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Today, ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert, Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media about the US Open, which starts Monday, August 25, with 100 hours on ESPN television and 400 on ESPN3.
On Roger Federer’s longevity (about to play his 60th consecutive Major event):
- “You just marvel at him. His movement is so phenomenal.” – McEnroe
- “His temperament is so easygoing that he won’t get mentally burned out because he just lets losses and things roll off his back… When he loses a match, he takes his entourage out to dinner to celebrate and have a party. When I lost a match, I’d go back to the hotel room and sulk. ” – Evert
- “His streak, what he’s doing, is just off the charts. Huge props to his team…. He’s obviously done an amazing job of taking care of his body…he plays an incredibly wise schedule. He doesn’t overplay…He certainly is the Cal Ripken of tennis.” – Gilbert
On the prospects of American men:
- “I’m just hoping we have somebody make the second week…We have a much better group of under 18. I think like a few years ago we were really struggling on the ladies’ side, now I think we’re the best nation in the world on the young ladies.” – Gilbert
- “We certainly don’t have anybody that’s a favorite to win the tournament, nor does anybody outside of Federer and Djokovic at this point…I think we’ve got a long way to go. We’re certainly, as Brad suggested, ahead of schedule on the ladies’ side. Not only do we have a lot of good young players in the main draw, but a lot in the quallies and juniors as well. I think for the most part we probably have our best group that are between 16 and 18 in a number of years.” – McEnroe
“Why do you think Americans don’t want to play in Europe? Is it because of the discomfort with a different culture, food, language, or just because they don’t want to play on clay?
- “Weak excuses. That’s all I’m going to say. Weak excuses… As a tennis player, you must embrace the opportunity and go there and be with the best players. It will make you a better player… I 100% believe to be a great player you have to be a great clay court player.” – Gilbert
- “This isn’t a new problem. This isn’t a new issue. Andre Agassi, who Brad coached for many years, hated going to Europe… Brad is spot on, that we need to get our guys to be able to deal with it and they need to get out there and grind it out and play on clay and be successful.” – McEnroe
Does tennis need a shot clock?
- “I think they should enforce the rule…I think that the players get away with murder, okay? The fact that the officials too much in my opinion let the players run the asylum…I love Rafael Nadal, don’t get me wrong. If I’m Rafael Nadal, everybody knows when they call the match, he’s going to sit there for five minutes and not come out of the locker room. You know what, last time I checked, when the Super Bowl is going to kick off, at 6:42, guess what, it kicks off at 6:42.” – McEnroe
- “I think if the match is at 1:00, the players should all know to be outside the locker room at five till 1:00. That’s what you have to do with children, okay? Get them there five minutes early. If they have to sit around for two minutes, fine.” – Evert
I wonder if as sages of tennis you could address for me how much tennis has changed in terms of the traveling entourage that players have now. How much has this changed and does it make it any more difficult for an up-and-comer to win a big event like the US Open?
McENROE: I think Chrissie would be best to start with that.
EVERT: Because I’m the oldest (laughter).
McENROE: You won a few majors so you could have afforded an entourage back then.
EVERT: Let’s put it this way, in the ’70s, Martina and I, when we played the finals of Grand Slams, we warmed each other up. We had no coaches. We would warm each other up, play the match, have lunch, go on the flight back. Coaches for me didn’t even come into effect until the late ’70s. It was a big deal if you had one coach traveling with you. That was pretty luxurious. Then the ’80s and the ’90s, the physios started, mental conditioning, hitting partners.
(Now) The top players all seem to have great teams and people who devote themselves 100% to their players, are loyal. I think it adds to the player’s success because it’s a very physical sport now. I think it’s more physical training than in my day, my era. So I think it’s crucial. I think it’s necessary to have a coach and a hitting partner and a physio. I think that’s pretty necessary. But, I mean, honestly for American players coming up, the USTA will help them. If you’re showing some potential, you’re put in some tournaments, you will get that help.
Patrick, you can address that now.
McENROE: I think tennis has become just like the other big sports. I mean, it used to be there was one coach on the football team. It used to be there was one coach on a basketball team. Even now when I watch college basketball, I see the head coach and I see about four guys in their 20s and 30s with clipboards sitting next to Mike Krzyzewski. It’s basically more viable. Every one of these top players especially, they’re looking for any edge they can get. I mean, for Novak Djokovic, if he thinks that Boris Becker helped him win Wimbledon, then guess what, that was well worth the investment of bringing Boris into his team, which already consists of three or four other people, including a full-time coach. Obviously the same with Edberg and Federer. He’s had his long time coach Severin, he has a fitness guy, a trainer. Those top, top guys can afford that.
To Chrissie’s point, in my role with the USTA, we try to help players in whatever we can. The truth is, once they get to a certain level where they’re making a lot of money, they’re probably better served getting their own teams because we as a Federation can’t afford to give them a full team of three or four people. In fact, we have trouble giving them one person at times because of the limited resources available. I think it does make a huge difference. Just here in the last couple days, I’m watching the qualifying, and some of our young boys are doing quite well. But it’s obvious that the physicality needed is going to take some time. That means a lot of off-court work and a lot of training to get themselves ready to play consistently at the highest level. So it is a lot more difficult to be the number one junior in the world and make it to the top of the pro game. It’s a longer, tougher road to get there. Obviously you need more people to support you and help you along that road.
GILBERT: For me, the biggest thing is the cost. Obviously the top players can afford it, if you’re ranked 50 to 100. It’s not like a team sport. A team sport, football, basketball, baseball, they would have an entourage, but they get everything paid for. Not only do they make a lot of money, but in a team sport, you don’t have to pay for your coach, trainer, physio. You can have extra people if you want, but everything is provided for you. If you’re ranked 70 in the world, you have a coach, a trainer and a physio, by the end of the year you’d be lucky to be making any money. A lot of these players, because the top players push the envelope, other players want to push the envelope. The thing is you are your own one-man operation, you’re your own CEO. You have to be smart about what you can and can’t afford. The top players have the ability to be able to afford a great staff and be able to do it. If you’re a junior or you’re a player ranked 100, 150, you might not be able to afford it. Obviously, the better you do, the more luxury you’ll have. People see that people have these teams, but the player is the one that has to pay for the entire thing. It’s a big thing on cost. When you see juniors investing in it, it’s a big investment. Wish there was some other way around it like we have it in team sports, but unfortunately it’s solely up to the player to make this thing happen.
- Can you talk about Roger Federer’s longevity, the fact that he’s playing in his 60th consecutive Grand Slam, going back to 1999 when he was 18 years old, just how remarkable that is considering the schedule, and he’s one of the favorites again this time.
EVERT: I think Roger, the thing I love about him, is his temperament is so easygoing that he won’t get mentally burned out because he just lets losses and things roll off his back. I mean, he’s relied mostly on his physical talent rather than I think the intensity of a Nadal, for instance. Somebody like Nadal or Djokovic I think would burn out mentally. He forgets about the match once it’s been played. That’s why emotionally and mentally he’s been able to sustain that high level.
On the physical side, his game is so efficient, his body is efficient. He doesn’t try to wear you down with 18-ball rallies. He’s pretty much a quick-point player. I think physically, you know, he doesn’t get involved in the long, drawn-out matches, so that helps his body to preserve his body. I think he’s a different temperament. Nadal, Djokovic and even Murray are completely different. I think their bodies and their minds will give up on them a little earlier than Roger’s will.
McENROE: I think seeing Federer close up as we did in Cincinnati, which obviously he won again for the sixth time, you just marvel at him. His movement is so phenomenal. Generally speaking, obviously we’re seeing more players generally in their 30s do well, but normally you see players, as they get to their early 30s, start to lose a half step. We’ve often talked about that in tennis. To see him moving as well as he’s moving on the court now, having just turned 33, it gives you some perspective when you see Djokovic struggling for a couple of tournaments. I don’t put too much into that. I think he’ll be fine at the Open. Then you hear Nadal has had to pull out of another major. To your point, this guy has played 60 majors in a row. He’s had a couple of obviously minor injuries, back especially, that have certainly limited his ability, at least as far as he says, in some big tournaments, but he’s never missed one. At 33, having just had another set of twins, the guy is as relaxed as can be. I think greatness has to be measured in quite a few ways, and I think longevity is one way which clearly he’s at the top of the list because even as Nadal creeps closer and closer to him in total majors, when you look at Roger’s longevity, at the end of the day, there’s still a way to go for both of them, and Novak as well, which is great for men’s tennis. I think you have to take that into account when you look at that, longevity, et cetera.
GILBERT: To me, his streak, what he’s doing, is just off the charts. Huge props to his team. He’s had the same physio for a long time. He’s had the same trainer, Pierre, for a long time. One of his coaches has been the same for a long time, Severin. More than anything, in any sport, you cannot have a foolproof system to not be hurt. Everybody gets hurt. What’s amazing about him is in 15 years he’s had no surgeries, no major injuries. He had this thing last year, 18 months, with his back. He didn’t miss any significant time. That’s first and foremost, that he’s had no serious injuries. He seems to be able to play without barely even sweating, not to mention he’s about one of the only guys that plays on clay, you look at his socks, he doesn’t have any dirt on his socks. That blows me away more than anything, his socks never get dirty. He’s obviously done an amazing job of taking care of his body, listening to his body. Another thing that he’s really done smartly probably over the last seven, eight years, he plays an incredibly wise schedule. He doesn’t overplay. He seems to plan his schedule for the entire year and sticks to his schedule and listening to his body. He certainly is the Cal Ripken of tennis and what he’s doing should be a landmark for players to emulate how he’s been able to stay healthy and keep himself in the mix.
I think more than anything, he can look back to the 2005 US Open when he was playing Andre, when he was 35 in the finals of the Open. He can look back and say, If he could play great when he was 35, I should be able to play great late into my 30s.
EVERT: When he loses a match, he takes his entourage out to dinner to celebrate and have a party. When I lost a match, I’d go back to the hotel room and sulk. This is a guy who emotionally can turn it on and off. Bottom line, loves the game.
- The two women who figure to finish first and second in the rankings at the end of the year, Serena and Sharapova, they both have very intimidating presences on the Centre Court. They glower, scowl, look very mean. I think Justine Henin did, as well. I was wondering how much you think this works psychologically in their favor in these matches. Not to be sexist or anything, but do you think this works better for women?
EVERT: Yeah, I mean, Steffi was a little that way. The thing is, I think it’s just a form of intensity. It’s a form of the player getting themselves into a certain frame of mind where they’re going to be, you know, totally concentrating. It has nothing to do with the opponent. I think it’s all to do with getting themselves psyched up and getting themselves in the most intense possible and concentrated space possible. If you watch Maria Sharapova, I watch her fist. Her left fist, it’s unbelievable the way they clenches her fist. If you watch the match, she never opens up the left fist. If she opens it up, is it going to be half the size of the right hand. Digging the nails into the palm of that hand… That’s a form of intensity. That’s like really an exaggerated form of intensity. But I know Serena sometimes will get a little complacent, and that’s because she’s going to be 33 next year. You can’t be intense every single match for 15 years. But when she wants to, she’ll scream and yell at herself and get really emotional. It has nothing to do with the opponent. It’s just her getting herself psyched up.
McENROE: I do think their intensity is a huge weapon for them. I think they use it to their advantage. I think it’s smart. It’s amazing to me what Sharapova can do, that she can clench her fist every point and stay that intense. But give her credit for doing it. Serena, I think when she’s intense, is at her best. Although certainly this year I think she’s put a lot of pressure on herself in the big tournaments, and that’s why she’s come up short. She’s maybe gotten too uptight and nervous. For her, I think she has to walk that fine line of being aggressive and being intense, but also trying to be relaxed. Whereas Maria, she’s all in intensity, no matter what. She doesn’t have the pure ability that Serena has, nor does anyone else in women’s tennis for that matter. For her, she needs that. She’s a little bit like Jim Courier used to be. Courier had to be super intense, had to be super focused, had to get everything on every point. That was just his MO. I think it’s similar for Sharapova. With Serena, there’s more of a delicate balance she needs. When she’s intense and pumped up, usually she plays well. To Chrissy’s point, as she’s gotten a little bit older, after such an amazing year last year, I think in some ways at the majors this years it’s worked a little bit against her.
GILBERT: One thing that’s amazing, you can’t make somebody, Okay, I want you to be intense, I want you to be laid back. You have been what you are. It certainly wouldn’t help her become great. It helps a ton that they’re incredibly skillful, and it works for Maria. If you told Roger Federer to be intense on every single point, it doesn’t work for him. Maybe it works for Nadal. That’s the good thing when you are coaching a player, you have to develop your own individuality and strength of your character within. You can’t say, I want you to act like Maria, Nadal, Fed. It just doesn’t work that way. I think more than anything, skill set helps you. If you’re intense like that, you have great skill set, it makes you. It helps Kobe Bryant, but his skill set is off the chart, and his intensity makes him even that much better. When I watch Maria, I second what Chrissy says, I’m absolutely blown away that she can sit there with her left fist clenched the entire time. She goes through all these routines, turns her back, everything. That’s her DNA, that’s what works for her. You watch Roger Federer, the only thing he does, he spins the racquet before he returns serve. He never gets hurt. It works for him. Nadal is intense and that works for him. I don’t know if there’s any perfect answer. I do know if you have skill set, it makes you way better doing that.
- Wondering what each of you make of the kind of year Andy Murray has had, troubling year since Wimbledon 2013, and what you thought of his chances going in this week. He’s got Tsonga in the last 16 and Djokovic in the quarters.
GILBERT: I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that he’s had a disappointing year, and he hasn’t come back as quickly from the back surgery as quickly as he would like. Albeit, he’s 27, I expect soon he will turn around what’s happened. I think more than anything, since Wimbledon last year, he’s really struggled against top-10 opponents. Besides the injury, he changed coaches, with Lendl leaving after Miami, now bringing on Mauresmo.
Looking at his draw, I don’t think anyone could have slotted him a more difficult draw. I mean, he plays Robin Haase first round. I believe a couple years ago he had a tough five-setter with him. Then he plays Stepanek.
Still looking one round at a time, but I think more than anything at 27 he works unbelievably hard. As long as he has his health, at some point he’s going to figure out how to turn around his recent losses versus the top 10. Once he does that, I expect for sure by 2015 that he will be back in the top 4 in the world.
McENROE: I think it’s confidence. I think also Lendl leaving, Murray is a pretty emotional guy, I think that was difficult for him. I think it was natural that he would have a letdown after Wimbledon last year. I think somewhat it was natural that his year this year wouldn’t be quite as good. He couldn’t have gotten a worse draw. The one guy he wouldn’t want to play, I would think, is Novak Djokovic in the quarters. Even Federer, who he’s 11-11 with, I think he would have preferred to play Roger in a best-of-five than Djokovic. As Brad said, he has a pretty tough draw to even get there. I think you’ll see him play a lot the rest of the year unless he makes a huge run here at the Open, which quite frankly I don’t expect to happen.
But I agree with Brad. I think he’ll be back. Whether or not he’ll be back in the top 4, somewhat debatable. The question is, can he find that extra motivation that he’s going to need? There is so much energy spent to win a major, which he did. Obviously the Olympics is incredible. Then to win Wimbledon. Can he ever find that kind of motivation again? He’s not Federer. He can’t go out there and sort of freewheel it. He has to be very focused. He has to be very fit. He has to work incredibly hard. Even Djokovic is a much more efficient player than Murray. Expends less energy off the ground. For Murray to win these titles, he has to be full out at 100% mentally and physically.
EVERT: I think Patrick touched on the most important thing, is the inspiration, the motivation. Physically we know he’s got a great game. It’s just an example, the last match he played with Federer, wasn’t he up two breaks in the second set? Really, if you are hungry, if you really want it badly, you make it happen. You win that set. He let it go. He’s had a rough year. Everything has been thrown at him. The kitchen sink has been thrown at him, everything. If he can find that inspiration, because he has achieved a lot in the last couple years.
- I’m curious on the Jack Sock front as far as the Wimbledon doubles crown, how that helped him with his singles. How much do you think it has helped his confidence? Will we start to see Jack make a further climb up the singles rankings?
McENROE: I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s helped him a lot. He’s had a very good summer on the singles court, and an amazing summer on the doubles court. In fact, the first match they lost together as a team was in the Cincinnati final when the Bryans got a little revenge on them and gave them a little beat-down in the final in Cincinnati. I was watching one of the doubles matches, he was playing in the semifinals. I was getting ready to call I think the Federer semifinal. The energy that he brings to the doubles court is phenomenal. I mean, him and Pospisil bring a lot of energy, get along well. I think for Jack to be able to bring that positive energy to the singles court is the next step. I think when he plays with that kind of positive energy, he’s got a lot of ability. He’s worked on his game, gotten fitter. His backhand is certainly improving and still needs to improve more. I think some of those tangible things, just the right shot at the right time, is the next step for him. Physically he’s done a lot of work. I think definitely winning that title, an amazing final against the Bryans, has definitely boosted him. I think he’s going to continue to move up. His backhand has to improve if he wants to get to the highest level, meaning a top-20, a top-10 player, that’s got to get better. But he’s got a lot of positives. He’s got some weapons in his game, some athleticism. He has a little bit of feel and variety. I think that win has been absolutely huge for him.
GILBERT: There’s no doubt that was a humongous surprise. I think it’s lifted him. I think if I was advising him, I think the biggest thing for Jack Sock moving forward is he has to embrace Europe. That’s been a huge problem for Americans, to embrace Europe. He needs to play a full clay court schedule next year because I think he’s good on clay. If he embraces clay and embraces Europe, I think he can be a top-20 player. I think that’s been a big thing for our players, afraid to go there. That’s the first thing I would tell him. Go base yourself in Europe and I think you could be a top-20 player, for sure.
EVERT: The thing with Jack is, one of the downfalls we’ve seen in the past is his temper and attitude. He gets down on himself and negative. He feels pretty good about himself now. I flew home from Cincinnati with him. Even though they lost the doubles, he was smiling ear to ear. He is getting attention, he likes it. He’s a showman, he loves it. He’s in a good place right now. I think the attitude is a big thing with him.
- I’d like to ask about Eugenie Bouchard. What do you think has been her problem since Wimbledon? Is it only physical or is it something more?
EVERT: I think that she’s had not only a phenomenal year for her, doing well at the Grand Slams, to do well at the French and Wimbledon when she’s not used to it, she’s a young player, I think it’s been hard for her to really come back down to earth. I think she took a big rest and didn’t play, rested her body and mind. It’s been a little difficult to come back up to that intensity to match what she had in Europe. I think it’s asking for a lot at such a young age to play a full year at that high intensity. Do I think her body needed rest? She pulled out of the first American tournament because of a bad knee. I think she’s nursing injuries. I think it’s been just such a letdown, now she has to get way back up in intensity, matched only by a few players, like a Serena and a Maria.
I think it’s inexperience, not being in the situation before. But I think with her, she’ll bounce back and hopefully have a pretty good run at the US Open.
GILBERT: She’s had an incredibly interesting year. Eight times she lost first round in WTA events, yet she’s the only player, male or female, to be able to have made the semis or better in the first three slams. So obviously her intensity and the way she plays seems to benefit her more in slams because maybe some other players feel a little nerves and they don’t let their game fly as much. I think being a young player, she had a long break after Wimbledon before she played Canada. She probably had never done that before, taken that long of a break. When you’re 16, 17, 18, you take two weeks, that’s a long time. That’s probably just an adjustment period. To me just the way she plays, relentless, plays a lot like Sharapova, she just kind of plays. If she’s playing her game, you know, she can be really tough to beat. She doesn’t really have a Plan B. Her Plan A is tough to beat in slams. I would think if she gets past the first or second round, watch out, she could have a big tournament.
McENROE: She reminds me a little bit of the year that Sloane Stephens had (in 2013). She had the great tournament at the Australian where she beat Serena, didn’t do great week in and week out, but did well at the majors. I think you’d rather have that than have her do well in a bunch of small tournaments, then lose early in the large tournaments. She clearly loves the stage. She has some limitations as a player. She’s pretty powerful from the ground, but she’s not that agile. She’s pretty quick, but I wouldn’t say she’s a natural great athlete on the court. She’s incredibly focused. I think Brad is right, she’s a little bit like Sharapova in that she hits the ball pretty clean and early, but she’s not great on the run. If players can get her to move, get her on the run, she can have trouble. I think as soon as Wimbledon was over, getting to the Wimbledon final is obviously just an incredibly big effort for her, so much attention on her, she’s doing photo shoots, she’s getting so much attention in Canada, which is understandable and natural, even more so than I think Sloane did being an American. I think you put all that together and it’s not surprising that she would have a little bit of a letdown. On the other side of it, I don’t think any of us would be surprised if she was playing into the second week of the US Open, if she could get it together, get her confidence going, there’s no doubt she could be a threat.
EVERT: Looking at her draw, she’s got a nice couple rounds in the beginning of the tournament, which I think will help her play into some good form.
- What do you think the first matchup will be like for her?
McENROE: I like her chances. How about that (laughter)?
EVERT: Nothing to add on that?!
McENROE: That’s all I got.
EVERT: She hasn’t won any matches on hard court or won one match?
GILBERT: One match.
EVERT: Okay. It will be a good test. How is that?
- I wanted to see what you would have to say about the American men’s lineup going into the US Open.
GILBERT: I’m just hoping we have somebody make the second week. I’m going to be patient. I know we got a lot of good players. We have a much better group of under 18. I think like a few years ago we were really struggling on the ladies’ side, now I think we’re the best nation in the world on the young ladies. I think we got a lot of good, young under 18s. A good goal is to have, whether or not it’s a Jonathan, a Sock, a Querrey, let’s start with making the second week. I would love to see two guys make the second week. I mean, having somebody say we’re making the semis or finals is a pipe dream. Let’s have a couple guys make some progression. Steve Jones or Sock, would be great. To say we have somebody that can win it, it’s not going to happen.
McENROE: I obviously agree with Brad. We certainly don’t have anybody that’s a favorite to win the tournament, nor does anybody outside of Federer and Djokovic at this point. Obviously there are some other players that have an outside chance. I think our younger guys are making progress. I think we’ve got a long way to go. We’re certainly, as Brad suggested, ahead of schedule on the ladies’ side. Not only do we have a lot of good young players in the main draw, but a lot in the quallies and juniors as well. I think for the most part we probably have our best group that are between 16 and 18 in a number of years. That being said, there’s a long way to go to get to the Promised Land. The Promised Land is to the second week and beyond at the US Open. We definitely have a lot of work to do. I think the fact that Isner, we hope him pulling out of Winston-Salem, he tweaked an ankle, but you hope that it was also somewhat precautionary. Playing a lot of matches leading up to a major is something that has hurt him in the past. If he can play his game, he’s a guy that has the best chance to go past the Round of 16, past the quarters here.
EVERT: Yeah, you guys said it the best. Donald Young is another one to look at. I think he’s had a pretty good year, pretty good summer. I’d be happy for some Americans to get to the second or third round. That’s a start for me.
- Regarding how the American players are afraid to go to Europe. It’s interesting because in Ohio there was a chat with Madison Keys in which she talked about how happy the Americans were to get home because they could understand the language, they felt comfortable. Why do you think Americans don’t want to play in Europe? Is it because of the discomfort with a different culture, food, language, or just because they don’t want to play on clay?
GILBERT: Weak excuses. That’s all I’m going to say. Weak excuses. Now you can travel anywhere and you can have your computer, your iPad, your TV from your TiVo. You can Face Time with anybody. In 1980 when I traveled to Asia, you didn’t have a computer, if you got a fax from the New York Times, you were loving life. You could get a Herald Tribune occasionally.
To me the best men’s players are all from Europe. You need to go over there and be there, play on clay, finding and being with them. They have to make a sacrifice coming over to Palm Springs, Key Biscayne. They do it. None of our guys go to Monte Carlo. The only ones that get it are the Bryan twins. They show up at Monte Carlo and don’t come back till after Wimbledon. Hence, they’ve had great success. They don’t fear being there. To me now is the opportunity for our young players to say, You know what, we don’t have the best players in the world like we used to, now we want to be with the best players in the world, competing against them, whether or not that’s playing challengers, whether or not that’s embracing it. If you talk yourself into the culture, the language, whatever, then you start thinking about excuses and it affects your game. As a tennis player, you must embrace the opportunity and go there and be with the best players. It will make you a better player.
- Is a bigger factor to you playing with the best more often beyond court surfaces or anything like that?
GILBERT: I 100% believe to be a great player you have to be a great clay court player. There is no other way.
EVERT: One thought. I think, again, Americans are mostly brought up on the hard courts. When you look at the players like Madison, even Serena to some extent, Sloane Stephens, they like a little bit more instant gratification. They want to end the point early. They want to overpower their opponents. I think a lot of European players, especially the men, they have the touch, the feel, they can dropshot, lob. Our American men don’t do that as well because they’ve been brought up on the hard court, and they don’t want to stay out there for five hours and run around. The Spanish players, the French players, they’re used to it. They can. Americans historically would rather overpower their opponents, not have long rallies. I think a lot of it is the surface, too.
McENROE: This isn’t a new problem. This isn’t a new issue. Andre Agassi, who Brad coached for many years, hated going to Europe, particularly when he was young. Sampras I think played Monte-Carlo once in his career. Actually, they did care at the time. The tournaments cared a lot because they were two of the best players in the world for most of their careers, and they didn’t like going over there for that much time. They didn’t have to because they were such great players. I think all of what Brad said is true. I think obviously the shift not only in the top players has gone to Europe, but also there’s a lot more tournaments in Europe. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, you had a lot more mid-level tournaments in the U.S. and there were a lot more top U.S. players. The world has changed. One of the things we try to do with our young players is send them to Europe, send them early. We send a group of kids over to Spain to practice for a couple weeks before the French Open. I think we’re going to get over that. I agree with everything Brad said about playing on clay, et cetera. I’m a little dumbfounded. Ben Rothenberg wrote that funny article about Appleby’s in Cincinnati. But to think that Appleby’s is better than going to Paris and Madrid and Barcelona and going out to eat, that shocks me a little bit.
- I’ve been amazed that American athletes will be in a place like Rome, you’d ask them about the wonderful Italian food, and they would say, I’d rather go to McDonald’s.
McENROE: I think it’s pretty common. We’re very lucky in tennis. We get to travel the world. We go to these places. What percentage of Americans have been out of the country? It’s pretty small. I think Jack Sock never was out of the country ever, never played a junior tennis match outside of the United States. When John Isner came to Sweden when I was a Davis Cup captain, the semifinals in Sweden, and that was the first time he’d been out of the country to play tennis. The European guys, they get on a train, in a car, they can be in three different countries. There is that part of it. There’s plenty of European guys that over the years haven’t loved coming to the U.S. either. They’ve pulled the plug on some of their trips as well. It’s not that uncommon. All in all, Brad is spot on, that we need to get our guys to be able to deal with it and they need to get out there and grind it out and play on clay and be successful. You need to be a great player. To be a great player, you need to be able to play from the backcourt. That’s just the way the game is being played these days.
EVERT: You also talk about the surface. The European players, most of them speak four or five languages, too. It’s a little easier for them. It’s home. Whatever European country they’re going to play in, it’s relatively home. I don’t know if a lot of Americans speak two languages fluently. Patrick brought up a good point. There was a long time where the Europeans hated coming to the US Open and nobody did well. It’s a two-way street.
GILBERT: Last thing I’ll add on this, when we had umpteen guys in the top 10, they had to adjust their schedules, Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Chang, they could be more selective where they wanted to go. In 1981, Patrick brought it up, I could play 30 tour events in the States. There were so many tour events. More than half the events, more. I barely had to go to Europe. I had my choice. I could play three months indoors. That has dramatically changed. We don’t have that many tour events anymore. How much Europe has dominated, I feel like you need to be playing with the crowd that you’re trying to beat. If all of a sudden in the next four or five years we get back to having six or seven Americans in the top 10, you’ll see a massive change on how things go.
But I don’t think we’re getting there until we embrace that. At least I’d like to see some of the young players do it, to see how they could handle it. I think that it will make them a better player.
- I’ll ask the clock question. There doesn’t seem to be an answer to the inconsistencies that we see in terms of umpires assigning penalties, time warnings, medical timeouts. We had the mess in Cincinnati with Sharapova and Ivanovic where nobody even knew what was going on. Is there an answer? Clocks on the court? Do you have any suggestions?
McENROE: I mean, I think they should enforce the rule. I think it’s difficult. It’s a tricky one. I mean, I’m not in favor of a clock, okay, because I think there’s a certain drama about a tennis match that’s unique. If you’re playing in the finals of a US Open or Wimbledon, there’s an unbelievable point, or a player slips, something happens, the crowd’s going crazy, I think if it goes over an extra five seconds because of the moment. Sometimes the quiet builds the drama. That’s something unique to tennis. I don’t think we want to get rid of that by counting down on the clock.
At the same time I think that the players get away with murder, okay? The fact that the officials too much in my opinion let the players run the asylum, let them dictate how much they’re going to take. I love Rafael Nadal, don’t get me wrong. If I’m Rafael Nadal, everybody knows when they call the match, he’s going to sit there for five minutes and not come out of the locker room. You know what, last time I checked, when the Super Bowl is going to kick off, at 6:42, guess what, it kicks off at 6:42. When the World Cup final is going to kick off the 1:00 p.m., it kicks off at 1:00 p.m.
I understand, it’s tennis, one-on-one. You have to play it out, what is the end game? The end game is you default the player. That’s the end game. The officials will say, Do we really want that? I’m going to say, well, no, because I work for TV, too. Nobody wants that to happen. Is that what it’s going to take?
The other side of it is, what I think has started to happen a little bit more, the umpires, a judgment call, but telling the player, Listen, I’m going to be on the clock and you’re going over, if you go over one or two seconds, I might let you slide, but if you’re consistently going over 10 to 15 seconds, I’m going to call you on it, and I don’t care what the score is. There is that discrepancy. It’s a little bit like the end of a hockey game, overtime in hockey. You know the refs aren’t going to call anything now, they’re not going to call a penalty now. I don’t think you want to entirely take it out of the judgment of the official in charge because I think there is some common sense to this.
Obviously you can hear I’m riled up about it because it drives me crazy when someone loses a set and immediately here comes the bathroom break, or they get down a break and here comes a medical timeout. I’m never feeling dizzy when I won the point, I’m only feeling dizzy when I lost the point. Can you explain that to me?
I think the players manipulate the system to no end. I think at some point someone needs to put their foot down.
EVERT: I think it started with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open. She left the court for 10 minutes. We still haven’t figured out why. She couldn’t breathe. Ivanovic last week, same thing, I think felt nauseous. Whoa, in the middle of a game? It’s a fine line. I agree with Patrick. Sometimes in an exciting match there’s a moment where everybody is just so into the moment, then it’s fine, it’s a judgment call. But I think the umpire at the beginning of the match when they’re flipping the coin should, again, restate, Okay, this is what it is, just one sentence, you have 20 seconds, 25 seconds, whatever it is, and I’m going to be strict in this rule. Just give them a one-liner. It doesn’t take much to do that. The umpire is always there.
- When somebody takes a break before the other person’s serve, could they give them an extra serve or anything, a third serve on the first point?
EVERT: When they go off the court?
- When you take a medical timeout when the other player is about to serve, a lengthy bathroom break, give him or her something, a third serve.
EVERT: I don’t know.
McENROE: Filip, we’ll bring you to some Grand Slam Committee meetings!
EVERT: But I think one thing about Nadal, I agree, the guy always comes out late. I think if the match is at 1:00, the players should all know to be outside the locker room at five till 1:00. That’s what you have to do with children, okay? Get them there five minutes early. If they have to sit around for two minutes, fine. They’re going to be interviewed when they go out on the court. Five of, collecting you at five of, that’s it. It’s like the grunting, a tough issue.