On The Call – ESPN / Australian Open Conference Call with Chrissie Evert, Patrick McEnroe
ESPN / Australian Open Conference Call with Chrissie Evert, Patrick McEnroe
- ESPN’s First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Sunday Night in the U.S.
- Primary Topics: Injuries to Top Players, The Ageless Roger Federer, The Wide-Open Women’s Field, How to Grow the Sport, The Importance of Rivalries
From ESPN (January 10, 2018) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media Wednesday, previewing the Australian Open and discussing issues throughout the sport. ESPN’s exclusive coverage – from first ball to last ball – begins Sunday, Jan. 14, with 140 hours on TV and 1,400 on ESPN3 and streaming live on the ESPN App with action from all televised courts. See here for more details. Here is the transcript.
Djokovic is back, what do you think of that? How hard is it to come back from an injury layoff like that with a new service motion? And is tennis getting more economically diverse, because I know you work with juniors as your academies?
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll start with the elbow situation and the serve. Obviously you don’t want to go into your first tournament, first of all being a major. Second of all, you don’t want to go into it with a brand-new stroke of any kind. We’ll have to see how it looks in match play, number one. He has tinkered with his serve quite a bit over the years. If you remember a number of years ago, he had some sort of serving yips when he was still No. 3 in the world. He was able to iron them out, take over No. 1. If there’s anybody that can tinker with it, probably be successful, it would be him. More important than that I think for Djokovic is just the overall health of that arm and the elbow going forward. We’re not going to know that, I don’t think he’s going to know that, until he gets out there in competition.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I mean, I agree. Wherever you have had a certain serve or a certain swing for so long, to tweak it even a little bit, you don’t want to do that your first tournament back, a Grand Slam tournament. Like you say, you want to have a lot of matches, a lot of smaller tournaments, to see if it’s going to really improve your serve, if it’s going to really help the elbow. I mean, he’s a big question mark. Obviously he’s a big question mark. He needs to play. He’s playing a couple exhibitions, but then you get to a place where you have to play seven matches in a row in the course of two weeks. That’s a whole different story. That’s really testing the elbow to the highest level. I think we can only speculate at this time what’s going to happen with him. You know he’s in great season. Off-season, he was one of the hardest workers ever. You know physically he’s got to be in great shape. The question mark, again, is how the elbow is going to hold up.
You talked about it, and tennis is a lot different now. There are a lot of injuries out there. The players are getting more injured. The whole mechanics of the game are different, the grips, the stances, the swing, the spin. There’s a lot more open stance now. You don’t have a lot of time to turn or rotate. You’re sort of using your arm and wrist a little bit more. It’s just not as efficient. I mean, I think it’s a whole new different game from when Patrick and I were playing. In our era, and I was even years ahead of him, we didn’t see this many injuries. I think it’s because of the new equipment, the faster courts, the faster balls — not faster courts, but the balls are different. I think that it’s really changed the mechanics of tennis right now.
Q. You both worked with academies. Where is the sport in terms of its economic diversity in junior tennis? Is it cost still prohibitive?
PATRICK McENROE: It’s definitely a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. It obviously depends on what part of the country you’re in. For Chrissie and people in Florida, there’s more courts, more outdoor play. In New York, where I am, at least in the New York City area, it’s definitely I would say more challenging court-wise just to be able to pay for courts and build courts and all those kinds of things. To your overall point, I think what you’re getting at, generally speaking, it sort of ties in a little bit to what Chrissie was saying, is that the game is becoming much more difficult, much more demanding to get really, really good at. I think that’s the case for juniors, as well.
The physical side of it is important at the pro level, but it’s more important now at the junior level, too. I think the whole thing, it’s not just the economics of it, which are certainly challenging, and that doesn’t just mean the ability to play and take lessons, but to travel, to go to tournaments, to compete. All those things cost money. But also just to take care of the kids as best you can to give them the best chance. The kids are putting more pressure on themselves, their bodies, than they did when we grew up with wood racquets. You combine all those things together, and I think the point is tennis is a great game, an awesome game, but there’s no secret it’s difficult to get very, very good at it. It takes a lot of time and effort and financial resources, no doubt.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it’s improved greatly. I agree with Patrick. I think more and more economically challenged kids are being exposed and are playing junior tournaments now. I think the USTA, for instance, has quite a few. I know under my dad’s name, there is a fund, and Sloane Stephens has a fund in Compton, more and more things are popping up to help economically challenged players.
I go to a lot of junior tournaments, and I see a lot of these kids. There are a lot of not only programs, but a lot of sort of — you don’t have to come up with an academy, in other words. There are a lot of public courts that are giving a lot of help to these young kids.
By the way, Patrick I’m sure it’s the same with the John McEnroe Academy, people come by all the time that financially can’t afford to pay a yearly fee for our academy, because it’s room and board, lessons, schooling, education. It is hefty. But they come by and their kids will play. We’ll let them play. We’ll put them in our afternoon program where we have matches with our academy kids. So I think more and more academies are doing that, are being a little more inclusive of those types of economically challenged kids.
PATRICK McENROE: We do both here, as Chrissie knows. Chrissie has been kind enough to come to our event in the summer where we specifically raise money for kids that can’t afford our academy. We have a whole funding structure that kids that can’t afford to pay can come on a scholarship. Like Chrissie said, that happens down at her place, it happens at our place. It’s really a combination of us in the tennis community working together, whether you get some funding from the USTA or you don’t, you raise it on your own, and you also have paying customers that pay to come and be in your program. You need a mix of both. We’re lucky enough to have the ability to do that here. But we’d certainly love to do more. It’s expensive to run a tennis facility, and it’s expensive to keep the lights on, and especially the heat the last couple weeks, to keep all the pros in business.
But we got a pretty good balance. If you came to our academy where I just pulled into today, this afternoon, you’d see quite a diverse background of kids, some of whom are playing, some of whom are not. That’s sort of the model that I think a lot of us are going by, to try to get as many people the opportunity to play, and play at a high level.
Q. Tennis spreads its majors out over eight months. Golf sticks all of them within four months of each other. Do you have an opinion about which sport has it right, or at least better?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think you look at tennis, you can pretty much say the French, Wimbledon, US Open are tied together pretty closely. I think that tennis, again, is a more physical sport than golf. I think golf can do that a lot more successfully. I like it being spread over the whole year. I don’t like it being in one clump. So I think tennis has the better formula, has the better schedule right now.
PATRICK McENROE: I would agree. I think golf may be, a big question mark, somewhat more popular here in the U.S. on TV, et cetera. I would certainly argue that tennis worldwide is bigger than golf, at least if you go to South America, Europe, Asia, the rest of the world. I think tennis is a little more global than golf, although golf is certainly with Tiger pretty popular. I think in Europe tennis is much bigger than golf. I think there’s a balance there. Obviously if you go to Australia now, as we’re about to do, it’s the middle of their summer, end of their summer, so you have to take that into account. We’ve always had this argument for years and years, for 50 years, about tennis, that the season is too long. I think you’re seeing now from the top players in tennis, Federer, Serena, et cetera, Venus Williams, that it’s up to you as an individual to manage it.
Q. I don’t remember a situation where we’ve had so many of the top ranked women who have never won a major. What is your take on that? How do you think that has come about, besides Serena, and whether that’s going to be a factor in the Australian Open?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think one of the reasons why is that Serena has won 23. I think that’s a very important factor, is that she has dominated for so many years. But you’re right, it is interesting. There’s an abundance of talent out there. Yes, we have nobody besides Serena who has taken the bull by the horns, since Serena has been out of the game, started her own dominance. On the other side of the coin, it’s probably more intriguing because you have 20 players that can win a Grand Slam. Certainly you couldn’t have said that 10 years ago or even five years ago.
To look at some of these players who are capable of winning it, it really goes down to, you know, Cibulkova is 26 in the world, Radwanska is 28, Kvitova is 29 in the world. It’s unbelievable. The depth and the fact that the talent is plentiful right now. That’s what we have to celebrate. We no longer have a dominant player. This is a new look at women’s tennis. This is the way it is right now.
We’ll see what Serena comes back. It might be a different story. But for right now this is a different look. Everyone has to make adjustments in their thought process and their enthusiasm when they watch women’s tennis. It is intriguing. Before it wasn’t. We knew and we respected the brilliance of Serena. We hailed her. But right now there’s just so much talent out there. To me, if you were to ask me to pick a player to win, which I hope you don’t, because I have no idea.
Q. Chrissie, who do you think is going to win on the women’s side? I have to ask. But what emerging players do you think people should be looking at who has a real shot to go deep into this tournament that is maybe not a household name on the women’s and men’s side?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I say this without a lot of conviction, but I feel like Simona Halep had such a disappointing 2017 in the majors, and I feel she is determined to turn that around. I mean, she had a heartbreaking 2017 in all the majors. I just feel like she’s playing the best tennis right now, playing the most solid tennis. I think she has good training. In the fall, with every interview I see, every time I see her on TV or Twitter, she has a big smile on her face. I think she’s personally in a good frame of mind. She’s liking being No. 1. She’s enjoying that. She’s embracing it. She’s not fearful of it. I say that, again, without 100% conviction, but I’m going to have to pick her as my favorite.
As far as the young players, wow. I’m looking down the rankings here. Svitolina, she’s sneaking in there. Ostapenko, definitely she was not a flash in the pan. She’s one to stay. Let me see here.
PATRICK McENROE: What about Madison Keys, Chrissie?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, Madison. I’m going down the rankings now. Madison, she can do well at the majors.
PATRICK McENROE: She came out of your academy, so she would.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I wouldn’t say it only because she came out of my academy (laughter). She’s got the power that I think matches Serena and Venus. I think we haven’t really seen a player in a while that has matched that power. Looking down here, hmm. Gavrilova, Kasatkina.
PATRICK McENROE: To interrupt you, to go to golf, women’s tennis at a major reminds me of a male golf major. 20, 30 people, maybe more, could win it. It is a unique time. We were so used to the women’s tour being dominated by a couple of players. Now we’re certainly used to that on the men’s side in the last decade or so. I think you’re right, the women’s side is completely wide open. You can make a case for multiple players that have a chance to win it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah. Where is Osaka? She’s down to 70. I like the way she plays. Anyway, I gave you a few names to look at. But, again, everybody has a story. That’s what’s making it interesting and intriguing, everybody from Pliskova, to Ostapenko, to Caroline Garcia. Wozniacki would make a lot of people happy if she won her first Grand Slam. There’s just a lot of talent. I said that last year when Serena wasn’t playing, but it’s doubled this year.
Q. And on the men’s side, Patrick?
PATRICK McENROE: I tell you, it’s amazing. You turn on the TV, I watch the Hopman Cup, I see Federer. It’s just amazing. He just keeps doing it. He looks younger than ever. He’s moving as beautifully as ever. He’s hitting the ball brilliantly. Wins four or five matches at the Hopman Cup against high-level competition. To me, he’s the clear favorite.
You have Rafa who has some injury problems. Obviously Djokovic is a major question mark as far as where he is. The other guys are guys that haven’t broken through. Stan is a huge question mark coming off the injury, Wawrinka. Then you look at Dimitrov, Goffin, some of those guys, Zverev, is he ready to step up.
I got to tell you, I don’t see anybody that I think right now, if they’re playing Roger in the semifinals or finals of a major… He could always get picked off early, then it becomes a little more wide open. But based on what I’ve seen so far, sort of what we saw not just last year but even the tail end of last year, I don’t think there’s anybody else that you could say is a favorite other than Roger at the moment.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think Kyrgios is going to be dangerous. He’s going to be dangerous. He has the mind I think now. He’s not intimidated with the top players. You got to give him a shot out.
PATRICK McENROE: Dangerous to himself or to the tournament?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Dangerous. He could upset any of those. He’s 17 in the world, but he could upset any of those guys on a given day.
PATRICK McENROE: The problem for him is that he could get upset by anybody, too.
CHRISSIE EVERT: True, true. We didn’t name any dangerous floaters, so I’m just naming him. That’s all.
Q. Patrick, what makes Federer Federer, especially with the spate of injuries on the men’s side? Also, on the women’s side, we have Sloane sort of slumping right now, really slumping. I wanted to ask a little bit about with the reduction to 16 seeds what you see maybe happening in terms of upsets.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’ll comment quickly on Federer. I think this is a guy who is so relaxed. This is a guy who, because he’s so relaxed, I think that affects him mentally as well as physically. The way he plays in a relaxed way, there’s no strain. He doesn’t muscle anything. He kind of glides around. He’s so efficient. Just the way he plays, his style, I think it just doesn’t result in a lot of injuries. I think mentally and emotionally, having kids, having a family, he gets away from the game, he knows how to compartmentalize really well. He lets the losses roll off his back, there’s no tension there. I think he has a real joy for the game. That’s what makes Federer Federer.
As far as the other question, Sloane, I don’t know what’s going on with Sloane. I know she was doing a lot — this fall she was injured still. She was nursing an injury. Has she even won a match since the US Open?
PATRICK McENROE: No.
CHRISSIE EVERT: No, all right. This is the jinx that any surprise winner of a Grand Slam seems to have had. If you look at past history, you look at all the players that have won it for the first time, who weren’t expected to win it, it’s sort of like it changes your whole life. I think she’s had a lot more demands. She’s been doing more press, making more appearances, doing a lot of charity work, which I have to compliment her for. She does have a program in Compton, California. She helps a lot of kids there.
That plus the fact she has been injured, her body hasn’t been 100%, I think it’s taken a toll. I don’t think Sloane is a real intense kind of player anyway. I think she’s kind of a relaxed player when she goes out there. I question whether she has a burning desire to win more Grand Slams or to be No. 1 in the world. I don’t see that burning desire as much as I see it with other players. I’m sure that’s just my opinion, maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I’m seeing with her.
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll follow up on Roger, which is obviously everything Chrissie said is 100% true. The only thing to add to that is, I mean, let’s just continue to appreciate this guy. The fact that he’s still able to play at this level, quite frankly, I think it’s just one of the most amazing feats I’ve ever seen in any sport.
Sampras won the US Open and walked away, but up until that time he wasn’t even in contention at a major for a while. He got lightning in a bottle for two weeks. God bless him, he is an all-time great. But Federer is just a guy who is always there. I think he’s got a God-given gift in what he does. He’s also been extremely smart about taking care of himself. What he does with his training doesn’t get spoken about a lot, but he works his butt off. He’s changed the way he’s trained in the last five or six years to give himself more longevity. He doesn’t talk about it. He doesn’t want people talking about it. We all watch him and we think it’s so easy for him. That’s partly true. But it’s also true that he’s really mastered how to pace himself, to care of himself, train for tennis in a way that is absolutely brilliant, and also train his body and his mind. I was always amazed when he was in his prime, when Djokovic and Nadal started to overtake him a little bit, how he sort of brushed off losses. I was thinking, This guy is going down, never get back to No. 1. He basically was like, Yeah, it’s no big deal, I lost, I’m getting ready for the next tournament. Even at the US Open this year when he lost, the first thing he said in the press conference was, I can’t wait to get 100% healthy so I can go to Shanghai early and be ready to win the tournament in Shanghai. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what he did. It’s just incredible. Let’s just continue to appreciate what he does.
Q. What impact do you see the 16 seed aspect of the tournament having? More upsets?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I would expect more upsets, yeah. I would definitely expect more upsets. It’s kind of the luck of the draw. You’re going to have a good draw or a bad draw. Yeah, I mean, definitely it puts you on guard as a top 16 seed, you’re on guard right from the first match, right from go. Sometimes you have a match to play your way into the tournament. I mean, you could play the 17th player in the world in the first round. Obviously you got to have your guard up, be ready for anything. Yes, it will create more upsets. But I think it’s going to make for more interesting matches also the first few rounds, for sure. More interest spectator-wise. That’s a good part of it.
PATRICK McENROE: I think it’s going to make it much more exciting in week one, way more interesting. I think in the majors, for the first week in a lot of these big tournaments, quite frankly, a lot of the top players aren’t pushed at all. You get a snooze fest. I think this will help. There’s more depth in the men’s and the women’s game, so for both.
Q. Thinking about Federer’s longevity, the main keys to it, I don’t know if there’s anything to add. Have either of you had any interaction with Pierre Paganini? He’s almost an unknown figure to the vast majority of people in tennis, yet clearly he seems to have a massive influence on Roger.
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, I don’t know him personally that well. I think it was Chris Clarey who had a piece in the Times around the Open. Clearly the guy knows what he’s doing. He could have done that with someone like me and it wouldn’t have mattered, right? But the fact is he’s got Federer, who is an absolute genius when it comes to how he plays tennis. Again, I think that Roger in the last five, six years has really changed his whole regimen. If you watch that thing he put out on his YouTube, whatever it was, around this time last year before the Australian Open, I thought that was very interesting to see the way he was training, doing exercises, doing a lot of agility exercises, then going right and playing points, or doing drills on the court, mixing it up. I thought that was really interesting.
I know I learned a lot from watching what he did there as far as trying to help young kids and what they do. I think Roger is a bit ahead of the curve. I think Pierre certainly has had something to do with it. When I was at the Laver Cup as a coach, along with my brother who was captain for the team there, I tell you, it was amazing to see both Federer and Nadal, how professional they are, how meticulous they are, how dedicated they are to making sure they’re ready to go when they go out on the court. I mean, they’ve gone through a whole regimen that entire day leading up to what time they step out on the court, which I found to be incredibly impressive but also a part of why they’re two of the greatest players of all time, and why they’re still at the top in their 30s.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You mention Nadal. I see that both those players, Nadal and Federer, have an uncanny amount of motivation still in them. When I look at Nadal, he’s like a boxer. He wants to go out there and compete. He’s so hungry to compete. I look at Federer and I see that he’s so hungry just to play the game of tennis because it’s a thing of beauty. He just loves everything connected with tennis, the game itself, he loves the traveling, he loves everything that goes along with it. I think that has kept him in the game longer.
You always hear players complain, I want to be in one place, or I’m burned out. He doesn’t burn himself out mentally because he knows how to compartmentalize and live a normal life with his family. Patrick knows a lot more about the changes he’s made in his fitness. But you’re right, he’s totally changed it around, but again to make it fun for himself, to make it interesting and engaging.
There’s nothing burned out about Roger Federer. He looks like he has had another life in him in the last year. He just wanting to go another four or five years. It’s just incredible. There’s never been anybody like him with that attitude, as far as I know, in any sport.
Q. Do you think his style makes it much easier for him to have longevity over maybe Nadal, all the slicing?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Absolutely. I think his game style, just the way his body is. Just the way he plays, again, as I said before, it’s so much timing. There’s no muscling, no stress, no strain in his game. He moves naturally. He’s got the fast twitch muscles, so he glides across the court. Yeah, I mean, his body is a gift. His body has really helped him with his longevity and his style. I think that’s translated into a certain style of play. He’s played shorter points than most players.
PATRICK McENROE: You’re 100% right. You go watch Federer, even watching him at the Hopman Cup, he comes out first match of the game against Zverev, the game is over in 58 seconds. He doesn’t have to punish himself in the same way. He can just take shots at the ball. There’s no doubt that’s helped him a lot. I think you’re seeing Djokovic, you hope that he can get back. But Murray, he’s a huge question mark for how he moves forward. He’s put his body through a lot. Roger just keeps on going.
Q. Rafa did look hobbled in London in the Goffin match. What do you expect for Rafa this tournament and this year? Then if you had to pick an American man and American woman to go deepest in Melbourne, or to break through and win a major, who would you pick?
PATRICK McENROE: Let me go with the Americans first. I think Sock has the best chance on the American side. I think that’s a great breakthrough that he made in the season. He did not look good in Auckland, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. I was really impressed with how he looked that last month of the year, how well he looked in London.
As far as the women again, clearly — maybe not clearly, but Madison Keys. Sloane has won the Open. CoCo certainly had a great year last year. If I had to pick one on the women’s side, other than players that have already won it, I would go with Madison Keys.
CHRISSIE EVERT: 100% agree.
PATRICK McENROE: And about Rafa?
Q. What do you think for him for this tournament and this whole season? He didn’t look right in London.
PATRICK McENROE: He wasn’t right in London, but that’s traditionally the time that — those courts kind of beat up your legs. He plays very physically. He’s never done that well indoors. His body’s never done well indoors. That to me wasn’t a huge concern. Look, he can go the distance, there’s no doubt, at the Australian if he’s healthy. Obviously that’s a bit of an if. I just saw him hitting a little bit at Melbourne Park. I haven’t seen him in a competitive environment yet.
But my feeling is, if he’s there, and he answers the bell come Monday or Tuesday, he believes he can go all the way. I don’t think he’d be playing if he didn’t think he could be a factor. He’s not going to play to win a couple of matches. I expect him to be right there near the top the entire year. I don’t see any reason to think he’s not going to dominate on the clay again. He had an excellent season on hard courts all of last year, as well.
Q. You spoke before about growing the sport among young athletes. What do you think needs to happen to grow it among casual and non-fans, maybe attract more non-endemic sponsors to pump money into the game?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Bringing young kids into the game, I think a great thing was done when they brought in short tennis. I think one of the problems has been young tennis players have not felt the success. When you’re five, six, seven years old, you can barely get two or three balls in the court, you haven’t felt really good about yourself. I think in other sports obviously they’ve made some drastic changes, lower hoops, smaller soccer fields. So for them to shorten things in tennis, I think it has brought in a lot of new kids. We had to change that whole philosophy by using smaller equipment to suit the kids.
Again, I see more and more programs, public programs, coming up at the public tennis courts. It’s tough. It really is tough because I think the ’70s boom, there weren’t that many sports to choose from. I just think tennis is at a disadvantage. I think a lot of the kids like team sports. Maybe to make it more of a team sport at a young age, maybe have team competitions, I don’t know. It just seems that soccer and basketball and all these team sports are really getting our young kids now because they love the camaraderie. To them it’s not as much pressure. They love being with their friends.
Tennis is a tough sport at a young age. You’re all alone on the court. You’re competing by yourself. I know clinics are a lot of fun, but once you get into a match, it’s a different situation. Not every young kid is cut out for that pressure. I probably didn’t answer your question, but maybe make it more fun.
Q. It turns them into long-term fans if they’re enjoying the sport more.
PATRICK McENROE: The long-term fan issue is an interesting one. We need more American men close to the top. You have unbelievable players and personalities in men’s tennis at the top, but we haven’t had an American there for a while. Obviously on the women’s side, we got the greatest player of all team in Serena and Venus. I think you see in the young African American women that have come into the game because of them, I see it here at our academy. We have a lot more African American girls playing tennis than we do boys.
I think a big part of that are Serena and Venus. Another big part is what Chrissie talked about, that tennis may be a more attractive sport for young women, young girls, because there aren’t as many options as there are for young boys.
I agree with Chrissie that the team part of it is huge. I spend a lot of time at junior tournaments. I went to one this summer that was a team event. All the kids absolutely had the best time ever. They’re all kids that were between 10, 11 and 12. These are high-level junior tennis players. They absolutely love that part of it. I think we need to try to keep that going as the kids get older because it tends to drop off. I think that’s where we lose the casual, more casual, tennis players and fans. Unless you’re playing a high-level of tennis, there’s not necessarily another place you can go. High school tennis can be popular in some parts of the country, but I think having more team events for our kids would be very beneficial.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s interesting, Patrick, when I’ve been to junior tournaments, it’s just not the same. In my day it was a little more casual and carefree. I look at the kids now, nobody looks happy. They’re stressed out, they’re upset, they have anxiety. Very few of them look like they’re having a good time out there. I’m like, Whoa. For these young players, it’s like you want more for them. You want them to feel the joy. You want them to be excited.
I’m telling you, 80% of them, they look like they’re having no fun whatsoever. I think a team situation, it would just be completely different, if that was the case. Yeah, let’s make some more junior team events. I think that’s a good solution there.
Q. Murray had his surgery. How would you assess his chances of getting back to the top level? How realistic do you think his time scale is of getting back in time for the grass season?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m not a doctor, so… That’s a tough question to answer. Medically we don’t know. Unless it’s been printed, I don’t know the extent. I mean, there’s hip surgery and then there’s hip surgery. You know what I’m saying? I had a sister that had hip surgery, by the way. Her first hip surgery, two months, she was good as new, the next one was six months. I really don’t know.
If anybody is going to have incentive to get himself in shape, it’s going to be Andy Murray for Wimbledon. I would predict, I would say he’s going to be ready for Wimbledon. I’m hoping the hip surgery, that they didn’t find a lot of bad stuff there. I know they’ve come a long ways with hip surgery. You can be up and about in six months, doing some exercises. Again, we’re not doctors. Patrick, are you a doctor?
PATRICK McENROE: Last time I checked, no. I’m just a doctor of tennis, that’s all.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It would be great to have him back, let’s put it that way. I think on the grass, it would be nice to come back because it is obviously going to be gentler on his body. What is that, a good six months. I think he can do it.
PATRICK McENROE: I mean, I’m not optimistic, only because of what I know about hip surgeries and tennis players. That’s Gustavo Kuerten, Magnus Norman, players like that that have had hip surgeries. There’s not a player I remember that had a hip surgery and came back 100%. A hip is really, really tough for a tennis player.
As Chrissie said, we’re not doctors. We certainly wish Andy nothing but the best that he can come back, because he deserves it. I mean, the guy has worked as hard as anybody to get to No. 1, to do what he did. I think, quite frankly, it took its toll on him. He, nor anyone else, is Roger Federer, that they can do what he’s been able to do effortlessly, it seems or appears, as far as the toll on the body. I think Andy worked himself literally to the bone to get to that point. I just hope that he has a chance to come back, I really do.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know what, maybe he’s going to take a page out of Roger’s book and change his whole philosophy on training, shorten the points, do some more off-court stuff, don’t need to be on the court, do some training and strengthening. You’re right, if anybody has beaten his body to a pulp over the years, it’s definitely Andy Murray. That has to change that whole mindset if he wants to come back successfully and have more years of longevity.
Q. You mentioned maybe the way Andy practices, but is there anything technically he can do in terms of shortening the points like Roger, so he can maximize his chances in the slams?
PATRICK McENROE: Can he start taking every ball on the rise and serve-volleying like Federer? Unfortunately, there’s only one Federer. Maybe he can start to try to be more aggressive with his forehand like Lendl had him doing, take it early with the backhand. He’s been a very good volleyer, but hasn’t come to net that much. The short answer is it’s going to be difficult. But he certainly has a tremendous amount of tennis ability. That’s going to have to be something he has to think about if he tries to do that. That’s a great question.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and I think he will do that. I’m not saying, again, he’s going to serve-volley, do any of that. There are so many times when you watch him play that he is waiting for his opponent to make the mistake. He’s a great counter-puncher. Sometimes when I watch him play, I wonder why he hasn’t ended the point before. He extends the points a little longer than he needs to. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe this will force him to reevaluate that and play with a little more aggression, put a little more pressure on his opponent. That might result in shorter points. But I think we’re going to definitely see that. It’s a tweak. It’s definitely a tweak that he’s going to have to do.
(Patrick McEnroe had to leave the call at this point.)
Q. Last year you got to see a highly rated youngster like Zverev with great performances at the Masters 1000s, but didn’t leave a mark in the slams. He hasn’t reached a quarterfinal yet. How much would the lack of best-of-five events outside the slams and the Davis Cup be a factor in this? And for on-court coaching, I would like to get your views on that. Nadal called it stupid that you had a coach traveling with you all year but couldn’t use him in key moments, but Federer said not every player has the same resources, so it could be unfair.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I probably can answer the coaching one better than the men’s tennis one. I will go from there.
I am a traditionalist when it comes to coaching. I mean, I always felt like one of the reasons I won so many matches was because I was able to think on the court myself. I actually think if there’s on-court coaching I probably wouldn’t have won as much because the coaches could have told their player how to beat me a lot better and I would have lost a lot more matches. I’m actually a true believer that it’s an individual sport, and you can all the coaching in the world, but once you’re on the court and competing, you need to think for yourself.
On the other hand, you know what, we’re trying to grow the sport. In terms of growing the sport, in terms of the crowd participation, in terms of bringing more people to watch tennis on TV, I think the on-court coaching has added an element sort of attractiveness. I think people are always curious to know what the coaches are saying. I think it is more drama. So I think it’s better to bring people in, better for the sport.
I’m kind of split. I’m fine with the coaches coming out one time a set. I’m fine with that. I don’t think they need to do it any more. They’re talking about now I think in the men’s game the coach can yell out anything they want. I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of that. But I think the way the WTA has done it with once a set is fine, if in fact it is helping growing the game. But I’m always thinking, on the other hand, the beauty of tennis, a lot of it is mental. You need to sort out your own problems in your own time on the court.
Q. What are the challenges for Serena if and when she makes a comeback? How well do you think she can play the same we she used to? And the discussion about the long schedule, do you think injuries to Djokovic, Murray, Stan, are an anomaly or are those more things to come?
CHRISSIE EVERT: The first one was about Serena. As far as Serena is concerned, I think she can come back as good if not better than before, for sure. I think she can. I think her decision not to play the Australian Open was a smart one because now she’s just going for Grand Slam titles. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready physically. She wasn’t ready mentally. I mean, this is the type of tournament where there’s so much talent that Serena could not have played her way into the tournament any more because she probably would have gotten tough matches the first and second rounds. I don’t think she would have won this tournament anyway.
Yeah, she’s got it. It will all depend on really the motivation. I think having a child sometimes — well, it changes you forever, but whether it will change the competitiveness of her remains to be seen. She can say she’s just as competitive as ever, but there’s a lot that goes into having a child and being a mother. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job mentally, emotionally and physically. She’s never been presented with this situation before. It remains to be seen how she’s going to handle it.
But I think physically with her body, she can get herself into fighting shape and she can be playing as well if not better than before. I think that’s a positive.
Q. And the long schedule, do you think injuries are anomalies or a sign of things to come?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it’s a wake-up call. I don’t think it’s a sign of things to come because I think something has to be done. I think it’s a wake-up call for all the players. The fact that they have to reevaluate their schedules, not only their tournament schedules but their fitness and practice schedules, how they prepare for a tournament, how hard they prepare for a tournament, when to take weeks off, when to rest completely. It’s a very demanding sport in that it’s almost 11 months of the year now, 10 to 11 months. I think it’s a wake-up call.
And I think the change of surfaces, just the way the mechanics of the game are, everything has changed. It’s just getting much more demanding on the body.
So I think there has to be a little more thought process going on with schedules. Whether that’s the tournament schedule or the individual player, maybe players shouldn’t have to play as many tournaments. I don’t know. The players mentioned, even Stan Wawrinka, they’re 30 plus. These players have had years and years of wear and tear on the body. Let it be a wake-up call for the younger players and middle-aged players now to reevaluate everything in their tennis.
Q. Do you think the lack of rivalry in women’s tennis is rubbing the shine off the sport? Now it’s only Serena Williams.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I certainly think rivalries enhance the game of tennis. It brings in more fans. You get behind a player playing the other player. Both players have their own set of fans. You get to really cheer your player on. I definitely think it enhances, and I definitely think it takes away a little bit from the game.
But, you know, you’ve got three great scenarios in tennis that we’ve seen. You have great rivalries. Then when Serena was dominant, everyone was saying, Isn’t it bad for the game, she’s dominating, there aren’t any rivalries? Well, no, because our TV ratings were the highest when Serena Williams was playing because she was a dominant player, and she has gone down in history as one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen.
Now you have a third scenario where you have a multitude of players who can win a Grand Slam, which makes it even more I think exciting and interesting and intriguing. Who is going to win the Grand Slam? There’s one of 20 to 25 players that can win a Grand Slam.
You have three great ways to look at the game of women’s tennis right now. We just happen to be in the third area where it’s like a guessing game, but it’s very intriguing. I think all three setups are a positive for women’s tennis right now.
Q. Where would you rank Serena Williams and Roger Federer in all time tennis history?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yes. I think you’d have to put them both the greatest of all time. Roger’s and Serena’s longevity, the way they’re winning even at this age, in their middle 30s, is phenomenal. No one else has done that. There’s more depth right now, tougher players. I think you’d have to put them both as No. 1.
2018 Australian Open Tennis ESPN Broadcast Schedule
Tennis Channel Schedule for the 2018 Australian Open