(June 28, 2023) ESPN held a media Zoom conference call with John McEnroe and Chris Evert. Here is a transcript of the call provided by ESPN.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning and afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us.
Today we have John McEnroe and Chris Evert to preview the 2023 Wimbledon available exclusively on ESPN platforms starting on Monday. In addition, ABC will also broadcast select live matches throughout the middle Saturday and Sunday.
ESPN Deportes will also have more than 75 hours of live action in Spanish, and overall the ESPN app can be the streaming home for Wimbledon.
Also our newest piece of original content to debut on ESPN+, McEnroe’s Places, a tennis-centric of the Peyton Places franchises.
I will go ahead and open it up to our media.
Q. Is Novak the clear favorite here? Can anyone beat him? What would it mean if we get a Carlos/Novak final if both guys were healthy? How good would that be for the sport?
JOHN McENROE: I don’t know who that was to, but I only heard, How good would that be to the sport?
Q. I’ll start over. Is Novak the clear favorite here? Can anyone beat him? If we get a Carlos/Novak final, how healthy would that be for the sport?
JOHN McENROE: First part, yes, absolutely Novak a big favorite. No question about that.
Alcaraz is learning quick, as you saw at Queen’s, if you watched any of that event.
As far as how it would be for the sport, it would be obviously good for the sport that our tennis best players played.
I do believe what would be even better for our sport down the road would be a couple American men in the mix, whether it’s Tiafoe, Korda is coming along, Fritz is in the top 10. Some of these guys have to make a breakthrough and be in there with these other guys. That would make it more interesting, as well.
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll also answer that.
I think, besides Novak’s tennis skills, which we all see, he knows that every time he walks out on the court, he is mentally and emotionally stronger than any opponent he’s ever played, with maybe the exception of Nadal, who isn’t in the tournament.
He feels a challenge. He likes the challenge of playing younger guys. He is the best five-set player. He values every point better than anybody. He’s had more experience on the grass.
So, yes, he is the favorite for me.
Q. Two American men in the top 10. We have Taylor Fritz, and Frances coming off the big win on grass. What do you like about each guy as a player and person? Who do you think has the better chance to make a deep run here?
JOHN McENROE: I like both of them as people. I think Taylor is a confident kid. He’s worked really hard on his movement and fitness, which is the reason to me he’s in the top 10.
He hits a great ball. I don’t think he’s actually that comfortable on grass. I think Tiafoe is a better volleyer and more skilled at net, athletically better. That would help him on the grass. Taylor hits a better ball and is a bigger guy. His serve is probably a little bit more dependable.
Both those guys, it’s going to depend on their draw a little bit. They’re 9 and 10. I’m not sure if 9 and 10 play 7 and 8 or if it’s looser than that. If that’s the case, both of them would be in the quarters of Alcaraz or Djokovic, which would make it more difficult. The seedings are made today, but I think the draw is tomorrow. So that remains to be seen.
I think at this time those two and maybe Korda are the guys. Tommy Paul looks like he’s fallen off at the moment a little bit. I know he’s playing right now. Hopefully he’ll get it back.
I think there’s going to be guys soon, Americans, that are going to make the breakthrough within a year or two hopefully. I think that’s going to be big.
CHRIS EVERT: I think what I love about Tiafoe is what he was saying at the US Open. Beating Nadal, having these big wins, there is much bigger picture for him. That was to be a role model to kids, to the black community. He sees a bigger picture for himself.
The fact that he was so upset, when I watched that match, he was so upset when he lost to Alcaraz, he was in tears. A lot of players beating Nadal, continuing to win, getting to the semis, would have been satisfied with that. But it really affected him. That showed me that he just wants to keep going further and further, and he has bigger dreams and bigger ideas.
That, in itself, motivation is going to help him to win. I have a lot of respect for him. I think I have high hopes that he will one day win a slam.
Q. I’m wondering about how you think Coco’s game is going to go on grass. We saw her get another big win this morning. Is she finally going to get to break through and get that big championship at some point?
CHRIS EVERT: Yes is my answer (smiling). I mean, when I saw her play at 15 years old at Wimbledon and beat Venus Williams I for sure thought by now she would have won a major. But it’s probably better for her because it’s not happening overnight, she’s not a flash in the pan. She’s just going gradually on her path in a slower way. I think that’s going to benefit her in the long run.
When I see her now compared to 15 years old, at 15 we saw the skill set. She had every shot in the book. She already had a very good grass court game where she was comfortable moving, she had power, she knew how to volley. Now she’s been No. 1 in the world in doubles. Her volley is superb. I think she’s gotten her serve under control. That was always a little bit of a niggly thing.
Her body looks stronger, so I think she’s put a lot more work into the gym. The only trigger point for her will be the forehand. Everybody talks about it. It’s probably in her head by now. On a fast surface like grass, you’ve got to hit the ball in front of you and you’ve got to accelerate. She has a tendency to decelerate at times when she’s nervous. She has a tendency to hit off the back foot.
If she can get that forehand going, like Iga, very similar grips, but Iga shortens her swings and accelerates better. If she can get her forehand to be a little bit more like Iga’s, I think she’ll have the complete game.
She’s going to win a Grand Slam. I mean, she’s so young still, it’s going to happen for her eventually. Who knows, it could happen this Wimbledon.
Q. This week the WTA announced a plan to reach pay equity. Wimbledon is also going to be the highest prize pool this year. Also the ATP Tour has talked about Saudi Arabia from their public investment fund that’s invested in golf and global soccer. Do you think a potential investment from Saudi Arabia could be good for tennis?
JOHN McENROE: Well, that’s a very politically charged questions to say the least.
It looked to me like the PGA were total hypocrites when they cut a deal after they’ve been fighting them, in my opinion. At the same time the people that are complaining about it, a lot of the people are hypocrites because our government does business with thing along with tons of other hedge funds, wealth funds, down the list, people that have dealings.
What about Ronaldo? He’s being paid a couple hundred million a year. They have been buying players in other sports, brought boxing fights, you name it.
I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t encourage it personally, the Saudi thing. I’m not surprised that tennis is being thrown into the mix after what we saw in golf.
I don’t think that’s something that we should be pursuing, per se. It’s not in my hands.
As far as the equity, I don’t know if you asked a question or not, but I think that’s where it’s been headed for a long time. Obviously equal prize money in the Grand Slams. Now eventually I believe that the tours will be, I think see talk, this isn’t the first time it’s been talked about. It does seem it’s sort of inevitable at some stage.
I don’t agree with the two-week tournaments like Madrid and Rome. That’s another whole discussion. I think that’s too long, those events. I don’t think they all should be like Grand Slams.
I think we’re headed soon to where the men and women will be playing the same tour.
Q. I was hoping you could give us your thoughts on Rybakina. She’s had some high highs this year and a couple of low lows, particularly the exit from Berlin. How do you rate her chances this time around? Does the Berlin exit give you pause about how she’s going to be able to handle the surface?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I mean, I think any time there’s an injury this close to Wimbledon, it gives anybody pause. You definitely have to be 100% physically to play seven matches and to do things with your body that you’re not accustomed to doing versus a hard court or a clay court. You have to be adaptable, flexible, you have to be able to move on some slick courts. It all kind of screams you better be careful with your body and you better have that good balance.
I also feel like one other thing she has going against her, it’s always tough to defend your title. I just feel like she’s shown a little vulnerability this year. She’s got the perfect game for grass when everything is working, but everything has to be working. She played a great, great match when she won the tournament, but at the same time I don’t know if she’s at that top form right now.
I see Sabalenka and Iga. I only see the other players getting better and better. I wouldn’t put her on the top of my list, even though she’s defending champion. I wouldn’t put her on the top of my list.
At the same time there’s a little bit of an unknown as to what her health is, what her fitness is like. I really can’t make a definitive statement on that.
Q. I’m curious to get your thoughts on how differently the grass plays nowadays compared to when you were in your primes, what role that may play in extending the longevity and dominance of someone like Novak.
CHRIS EVERT: Grass courts have changed a lot. I mean, they’re playing more like a hard court. They’re harder. There’s a lot more groundstrokes being played.
In my day, John’s day, it was mainly about serve and volley because the ball stayed low, was fast. It was faster, it stayed lower. Players just wanted to get to the net. That’s why when you look at all the serve-and-volleyers were winning Wimbledon.
Since it’s playing more like a hard court, you’re going to see the players with really good groundstrokes at least be in the match and do better.
Where I think there’s a challenge is grass is so different with the moving and the bounces and how you use your body and your mindset, it’s so different than hard courts and clay courts. Is three weeks enough to make that adjustment?
Now, we’ve gone from two to three weeks, that’s great. At the end of the three weeks, are these players really playing their best grass court tennis? Do they know how to play grass court tennis? Can they improvise? Is their mindset different?
It’s such a quick turnaround mindset-wise and game-wise that very few I think can really do it.
The other thing is you do well in the French Open, you win it, you’re in the last couple matches, you take days off. Literally maybe that’s two weeks that you are really getting to get some hard practice on it.
Completely different surface. Completely different mindset. It’s very tricky, it’s very challenging. I don’t know. No other surface do you play three weeks to prepare for a tournament, then you play the tournament.
It’s like we play all year on hard courts and clay courts. You see the success and you see the confidence and the ease which players have adapted to these courts. But grass is really tricky.
With the three weeks, it makes it trickier because I don’t feel you’re really working on how to become the best grass court player you can be in those three weeks.
JOHN McENROE: I think Chris pretty much explained the grass court tennis of today compared to yesteryear. The people that can add that adaptability and finish points at net successfully, like an Alcaraz, for example, who is a really good volleyer, Novak learned it, so did Rafa. Those players… I believe that’s why Tiafoe has a shot because he’s skilled at net. That will help you get over the hump at Wimbledon.
Yes, it’s more homogenized. Yes, it’s more like hard courts. The bounce is higher, but there’s still a nuance that only a few get it.
Look at Ruud, for example. He’s regarding this as he’s showing up, hoping for the best. He could be out in the first round or two. Tsitsipas doesn’t seem to be comfortable at all, can’t figure out how to play on the grass.
There’s an opening. There’s many guys that don’t even understand it, or girls for that matter. That’s why it’s pretty narrowed down who can actually win it.
That’s why Novak can afford not to play any tournament because he’s so confident, he understands what it takes, he doesn’t feel the need to play any warmup matches and he still wins it almost every year.
THE MODERATOR: I want to hit on a question that we received. Chris specifically, is Swiatek more vulnerable on grass than other surfaces?
CHRIS EVERT: 100%, yes. I think her record reflects that. It’s not just my thoughts, it’s her best Wimbledon result I believe was the fourth round. She’s won tournaments on hard court. She’s won tournaments on clay courts, Grand Slams, majors.
She has such great court coverage in the sense of she can slide, her legs are very crucial, the court coverage is very crucial in her game. In order for her to really get set for the ball, she has to know how to move and she has to be very comfortable and her footing has to be solid. Footing is not necessarily solid on the grass.
I think that plus the fact with that extreme western forehand, when I’ve been watching her on grass, anybody has trouble with. Even Coco Gauff has trouble with that low slice forehand when you have that extreme grip to hit up on the ball. It’s very awkward.
I think that Coco, and Iga for that matter, like the waist high balls and the balls around the shoulder with that western grip. But the short ones will give them trouble.
So I think that and the fact that she can’t really at this point feel super confident on the grass. I think she feels confident. She’s No. 1 in the world, the best player in the world, but this surface may take away a little bit of her strength, which is her moving because of the sliding.
Also I think if you’re going to win Wimbledon, you’ve got to have a big serve, you’ve got to win free points off that serve. The players have been attacking her second serve a little bit. She doesn’t have that big Sabalenka, Rybakina first serve.
I’m nitpicking here because she’s No. 1 in the world and she’s great, and I think she can win Wimbledon, don’t get me wrong. But there’s some little nuances in her game that might hurt her a little bit on the grass court that don’t affect her as much, that help her actually, on the other surfaces.
Q. I am writing a piece about 50 years of equal prize money at the US Open. How much economic opportunity has played a role in the evolution of the women’s game? What are the most important ways that playing styles of the women have evolved over the years, and would the tremendous transformation that we’ve all witnessed in the women’s game on so many levels have been possible without the ongoing march to equal prize money?
CHRIS EVERT: I think it came at a good time, early ’70s. It came at a time when Gloria Steinem, you had some great women leaders for equality. You had the movement that was happening.
It wasn’t because of tennis. I think the movement was happening, and it was the right time for tennis to get into that era and the same mindset of those women who were fighting for equality.
Billie Jean King, I mean, honestly if Billie Jean King was in golf, I mean, golf would be where tennis is, and tennis would be where golf is. We were very lucky to have a leader like her that was in our sport because she had a vision. She still has a vision.
I remember going up to her and saying, God, you must be so happy with women’s sports, we’re getting equal prize money for Grand Slams.
She said, I will not be happy until we have team sports for women.
That was before there were team sports for women.
I was like, What?
I didn’t even understand that. I was just thinking tunnel vision, women’s tennis, isn’t that great what’s happening.
She has a great vision and she saw the whole picture. In saying that, what’s helped it, we’ve had some great leaders, we’ve had some great personalities, we’ve had some great players that have wonderful skill sets. Billie Jean led the way. I think Martina and I, our rivalry, Steffi and Monica, their rivalry, then the Williams sisters came along and just totally transformed the sport into a power sport, brought it to another level.
There have been some exciting stories, personal stories, in the women’s game. I don’t know. I’m so glad that I started out in the ’70s and I witnessed that whole process because it was pretty excited. Even though I was a teenager, I kind of understood what was going on.
JOHN McENROE: I think Chris said it really well. I think she pointed to a very important fact: Billie Jean King being the person that revolutionized the sport for women’s tennis.
I have four girls and two boys. You see as a father, as well, the opportunities that a young girl feels like they have that they didn’t have before. So that’s huge for any young girl growing up to feel like they have a shot at doing something they love, and it’s not considered something they shouldn’t be doing. We’re way past that, which is great.
As far as whether or not the sport was changed because of that, that’s impossible to say. I mean, I think it would have sort of come along. The technology that’s happened in the men’s and women’s game, this is sort of a natural evolution.
Certainly like Chris and Martina, that rivalry was huge for women’s tennis. I don’t think there’s been any rivalry that they played as often, in as many big matches as those two. That alone helped.
Now you see a situation where I believe in the next five years you’re going to have the men and women tour together. I believe they’re going to merge at some point soon.
CHRIS EVERT: Can I say one other thing?
It sure helps when men, like John McEnroe, high-profile men, support us, too. It seems like it’s 90% of the women talking about this. I would like to see more men kind of support us and join and have some opinions about this.
I think, as John said, maybe he didn’t feel the same way, but then he had girls. When you have kids, and you see the discrepancy and the big gap between boys and girls even in sports, it’s like, Whoa, wait, my girl is great athlete. Why should she hold back because she’s not a boy?
There’s so many psychological things. But I wish more men, especially men tennis players, would support us vocally.
Q. More Coco stuff. The coaching change, she dropped Diego, mutually parted ways, just hired Riba. Did she need that type of change? John, any thoughts on Coco in general if maybe could this be the moment for her, why she hasn’t won a slam yet?
CHRIS EVERT: I plead the Fifth. She’s not working with Diego, but I’m not up to who is she with now? Should be up on all this.
Q. She just hired Riba, a former Spanish player. She has a new coach.
CHRIS EVERT: Since when?
Q. In the last week or so. She was with Patrick during the French Open.
CHRIS EVERT: I knew that. I saw him in the box.
Q. There was a report about Riba. Tony Godsick confirmed it for me.
CHRIS EVERT: I have no idea. I don’t know him. I don’t know him. I don’t know his history. I’ve been watching every day. I haven’t heard anybody mention him, so…
Q. Did she need a coaching change, do you feel?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, let me just say one thing. I thought Diego was doing a great job. She was playing very well with him. I was very surprised that that didn’t work out.
But I don’t know. Maybe Diego personally wanted to stay home more. I don’t know what the reasons were. I compliment him and thought that he was great. I knew him. He lives in Boca Raton. I knew him before. He was coaching Ajla Tomljanovic. I spent some time with them. He knows what he’s talking about.
As far as having another coach besides her father, I think that was a good move. Look, my dad was a player, he was a coach, but I still had Dennis Ralston as a coach. The father coaching exclusively doesn’t always end up successfully. I think to have another pair of eyes and another voice is very good. So I hope it works out for her.
John, go ahead.
JOHN McENROE: I would just add what Chris just alluded to. The key is that sort of dynamic between the family, the parents, and who they hire because it seems pretty apparent that they bring in someone else. That’s happened two, three, four times already.
There’s this complicated situation. You see it with Tsitsipas. You see it with Zverev. There’s quite a few fathers and/or mothers that are there coaching their kid. Sort of how much are they willing to open their arms or listen to other people? These are questions I don’t know the answer to.
It seems like she’s made progress, perhaps stalled a little bit recently. There’s issues like what’s going on with her forehand. The serve can still be an issue. But you look at her progress, it’s been very steady and excellent.
Hopefully she’ll jump ahead. The pressure, she’s feeling more pressure, too, because people are like, When is she going to win it? How come she hasn’t won it yet? We’ll see.
Certainly if Rybakina is not right, she would be like the person I would pick if she was right. But Coco is in the top six players that could win it, six or eight at the worst. She’s right there in the mix.
CHRIS EVERT: Is anybody going to talk about Sabalenka in this group?
JOHN McENROE: Sabalenka is definitely there. Also she’s right below, to me, Rybakina, she would be right below her, yeah, potentially. Top couple.
Q. I’m asking about the off-the-court things. We’re seeing the generational change with Serena retiring, Federer retiring. Then you have all these changes with the slams working closer together. You’ve touched on the investments. How much is sport changing versus when you were playing? Are there scenarios where you welcome this outside investment or does it make you nervous? Obviously the Saudi thing was covered.
JOHN McENROE: It would be news to me that the Grand Slams are working closely together, but that’s probably another topic for another time.
Assuming they are, which would be a stretch, what’s changed is it’s become more, in my opinion, of a business as opposed to sort of in the days Chris started, the sport was growing, the money was just starting to come in. Now it’s a totally different situation than it was then.
At the same time there’s obstacles for a lot of players because it’s still too expensive a sport to play as a kid growing up. It’s not accessible enough. That’s why I have this tennis academy. You try to raise money and get people to chip in so you can get more people to play.
These topics are ongoing. I suppose it’s only natural. Unfortunately it’s like money talks. That’s all that matters. But I don’t think that’s all that matters.
Eventually you get bought out. It’s like at some point someone will offer too much. I don’t know why in the hell tennis would suddenly be, Let’s talk to the Saudis after the debacle that you’re watching in golf. To me it’s comical that it’s even being brought up right now. A pun: Par for the course.
CHRIS EVERT: I didn’t comment on the Saudi thing, but I think it’s sports washing. I don’t think we need to go there.
In answering your question about tennis nowadays, the thing that’s really changed it I think is social media. I think the fact that we have these Netflix shows on really reveals the people the players are, their emotions. It reveals what’s happening behind the scenes.
I was just watching one yesterday with Sabalenka. She broke out in tears saying she wanted to quit tennis, it was too much for her, the war. She said, I just want peace.
I’m like, we’re getting a different side of these players from watching those programs. I think that’s going to do nothing but help the game of tennis.
I had a lot of people come up to me who are not everyone in tennis who are watching this, are fully entertained by these players.
I think that was really sort of a good thought to have, whoever thought that up. I think that was great. I think it’s going to help build the sport, bring more people into it, have more spectators. These players are becoming much more open, showing their platforms. Now they’re people.
In our day, John, I don’t know if you remember, I was before you, but in our day we had like six. Sally Jenkins, Frank Deford. I can’t even name everybody. We only had like six or seven major newspaper journalists follow us around from week to week. That’s all we had. That’s all we had. We didn’t have social media.
It’s just so much bigger now, so much bigger business, more money, more money in endorsements, more money in prize money. You just want to make sure it’s all being handled in the right way with the leaders that we have.
JOHN McENROE: That would allow the opportunity to throw out there’s another show called McEnroe’s Places. It’s showing a different side, the history of it. Sort of along the sign of what Peyton Manning does for football. It’s sort of like a fun thing.
The other one is more emotional. You can see the good, the bad, the ugly. This is more the good, the history and the fun. It’s not 60 Minutes, but you’re there to sort of hopefully learn something about the sport and the individual that each show is about, or two.
Q. Last week at Queen’s, I asked Andy Murray what was his overriding number one feeling about Wimbledon, his number one memory. Chris, John, all you managed to achieve at the All England, is there one memory that really stands out?
CHRIS EVERT: Okay, first of all, you’ve been around a long time, Craig. You were around in my day (smiling).
Second of all, that’s like asking, What is the best match you ever played, best major? I don’t have one, okay? I mean, I could say having tea with Princess Diana, I could say things like that. I was honored to do that.
But the overriding thought that I have at Wimbledon is I’m almost prouder of my three Wimbledon wins than I am any other major because my game was not suited for grass, and I found a way to win. I tweaked a lot of things and I adapted and I learned.
I know a lot of baseliners like Monica and Jennifer Capriati, a lot of baseliners that just couldn’t figure it out. I feel like my best wins and my best tennis came at Wimbledon because I played out of the box for me.
Again, I think I’m most proud of that, my achievements at Wimbledon, so…
Q. Murray made the point that the first time he played on Centre Court was his overriding number one memory of Wimbledon. What you just said, that’s perfect. John, what about you?
JOHN McENROE: Mine would be easy. It would be the Borg match in ’80 that I lost. I do have one match that people ask me a hundred times more than any other match I ever played that asked me about or say they were there. That was certainly my most memorable moment at Wimbledon. THE MODERATOR: What a good one to end on. I just wanted to plug one more time that McEnroe’s Place is debuting on ESPN+ today. We will have Wimbledon coverage starting Monday.