May 26, 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” with ESPN Tennis Analysts Cliff Drysdale, Chrissie Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez

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(August 24, 2016) ESPN tennis analysts Cliff Drysdale, Chrissie Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez spoke with media Wednesday to discuss the upcoming US Open.  Highlights of the call follow.

 

Soundbites

On:  Does Serena Feel the Pressure of Winning Major No. 23 and breaking the streak of weeks at No. 1?

  • “The pressure… is going to be a lot less intense this year than it was last year; that she finally buckled during the semifinal.  I think she’s always the clear favorite for every major.  Everybody knows that.  That’s been the case for so long now.  And I think, this to me, anyway, this is hers.  It’s always hers to win, but I think she’s going to win it this year.” – Drysdale

 

On: The evolution of Serena the player.

Somebody once asked her, do you remember winning your first US Open, she goes, ‘Yeah, I just went out and hit the ball.  I had no idea what I was doing.’  And I think that sums it up.  She had no strategy.  She just hit the ball.  That’s the way she was taught by Richard; just hit the ball, and she made a lot more errors.  But she was a great athlete and she had the power.  But you know, as like now, she uses her head a lot more on the court.” – Evert

 

On: Is Rafa again the Rafa of old?

“I saw him in Rio and he looked really good.  He looked very hungry.  I felt like his forehand was better than it had been.   I do feel he played so much in the first few days that it caught up to him towards the end.  He had to play del Potro and Nishikori back‑to‑back after having the Gold Medal in doubles, and I think that took a lot out of him, and you saw the effects in Cincinnati.   But I have no doubt that he’s going to be a huge challenger.” – Fernandez

  1. What do you all feel about this race for No. 1, and exactly where Serena might be at this point in time with her tennis?

FERNÁNDEZ:  I was with her in Rio.  She definitely was not 100 percent physically with her shoulder.  I think she made the right choice by not playing in Cincinnati and giving the shoulder a little bit more rest.  I think it was tough for her because the No. 1 ranking is important to her, and she’d like to not just tie Steffi Graf for No. 1 at consecutive weeks, but she’d like to break it. I think it’s great that it’s in her hands.  If she wins the US Open, she’ll keep the No. 1 ranking.  I do also feel like she’s played less this season.  I was looking at her tournaments, I want to say she’s only played seven tournaments, compared to everybody else, not that much.   It was inevitable that players were going to catch up, and Kerber has had such an amazing year by winning the Australian and reaching the finals at Wimbledon, she’s the first one.   I think Muguruza is pretty close, too.  So it makes it exciting.  They are playing for a lot.  They are playing to break records and for the No. 1 ranking.

EVERT:  Yeah, I think just to add on to that, there’s a lot at stake for her, like Mary Joe says, to break Steffi in so many different ways:  First of all, to win 23, and also the consecutive weeks.   She’s had enough time off so that ‑‑ whereas, a lot of the other players seem to be a little tired after the Olympics, because it’s been a really intense, demanding summer for players who have done well at the French and Wimbledon and the Olympics; Serena on the other hand seems to be rested up.  Yes, she was injured.  Hopefully she can get that shoulder ‑‑ I think a lot of it has to do with her shoulder because that serve is the big key for her to win matches.  Yes, she has a lot to fall back on if her serve is not working but it makes life tough for her and she wins a lot of free points on that serve.  The women are only getting better and only gaining more confidence when they play against her.   There’s going to be pressure on Serena.  There was pressure on her last year for different reasons, but this year, Mary Joe, don’t you think there will be a lot of pressure on her also?

FERNÁNDEZ:  There’s still so much.

EVERT:  Serena being No. 2 in the world doesn’t sort of sit well with her.  I think, once again, it’s going to be a pressure.  And the other players, hopefully Kerber is not burned out, because she has every right to be after this year she’s had.   Muguruza, to me, really hasn’t gotten her game back after winning the French.  So a lot of it is dependent also on how the other women are playing and if they believe they can beat her.

DRYSDALE:  From where I sit, the pressure that you two are talking about is going to be a lot less intense this year than it was last year; that she finally buckled during the semifinal.  I think she’s always the clear favorite for every major.  Everybody knows that.  That’s been the case for so long now.  And I think, this to me, anyway, this is hers.  It’s always hers to win, but I think she’s going to win it this year, because I think the pressure in general is off of her now.   As you said, she’s had, generally speaking, a very short year, played very few matches.  I think she’ll be eager to go, and I think that for her, the US Open will always be probably the most important event of her year, and I think she’s going to win it again.

 

  1. You talked specifically about the demands that have been placed on the players with the busy schedule.  Who else to you looks fresh that could possibly threaten Serena at The Open, and whimsical question, if we look at our crystal ball, who for Roberta Vinci this year?

EVERT:  You know, I always think Madison Keys inevitably will come through.  She seems to have had ‑‑ she’s come close.  She’s beaten Venus and she’s played Serena some good matches, and I always think if she’s on her A Game, and Serena is off, I always give her a shot.   But you know, you’re right, Muguruza, as I said before, unless she’s playing her A Game, she just doesn’t ‑‑ she’s like hot or cold.  But unless she plays her A Game, she doesn’t have a chance.   Kerber always will, and if she’s fresh, I think that she is going to be a contender.  But you know, and I’m thinking Cliff Drysdale, who always disagrees with Mary Joe and I no matter what we say, I’m kind of ‑‑ he kind of brought up a good point in the sense of Serena, yes, because she’s had time off, and because she’s ‑‑ I think this will give her motivation and she will be fresher than ever.   You know, it’s Serena playing well ‑‑ I mean, Serena not being in top form, that’s how she loses matches.  But it’s also, the other side of the equation, is somebody coming up and playing some really great tennis.   And who is that going to be?  I mean, are the players tired?  Are they ‑‑ can Radwanska, does she have enough weapons?  I don’t think so.  So that’s why I’m looking at Madison and I’m looking at Kerber, Muguruza on a great day.  But it’s going to be tough.   And there’s so many other girls, women, out there, that all of a sudden, at the Olympics, started playing well.  You don’t know if a dark horse is going to come along and play Serena a great match.  But I think that once she’s in the second week, I think that’s when she’s her toughest.

DRYSDALE:  What about Monica Puig, ladies?

FERNÁNDEZ:  She’s the outsider.  She’s not even seeded.  She could definitely cause some damage.  And she hasn’t played since the Olympics.  Madison has not played since the Olympics and she’ll be fresh.   I also think players like Halep and Pliskova, they didn’t go to the Olympics, so they will be a little bit more fresh mentally and physically, and they are both playing well.  But I think those that went and played well, like a Kerber; poor Radwanska had to fly, I don’t know, like three days to get to the Olympics.  That took a lot out of her.   But I think the one player that’s always dangerous that has never really done well at the US Open, but if she gets hot, is Kvitova.  You have to sort of always look out for her.

DRYSDALE:  Keys and Halep for the reasons you mentioned, and Sloane Stephens has beaten her on a huge occasion.  I would put her as the third one of my dark horses.  And other than the obvious ones that you’ve been talking about, Kerber, Muguruza, Radwanska, I don’t think they have the arsenal of shots to be able to play with Serena.

EVERT:  You know, Mary Joe, you brought up Halep before.  She is somebody that, I mean, she’s somebody who is starting to play well, but her ‑‑ if she just had a better attitude and if she just wasn’t so tough on herself, she’d be another level higher.  I think Halep on a really good day, she’s potential, too.  She’s got potential to beat Serena.

FERNÁNDEZ:  This is the most consistent I’ve seen her for awhile, winning the two back‑to‑back tournaments, reaching the semis against Kerber.  She started to play well after she was down a set at 40‑love.  But if she can bottle that kind of tennis and intensity and concentration and keep the attitude positive, she’s definitely one that should be a contender.

 

  1. Curious if you think that Djokovic is not the favorite going in?  Federer said earlier today he thought he still is, even though he’s had a little bit of a murky summer.  And curious from your perspective what kind of player Serena was 17 years ago when at age 17, she won her first US Open.  Was she a very different player?  And maybe first impressions you’ve had of that breakout run.

DRYSDALE:  Djokovic is to me still the favorite.  I’m giving him 55 to 45.  Andy Murray obviously having a really good second half of the year.   This game is based on really four legs:  You’ve got to be able to get to the ball, you’ve got to be able to hit it and you’ve got to have some strategic jeans to you when you reach that level, but the other one is confidence.   And to the extent that confidence is the most important leg, and Andy Murray is obviously more than a contender, but Djokovic is in my view going to win it again.   How quickly we forget, what have you done for me lately.  It was two months ago that we were talking about him winning the Grand Slam, the first man since Rod Laver to do it, and now we say, suddenly, gee, can he win the US Open.  The answer to me is yes, he can and yes, he will.

FERNÁNDEZ:  He’s only lost five matches all year, so he’s still a favorite for sure.   It’s curious, I don’t know, Chrissie, if you got to see any of the Tennis Channel yesterday.  I was with my son at the tennis courts, and they were showing old matches, and it was Serena, and my son was like, oh, my gosh, they were so good such a long time ago (laughing).  And it was fun to watch.   I think she’s better now, but she was really good back then.  Now she has a better understanding of how to construct points and uses angles and I think is more aware of strategy.  But wow, I mean, she was still, back then, the serve was as powerful.  They were great.  It was fun to watch.

EVERT:  I think you could see the eagerness and the hunger in her more back then.   Obviously at this point in her career, she’s going to have scratchier ‑‑ at the end of your career, you always have scratchy matches where you just can’t be as consistent.   But I mean, if somebody once asked her, do you remember winning your first US Open, she goes, “Yeah, I just went out and hit the ball.  I had no idea what I was doing.”  And I think that sums it up.  She had no strategy.  She just hit the ball.  That’s the way she was taught by Richard; just hit the ball, and she made a lot more errors.  But she was a great athlete and she had the power.  But you know, as like now, she uses her head a lot more on the court.

 

  1. Steve Johnson is now the top‑ranked American.  How surprised are you guys at that, and what do you think his ceiling is?  And for the women’s side, besides Serena, who are your favorites?

DRYSDALE:  Stevie Johnson, he’s come of age, 26 years old.  He’s got a lot of years, so he’s overtaken Isner as the top American.  He’s a strong competitor.  If you’re asking me if he’s a contender to win The Open, I would be very hesitant to say that.   I think he has obviously a good chance and he’s got a great arsenal.  And it’s sort of ‑‑ sometimes later on in life, because he was a USC grad.  I look forward to seeing him continue to progress.  I guess he’s got a medal under his belt, too, now.  So it’s a nice story.

 

  1. What’s his ceiling?  Does he have Top‑10 potential?

DRYSDALE:  I would hesitate to put him in the Top‑10.  I’m going to have to look at him for another 12 months before I’d commit to that.  Because he started out really badly, you know, and now he’s come on.   And again, if his confidence level is up and I think he’s had a good last few months generally speaking.  But it’s too early in my book, anyway, to put him in the Top‑10.

FERNÁNDEZ:  I was able to see him up close in Rio and I was really impressed with his speed.  He is so fast.  He hides his weaknesses extremely well, which is his back hand, but it’s actually not that bad of a weakness because he keeps the ball low and waits to use his forehand.  He serves really well.  Comes to the net really well.  Has a great attitude.  He really was so positive from start to finish.   But you look at the rankings, and he’s 19, I believe, right now.  So can he get to 10?  Yeah, why not.  You have players up there like Balsan (ph) and Lopez (ph) are ahead of him.  He could.  If he has these consistent results week‑in and week‑out, like he did just did in Cincinnati, there’s no reason why not.  Because he plays to his strengths really, really well.

EVERT:  As far as you’re talking about the women, challenging Serena, was that the next question?

 

  1. Who are the other contenders?

EVERT:  You’ve got to look at Serena with the shoulder injury; you don’t know where she’s going to be, okay.  But at the same time, she’s got to be going in there fresh and I think motivated to maintain, to keep the No. 1 ranking and win 23.  Kerber, we answered this before, but you probably weren’t on the line.  Kerber obviously is playing some unbelievable tennis this summer.  Mentally got a lot stronger.  Muguruza, she wins the French, and then the last two tournaments, she’s really not looked good the last two tournaments.  Not looked like she’s made any adjustments to the hard court.   I’m a Madison Keys fan because of her power on her serve and her ground strokes.  And if she could ever get it all together and believe and trust herself and play her A Game, I think she could be a threat.  And then the other one was Halep, who seems to be playing a little sharper.  But she needs to believe in herself and have a little bit better attitude.   Mary Joe mentioned Kvitova.  Even she doesn’t look like she’s playing her best tennis.  It’s something that somebody’s got to step up, and it’s been a tough year, because a lot of people are getting probably a little bit tired.   But at this point, you know, someone’s got to realize that they have got a chance against Serena.  Someone’s got to step up.  We’ll see who that is.

DRYSDALE:  One quick comment.  You talk about Steve Johnson, the sliced backhand.  I’m so fascinated by the fact that Juan Martín del Potro ‑‑ and this was not your question.   But here is a guy who is playing with 50 percent of what he used to have on one side of his body, the backhand side.  He’s slicing the ball now for the most part.  He’ll hit two‑handed every so often.   But we’ve sort of seen a mini‑come back of the sliced back hand, and I’m thrilled about it.  I like it.  I’m just in awe of how del Potro has been able to come back basically on crutches when it comes to your tennis game.  You lose one of your major shots, and usually it spells doom.  So fascinated by how he’s been able to do it.

EVERT:  Mary Joe, did you watch any of his matches up close?

FERNÁNDEZ:  I did.  Yeah, I did.  He’s definitely hitting his back hand more than he was at Wimbledon.  But I think he’s realized that the slice is quite effective and it’s setting up his forehand nicely ‑‑ bigger than it was before.

EVERT:  That was my question.  Seems like he’s hitting it bigger than before.  It seems like he’s hitting it bigger than before and it seems like he’s moving pretty well.

FERNÁNDEZ:  Definitely.

EVERT:  He’s a big guy.

FERNÁNDEZ:  He played great.  He was so emotional about all his victories.  But I think because, what Cliffy said, the slice isn’t always a weakness and he’s learned to use it to set himself up.  And because he wants to cover the backhand a little bit more, I think that’s why he’s going for an even bigger forehand.

EVERT:  That’s true.

DRYSDALE:  Not to forget, he’s got an unbelievable serve anyway.  But that was not the question, sorry.

 

  1. Picking up what you were just all talking about…..if you had to pick an outsider like a del Potro, Cilic, someone like that on the men’s side, who would you look at?  And to pick up on what Chrissie was saying about Serena, if the shoulder is in a state where she can’t consistently hit 115, 118, can she be a spot server, mix in the slice and the kick, and still be a US Open Champion, or does Serena need the fastball, really need to be able to bring the heat, at 5‑all, 30‑all, to beat Serena?

DRYSDALE:  First of all, you didn’t introduce yourself to me.  Usually we start off by you telling me your name and who you represent, after all these years (laughter).   So the dark horse, the dark horses on the men’s side for me are the aforementioned del Potro.  It’s really setting up to be a fascinating contest at the Open because Raonic is again one of the big servers who on a relatively fast hard court, just like on grass, has got a potential.   Cilic is coming back, and getting his serve to where it was when he won the US Open a couple of years ago, means that he’s another real tough dark horse.  Then you’ve got the big four, with the exception, obviously Roger is not playing, but even Rafa, apparently, Mary Joe looked pretty good down in Rio, as well, even though he didn’t win the singles.  I like Kyrgios has also had a win this summer in Atlanta.  So, man, you’ve got a lot of contenders and I think for the first time, you’ve got the top three now in the world who are ‑‑ this is not a cakewalk for them anymore.

FERNÁNDEZ:  On the guy’s side, I’d go with all those that Cliffy mentioned.  I mean, Cilic, it was the first time he got to a Masters 1000 final and he ends up beating Murray in it, playing really well.  It was nice to see that happen.   Dominic Thiem has had a great season.  He said he was beat up after Wimbledon.  Is he fresh; can he translate his great play to the US Open?  I think we’ll see.  I think Monfils (ph), is the best I’ve seen him week‑in and week‑out.  He’s had injuries, though, so that’s always a question mark in my book.  Kyrgios can beat anyone on a given day.  Can he do it over two weeks, three out of five, I’m not sure yet.  And then you have your big servers.  You have Isner and Karlovic, can they come up with some upsets.  It was nice to see Grieger (ph) have two great weeks and winning some matches again.  But at the end of the day you still go with Djokovic, Murray and Rafa in my book.

EVERT:  Don’t forget Wawrinka.  He could all of a sudden up his game.  He’s shown that he can play great on a hard court.  My two dark horses would be del Potro and Cilic.  Those two I think could have a chance to win the tournament.  The other ones, again, that you named Mary Joe, I think are great for an upset or two, but I think to win the tournament, you’ve go to have that big power game.

FERNÁNDEZ:  And Nishikori.  He played great at the Olympics, too, and he’s been to the finals there.  So he’s a potential, too.

 

  1. Any thoughts on Serena?  (followup from above)

EVERT:  Oh, geez, that’s a tough question.

FERNÁNDEZ:  It is.  I think she can still win without her serve blasting all the time.  It will be that much harder.  I think the type of player ‑‑ the draw can obviously be a big part of it.  If she plays a lot of players that are fast and can counter‑punch and make her hit a ton of balls, it will be more challenging.  But you know, can she get away with it?  Yeah, she’s that good, of course.  It will just be much, much harder.

EVERT:  Yeah, I think we saw her at the Olympics.  We’ve seen her in tournaments at her three‑quarter, and she has that serve out wide and she has the nice one down the T.  But I think because she has such a great return serve and she can break easily, especially with a lot of players like a Halep and a Kerber and Radwanska having weaker second serves, I think because she has such a great second serve, she can get away with not having her a serve and placing it.

DRYSDALE:  If you would have asked me the question six months ago, I would have said there’s really no chance that she with one of her major weapons and the biggest shot in tennis ‑‑ 50 to 75 percent, would I have said no chance.  But I would is said the same thing with del Potro and with his injury and his left wrist.  It’s become a tough one.   I don’t think she’s going to be able to do it, if she’s that far down on the serve effectiveness or her serve speed.  But we will see.

 

  1. Is there an 800‑pound elephant in this world called age?  34 years is quite a lot, I’m both on the clock physically and emotionally.  And the other question is about Rafa.  Have you all given up hope on him?  Do you think he can really do it?

EVERT:  You know, I’m just going to answer the thing about Serena.  I played the Tour when I was 34.  I retired when I was 34.  And mind you, we definitely had different games and I didn’t rely on what she relies on.  But the fact of the matter is, when you get older, you have less days that you’re motivated and you have less days that you ‑‑ you really have more flat days, because it’s just mentally, emotionally and physically, those three components, aren’t always in sync.   And when you’re young and you’re eager and you’re just on the Tour, those three components are usually in sync, and that’s why you play so well.   So it’s so understandable to me, as I said before, that she has some scratchy matches during the year and she doesn’t play well.  But her high level of play is still higher than any other player.   So you know, who knows if she can get ‑‑ what it takes for her to get that high level out there, but we know it’s still there.  We’ve seen it this year and it is still there.  And if she can get it going, she’s still going to win majors.   But she’s definitely going to have more bad days.

DRYSDALE:  Jimmy Connors, 39 years old, semifinal US Open; Kenny Rosewall, finalist at Wimbledon, 39, finalist at the US Open.  Age is very much a relative thing.  As you said, Chrissie, to me, it’s not an issue.  Very interesting what you say, by the way, about motivation, because I think that’s correct.  It’s so much easier to go out when you’re 17 years old and just hit the crap out of the ball and don’t worry about it, and then you start to think about what you’re doing.   So you probably have more up and downs.  Except that how many downs has she had since this latest come back?  She’s still No. 1 after going on a record number of weeks.  Age is not an issue for Serena for me, not an issue.

FERNÁNDEZ:  I was just going to add, the only issue I see as she gets older is her wanting it that much more and knowing that maybe the window is closing, so that adds pressure to Serena.  But not because physically she can’t do it.  I think if she’s healthy, she can stay at the top of the game for another three years.

EVERT:  But at the same time, don’t you feel like her body is starting to let her down a little bit?  I mean, she’s had, the last two years, really, she’s had ‑‑ I could venture six to eight times she’s had to pull out of tournaments because of injury.  Definitely the body is starting to feel the effects.

FERNÁNDEZ:  And the Rafa question, I saw him in Rio and he looked really good.  He looked very hungry.  I felt like his forehand was better than it had been.   I do feel he played so much in the first few days that it caught up to him towards the end.  He had to play del Potro and Nishikori back‑to‑back after having the Gold Medal in doubles, and I think that took a lot out of him, and you saw the effects in Cincinnati.   But I have no doubt that he’s going to be a huge challenger.  I still think he’s going to win another French Open.  I still think he’s that motivated and he’s that good.   He’s seeded four, so that could work in his favor with the draw, and nobody likes to play Rafa.  Everybody knows that to play Rafa, they know they have to play their very best to beat him.

DRYSDALE:  I have a fine dining dinner bet with Chris Fowler that he’s going to win another major, and I’m beginning to lose confidence that I’m going to win the bet.  With that said, I agree with everything Mary Joe said and I think that I would put him in my book as a No. 3 or 4 favorite to win the title in New York.

EVERT:  Yeah, after watching him play, if he’s as eager as he seemed to look on the court, he’s only going to get better.  And he knows the little tweaks he can make in his game, which is from rust and from maybe not hitting with enough confidence.   He knows what he needs to do, and I think if he gets a little more aggressive, and makes a few more little adjustments and really wants it badly enough, he’s going to go nowhere but up.  So I think he’s still in the game.

DRYSDALE:  We have not given up on Rafa (laughter).

 

  1. I’m going to follow up on Monica Puig.  Have you seen her over the years?  And Mary Joe, you just witnessed it as her captain.  Was it a fluke?  Does she have an arsenal that that could be her breakout?

FERNÁNDEZ:  I was so impressed, I have to tell you, I watched a few of her matches, and I haven’t seen her that consistently.  If she played that kind of tennis, she would be in the Top‑10.  She served really well.  Tough to attack in her back hand.  That was her major strength.  She really attacked well with the back hand and ran well.  Like it was tough to get the ball by her.  The question is her consistency.  And Chrissie, you probably have seen her more with her training and stuff, but she has all the tools in my opinion.

EVERT:  And I think I said this to you before:  She has had a new purpose this whole year in her practicing.  She’s had a different intensity, Darren work ethic.  She worked her butt off, and I think Juan Todero serves a lot of credit because of that.  They make a great team.  And I ‑‑ along the lines of Mary Joe, it’s one thing, we knew she could always hit the ball hard, but never being that consistent.  She was out rallying players with a lot of power, and I hope she can keep it up.  You don’t know what that big elephant, that big word, pressure, you don’t know what that’s going to do, now that she’s won the Olympics; the expectations, what we’ve seen it’s done to other players.  Hopefully she won’t fall into that category.  But if she can keep that up level and not make the errors that she’s making and still hit the ball; and she’s also leaner.  She’s lost weight.  She’s in better shape.  It’s not only her game; her moving was a lot better.  Is she a fluke?  No.  She’s not a fluke.  I agree; she could be in the Top‑10.  Could she be No. 1?  I’m not going to go that far.  But I think just to consistently be in the Top‑10, if she continues this wave of momentum, yes, she could be.

 

  1. Sloane Stephens, I guess she won three smaller tournaments this year.  Similar, is it a fire‑in‑the‑belly thing?  Will Sloane ever get it back?

FERNÁNDEZ:  I hope she gets it well.  It’s funny, she was doing well at the majors and not the Tour level and now she’s doing well at the Tour level and not as well as the majors.  We have to get Sloane to do both at the same time.  She’s another one, she’s got all the ingredients, she’s got all the weapons.  It’s a matter of putting it together consistently, and that’s the toughest part.  I mean, Chrissie knows better than everyone.  Mentally, to be there week‑in, week‑out, that’s what separates everyone from the top of the field.

EVERT:  You really have to make that mental and emotional commitment to the game.  I think that’s what Madison Keys is learning right now.  She’s put more of a ‑‑ she’s made more of a commitment to tennis.  She could still be better.  But I think that’s what Sloane is lacking and I cringe when I say it, because I think everybody ‑‑ she has so much talent and everybody goes at their own speed and at their own pace.  But I think that has to be revved up a little bit, again, that intensity and that desire, really, to do well.

DRYSDALE:  I just wanted to say quickly on Sloane, in the career of an athlete, and tennis players in particular, there comes a moment in the career when sort of the light switch gets turned on.  And it’s hard for me to imagine that Chrissie, both you and MJ talk about the talent question.  When you’ve got that talent that Sloane has, I’m just waiting more the moment when the light goes on and she really breaks through.  Because I think it’s going to happen.

FERNÁNDEZ:  Yeah, that would be great.  We all want that for her.

 

  1. I wanted to hear opinions on how significant the No. 1 ranking is.  Serena is holding on for dear life and Novak is getting chased a bit by Andy here.  Particularly Chrissie, you spend 260 weeks at the top; you wrestled back and forth with Martina for about five years.  How important was it for you then, and how do you look back on the significance of those weeks at the top now?  And in general, how important do you think today’s players perceive the No. 1 ranking to be?

EVERT:  I mean, when I was No. 1, there’s no way I wanted to lose it.  It’s a pride thing.  It could be an ego thing, too.  It’s a pride; there’s just a big difference between being No. 1 and being on top, and being No. 2 and being No. 3.  It’s a tremendous, powerful feeling to be on the top and to be the one that everybody is striving to beat.  I mean, that’s how I felt.  I think Martina felt the same way, and I think Billie Jean in our day.  Serena is the No. 1 player.  Serena is arguably the greatest player of all time.  So for her not to be bothered to be No. 2 ‑‑ I don’t think that’s ‑‑ I don’t think that’s a true statement.  Because I think she does take great pride in being No. 1.

DRYSDALE:  Any idiot knows that if you’re No. 1 in the world, it’s a huge confidence booster.  My feeling about No. 1, in tennis, particular, confidence plays such a big part.  And if you go through the history of the sport, it’s always been dominated by somebody, by the No. 1 player.   And for the confidence quotient in a career, it’s just so important; that if you are No. 1 ‑‑ look, there’s another issue.  And that is I think if you were to say to Serena, would you rather at the end of the year be No. 1 or win the US Open, for her, I would say, I’m 90 percent sure that she would say, I want to win the US Open, because I think titles are as important as No. 1 in the world.  But that confidence quotient thing, that, to me, tennis ‑‑ it’s true in every sport.  It’s true in golf obviously.  In the team sports, individual confidence is not nearly the same, it’s not nearly as much of a factor.  In tennis, the confidence thing is huge.  If you are No. 1, you’re really confident.  So those things work in tandem.

FERNÁNDEZ:  For every top player, it’s important.

EVERT:  I just want to say one sentence before Mary Joe.  I’m thinking about, you said comparing the days.   In my day, I think our ‑‑ because the Grand Slams were not as important, we would rather end up No. 1 and win one Grand Slam versus win two Grand Slams and end up No. 2.

FERNÁNDEZ:  That’s so interesting.   You’re right, and I think it’s changed.  Now the slams are so important and the focus is so much on them that it probably would take a major before the No. 1 ranking.   But I think just seeing Serena take the wild‑card in Cincinnati, not being 100 percent, because she wanted to see if there was any chance she could prevent Kerber from taking her spot, shows how important it is to her.  I think when players say the No. 1 ranking is not important is when they know they are not going to be there.  So I think the No. 1 ranking for the very few at the top is super important.

 

  1. Talking about Andy Murray, he’s played an awful lot, coming straight from Rio to Cincinnati.  Is there a danger, can you play too many matches if you’re playing as well as that?  And how do you think his preparation will contrast with Djokovic, who obviously skipped Cincinnati?  And Johanna Konta could be a bit of an outsider to make a run in the women’s event?

DRYSDALE:  Yeah, that’s a good reminder.  Johanna Konta, down in Australia, I remember telling the chairman of the All England Club, I said:  To me, this is not just a flash in the pan, because she’s got some serious ‑‑ some serious shots.  So yeah, we should throw Johanna Konta into this little mix as somebody who could be a factor at the Open.  As for your man from Scotland, the kind of condition that he has kept himself in for these years; he made a decision to turn himself into a super human athlete, as opposed to just tennis player.  I think that’s going to stand him in really good stead; that No. 1.  No. 2. is the confidence quotient, is for him now ‑‑ with all of the match 22, I guess in a row, and before he lost in the final in Cincinnati.  But the confidence quotient, when you’re winning that number of matches, is huge.  And again, that’s one of the four pillars of what makes an athlete and what makes a great champion is the confidence quotient, and he certainly has it.  Now, I’m still backing his nemesis at the majors, Mr. Djokovic, but if you are asking ‑‑ if the question is, is this the best chance going into a major for Andy Murray, my answer is unquestionably yes.

FERNÁNDEZ:  About Konta.  She’s been impressive.  The last 12 months, what a jump.  She had to qualify for the US Open last year, was ranked outside the top 110.  She has improved in so many categories starting with her serve.  I think she has the third most aces for the season.   The backhand is very good; that’s her weapon.  The forehand used to be a weakness, and now she can get more topspin on it and pull players off the court with it.  She has been impressive.  She’s in the Top 15 now.  Most improved by far in the last 12 months.   So yes, can she make a deep run?  Definitely.

EVERT:  Yeah, she’s a big hitter and she wins a lot of free points off her serve.              I just think these players, if they have one big weapon, they are going to be the ones that are going to make the deep runs, and she’s got the serve.  She’s got the backhand.  I love her attitude and I think she’s very intense and I think she’s very smart on the court.  I think she analyzes the situation very well.  She’s one of the more mature players, one of the more composed players.  So definitely, she could get deep in to make a quarter or even make a semi, if all her weapons are in place.

 

  1.  In the prognostication game, I would love to hear who you think will become the next No. 1 on the men’s and women’s side?  Do you think Kerber and Murray are locks to be the next?

FERNÁNDEZ:  I think Kerber has obviously the best chance.  Serena has got to make it through at least the semis to hold on it because she got to that stage last year and Kerber I believe lost in the third round.  So just mathematically, she has the best chance of overtaking her.   Yeah, Murray is gobbling up the points.  He’s played so well and he plays consistently week‑in and week‑out.  He’s winning when he’s not playing his best and I think that gives you confidence.  Those two for me would be the next ones.

EVERT:  This might not happen.  It might not happen.  But if it does happen, it will be Murray and Kerber Muguruza for me.   Cliffy, what about you?

DRYSDALE:  Stewart, he throws these questions at us, knowing full well he wants the answer:  It’s Andy Murray, of course.

FERNÁNDEZ:  He got what he wanted.

DRYSDALE:  He’s a Scot.  He understands.  So definitely Andy Murray.  As for the ladies, it’s definitely not as much of a sink for Kerber, but she ‑‑ I’m really in awe of her talents as a tennis player.  She has got a very ‑‑ the other thing is I think mentally she’s stronger.  So yeah, Kerber, Murray.

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