at least light at the end of the tunnel for the fans watching on TV or there, or the players.  But these are issues that need to be constantly addressed. The door shouldn’t be closed on that.  If I was coaching Djokovic, and I’m coaching Milos, part of his team right now, I’m not so sure I’d want them to switch it to best-of-three because I think the top guys are tougher to beat, like I said. These guys are extremely well-prepared.

    Q. Can you remember why they tried it in the first place?
    JOHN McENROE: It’s not going to change anytime soon.  I don’t remember why because even I, who was not known for my incredible fitness, I would like to think I was a reasonably fit person, but not quite as fit as these guys, I think it’s a little bit more of a roll of the dice. I did lose in the Round of 16 in the US Open in 1977, my first Open, 6-2, 6-3. It seemed like it happened too fast.  I don’t remember why it was changed other than perhaps the top players decided it would lessen their chances of a loss.

    Q. Do you think Novak Djokovic’s recent accomplishments have not been appreciated the way they should be, not getting as much press as a Roger Federer or somebody else, winning four in a row?
    JOHN McENROE: He’s a better player than I was, but I had a little bit of this because I was trying to break in with Connors and Borg, the top two guys. It was frustrating at times where you felt like people would gravitate or be behind these guys, and you were trying to get that same respect, not only from the players, but the press and fans.  Jimmy brought a lot to the table with his effort, Bjorn had this great aura and look. Roger is the most beautiful player I’ve ever watched. He’s like Baryshnikov. Rafa plays like an updated 21st century Connors, with that intensity, that point is the last point they are ever going to play.  I think people are starting to respect him more and more, to see the astronomical level of consistency he’s had, incredible success week in and week out. At the majors, if you look at his records, he’s approaching Roger’s records, which would seem insurmountable. 20 straight quarters, so many semis in a row. It’s amazing.  People are starting to understand and appreciate him more. He certainly had some of that. Also our sport is bigger where I am now in Europe than it is in the States. Obviously if we had more Americans like we used to with Chrissie and Connors, myself, other people, Pete and Andre, you go down the list, it would be helpful to the interests of our sport obviously if we had Americans.

    We have Serena in the women, but we don’t have that person in the men right now. That’s also an issue. That’s another part of the reason why I think he’s not appreciated as much as he could be.
    CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that Djokovic, like John said, came along in an era where you have two of the most beloved players, two of the most exciting players with a lot of flair in Nadal and in Federer. Nadal and Federer are so different, they had so many classic matches, I think there’s just an aura around their rivalry.  Then Novak came in, no drama, not a lot of flair, just the most dependable and most consistent and efficient player there was. As we see now, this guy quietly could just beat everybody as far as Grand Slam wins. He could just be the greatest of all time if he continues to go at the speed that he’s going.  He’s doing it in a quiet way. Again, there’s no controversy. There’s no drama. You always had that with Federer and with Nadal.  Then you look at Andy Murray. Andy kind of gets lost in the shuffle also because Andy is in an era with three of the greatest players of all time. Andy himself, if he was in any other era, he probably could have been ranked No. 1.  It’s a really exciting time I think for men’s tennis.

    Q. Chrissie, do you see something in Muguruza that could potentially separate her from the pack, where she could become the primary rival for Serena?
    CHRISSIE EVERT: Sure. I mean, I don’t think you say no. I mean, who is going to be next, the next No. 1 player, after Serena is gone? You’ve got to put your money on Muguruza because first of all, you have to have power in today’s game. When I look at the next three, I look at Radwanska, Kerber and Halep. I don’t think either of those three are going to end up No. 1 in the world. They don’t have that sort of overwhelming power. Muguruza does have it, very much like Serena, following in her footsteps.  Muguruza, she still has to mature a little bit. She’s still young. She still has to get probably a little more consistent with her results in the smaller tournaments. But when I look at winning Grand Slams, you’d have to say Muguruza, you’d have to look at Madison Keys, Azarenka, Kvitova, the power players more now more so than the consistent counter-punchers.  Yeah, she’s come a long way. I think she’s going to have a tough Wimbledon. It’s very hard to carry that momentum. Very few people have won the French and Wimbledon back to back, especially at that young of an age. That will be a real curiosity for me if she can carry that momentum and confidence and do well, think about last year reaching the finals, or is she going to have a hard time resetting, especially in dealing with people’s expectations.

    Q. John, you had that Wimbledon run late in your career when you lost to Agassi. Could you relate that to Roger Federer now? What do you see for Federer at this Wimbledon and beyond? Also the movie about you, did you have any input into that, and did you have any thought about the casting for you? And Chrissie, what about Madison Keys and Sloane? What do you expect from them from this tournament and on? What are they capable of achieving here and the rest of this year?
    JOHN McENROE: As far as the movie goes, at this particular point, I’ve had no input. I know they’ve reached out to both my and Bjorn’s agents. Had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the casting. That’s simple facts. I’ve obviously heard of him, he seems a bit crazy, which may be a good thing. He’s done some good stuff, but I’m not that familiar with him as far as his whole career. That remains to be seen. You never know what could or could not happen.

    As far as your boy Roger Federer, I don’t know. I saw him play the last two events on TV. Clearly he’s trying to position himself here. His best shot, if he’s ever going to do it, would be here. Most people feel that way. Maybe Roger does at this point.  I don’t know exactly where he’s at physically. I mean, to me I think he has a far better chance than I did at that time, I would say, because he’s putting more into it, he’s leaving no stone unturned. He has people around him more so than I did. So I would say from that standpoint, if he were able to, with a little bit of luck, he could go a long way because he’s so comfortable on this surface.  I don’t know exactly his fitness. He’s been struggling to be on a court. In the best-of-five, that’s a different story. He hasn’t played a best-of-five set match for a while. That’s another issue. Other factors will come into it, like the draw, who he plays. All these things come into it.  It’s a little unpredictable. But after the string he had of 65 straight, missing the French, I think you start to say, Okay, how much longer are you going to see Roger around? You have to appreciate each time you see him at a major. He is going to be 35 in August, I believe.
    CHRISSIE EVERT: As far as Madison and Sloane, they definitely are the most talented young Americans that we have. If I take one at a time…Sloane has disappointed us. Our expectations have been higher of Sloane. I think she’s disappointed us in her attitude, if anything. She seems like in the past she hasn’t been as engaged in her matches. She’s received criticism from that.  Tremendous talent. She can do everything. I just think it’s a matter of her putting herself on the line. If she can put herself out there and play aggressively like she knows how to play from the first shot, I think she’s a totally different player. She just in the past has been waiting and kind of assessing her opponent, kind of playing counter-punch tennis. That’s not her game. Her strength is from the first shot stepping in and playing aggressively. If she can do that, she’s hungry to win, she wants to commit herself, I think she definitely could be a top contender.  By the way, she looks better. She’s getting better and better. But maybe she’s going at her own pace. Maybe we’re all trying to rush her.

 

I know we all tried to rush Madison Keys. I’ve known Madison since she was 10 years old. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that in her own time she will win a Grand Slam, but it has to be on her terms. She has to make all the decisions.  I think we’ve seen some signs from her winning Birmingham. We saw it last year when she won Eastbourne. This girl can play on grass. This girl, again, her serve I think matches Serena’s. I think it’s the only serve out there that matches Serena’s as far as power and being a threat, being unreturnable. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in Madison.  I think in her own time, the physical has always been advanced for her, her game, her power. Once the mental and emotional catch up, which I see signs of right now, I think she’s going to win some majors. I don’t have any doubt in my mind.

Q. John, I wondered how much you enjoyed your week at Queen’s and if it’s given you extra appetite for doing more the rest of the year and further ahead? Chrissie, doing a series on great shots of the game, Serena’s serve is obviously very big. Is there anything you could sort of add to that that’s not obvious to the layperson that goes into the production of it?
CHRISSIE EVERT: How was your week, John?
JOHN McENROE: My week was nice. Thank you for asking (laughter).

Actually, I stayed in Europe and went straight over to London from Paris. It was good to sort of spend a week, get a feel for what makes Milos tick. He’s a great young kid, extremely professional and dedicated. (My role is to) Try to hopefully help him a bit. I think he’s one of the contenders. If you told me four months ago there would be six, seven people that could possibly win this, there’s a lot of guys that can beat guys on a given day, but to actually win it, I would put him in the handful of half dozen guys. I think it’s nice from that standpoint to be part of his team.

As far as down the road, I think it always was for me hopefully something that wasn’t going to be for a couple weeks then, “Thank you very much.” Hopefully for him, and it ultimately is up to him, that he’ll be a better player in a year or two years than he is at this moment, even though I think he has a shot at winning it this year.  Obviously from 25 to 29, the next three, four years, I think it’s an opportunity for him to improve. I think he wants to do that. It’s great when you see someone that’s really working hard at maximizing what he’s got.  He’s had a good team around him before. Carlos Moya has done a real fine job when he’s been there. He has other people. Ricardo Piatti has been coaching him as more of a regular thing. I think it would be part of something where I pick and choose. The beauty that’s happened for me the last five years or so with some of the other players like Boris, Ivan was doing it more often, I don’t know how many weeks he’s going to do with Andy now, but if I use the word ‘part-time’, somewhere 10 weeks or less, that’s something that is much more in my wheelhouse, and perhaps it’s for Milos as well because he already has a good team around him.  This is the type of thing where it first started to feel like, Okay, if something nice came along, it’s good. It’s not a 30- or 40-week commitment like a lot of players have with a lot of their coaches.
CHRISSIE EVERT: About John and Raonic, very much like Lendl and Murray, I think Lendl’s philosophy and his strengths really helped Murray. When I look at John’s game, it’s like opposites attract. I think John has so many rare insights into playing grass court tennis, because he played so well.  I think John was known for his touch and his quickness around the court, coming into the net. If John can influence Raonic on any of these things, I think it would be a plus-plus with Milos. When you got with him, I liked it, I liked that combination right away. You can light a fire under him because you are a feisty player.  He’s very much in control out there. Like you said, he’s professional, he’s hard-working. But he needs a little fire and he needs to show. I think just a few little tweaks in his game would make all the difference in the world in him winning Wimbledon. I’m a big fan of that combination.

I’m not kissing your ass either, John.
JOHN McENROE: I appreciate that. Thank you.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think Serena loads up really well from her leg strength. She uses her leg strength. She loads up well. She springs up, and that just gives her much more acceleration. That plus the racquet head speed is what gives her the power. So it’s that leg strength that probably we don’t talk about as much.  And the toss, it’s always in the same slot. She very rarely has a bad toss. It’s in that same slot where she can go wide or down the T, it’s unreadable.

Q. John, Milos came to the net very well in the beginning of the year at Australia, but there seemed to be differences at Queen’s with the forehand volley. Have you worked on the technical side with him in recent weeks, and if so, could you give some specifics, what your assessment was of him during the matches in Queen’s. And also, you don’t strike me as the kind of guy that is going to have a lot of fun sitting in the chair for three sets or even five. I was wondering how you were handling not having any ability to affect what’s going on on the court as opposed to sitting in the booth where you don’t necessarily have a vested interest in the outcome?
JOHN McENROE: I’m not the guy that can sit still very well in any situation. Certainly when you obviously have lost control, you try to add what you can, try to be helpful to someone before. I’d like to maybe do a lot of standing up than sitting down. Gets your body too stiff from sitting. I’m an energy person. I kind of hope that he can feed off some of my energy and intensity a little bit because that’s the way I am and that’s the way I’m going to be.  Ivan sat there for years and didn’t change his expression. It is certainly a more helpless position, and it’s easy to be the backseat driver: You should have done this, this is how you should do that. You have to be cognizant, or the fact I played for so long, and still try to play, I understand how difficult it is to actually go out there and execute.

As far as the first part of your question, I’m not going to get into the specifics of what we’re doing. I think that Milos is someone that has a big game, obviously got a lot of shots. One of the best serves in the history of tennis. He has a huge forehand.  I think he understands that he needs to be able to use that to his advantage, be more aggressive, take it to people. Exactly what he was doing in Australia, that’s the best I’ve ever seen Milos look, when he was playing down there. That’s sort of the game plan. With or without me that would be, I believe, something that he understands.

You always try to help someone with every part of the game. Just because I’m more of a touch player and have a better volley doesn’t mean that I’m never going to mention about his groundstrokes or serve or whatever. It depends. But obviously an important part of grass court play is to be aware of situations, court positioning. Volleying used to be more important, but I still think it can be important.  I think when you have a guy who is 6’5″ tall, he’s very imposing. If you ever heard me commentate, that’s a bit of a no-brainer. So hopefully he goes out there and is able to perform at the best of his ability and enjoy it. I would take pleasure in that if I could help him in that way.

Q. I noticed last week he was smiling a crazy amount on the court. I wondered if you had anything to do with that at all. He’s usually either stoic or ticked off.
JOHN McENROE: I can’t answer that. You’d probably have to speak to him.  Before I even started working with Milos, I knew him around. I have some people in New York, know people he’s friends with. To me, because I personally wasn’t able to get out on the court and enjoy it maybe at the end of the day as much as I would have liked, yeah, I play with intensity, but sometimes it was negative intensity which sometimes gets a little old. I think if there was one aspect of Roger Federer’s career that I’m jealous of is that it seemed like he really loved being out there, whereas people like myself or Sampras, most people really, are filled with angst, because it is intense and you don’t want to let down and all these other reasons you’re sort of brought up to believe is the case.  Obviously Milos has felt the best way for him to perform is to sort of keep an even keel and not show much emotion, go about it. I don’t think he hired me so I would say, Look, keep exactly the same way. I believe he’ll be a better player when he’s able to express himself more positively.  Murray, you watch Murray, Andy starts screaming at his box, whatever. People prefer he didn’t do that. It could cost him at times, maybe when he played Djokovic, not a lot of guys but a couple guys.  Maybe where Milos would be able to enjoy this. This is tough to do, but there’s great rewards. It is a little bit like, Look, trust me, I’ve been there, I didn’t do as good a job, and hopefully you can have more fun with this and enjoy it.  I believe he can. It’s not something where suddenly you’re going to start acting like Rafael Nadal. Over time, if you look at Novak, I think he’s done a great job of turning lemons into lemonade, things that were going on in the court in the past. Now he uses the crowd better, gets into it. He recognizes the situation, takes advantage of it. That’s a great quality he’s got now. I’d like to see Milos do that, as well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s one thing that Serena is lacking right now, is maybe she should be enjoying the journey and the process a little bit more. She certainly doesn’t appear to be happy all the time on the court.

THE MODERATOR: Chrissie, you have to go, but we’ll take a few more for John on the line. I thank you for your contributions today.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Thank you. Bye, John. See you next week.
JOHN McENROE: Bye, Chrissie.

Q. John, there was an article that Pete Sampras did a while back. It was in the form of a letter to himself as a young player where he reflected on emerging into the game, giving himself a few tips. If you could go back, give yourself a tip or two when you were emerging, what would that be?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it would be to act more like Connors in the sense that he’d lose it and freak out, but he’d have his arm around someone, loving every minute of it, embracing, laughing it off, not thinking if you laughed, you’d lose your intensity. Or make a joke. Sometimes I thought things would be humorous if I said it, I didn’t say it, I said almost the opposite. So just enjoying it on the court more, which is easier said than done.  Certainly the way I played, I was sort of brought up to be really intense, not let down. If you let down, you lose it. God forbid, if you enjoyed it, had fun, your game would drop.  If I had let myself let that happen, I feel like I would have enjoyed it even more, even though when I look back I feel pretty lucky and fortunate. It’s at the time when I was competing to win these majors, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy it more in the later part of my career.

Q. Jimmy was your great rival. He interacted with the crowd, getting the crowd behind him. Did that piss you off? Also, has anyone since Jimmy approached that, had that skill set?
JOHN McENROE: It pissed me off, but I also respected it. I was like, Wow, this guy is like a maestro out here, he can do this. It drove me crazy, but I wish I had done it more myself, so… That’s as simple as that.  I don’t think there’s someone that I’ve ever seen that has controlled the crowd as well as Jimmy Connors, as far as I can see. The game is different now. The challenge system has changed. It’s better for the player. You feel like you’re going to get a second look. That’s comforting.

I think Nadal has played with the type of intensity and exuberance in a way. He didn’t get with the crowd, but he’s just so fired up, like every point is his last point, pump the fist, jump up, being down two sets to love even. He’d hold serve, he’d be screaming. I really respected that, especially a little bit earlier. When you see it a little more often, it’s tougher to do when you’re not winning as much. Even now you see him, even meaningless it’s considered, he still gets fired up.

I don’t think there’s ever going to be someone that lit it up. Kyrgios, he does things where he drives everybody crazy, but he does things where he’s magical in a way. If he actually ever puts a potpourri of things together in a way that it’s going to be difficult to do, because he’s going to need the right people, understand what this is all about, the commitment, all this other stuff. He’s got the type of personality where he could light things up, drive players crazy because of his skill, but also because his ability to sort of interact. He’s doing that when Milos is playing. He’s talking to everybody, always talking, drives you nuts. Some of it can be funny, what he said, some of it can be annoying, some of it can be complimentary. He always seems to be doing something.  You have different sides of the spectrum. But he’s someone that could potentially bring a lot to the table.

Q. John, your thoughts on Eugenie Bouchard’s game heading into Wimbledon? Have you been watching her closely enough to comment?
JOHN McENROE: You know, I haven’t seen her play enough to say for sure. I think because of the unpredictability of grass, in terms of how little people play on it, it would make things more open.  I haven’t seen anything, me personally, from the dozen or so times I’ve seen her play since she had these monumental struggles that would say, Okay, I’m ready to see her break through and make this huge move.  The fact she had a year where she was at the end of majors consistently would lead me to believe that if the right set of circumstances took place, the confidence could start building again.  I don’t see much confidence right now at all. But she’s out there. I think she’s back with Saviano. It’s sort of in a sense what Murray is doing. She clearly had this great one year where it was way better than anything she’s ever done.  It’s a work in progress. To me, I don’t see the confidence right now that would lead me to believe it’s going to be much of a run. Stranger things have happened.

Q. Your relationship with Milos, is it all business or have you become friends with him? What kind of guy is he?
JOHN McENROE: I think Milos is a really class act. I think he’s extremely smart. He’s a guy I knew a little bit from before. I was supportive, because I always try to be supportive of the young guys coming up. I saw something obviously with his serve where you’re like, Oh, my God, this guy has one of the greatest serves in the history of tennis. He’s a respectful guy. He’s very professional and dedicated. I want him to enjoy this more.  So I’d be supportive whether I was working with him or not. I have been because I know some people that are around him, kids of parents that I’m friends with, he’s younger than some of my kids. He has got a place in New York. I’ve seen him a few times not at the US Open or something.  I’m probably a little bit too old that, like, we’re buddies. But any part of a professional relationship, at least for me, you try to figure out what he’s about, what makes him tick. You sort of try to fit in because this is something he’s been doing for a long time, and I’m not going to walk in and go, Now you do it this way.  We had a good week of practice before Queen’s. He played well at Queen’s. He was up a set and 3-Love against Murray. He missed a backhand volley, a challenge, missed by a quarter of an inch to be at 4-1. He was unlucky not to win that game. He should have won the match in straight sets. But he didn’t.

Now we have to get him focused for Wimbledon, obviously which matters quite a bit more. I think hopefully he’s one of the half dozen guys that can win it. He has a good team around him. Carlos Moya I think has done an excellent job. I said earlier in this call, it’s the best I’ve ever seen Milos play, at the Australian, get him back to where he’s a presence, an intimidating one. He’s getting there. Hopefully Carlos will be back here and I’ll be doing commentating mainly. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a chance to be out there and support him. But my professional commitments with ESPN in doing Wimbledon, and some BBC, mainly ESPN, will preclude me from doing too much with Milos. But that was understood before.  Whatever I can do, I’ll be around, want to be supportive, discuss strategy with who he plays, obviously, and that other stuff.

Q. John, I’m obviously obsessed with Andy’s attempts to break into Djokovic’s dominance. Is there a chance he could be more susceptible after completing the career slam or is it more likely he’ll relax and be more formidable?
JOHN McENROE: That’s a good question. That’s a tremendous question that I don’t know the answer to. I would say Andy’s hoping the former takes place.  I doubt that (Novak) is going to let down. I think there may be, if anything, more pressure because he’ll be going for the actual calendar-year slam. This is something monumental. He’s already done something monumental.  He’s in a fantastic space. He’s unbelievably consistent, scary consistent. Andy played well, played a great first set at the French. This guy stepped it up to like a gear that was frighteningly good. It was like taking a body blow, a shot to the stomach. It was hard to recuperate. He made a little bit of a run at the end, but the damage had been done.  This guy, he’s very, very formidable. I think Andy is playing extremely well, actually the best I’ve ever seen him play at the French. First time I thought he had the chance to win it.

He’s as prepared as he possibly can be. I think his chances are better, for reasons I mentioned earlier. The crowd will be much more behind him. I think the game suits him better. He sort of has that cat-and-mouse thing. Novak has gotten much better at that, too.  It’s a tall order, but I think if you said to me he has a better shot of beating Novak at Wimbledon than the French, although he could have done it, I think he’s got a better shot.  He’s positioned himself as well as he possibly can. He hasn’t beaten him in a while. He beat him in Rome. He’s believing more. But that’s certainly another reason why I thought he brought Ivan in.

 

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ESPN Tennis Conference Call with Chris Evert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver

(March 16, 2015) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver spoke with media on Monday. Currently, ESPN3 is providing live all-day coverage from the three main stadiums at the BNP Paribas Open, with ESPN television joining on Thursday, March 19, through Sunday’s women’s and men’s championships.

Soundbites:

How good is Madison Keys?

· “I saw her at age 12. I think that everybody that saw her at that point thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much raw power, that if she could just control it and harness it, she’s going to be a great player.’ Very much like a Serena, she has the second best serve out there, which she’s going to win a lot of free points holding her serve…But she’s got it all. She has natural ease and power in her shots.” – Evert

· “The first time I really came out of a match with my jaw sort of dropping was a couple years ago at the Australian Open when she beat Paszek, beat her routinely. She beat her with two weapons: the serve and the forehand. In my mind, in women’s tennis especially, when you can come through with those two big weapons, it can set you apart….I can tell you from my courtside position a couple years ago, I came out feeling fantastic that the U.S. had a true prospect to get to the top spot.” – Shriver

The strong state of women’s tennis:

· “The women’s game is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, to have Serena obviously doing what she’s doing. You’re finally I think seeing some young players that got some gumption, that got some real attitude that they can compete with the best in Bouchard and Keys, Svitolina and others. I think Coco Vandeweghe deserves to be in that conversation, as well.” – McEnroe

· “The bottom half of the women’s draw — Bouchard, Keys, Jankovic, Bencic, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Garcia, Lisicki, Errani, Azarenka, Sharapova. That’s the kind of quality draw that in the last six, seven years we haven’t been fortunate enough to have. The recession of women’s tennis that started with Justine Henin retiring is well and truly over.” – Shriver

Q. Madison Keys, she’s really at this point obviously a big-time player, top 20. I know how familiar all of you are with her. Can you tell me why of all of the young up-and-coming players you think she is the one?

CHRIS EVERT: I mean, for those of us who saw her at a young age, I saw her at age 12. I think that everybody that saw her at that point thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much raw power, that if she could just control it and harness it, she’s going to be a great player.’ Very much like a Serena, she has the second best serve out there, which she’s going to win a lot of free points holding her serve. She has so much power, more so than any of the other top players, aside from Serena and Venus, her whole game, not counting Maria Sharapova obviously on the groundstrokes. But she’s got it all. She has natural ease and power in her shots. I feel like I think Lindsay and her husband are a great fit for her right now. At the same time, I think we all felt she would achieve greatness sooner or later when she was ready, when she was emotionally ready. I think the emotional and mental part came along a little bit later than the physical part.

PAM SHRIVER: Well, I think for me, I’m not as familiar as Patrick and Chrissie in the development part, I’m just familiar with Madison as I’ve observed her the last few years for my ESPN position. The first time I really came out of a match with my jaw sort of dropping was a couple years ago at the Australian Open when she beat Paszek, beat her routinely. She beat her with two weapons: the serve and the forehand. In my mind, in women’s tennis especially, when you can come through with those two big weapons, it can set you apart. Over two years ago she was really, really young in her professional career. Now I think we see the pathway a little more clearly with a great team around her, what she did at the Australian Open. No big surprises. I can tell you from my courtside position a couple years ago, I came out feeling fantastic that the U.S. had a true prospect to get to the top spot.

PATRICK McENROE: Not to pat all of us on the back, but I think it’s been a wonderful progression for Madison. I think the first people that deserve a pat on the back are her parents. She’s a great girl, a great person. She’s got a great head on her shoulders. And her first coaches. Then Chrissie and her brother John, through her formative years when she was 12 up until she was I guess 15 or 16.

Then I have to give a pat on the back to my team at the USTA for doing a great job with her and taking her as a very talented teenager and turning her into a top-40 player. As Chrissie said, I think this is a logical progression for her to get the great insight of a great champion like Lindsay, someone who really studies the game and understands the game well. Obviously they got along great when they did their trial period out at the USTA training center in Southern Cal, so well that along with her husband Jon, it turned into a full-time thing. To me, as the head of player development for the last seven years, this has been an ideal progression for a talented player coming through, and the USTA helping along the way, Chrissie and her team doing a great job, arguably the most important years of developing her technique and strokes. Now obviously passing her off to a great player and great champion, someone who I think can take her all the way to the next level. The next level is winning majors.

Whether she can do that this year is up in the air. But I certainly think within the next 24 months, two and a half to three years, absolutely she can win a major.

Q. Today at the tournament is Azarenka versus Sharapova, then Roger playing Seppi, then Serena Williams and Stephens. Can you comment on some those matches.

PAM SHRIVER: First off, I think the quality of both draws is phenomenal. I think we saw great balance at the Australian Open. I feel like we’re in for just a great year of tennis at all the majors and all the Masters Series and Premiere WTAs. The draws are loaded. We’re getting fantastic early-round matchups.

Stephens-Williams has a lot of history based on the quarterfinal upset a couple of Australian Opens ago, but it also tells a different story of two different pathways, where Serena has been a dominant player since that loss, but Sloane Stephens has gone the other way, but is showing signs. If Sloane Stephens can feel a little more relaxed with Madison Keys picking up a lot of attention from her generation, other American women playing really well, maybe this is Sloane’s true comeback year. I would expect Serena to win that match. Chrissie, you want to take Azarenka-Sharapova?

CHRIS EVERT: No. You take it.

PAM SHRIVER: One of the reasons women’s tennis is looking better this year is because of players like Azarenka being healthy again. She looked for a while like the best hard court player in women’s tennis when she was winning two Australian Opens, almost beating Serena in two US Open finals. She was pretty much a non-entity last year.

The way she played at the Australian, the way she’s playing here, playing the quality of tennis she played a couple years ago, are great for women’s tennis.

What isn’t great is for people who like a quiet match (laughter). But we’ll have to deal with it. It will only last a couple hours.

CHRIS EVERT: I just think that Sharapova-Azarenka is going to be really telling to see how far Azarenka has come along as far as taking time off. She seems to have had a resurgence and she seems to have reset her career and her inspiration, seems like 100%. I always think that taking breaks for players is such a good deal, such a good decision. It just refreshes you. You just get so flat and burned out playing year after year after year and not taking a good chunk of really four or five months off. I think she’s been better as a result. These two players could end up 2 and 3 at the end of the year. That’s how tough this third round is.

On the other hand, Sloane, I love the way she has played this tournament. I’m very happy that she’s with Nick Saviano. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach, seeing what he did with Genie Bouchard. If anybody can help her attitude and mental outlook on her tennis, it’s going to be Nick with Sloane. So good signs, showing good attitude out there, good body language. These are just two great showcase matches for women’s tennis.

PATRICK McENROE: Maybe one you forgot about, we haven’t mentioned her yet, is Coco Vandeweghe. She’s done a terrific job. She’s seeded, what, about 30 or 31 out there. She’s sort of quietly playing the best tennis of her career. Similar to Madison, we’ve known about her since she was a teenager from Southern Cal. Being a huge hitter of the ball and a good athlete. It’s taken her a little while, but she’s figured out how to get herself in really good condition. I love the way she’s playing. She’s still a little bit up and down. She played some great tennis in Australia, then didn’t play so well when she lost. Taking on Bouchard, who Chrissie and Pam talked about already, that’s the first match out there on the stadium court today. That’s a good one. Bouchard obviously with a new coach, as well. She’s got a lot to prove this year, a lot of pressure on her after an unbelievable year last year.

The women’s game is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, to have Serena obviously doing what she’s doing. You’re finally I think seeing some young players that got some gumption, that got some real attitude that they can compete with the best in Bouchard and Keys, Svitolina and others. I think Coco Vandeweghe deserves to be in that conversation, as well.

Obviously we’re certainly looking forward to seeing Roger take on Seppi. While we would all pencil this in as a routine Roger win based on overall his record against Seppi, losing for the first time at the Australian to him, which was a shocker obviously, I wouldn’t be quite that quick. Seppi is a really good player. He’s had an excellent last year and a half on the tour. I expect him to play well again. Obviously Roger’s antenna will be way up for this. Coming off a win in Dubai over Djokovic got him back on track with his confidence that he can have another great year. Just like the women’s draw, the men’s draw is loaded. It’s a nice early test for Roger to see where he’s at.

CHRIS EVERT: Is Bencic playing Wozniacki?

THE MODERATOR: That’s second on.

CHRIS EVERT: That’s another one to watch, 18-year-old Bencic. Patrick was talking about the young ones. She’s 18 years old, had a slow start, but had a great year last year.

PAM SHRIVER: The bottom half of the women’s draw, Bouchard, Keys, Jankovic, Bencic, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Garcia, Lisicki, Errani, Azarenka, Sharapova. That’s the kind of quality draw that in the last six, seven years we haven’t been fortunate enough to have. The recession of women’s tennis that started with Justine Henin retiring is well and truly over.

CHRIS EVERT: Good point.

Q. I wanted to talk about the event you’re at. Obviously players want to win at every event. This has the aura of a fifth major. Do you see players and advertisers, media, putting this on a higher shelf than other events on the tour?

PAM SHRIVER: From a Southern California standpoint, to think this is the only professional tournament in one of the great tennis hotbeds in the history of the game is kind of a shame. But it also makes it, for this region, because living here, hearing the buildup the last month, you can feel this is a big-time Southern Cal event.

CHRIS EVERT: You look at next week, Miami, this week Indian Wells. You talked about hotbeds. California and Florida are the two biggest tennis dates, I feel, in the country, and have really come up with some great players, play all year round. There are a lot of tennis enthusiasts. It’s only apropos that these two big tournaments are held in these two states. You could say the fifth. I would like to say the Road to Singapore, the WTA Finals, in the players’ mind is the fifth one. But then you have this one and Miami right there with it. It’s probably the most popular with the players. What’s not to be great to come out here in this weather, in this atmosphere, this facility, this venue. I think it’s definitely one of the players’ favorites.

PATRICK McENROE: There’s no doubt that these Masters events in general have been elevated to another level. You might get the same argument from a Cincinnati or even some of the European clay court events, which are tremendous as well. The nice thing about these two events, obviously Indian Wells, the facilities are phenomenal with Larry Ellison, what he’s been able to do to take it to a whole other level by building a new stadium. The grounds are tremendous. I was out there this past weekend. The buzz around the grounds, it’s electric to be out there.

The weather doesn’t hurt out there, as well. I think the time of year. There’s really no major that it conflicts with. You get towards the end of the major clay court tune-up, people are thinking about the French. In the summer, people don’t want to tire themselves out too much leading into the US Open. These two are just great events. This one, where it’s located, what Larry Ellison has been able to do. Ray Moore and Charlie Pasarell starting out had an amazing vision of what this event could be. I think it’s turned into that and a lot more.

Q. Patrick, what do you think of this picture floating around of your brother sitting between Bill Gates and Larry Ellison?

PATRICK McENROE: I thought I was the one in the McEnroe family with a low net worth (laughter). A little reality check for him there, you know.

CHRIS EVERT: Patrick, he was a little intimidated.

PATRICK McENROE: Who wouldn’t be, I’ll tell you.

Q. I have this theory that they made McEnroe pick up the check that night.

PATRICK McENROE: That would be okay. He could afford it (laughter).

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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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Jamie Reynolds of ESPN on Approach Shots

Jamie Reynolds (Photo by Rich Arden/ESPN)

Tennis Panorama News had the unique opportunity to visit the ESPN broadcast compound  and spend time in the control room in Melbourne during coverage of the Australian Open back in January. Senior Vice President of Event Production for ESPN Jamie Reynolds took time out from his extremely hectic schedule to speak to us about the logistics, technologies, philosophy and personalities of ESPN’s Australian Open coverage.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News: How are the logistics of planning different for the Australian Open versus the other slams?

Jamie Reynolds: The way that we approach the Australian Open is similar in the way we do all four majors. And ESPN is unique in the aspect that we literally take apart our entire operation, our entire family, our entire circus and we take it three continents and an island.

We go to Australia and then go on to Paris, we then go up to the UK for Wimbledon and them back down to New York at the end of the summer. The nine month rip is pretty aggressive. So we probably pick up 115 people, and literally land on these hotspots for these events, move them in for three weeks. And I think we are probably the largest broadcaster who does all four majors at that level of commitment or the magnitude of the production assets that we bring. So it’s pretty challenging.

The biggest thing, the hardest thing for us, relative to the Australian Open, candidly is that we are upside down on the time zone to our audience and the fact that we don’t start until 9pm and we run the overnight hours, that’s great, but when we are trying to grow the sport, it’s a little challenging. How do you get people to stay up all night long or want to get invested, either TIVO, record, DVR the matches, because they are that much of a tennis fanatic to take advantage of what we are doing versus what they getting immediately either texting, news reports, Morning wheel of the news, they can get all that social currency to get up to steam.

So our challenge really, for this particular event is probably more editorial that logistic.

 

TPN: What is the biggest technological challenge in covering the Australian Open?

JR: This event is technically, is one of the easier events for us to handle technically. We’ve got a partnership going with Channel 7 Australia, who is also the host broadcaster. So ESPN comes in and effectively we are a world feed embellisher. We put our own character, our own personality, our own voices, graphics, music. Pick the asset that can actually tailor the world feed presentation to look and feel like a standard ESPN product.

So perhaps our biggest challenge is what if we don’t necessarily agree with you on covering a match? Or perhaps the isolation plan for Tomic or for Federer or for Roddick or for Rafa perhaps. That assignment of cameras may not be perhaps the level or the rate or philosophy that we might bring to a match. So how do we cover that chasm?

Technology wise we continue to push the envelope by bringing assets like the Spidercam, the aerial system that you see out on Rod Laver, that’s a device that we on ESPN brought to the tennis world and introduced at the majors at the US Open three years ago, convinced Tennis Australia, Channel 7 that it might enhance their coverage, convinced all the parties to come together and bring it down and fly through Rod Laver.

This year we’ve been very aggressive in trying to help Channel 7 understand how that could be an asset to enhance the coverage package. I think that everyday we chip away at it and get a little bit bolder with its flight pattern and we kind of rely on it a little bit more. I think that it enhances the value of its coverage.

 

TPN: Now that we are down to one American left in the singles draw, what are your angles going to be?

JR: Without the Americans doing well for the first time in the open era and not get to the round of 16, that’s challenging for us. Because we’ve got a lot of personalities and lot of what we do look at from the access to a lot of these players, what the interest is back home. Our particular productions have migrated to a new way of thinking. Specifically this is truly an international event with so many great personalities form around the globe, and because we do reach a lot of countries with ESPN, we think a little bit broader in how we are actually in going after a Hewitt story, a Roger or a Rafa or a Raonic or Tomic and any of the ladies as well.

That our goal now is to make that as personable, as desirable, in terms of wanting to understand the back story, getting our audience invested inn them, just trying to figure out the best way to convey that to our audience so they don’t mind that there are no Americans. We don’t have to put the red, white and blue all the time but there’s really great tennis out there that is fun.

 

TPN: Any new technology being implemented at this year’s Australian Open.

JR: The Australian mindset is very unique. They are gregarious fun loving good folks down here. They tend to be incredibly open-minded in terms of progressive introductions of new ideas to help convey the event and one of the initiatives they’ve helped us achieve is what we call our behind-the-scenes franchise. And that behind-the-scenes franchise as effectively as I describe to our teams is this: “Take behind the velvet ropes. Give me discovery and access. Take me places I couldn’t get to if I had a ticket or if I had the ability to watch every hour of what ESPN puts out, I need to feel like I actually in the event and going somewhere where no one else can go.”

And with that kind of mindset and philosophy with Tennis Australia, “where can you give us access to?” Well we can go to the workout room, we can go to the locker room, we can go to the hallways, the waiting rooms for the players, the player lounges. We can go to the car park area, where a lot of them just go and out their headsets on and just get into a zone and just kind of shut the world out to deconstruct their match. They’re very open-minded, progressive in terms of allowing that access. With that comes the ability to kind of shape the way we convey this event as opposed to just a rectangle on a screen, two players back and forth, three-hit rally or a 17-hit rally. It’s a little sexier, a little bit more valuable, more attractive presentation. I actually feel like I’m part of it, a part of the community, behind the velvet ropes and going somewhere where I couldn’t even go if I were on site.

 

TPN: What would surprise tennis fans about being behind the scenes?

JR: There’s an incredible amount of camaraderie and I think that what doesn’t convey that whether it’s the ATP or the WTA, these athletes and personalities do travel the circuit week after week and what you actually see behind-the-scenes is the feeling of family amongst the players themselves. As combative or as aggressive as they can be with each other out on a court there is sincere appreciation, chemistry, commitment to one another, whether they are having a good year or a poor year. There’s respect but there is a dynamic that these athletes share with each other. It’s not as adversarial as it might convey over an 11-hour show window where we are just showing guys beating back and forth with each other.

 

TPN: What is a typical day for you and the talent?

JR: This is probably the most challenging because of the sheer number of hours that we televise. When we say first ball to final ball, it is a very solid commitment to coverage of the most important matches from front end to back end. That really requires commitment of literally hours per day. So when you look at the first ball starting at 11am and often times ending like New York ending after Midnight, if not later, keeping people motivated through that 14-day stand is challenging. And with a roster of  personalities, our talent roster, keep them enthusiastic, keeping them invested and focused on being “on” for that 10 hours a day waiting for a match, getting ready for one that is coming up tonight,  and you really gotta go through your head for 2 hours and come back with the same enthusiasm, that’s challenging. You are asking a lot of people.

So what happens behind the scenes to help that? It’s the sense of community, family and respect for each other we all try to create. This isn’t just a group of specialists, assassins coming into do a single job. We’ve got to keep everybody working with the chemistry and taking advantage of that. So we’ll rotate teams. You might see Chris Evert working with Pam Shriver today or you will see Patrick McEnroe and Darren (Cahill) or Patrick and Chris Fowler so we can actually keep them involved with each other because they don’t have to always rule out “ Oh God I’m just sitting with my partner for this match and I’m doing every single match him for the next 14 days.” It changes up the dinner table a little bit.

 

TPN: Who are the practical jokers behind the scenes?

JR: I think that those in the tennis community and those of us who are running the sport know what kind of personality a Brad Gilbert brings. And we know, we look loving and fondly at Cliff Drysdale. He’s the godfather of our team, the elder statesman. As a perspective, he is the longest running talent on ESPN, bar none. He’s been with us since 1979, so we look at that history, having done Davis Cup that year, he is the man who is the franchise longer than anyone.

And then you look at Darren Cahill. Cahill with the Aussie wit, terrific personality. Patrick McEnroe, that’s pretty good – an acerbic wit. And McEnroe has a pretty good timbre to work with. Look at the gals – Mary Joe (Fernandez) and Pammy (Shriver) are well respected. Pammy can be polarizing, she’s got a great personality, she will go off on a flyer and make us all laugh and look at things a way many of us would never think about. She connects the dots on a lot of different stories and a lot of personalities. So that’s kind of like a really valuable spark. It’s a good roster.

Follow ESPN’s tennis coverage on ESPN2, ESPN3.com, on twitter @ESPNTennis and @ESPN10S and online on their tennis home page.

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