Evert, P.McEnroe Preview Australian Open, Discuss Serena, Djokovic, Federer, Stephens, Unique Atmosphere of Melbourne, America’s Young Men
- ESPN’s First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Sunday, Jan. 13
- Serena’s Chances, and Legacy after US Open
- Women’s Winner- Evert: “It’s a Crapshoot.” McEnroe: “Sabalenka.”
- Evert Reflects on President G.H.W. Bush
- McEnroe on Selection of Mardy Fish to Lead U.S. Davis Cup Team
- Murray’s Hip, ATP “Next Gen,” Sloane’s Talent, Scheduling at Majors and more
(January 9, 2019) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media on a conference call, previewing the Australian Open and discussing issues in the sport. ESPN’s usual exhaustive coverage – from first ball to last ball – begins Sunday, Jan 13. Here is the transcript.
- Given this is the first Grand Slam since Serena Williams and the incident she had during the final, no one is going to argue that she’s the greatest women’s player ever, but I’m wondering given that instance, not the first she’s had with an umpire, given the magnitude, is her legacy tarnished at all by that?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Really is that the first question of the year? That’s a toughy.I don’t think tarnished. I don’t think ‘tarnished’ is the word. I think that her record, the way that she was raised, the journey, the path, the route she took to be No. 1, the family, Venus, Richard Williams, I think that whole story is so overwhelming, and the fact she dominated for so long.
She could break the record of Grand Slams. That will overshadow everything at the end of the day. I think there will be a sidenote that Serena has a lot of passion, that she has at times lost her cool on the court. But I don’t think for one minute it’s going to tarnish her whole reputation or her record.
PATRICK McENROE: I would say that this is yet another chapter in the incredible story of Serena Williams. There’s a lot of positives. There’s a few negatives. There’s no doubt that was a negative. There’s no doubt that also last year, when you look at the bigger picture, the fact she came back from having a child, she was really nowhere near 100%, and she still made the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open, was incredible.
She seems to have sort of put it past her, which I think is great for her. She seems to be in a great frame of mind heading into the Australian Open. She looked very good at the Hopman Cup. That was an awesome moment to see her and Roger Federer on the same court at the same time. It was quite a way to kick off 2019.
I’m looking ahead to more great things from Serena. That was disappointing, what happened in New York. We’ve been through that a bunch of times. Overall I’m really looking forward to seeing her back on the court this year, seeing if she can win another major or two.
Q. Looking at Serena’s record at the Australian, she’s won it seven times. She’s never really had any controversial moments when she’s playing in Melbourne as opposed to what’s happened several times at the US Open. Can you speak to what the Australian means to her, what sort of mindset she has in Melbourne. That’s a tournament that’s known for fun. Seems like she’s in a different mindset there. Is that true? Do you see her going into this tournament with that sort of mindset typically?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think she’s fresh. I think that’s one thing. But everybody else is fresh, too. This year especially she’s had, what, four months off since the Open. I don’t believe she played anything since the Open. She has had time off to get away. Now she can really get away from tennis. Before, she couldn’t really get away. Now she’s married, has a child, has a rich life. She can get away from it.
I think she’s raring to go. Champions are greedy in the sense of they want to keep racking up the Grand Slams. She is in a position where she can break some records in the tennis world.
When you talk about she’s had a couple of incidences at the US Open, I don’t think it has to do what Grand Slam it is. It could be at any Grand Slam. It’s basically sort of the umpire, the linesmen, Serena. As Patrick says, she does seem very relaxed. The one thing I notice, she seems fitter than last year. The scary thought looking at the women, they have to be thinking at this point, Gosh, she was 60, 70% last year reaching two finals, and now she seems fitter, leaner, she’s moving better. Like I said before, she’s fresher.
We all know Serena is very dangerous when she’s fit and when she’s healthy. You always know the motivation is going to be there, with or without a family. She had it when she was single. Maybe she has it even more so now, proving again her platform of being a working mother. Maybe that is getting her all revved up and motivating her even more.
I mean, as Patrick said, look at the way she played at Hopman Cup. She’s definitely a favorite here. The court, if it’s a little bit faster, is going to favor her. But I think it’s just about being relaxed, it’s about being healthy for her. That’s when she plays her best tennis.
PATRICK McENROE: Let me preface my response that saying many on this call may not be aware that you’re known for the New York Times, but back in the day you had a slippery lefty serve that I had to deal with at Cal Berkeley (laughter).
As far as Serena goes, I actually sort of compare her a little bit to how she does at the Australian, a little bit to Federer in the last couple years. To back up Chrissie’s point, she both come in very relaxed, having had an off-season where they can rest their bodies, but maybe more importantly sort of retrain their bodies.
Look, we both know that the two of them are incredible tennis players. When you give them a chance to regroup and to be in one place for a couple of months, to train and get themselves ready, I think that’s part of the reason they’ve both done really well in Australia the last couple years.
You have a tendency to get a bit fatigued mentally and physically by the time you get to the US Open and the end of the year. I do think that’s part of the reason over the years that Serena has had some major melt downs. Most of her biggest ones have come in New York. There’s a lot more pressure on her there, a lot more attention, et cetera.
Australia is a lot more relaxed for her. For Federer the same. It’s obviously a huge event. There’s not the type of intensity I think that you get outside of the tennis arena that they have to deal with every day.
I think that is going to mean she’s going to come in in a really good frame of mind physically and mentally. That’s why I think both of them, Federer and Serena, arguably have maybe their best chance to win a major at the beginning of the year.
Obviously Serena will have a great chance again at Wimbledon. But I think for Roger especially, I could argue this is his best chance this year to win a major, is at the Australian. From what I hear, the courts are playing fairly quick again, which they’ve been the last couple years, which will be good for both of them.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think having played four Grand Slams in one year a long time ago, I think the outlook with a lot of the players is also, I’m just going to go in this one, and if I don’t do well, I have the rest of the year. This is the first one, I have three more to look at.
I think where the pressure and the intensity is is in the summer when you have three Grand Slams in four months. That’s where the pressure is. But as far as the first one, I feel like they kind of have an out. Sometimes maybe you play your best tennis when you have less pressure like that.
Q. Murray still looks like he’s hurting, but he’s not quite there yet, not playing well. Are you worried at all that he’s getting close to the point where he might actually consider retiring? What do you know about his injuries and what he has left?
PATRICK McENROE: I would say he’s got some major question marks. Obviously even to hear him say he’s in pain. I watched a little bit of the match, actually a decent amount of the match he played with Medvedev. In the first set he looked like he was moving pretty well. But as the match went on, it wasn’t quite 100%.
The hip is incredibly difficult to come back from for especially a tennis player and someone that has worked as hard as he’s worked, put the miles on. I’m not optimistic, unfortunately. Obviously we’d all love to see him get back where he can compete at the top. I think if he’s healthy, there’s obviously no doubt that he can.
I have some major questions whether or not he can. I hope he doesn’t retire any time soon. But I don’t see him playing if he at least doesn’t think he can be a factor in a major. That being said, if he can be top 10 in the world, he would definitely keep playing, in my opinion. If he thinks that he can’t do that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he hung them up.
I think he at least will give it this year to see how it plays out.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it’s always a really sensitive issue, retirement is always sensitive, to ask a player, to ask us about a player retiring. Andy Murray has been one of the best champions as far as hard work, good hard work ethics out there. I think what is hurting him, because to me when I watch him, I feel pain, I feel like I’m in pain when I watch him. I feel like it’s not the same Andy as two or three years ago.
I think he’ll know in the first three months of the year what his future plans are going to be. But it sure would help, he’s such a grinder, he wins by hitting a lot of balls, and that’s going to hurt him in the long run at the end of the day because he really wants to keep the rallies shorter. He really wanting to be more aggressive.
I think if he had a bigger serve, kept the rallies shorter, was more aggressive, I think that might make a difference. But his kind of game, it’s very much like Nadal, they’re grinders. They have to work so hard to win a point. I think in the long run, that’s going to hurt him really as far as longevity is concerned.
Q. Given the revolving door at the slams with the women the past two years, how keen is your sense of who is going to enter the Australian Open on the women’s side in their top form, ready to go? Of the bunch, who do you see as having the most staying power? You’ve spoken about Serena.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s interesting. It’s a crapshoot. That’s the only wordy can think of. It’s a definite crapshoot. In the past two years with eight different winners, it’s a joke when people say, Who is your pick? Well, I don’t have a pick, okay?
I never in a million years thought that Osaka would win the US Open, and I never thought Kerber would win Wimbledon. Just some of the winners, I mean. You always would count on Serena to win Grand Slams. Wozniacki winning the Australian.
I think on form, I think Serena looks good. I think she looked good at the Hopman Cup. As I said before, her fitness seems to have improved. She looks leaner, is moving better. That serve is still working, it’s a fast court. She was giving the men problems in mixed doubles, which I loved.
I think Osaka is reliable, I think she’s gotten some matches in. I think she’s going to go in pretty confident at this point. Kerber also. Kerber looked good at the Hopman Cup. Those three, I would say. Then outside Sabalenka looked good, as usual. She’s the one that we need to watch I think for this year.
It just comes down to the ability I feel and the talent is so even with the women, it really will come down to the small intangibles, like maybe who wants it the most, maybe a little luck, who doesn’t have the really tough matches where they’re exhausted like I think Halep was last year.
I’m talking in circles because it is a crapshoot.
PATRICK McENROE: Let me straighten it out for you, Chrissie. You remember I told you all last year that Osaka was going to win a major. So let’s not get caught up in the details that I said it was Wimbledon and not the US Open. Don’t get caught up in details of that.
But I’m telling you here right now that the winner of the Australian Open women’s side is going to be (Aryna) Sabalenka, okay? She’s going to win the Australian Open. The courts are quick. She, as Chrissie said, is going to make a breakthrough this year. I say why not it happening at the Australian Open.
That being said, of course I agree with Chrissie. How could I disagree with her? You can make a case, look, Halep, even though she just lost to Barty, she’s a top seed. She’s going to like it down there again. Even without our guy Darren Cahill, I still like her chances. Kvitova has looked pretty good. She just beat Sabalenka. Pliskova won in Brisbane. She’s still one of those that hasn’t won one. Svitolina. We could go down the list.
I have think it’s probably more likely we’ll see a couple more first-time winners this year like we’ve seen in the past. Nobody has really been able to dominate other than Serena at times. It’s wide open, but I’m going with Sabalenka at the Australian Open.
Q. Sabalenka has played incredibly well since last fall. Is there any chance she is a player who may come and end up being reliable, not necessarily dominating, but winning majors for two or three years? Any reason to think she might be different from Muguruza or Ostapenko? Is it about time for all these familiar faces to are anointed with the NextGen label to make a move or they really just the next generation of journeymen in the ATP?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I have no reason to believe that Sabalenka will not win more than one Grand Slam. Why? I see two things. I see hunger and I see boldness. Whether that’s fearlessness or what. It’s tied up, the boldness, fearlessness, confidence. That’s her swagger, I see that. I also see hunger. Like this girl wants it. You can see it in her eyes. She’s pretty intense.
To me, those ingredients, the fact that she has the skill set and the talent she does, she will win more than one Grand Slam in the next few years. That’s my take on her.
PATRICK McENROE: Listen, I mean, I’m so impressed with her game, number one, her physicality, her movement for her size is excellent. You said it, Chrissie. Her intangibles are amazing. Even when she lost, I watched the match with Kvitova, she sort of walks to the net, she has a swagger about her, a confidence.
I mean, who the heck knows if she wins one, is very going to stay. She looks like she has the intangibles. There’s no way to know until it happens, if it happens. Of course, I told you it’s going to happen in a couple weeks. We shall see.
Are you talking about Nishikori, Dimitrov, that crowd, Raonic?
Q. The NextGen guys, Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz. Zverev is ahead of the pack.
PATRICK McENROE: You’re talking about the younger guys. You’re going to go for Tsitsipas, Khachanov?
Q. Yes. All the ones below Zverev.
PATRICK McENROE: No, I think it’s too early to pull the plug on them, no. I think there’s some big guys in there literally and figuratively, especially in Tsitsipas, Khavanov. Zverev is obviously there at the top. He would be the best bet to win a major. Certainly Australia would be a good situation for him.
But I still like that crop of young guys coming up. I think there’s some slam winners in there, between the guys I’ve mentioned. Fritz, Tiafoe are not quite at that level at the moment, but they’re showing some good signs. Opelka is starting to make a little bit of a move, top 100 now. On the American side, we have some guys.
I think you put Khavanov, Tsitsipas, Shapovalov I still think has some rounding out to do. Remember, he’s still a teenager. Then you have the young Aussie who is pretty feisty, wins a lot of matches.
I think it’s pretty exciting with that group. I’ll go out on a limb. There will be more slam winners in that group than the group I was mentioning at the top. In that group, there’s none.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I like Thiem and Coric, too. I think Thiem, especially on the clay, he was so impressive also at the US Open. I think those two you have to include. Zverev, Khavanov, Tsitsipas. Could the names be a little bit easier (laughter)? There’s a lot of talent there, for sure.
Q. Roger and Novak have won 12 of the last 14. Do you see that continuing? Could you see a guy who has been close, like Nishikori or Tsonga, Anderson, guys who have been in major finals but not broke through, could you see that happening? On the Agassi-Dimitrov alliance, how do you see that playing out?
PATRICK McENROE: Listen, the answer to your first question is do I see that changing? I’ll keep it simple: no, I don’t see it changing. In other words, it will be Djokovic or Federer winning it. I lean towards Djokovic in a big way at the moment.
As far as the second part of it, do I see one of those other guys winning a major?
Q. Getting deep, a guy who has been close going deep again.
PATRICK McENROE: That I could see happening. Again, I’m going to be short and sweet with the second part of it: no, I don’t see them winning one.
Could Anderson make another run? Of course. The guy has had an amazing last couple years. Raonic is just too brittle physically. Nishikori seems to be back at a pretty good level, so I could see him with the right draw get to the quarters or the semis. The answer to your question is: I do not see them winning it.
I love to see Andre Agassi back in the mix. If he can get what he would probably call himself shot discipline, shot tolerance into the game of Grigor Dimitrov, that would be a huge positive because Grigor, in my mind, just has way too many options and has never really figured out how to just play meat and potato tennis, which is what Agassi did at his best in his prime, in his later years, he played meat and potatoes tennis.
What Dimitrov ever be able to play exactly that style? Of course not. If Andre can get a little bit of that into his game, his mentality, that could absolutely help him.
CHRISSIE EVERT: To carry on about Agassi, I think he can help Dimitrov tremendously with the mental side of the game, as Patrick was saying, echoing the discipline that Agassi had, also the wisdom that he has, the training. When I think of Agassi, I picture him running up hills with sandbags on his back with Gil Reyes.
I think he can up the intensity of the discipline and training. And Dimitrov is very respectful of former champions. I feel like he will be more motivated with Andre.
It’s so funny because I picked Anderson out right away, looking at the top 15, 20 players that are ranked. Anderson is one also I think that can win a major this year, even win the Australian. I think he’s shown it. He’s shown maturity. He certainly has had a lot of great wins under his belt and I think people underestimate him a little bit.
Q. It was mentioned that it could come down to luck. Could you both talk about the role of luck. Patrick, if you had one piece of advice for Mardy Fish, what would that be? Chrissie, the late President Bush was a player, you were close to him, could you give us your best story.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I can tell you a George Bush story right now. I said it on the podcast with Jon Wertheim. The first time I ever met George Bush, Pam Shriver was the one who introduced us, and he was vice president then. We were going to a dinner for the Chinese minister. I spent the night at President Bush’s and Barbara Bush’s house. We went to the dinner. Pam was there. He wanted to know all the scoop and gossip about the tennis players.
Came home, went to bed. 7:00 in the morning there’s a knock on my bedroom door. It was President Bush. He said, Chrissie?
I said, Yeah.
He said, Why don’t you come over to Bar’s and our bedroom, we have some newspapers waiting for you.
Let me get dressed first, I’ll come over in a few minutes.
He said, Don’t get dressed, come over in your P.J.s.
I go into their bedroom, they’re both in their P.J.s, with newspapers thrown all over the bed, offered me a cup of coffee. I jumped on the bed, lounged on it, had my cup of coffee with Bar and President Bush the first time I ever met them in bed. That’s pretty funny.
I knew right away what kind of a guy he was. The most down-to-earth, kind, normal person that there was. That’s my story.
Q. You mentioned luck.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Don’t quote me that it comes down to luck. I think that’s one of the intangibles. It’s also obviously talent, it’s also hunger, it’s also fitness. There’s so many more things.
But you’re right, I think the level of the women is so even now, very little separates a winner from a runner-up, or a winner from a semifinalist. Very little separates these players. There’s a handful, like a boatload of them, 15 of them in a boat in the ocean. It’s like, Who is going to win? It just depends on so many things.
I do think at the end of the day it comes down a little more to the mental aspect. Again, the skill set is there for all these players. But I think it will come down to who’s going to handle the pressure points better, who is going to handle the occasion better, who is just going to not feel nervous. I think that’s what it’s going to come down so even more so than luck. There’s always a little luck involved.
Don’t you think, Patrick?
PATRICK McENROE: No, I don’t think so at all. No luck involved.
I do think there’s absolutely no chance that I can top your George Bush story, so I’m not going to even try when it comes to my good friend Mardy Fish. When a little birdy told me the news yesterday, I have to say that I was extremely happy and very proud of Mardy because we’ve been through a lot together. I’ve seen a lot of him when he played Davis Cup.
One of my great memories was when we did win it, he was going through some injuries at the time, coming back from injuries, when we won it and beat Russia in the final in Portland. Mardy was there, sat on the bench. He was the kind of guy that no matter what, whether I asked him to play singles, to play doubles, which he did even with one of the Bryans one time in Spain, played amazing, and obviously the last tie that I had as a captain was a relegation match against Colombia in Bogota. Mardy won three matches there. It was really tough conditions and a tough opponent, as well.
Oftentimes, Mardy was a bench warmer. He handled every one of those situations with incredible class, so I know there are some other great possibilities like Roddick and James Blake, who are great guys, too. I think it’s a really perfect fit for Mardy because he’s really passionate about the team part of it. He’s always been a great team guy. He really loves working with the young kids. He’s worked quite a bit with Taylor Fritz, some of the other younger guys, as well.
I couldn’t be happier for him and for the USTA, that he’s going to step into that role. I wish him all the best.
CHRISSIE EVERT: If I may add one thing about Mardy. He’s going to be great because he is laid back. But for somebody who is laid back, he’s not in your face, but I tell you what, he knows his stuff. I listen to him, because he works with us in ESPN. He’s worked with us for a few years now. I’ve listened to him. He’s got a lot of wisdom. He knows what he’s talking about, especially with strategy.
But I think he’s got just a great way about him to communicate that to the players. So congratulations to him.
Q. Sloane Stephens has had a couple of disappointing results to start the season in Brisbane and Sydney. Do you think she’ll be overly consumed by that or do you see her challenging for the tournament?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, we see the talent with this young lady. I mean, she’s unbelievable. She can do anything with the ball. She is awesome to watch. She’s great defense, great offense. We know the talent.
I think that Sloane, when she has it all together, when it’s a good day, she’s really engaged in her tennis, in her shot-making, she’s excited about playing and competitive, she’s No. 1 in the world. I think she can win a Grand Slam, period.
But everybody’s wired a little bit differently. It isn’t a criticism when I say that she is lacking in pure consistency, the consistency that a Wozniacki will have or a Kerber will have or Halep will have. She’s lacking still in the consistency day-to-day, week in and week out.
When she has her shining moments, they’re awesome. She still has a lot left in her.
PATRICK McENROE: I’d be worried if Sloane Stephens had won a bunch of matches going into the major. Are you kidding me? This is her MO. She’s absolutely a threat to win it. To me, she’s the best pure ball-striker off both wings and mover in women’s tennis. Obviously Serena can hit bigger and can serve a lot bigger. When you talk about pure ball striking ability, she’s the Andre Agassi of women’s tennis. Obviously she’s doesn’t hit the ball as big, not as consistent as Andre was in his prime.
I don’t worry about her. I mean, honestly when I look at her results, again, maybe I’ve got the point of scratching my head. I used to scratch my head, but now I don’t because I know Sloane is Sloane. If she gets hot, gets going, there’s no doubt that she can win the tournament, absolutely no doubt.
Q. What are your thoughts on one of the hot topics at the end of last season was the scheduling of matches, which Julien Benneteau expressed a bit of criticism of the scheduling being in favor of Roger Federer. He talked about 12 or 13 of his last 14 Australian Open matches took place in the night session. I remember Marin Cilic also learned last year’s final would be played under a closed roof, playing all his other matches in outdoor conditions. Is there the need for authorities to find some balance here?
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll say this, okay? The players like Julien Benneteau, really any players, to be honest, should be thanking Roger Federer for all he’s done and still doing for tennis.
Now, is there favoritism for the top players at majors when it comes to court assignments and schedule? Absolutely, there is, okay? Does it need to be held in check at times, called out a little bit? Of course. We’ve done that plenty of times, by the way, at ESPN when it comes to why is Venus Williams on Court 2 at Wimbledon, for example?
These kind of things happen all the time. The fact of the matter is that the players who get the better scheduling or the better courts, et cetera, basically deserve it, okay? They basically, at the end of the day, the people running the events are looking at filling the seats and keeping the sponsors happy, keeping the people at ESPN happy, keeping you reporters happy. That’s part of the game and part of the deal.
If you think Serena Williams shouldn’t be playing every single match on center court at night or Roger Federer shouldn’t or most of them, then you’re not living in the reality of what big-time sports entertainment is about.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I believe it’s a balance, a sensitive balance. The tournament directors have to be expense active to the lower ranked players because the higher ranked players at times get precedence.
He always look at Serena and Roger, I say, Look, they can play five tournaments a year, they can play any time they want. They can dictate when they want to play. They’ve been on the tour for 20 years. They’ve been ranked No. 1. They’ve been such great spokespeople for the game of tennis, great ambassadors.
Is there a little bit of favoritism towards them? Yes. But they’ve earned it. It’s all about earning it. It’s all about it’s entertainment. This isn’t all about tennis matches, it’s also about entertainment. At the same time, the tournament directors do have to be sensitive, especially when it’s a major tournament, to make sure everybody has the best schedule that they can have.
Q. What does the Australian Open represent in the calendar year? Some of the best matches have been played there. Do you think this slam dictates a lot more than the other slams in terms of player conditioning, what they’ll be doing for the rest of the year? Patrick, you talked about the court speed. Do you think the faster courts of the last couple years have changed how the game is being played?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I just feel like it’s definitely the most unpredictable of the slams because you just don’t know what players have done on their off-season. Many of them have had two to three months off. You don’t know if they’re going to come how fit. For the most part, most of the players are fit and relaxed and happy.
In my mind, to be relaxed, nothing great is accomplished in this world unless you’re in a relaxed state. I think that’s when they’re going to play their best tennis. I think the eagerness, they want to just dive right into playing the Australian Open, their first Grand Slam of the year. They want to just get off to a good start.
There is less pressure, definitely, because it is the first Grand Slam. Again, I feel like the pressure is in the summer when you have the French, Wimbledon and the US Open within four months. That to me is the most intense time. But this is a more relaxing time. That’s why last year we had so many great matches on the women’s side. The women took over the Australian Open with their long three-set matches. That’s my answer to that.
PATRICK McENROE: I like the quicker conditions. The Australian used to be sort of the slowest of the big hard court tournaments certainly. That’s changed the last couple years. Partly the impetus for that was those incredibly grueling, physical matches with Djokovic and Nadal especially, that one particular year. I do think the faster conditions have made for more exciting matches. As Chrissie said, particularly on the women’s side it was an amazing event last year. I think it rewards a good, aggressive player, as well as a really good server. Also you can play predominantly baseline tennis and still be successful.
I think is the right mix. The tournaments are always looking to tweak the conditions based on where the game is, how the players are playing. Wimbledon has done that obviously over the years to the benefit I think of the spectacle of the sport. I think the Australian Open made the same move. I think it’s helped. I think a guy who it’s really helped is a guy by the name of Roger Federer.
Q. Genie Bouchard has been having some good moments as of late. What do you think of the beginning of her season? What do you expect from her for the upcoming year, especially for this Australian Open?
CHRISSIE EVERT: She got off to a good start this year. I actually watched her practice down in Boca Raton in the off-season. She was definitely working hard. She was in the gym, she was training hard on the court. She seems to have a little pep in her step, a little more energy, positive energy, in her game, in herself. I think she’s not as fearful as she was the last couple years kind of getting back into it. I think she’s starting to mature a little bit.
So I think good things could happen to Genie Bouchard this year.
PATRICK McENROE: I think obviously she burst onto the scene with that amazing year, then she took a couple of major steps back. The attention, the spotlight, et cetera, the fame, the fact that her game is fairly one-dimensional, I think that all hit in a hurry.
It’s nice to see her back. Like Chrissie said, she seems to be in a good frame of mind. She’s obviously working really hard. Realistically, she’s 79 in the world, 80 in the world at the moment, I think top 30 by the end of the year is possible. I do think when she made that run and she was top 5 in the world, that really wasn’t where she was going to stay. That’s proven to be the case. I don’t think being outside the top 50 is the case for her either. By the end of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her between 30 and 50 in the world.
Q. Are you concerned about American men’s tennis? Do you see this ending any time soon?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’ll say the thing is that tennis is global now. It’s worldwide. What is so wrong with that? Isn’t it fascinating and isn’t it exciting that you have so many more countries coming to the plate and producing tennis champions. That excites me. Like Patrick’s expression, scratching his head, I’m done scratching my head about men’s tennis in America because I appreciate the fact that it’s become so global, worldwide and popular. I’m very happy with that.
But I think in the last few years, the last five years, a lot of young American players, men in particular, have been surfacing, made names for themselves, had some big wins. I think it’s just a process, though. There’s a lot of talent out there, but there’s also a lot of talent elsewhere around the world.
PATRICK McENROE: Absolutely, listen, I used to get this question like every week, right, when I ran player development for the USTA. That’s why I have much less hair now, because I used to scratch my head every week about it.
Now I’m just an interested observer. Obviously I would love to see an American man win another major. Here is the good news and the bad news. Let me give you the bad news first. The bad news, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Nor is it happening for many other countries around the world, okay, including France, et cetera, other huge tennis countries, Australia.
That being said, as Chrissie said, for the first time in a while, the last couple years, we actually have some decent talent that’s coming up, that are legitimate top-100 players. That was always our goal with the program at the USTA, to get as many really good players. I don’t think any one federation can create a champion. They can build a good system, I believe, help be part of that. But to create a great, great champion obviously is a unique situation.
I think there’s a lot more better players coming out on the men’s side. By the way, the system is basically the same for the women. We’ve done pretty darn well with getting a few women into the top 10 of women’s tennis. Chrissie knows a lot about that with one of her girls that trained with her, Madison Keys, for many years, and Sloane Stephens who was also down at USTA when he was a teenager.
We’ve had more success, we as a country, on the women’s side. The reason for that is fairly simple: generally speaking, I’m speaking generally, we have better athletes playing women’s tennis than men’s athletes playing tennis in our country. That’s a general statement, but it’s generally true.
CHRISSIE EVERT: The way I measure success in American tennis is getting more kids out there playing tennis, through grassroots programs, clubs, public parks. That’s where I measure success, getting more kids out there. Also we have so many kids getting scholarships to college, maybe not good enough to be in the top 10 right now, but a lot of scholarships are going out to kids, boys and girls, to go to college. To me, that is success just as much as getting a player into the top 10.
Q. Were you surprised by the way Novak Djokovic came back last year? Who would be your favorite if Roger and Novak come face-to-face?
CHRISSIE EVERT: That is a good question. That would be quite a final. First of all, they have to be on opposite ends of the draw.
I think Djokovic would have to be favored obviously to win the Australian Open. They both, I believe, have won it six times. Djokovic has found his mojo. He is in the groove right now. I think he’s brimming with confidence. He’s found his A game. He’s back to where he belongs, No. 1 player in the world.
In saying that, I was very impressed with Roger Federer, the way he played at Hopman Cup. The thing is, the only drawback with Roger I think is I think Novak can still play a few more longer matches and still be in peak form if he does reach the final. The thing that I worry about with Roger is, again, as you get a little older, I know he’s fit, but just to play a few five-set matches in a row, I wonder how he would fare if he played the final.
The courts are faster, the points are quicker, he’s going to have a much better chance because he won’t be on the court as long. But I think they both are in peak form right now, both of them. I think Nadal is injured. We don’t know how he’s going to play. We don’t know about his health. But I think those two, it would be a terrific final. I just think Djokovic can last a little bit longer, so I’d have to give him the slight edge.
I wasn’t surprised. I was absolutely shocked when people counted him out. People would say, What’s happening to him? Is he ever going to come back? I was always like, Yeah. I think champions know that champions can get it back. I think Novak had a lot going on in his life, a lot of other things, a lot of distractions emotionally, mentally. He took basically a time-out from playing his best tennis because he was dealing with things more important than tennis.
For him to get it back doesn’t surprise me at all because he’s a champion. He knows he can compartmentalize, and he knows how to get things back. When his back is against the wall, he knows how to make things happen. Once he got his personal life sorted out, he was a different player, different person. Again, it’s all come together for him and he seems to be peaking.