ESPNTennis Conference Call with Chrissie Evert, Brad Gilbert & Patrick McEnroe


ESPNTennis Conference Call with Chrissie Evert, Brad Gilbert & Patrick McEnroe

ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert, Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media Tuesday about a wide variety of tennis topics to preview the French Open. and will have extensive coverage from Paris, plus SportsCenter.  In addition, ESPN International televises the French Open in Latin America and the Caribbean, including on cruise ships.

Highlights of the call are followed by the full context and other question, with topics including Roger Federer’s status; Andy Murray’s excellent play on clay late in his career and his search for a new coach; the future of Maria Sharapova; the chances for Jack Sock, Taylor Townsend and other young Americans; and the impact of squeezing the Olympics into the summer schedule.


On:  The impact on Djokovic of losing to Murray in Rome/

  • Djokovic’s loss is a blessing in disguise for him because this guy has won so much in the last year and a half, two years that the pressure is off. A little bit of the pressure is off after you lose. It just — you just almost feel relieved when you’re winning so much, and I think he can just take a deep breath and sort of go back and regroup.” – Evert
  • The pressure is not off. It’s like I’m watching the Dubs (Note: Brad’s beloved Golden State Warriors). The Dubs had this amazing season 73-9.  It’s not to come in second place.  It’s not to lose in the semis.  To me there’s no other result that Djokovic is looking for other than winning the French….Djoker is the best player to have never won an individual Slam since Borg at the US Open.” – Gilbert

On:  How is Serena is looking to defend the title, after taking the fall off and uneven results so far in 2016.

  • I was pleasantly surprised at Serena doing so well. I honestly was…and that to me puts her right up there as the lead favorite. It’s not going to be easy. She struggled last year. It’s so much about motivation and so much about fitness for her, those two things.” – Evert
  • “(O)n Serena, it just kind of makes you even consider more, never underestimate Williams, because any other player would be so undercooked coming in with no tennis, and then just, boom, wins it. So just basic Serena, like never underestimate her, and now she’s the favorite to win the French.” – Gilbert

On:  Why Nadal is so tough at the French Open.

  • What makes it such a good advantage is that it’s red. It’s a red court. It’s a red clay court. So any red clay court that he’s ever played on he’s had a huge advantage.” – McEnroe
  • “(h)is game is just completely suited to clay, where it gives him that one extra second to wind up because he does have the big back — the big ground strokes and the big wind-ups, and he needs a little more time. The ball sits up just perfectly for him. He’s a grinder. His physicalities are unbelievable. He can stay out there all day, and he can just outlast most of his if not all of his opponents, and he’s got the patience.” – Evert

On:  Equal pay for men and women when they play together, and the three sets vs five sets argument.

  • “(W)hen the men and the women are together and they’re both showcasing the greatness of global tennis, you know, that I do think should be equal prize money. It’s the entertainment value. It’s the right thing to do.” – Evert
  • “I think the best-of-five, best-of-three argument is silly because it has nothing to do to me with the length of the match. It has to do with the quality of what people are seeing and what people want to pay for. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.” – McEnroe
  • “When they’re playing together at Slams, it’s no question. It’s equal pay, and it shouldn’t be about best of three or best of five. That’s silly… when the tournament is making the TV deal, they’re making it for both tours. So that’s a moot point.”Gilbert

And this:

  • Patrick, I saw the story about the movie they’re doing about John and Bjorn Borg. What did you think about that and the casting (of Shia LeBeouf) of your brother?
    PATRICK McENROE: “I just wonder who’s playing me.

Q- I have a question on Nadal and him playing on the Court Philippe-Chatrier. Over the years how much has he had an advantage playing there? What makes that court so suitable for his game?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I’ll start. What makes it such a good advantage is that it’s red. It’s a red court. It’s a red clay court. So any red clay court that he’s ever played on he’s had a huge advantage. He’s the greatest red clay court player in history of tennis, or men’s tennis, because we’ve got arguably the one who’s the greatest in women’s tennis on this call, in of course one Chris Evert. Actually in many ways the French Open has really been — I would say not his favorite court, only because the crowd has generally been against him over the years because he’s been so utterly dominant at the French Open. One of the intriguing things for me this year is obviously how he does, and he’s playing better this year than he was last year coming into the French Open. But you sort of wonder if maybe the crowd, now that he’s not the overwhelming favorite, maybe will get behind him a little bit more than they have in the past.
BRAD GILBERT: To add on to what Patrick is saying, to me, you know, I think that Rafael likes the court there in Paris when the conditions are quicker, but it’s not like he has any advantage on the court based upon how the court plays compared to any other clay court. I think it plays most similar to Monte-Carlo. I’m sure he wishes that he got the utmost — the crowd behind him. I don’t know that that will change this year because they still want to see a Frenchman win the event, but he’s an amazing clay court player, and it’s great to see that he’s playing a lot better at this time going into the French Open than he was last year.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and I was just going to add, his game is just completely suited to clay, where it gives him that one extra second to wind up because he does have the big back — the big ground strokes and the big wind-ups, and he needs a little more time. The ball sits up just perfectly for him.  He’s a grinder. His physicalities are unbelievable. He can stay out there all day, and he can just outlast most of his if not all of his opponents, and he’s got the patience. He’s got so much patience.  I mean, I just think his game is so suited that he can just show us what he’s best at, and I think he just feels so comfortable having been brought up — I know I was brought up on the clay, but he was brought up on the red clay, and that’s even why he feels more comfortable.

Q. Did Serena answer any questions you had about her coming into the French after winning last week in Rome, whether it was match play or effects from last year, et cetera? And secondly, what kind of a shot do you give Murray at the French Open, and is this the year that Djokovic can finally slay the demon?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I was pleasantly surprised at Serena doing so well. I honestly was — I kind of went out on a limb and said maybe of all — it’s like there’s four majors in the next four months, counting the Olympics, and it’s such an intense summer, maybe the French she’s least concerned about because I just didn’t feel that the preparation was, I think, as professional and intense as it has been in the past getting ready for the red clay court season.  I was very surprised at how she did in Rome, and that to me puts her right up there as the lead favorite. It’s not going to be easy. She struggled last year. It’s so much about motivation and so much about fitness for her, those two things.  But I think the players this year are even better than they were last year. You know, Madison Keys is playing better on the red; Kerber seems to be playing better on the red clay; Azarenka, Halep, they’ve all had some success. So I think it’s going to be more difficult, especially if she has three or four matches in a row.  But looking at her form in Rome, you know, it was pretty darned good, and I was surprised. There was no rust as far as I could see, especially in the finals.
BRAD GILBERT: Without seeing the draw, obviously the draw is going to be made Friday, Murray the last two years has played phenomenal tennis on clay. I think I’ve said this a lot on Twitter the last few months, that Murray played his best tennis now by far on red clay, hasn’t lost before the semis in any event. He’s been very consistent. A lot will depend on the draw to me; where Nadal and Nishikori at 5 and 6, who are considerably better than 7 and 8 on clay at the moment, so where they fall, how the draw stacks up. Without knowing where the draw is, I’ve got Murray the second favorite. I think he’s playing very, very well on clay at the moment.  And whether or not Djoker can win the tournament, I predicted him to win it about the last three years, and that hasn’t happened. Even without seeing the draw, I will still put him the first favorite, Murray second, Nadal third, and won’t change from that.  But you know what, you’ve got to find a way to win 21 sets at Paris, and it still hasn’t happened for Djoker, but he’d be the best player ever not to have won one Slam based upon how he plays consistently on that surface, so without seeing the draw, can’t give you a foolproof answer, but he’s still for sure the favorite.  And lastly on Serena, it just kind of makes you even consider more, never underestimate Williams, because any other player would be so undercooked coming in with no tennis, and then just, boom, wins it. So just basic Serena, like never underestimate her, and now she’s the favorite to win the French.
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, I think that Serena needed a little bit of a break. I think the emotional ride of last year took its toll on her the first few months of the year, and, I mean, she still played well in Australia but obviously lost in the final and went down early, for her anyway, sort of in Miami. I think it took a couple of losses.  But I think that in a way having a break after Miami and sort of getting back on the clay, which is not her best surface, but she’s certainly grown to really, I think, appreciate it, and I think she likes playing on it maybe more than she ever did, so I think it was a good opportunity for her to sort of regroup and do what Chrissie suggested in her comments, which is this is the meat of the tennis season. She’s got to make a big push right now, and when the US Open is all said and done in a few months, she could arguably pass Steffi Graf. I think that’s her mindset now.  I agree with Brad; I think Murray is without a doubt playing his best clay court tennis of his career. I would still say that grass is his best surface, but he’s playing — I think it’s amazing that he’s transformed himself into such a great clay court player because I think that’s the hardest surface to improve on over your career. We saw a lot of great clay court players become really good hard court players like Mats and Ivan and players like that, some of the Spanish guys, certainly Nadal became a great all-around player, but to become a great clay court player later in your career is really difficult, so that’s been a huge boost for him.  I would still say that in best of five, I would give the edge to Djokovic as the favorite, but I’d probably give the edge to Rafa, as well, over Murray in best of five, and if they do play, they would play somewhere from either the quarters on.  I think Nadal is a little bit more susceptible early, but if he gets into it and plays close to his best level, I still think that his level, even if it’s not 100 percent, is still better than Murray.  And the last thing I’ll say on Djokovic is that as great as he’s been and as great of a clay court player as he’s been, similar to Federer in his prime when he was knocking on the door and couldn’t win the French until he got a little bit of help from Robin Soderling, he’s running out of time. I mean, as great as he is and as dominant as he is, it’s not going to get easier every year.  So I think how he handles that sort of pressure, which is — he’s clearly No. 1, but he’s clearly in his late 20s, and there’s no sign that he’s slowing down, but I don’t think it’s going to get easier for him to win the French. I think there’s got to be that sense of urgency that he needs to get over the line.
CHRISSIE EVERT: If I could just say one more thing. I think a comment on the men’s, also, but I think as far as this year’s French when you look at the men and the women’s draw, the gap is — there isn’t as much of a gap as there has been in previous years. For so many years Nadal was dominating. For so many years we thought Serena was going to win, and now it just seems that — I’m so impressed with Andy Murray and the way he’s playing. I know Brad Gilbert always said, I don’t know why he doesn’t do better on clay, because he’s got the perfect clay court game as far as his fitness, as far as his consistency, as far as his ground strokes, and now finally it’s coming to fruition. I don’t know if it’s because he had a baby. He’s a father; maybe that’s kind of settled him down. I don’t know. But he’s playing so well.  At the same time, I think Djokovic’s loss is a blessing in disguise for him because this guy has won so much in the last year and a half, two years that the pressure is off. A little bit of the pressure is off after you lose. It just — you just almost feel relieved when you’re winning so much, and I think he can just take a deep breath and sort of go back and regroup, and he wants this one. He definitely wants this one. I think that’s why to me, he’s the favorite to me.  But one of those three will win it. I really don’t see anybody from the outside winning it.
BRAD GILBERT: Djokovic has gotten to Paris undefeated and also with a loss, so he’s experienced both of those preparations coming into that big tournament that he still has yet to win.  I’ll tell you, for Djokovic, he’s the best player for me since Borg who didn’t win the Open. Umpteen times he came in there, should have won it, couple times got the most ridiculous blisters, he couldn’t even hold the racquet in the final, so to me Djokovic not winning the French right now that hasn’t happened, to me is the best player since Borg not to have won a Slam that you thought that he would have won by now.

Q. I have one more Rafa question. Could you all just talk about the significance of if he were to win, to win 10 titles at a Grand Slam event, 10 majors? That’s very rare, and can you just talk to the significance if Rafa were to win his 10th, what does it say about him?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, it’s so funny because everyone always talks about Rafa winning. Rafa has won eight; Rafa has won nine. But very few people talk about Martina winning nine Wimbledons. I don’t know, maybe I’m prejudiced because I was her rival and I’m supportive of the women’s game, but that — right now she’s won nine Wimbledons, and Rafa has won nine French Opens. I wish they would both get the same amount of adulation and press about this. For a guy to win the French is tough anyway because it’s three out of five sets; it’s grueling. There’s just more physical fitness I think involved because you’re just hitting more balls back. You’re on the court longer than the other Grand Slams.  I don’t know. I mean, it would have to go down — it would go down in history. I don’t know anybody — I think Margaret Court won 11 or 12 Australian Opens, but that was at a time when not all the top players played.  But in an era where all the top players play, to win 10 Grand Slams, I mean, 10 French Opens is phenomenal, and I don’t know if that will ever be matched. I don’t see it being matched.
PATRICK McENROE: Only if you come back, Chrissie. That’s the only way.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, thank you. Thank you. But I’m in awe of — just of him and the counter-punching and the — still, just the effort and the grueling time that he spends on the court and off the court, and it definitely pays off on a surface that belongs to him. The red clay belongs to him no matter what happens now.
PATRICK McENROE: I think it would be even more impressive just because of what he’s gone through sort of emotionally the last couple of years. I mean, obviously winning nine, as Chrissie said, winning eight, winning seven is already crazy ridiculous, and getting to double digits is just another step.  But I think that this one, if he wins it, would arguably mean more to him maybe than any other one because he’s been so utterly dominated by Djokovic especially the last couple years, and we’ve seen him — I mean, Brad and I have seen him at almost every tournament he’s played, and there are times when he’s looked really beaten and really down, and he’s continued to come back. He’s continued to go to the practice court. He’s continued to work extremely hard. Some of us have said maybe too hard, that he practices too much.  So when you’re as great as he’s been, to sort of get humbled in a way and he comes right back and wants to keep working, so that to me could be as impressive as winning number 10.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll add on for me. I would call it comical almost that he’s about to be 30 years old, and he could win a third of his life; he could win 10 Slams. It is just beyond — your thought process is one guy or anybody could win a tournament 10 times. To me he’s everything that’s right in sports. He’s such a humble guy. He’ll tell you what he’s feeling when he is feeling fragile, which is very unusual for an athlete.  I kind of said in 2005, and it was such a stretch, but I said when I was watching him there at the French in 2005, this guy was going to win seven to ten Frenches, and it seems so outlandish to say somebody who hadn’t even won one was going to win seven to ten, and the fact that he’s won nine and he’s still in contention for another few more years is just off the charts. Like I said, he’s everything that’s right for me in sports.

Q. Are you guys surprised because he has been fragile and has had so many downs the last couple years, are you surprised that he has come back the way he has?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I’m not surprised because he’s that kind of person. I mean, as Brad said, he’s extremely humble. He realizes as great as he is that there’s a fine line, even when he’s dominating players, he realizes that if he’s not at his absolute best, he can lose to people, and I think that’s part of — it’s a little bit like Agassi a little bit in Agassi’s second part of his career when he was so meticulous and his attention to detail, and he wasn’t relying just on his pure ability but sort of his work ethic and his commitment to playing the right way.  So I think that Rafa has always had that throughout his entire career, and I think he loves the battle. To him, it’s like, this is what you want your kids to learn when they’re doing anything, which is, you know what, this is a test for you. It’s a test whether you’re trying to learn how to play the violin or learn how to play tennis. This is testing you, and it’s going to make you a better person to go through the ups and downs and to take defeats.  I think he genuinely lives that and believes it, and I think that’s what enabled him to sort of stay the course and to keep grinding through it because I think he takes way more pleasure in winning a match where he has to grind and battle, and as he likes to say, suffer to win some of these matches than just to go out there à la Roger Federer, for example, or a Pete Sampras and just blow people away with their talent and their ability. He’s a different sort of animal.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ve said for a couple years, I thought he needed to make an add to his team, bring in somebody, and I thought maybe that was partly Roger has always added somebody, Djoker, Murray; they’re always adding or subtracting. And I’ve got to hand it to Rafa, full credit to him that he always says, the problem is me. It’s not his team.  So I think that he has a clear and level head about what he needs to do, and just that he’s back in this situation and back in the mix the way he’s been playing the last few months is just full credit to him and backing of his team. I’m rooting for the guy.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I think that with Rafa, confidence is just such a key with him, and you talked about — Patrick, you talked about him being humble and fragile. We saw it firsthand in the press conferences, and we’re all thinking, don’t say that; don’t tell your opponents that you’re not feeling on top of your game.

Q. Feeling weak?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and we didn’t want any more ammunition to his opponents. But the fact of the matter is his confidence was suffering, and actually pretty surprising for a player who’s been No. 1 in the world to have that confidence suffer that much and to reveal it, to be honest with it.  And when he says it’s not my team, it’s me, it was his head, because if he’s confident, and if he’s positive about himself, he’s going to work on his — he’s going to move better. He’s going to go for more shots. He’s going to trust his game more, and I think the trusting of his game is what slipped through the cracks from his losses. But I think he’s built back slowly. He’s building it back from the last three or four months. He’s winning a little bit more than he has in the past, and then I think once he gets on the red clay, like I say, the real Rafa will come out.  It’ll be great to see. We always cheer him on.

Q. I had two questions. First, on Novak, who from a match-up perspective is the toughest match for him, and do you view anything of the lefty factor that Vesely beat him, that Lopez was up on him and that years ago Melzer beat him in Paris? And the second thing is on Maria, if the suspension was a year or more, what is the biggest challenge and repercussion for her and for the WTA?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think the lefty thing, I don’t think that’s a real factor. Look what he’s been able to do against Rafa, who’s obviously a great lefty. I think the toughest player for him is still Rafa, in best of five on clay. Obviously Murray is certainly working his way where he’s legit and he did beat him in Rome, but I think he was, as we all could see, not quite even close to 100 percent, and Djokovic has dominated him in the big matches.  But Rafa has still got that sort of X factor, and if he’s feeling good physically, to me he’s still the guy that can — that Novak would be — I’m not going to say worried about, but that would be the guy. And obviously none of us have yet talked about Stan, the guy who holds the title and who just blew Djokovic away last year with an incredible performance.  He hasn’t played that great this year, but he certainly, as we’ve seen in the last couple years, is capable of getting hot and putting it together. So he’s the kind of guy that can hit the ball big enough that can just take Djoker out of his game on clay with his firepower off both sides.  So I would put those two as the two players, and then as far as Maria goes, I think that even if she gets off sort of somewhat easily, I think she may be able to come back late this year. I’m just guessing. But it’s not going to be easy either way to come back, off for this long for any player, but particularly a player who’s toward the tail end of her career. But she seems extremely motivated to come back, and I’m sure she’s keeping herself as fit as she can.  You know, she’s certainly capable of coming back reasonably quickly.
BRAD GILBERT: On Djokovic, I don’t think there’s any player, especially not a lefty, that he worries about. But to me, to beat Djokovic, you’ve got to litter up the stat sheet so it’s somebody taking some big risk getting hot, and I’m sure one thing that Novak’s team will be looking at, in Rome, three times in the opening set, he got blitzed, and that’s very unusual for him because normally he’s a great starter.  So that will be something to look at, and to me the only way to beat Djokovic is that you’ve got to play big. You’ve got to play bold. You know, that’s always the potential, and that’s why maybe still at this point he hasn’t won it.  And on Maria, I think the toughest challenge for her bar none will be whenever she does come back, let’s say it’s Australian Open 2017, maybe it’s later in the year, she’s going to be ranked very low. She’s going to be unseeded. So you’re at the mercy of the draw, and it could take her three to six months to get form and get her way back, and believe me, a lot of players won’t feel sorry for her, especially that a lot of them that she’s owned, and a lot of them will be looking to get a win back against her, especially if they’ve barely ever beaten her.  It’s an opportunity for players maybe to get her when her confidence isn’t quite there, and she’ll be at the mercy of the draw being unseeded.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think at 29, time is running out for Maria, because look, when she started in her teens playing full schedules, I think that motivation and hunger — hunger even more so has always motivated her to go out and play, and that’s what we’ve admired in her so much is the intense hunger that she’s had.  And now that she’s getting a taste of real life, she seems to — I’m seeing Tweets she’s out and about and traveling and going to premiers and modeling, and she’s everywhere, and I think that if she gets a little taste of the good life, who knows if she’s going to come back as hungry. I don’t know. Maybe she’ll have a little bit different attitude. But at 29 years old, and the players are getting better and better, and Maria, if you look at her results the past few years, she’s having more and more losses to players that are ranked below her, and I think she was starting to kind of get a little fragile anyway when this happened early this year.  I think it’s going to be tough. But if she comes back hungry and mentally as strong as she always has been, again, she’ll probably — nothing she can do will surprise me, but at the same time, I just wonder just about how much tennis she’s played in her career and the players getting better. You know, I doubt whether she can get back to No. 2.

Q. Patrick, I saw the story about the movie they’re doing about John and Bjorn Borg. What did you think about that and the casting of your brother?
PATRICK McENROE: I just wonder who’s playing me. That’s the first I’ve heard about it, so I guess Shia LaBeouf I think is pretty good casting. He’s a little bit crazy, isn’t he? So that might work out perfectly.

Q. Chrissie, this is for you, but everyone feel free to weigh in. Unfortunately there has been a lot of talk again about equal pay with Madrid and then Indian Wells, the CEO and owners kind of speaking up, saying some things you might have heard. But when it comes to Slams, this conversation always gets boiled down into the three sets versus five sets, the best of three versus the best of five. I know that you, if I’m correct, I think played a best-of-five set against Martina in the ’84 WTA finals; is that correct? And I was wondering what you remember about the decision to switch the WTA finals to best of five and just kind of what you thought about that decision at the time.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, it was just in the finals, so I thought, well, if you get to the finals, it’s not like every round, and it’s not like the last few rounds. But it was really interesting; when I played that match, I think mentally I was so used to playing two out of three sets that after — I think I lost two close sets, and that third set that I played, I fizzled out, and it was like 6-1. Mentally I wasn’t used to playing three out of five sets, and the thought of, okay, Chrissie, you can still win this but you’ve got to win the next three sets against Martina, that just wasn’t going to happen. So mentally — and quite frankly, it really wasn’t a great match. I mean, it really wasn’t a great — it would have been a great two-out-of-three-set match, a better two out of three than a good three out of five: It really didn’t impress me. The rallies were long and we were both tired at the end of the match, so the entertainment value probably would have suffered. People would have left in the third set.  But you know, I think it’s all — again, when the men and the women are together and they’re both showcasing the greatness of global tennis, you know, that I do think should be equal prize money. It’s the entertainment value. It’s the right thing to do. The women are getting more and more tougher matches in the early rounds, and you really couldn’t say that 30 years ago. Almost 30 years ago the men had a point, that we didn’t have a match until the quarters. Now the depth is there.  The women honestly are training as hard as they can with how they’re built. They may not train as hard as men, but they’re training as hard as they can with the bodies that they have because the bodies, the physicalities are different with men and women.  And then the men, the rest of the year, the ATP, they can go — they have more prize money. They have more tournaments. They have more prize money, and that’s — let them do that. That’s not the problem. The problem is, the issue is when they’re playing together, and I think when it showcases men and women together, it should be equal.

Q. Just about best of five for women, why women don’t play best of five.
PATRICK McENROE: I think the best-of-five, best-of-three argument is silly because it has nothing to do to me with the length of the match. It has to do with the quality of what people are seeing and what people want to pay for. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.  And the couple of men who didn’t use their words particularly wisely, to put it mildly, putting their foot in their mouths, the language they used was ridiculous and was completely out of line.  But you certainly can reasonably have an argument about the amount of money that comes into men’s and women’s tennis, and as Chrissie said, at the majors, it’s exactly where it should be, it’s equal, because when people are selling sponsorships or TV rights, they’re doing it for the men and the women, for the product of tennis. And tennis should be very proud of that because we’re the only sport that’s even close to being equal when it comes to prize money, and it certainly is equal at all the biggest tournaments.  But at some of the other tournaments or the separate tours, then certainly you could have a reasonable discussion about the economics of both tours, and I think if you’re coming from a male perspective, you can certainly see the argument, which is, wait a second, when we play in Madrid — did you watch Madrid on television or Rome or television? I watched them all on television, men and women, and there was a big crowd, I think, when Serena paid Keys in the final of Rome, but what I noticed was there’s a lot more people watching the men’s matches in some of those events than watching the women’s matches. I’m speaking generally.  So I think if you’re a male tennis player, you certainly have the right to talk about that as an issue.
BRAD GILBERT: For me it’s very simple. When the men play on their own or the women play on their own, it’s up to their respective tours to whatever they get and do. Billie Jean King did an amazing thing on equal prize money. When they’re playing together at Slams, it’s no question. It’s equal pay, and it shouldn’t be about best of three or best of five. That’s silly.  And I’m also of the fact that I’ve been reading a lot lately, some reporters think that it’s time we go men’s to best of three and Slams to be the same, I’m totally against that. I like staying best of five.  But in other sports where they play the same, in golf, in basketball, in soccer, there’s no one other tour or big event where men and women play together. They’re always separate, so you can’t make this argument.  Any Slams, the men and women play together, and to me three or five is completely pointless because of when the tournament is making the TV deal, they’re making it for both tours. So that’s a moot point.  I think it’s only a point when they’re separate as to what each tour can get for their event, men’s or women’s, and those two tournament directors that made those comments, I mean, just ludicrous. Just the one, though, happens to own his tournament, so he can’t fire himself.

Q. I also wanted to ask about Taylor Townsend. She’s had a rough year; she dropped almost out of the top 400. What do you think about her getting back on track? She’s still so young, and what do you think about her prospects?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, everyone has always thought there’s so much talent there. I mean, her hands are incredible. The way she has an all-court game, and she can just spin that ball anywhere she wants to spin it. But the question has been always, you know — I think the question has been her fitness, and the question has been getting a really good team around you.  I’m not quite sure if she’s with the U.S. — I don’t know who she’s with right now, but —

Q. Donald Young, Sr., is who she’s with.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah. So much success at that young of an age and any age is the team that you have around you, and if it’s a good fit, and if you have good communication, and if everybody is professional and the training is good for the player. You know, I think having a good team, getting her fitness level up a little bit, and I say that — when I say that, there are other women players that could get their fitness level up a little bit, but there were times in my career where I felt like you’re not in good shape. I could have been in much better shape.  I don’t want that to be a headline like it has in the past, but I think if she really makes a commitment to the sport of tennis, I think she’ll realize that these couple of things will only add to the success in her tennis.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll just say one thing about the computer. Last I checked, as long as I’ve been around the tour, it doesn’t lie. It just tells you the results you put in, and it tells you what your rankings are.  You know, the highest she’s ever gotten ranked I believe is around 95 in the world. She has a lot more talent than that, but hasn’t been able to put it together to this point. You know, that — a lot of the onus on some of this comes back to the player, and when you’ve got talent and you’re not figuring out how to use it, then somewhere that’s where you’ve got to start looking at yourself in the mirror, your team, and why is it not getting better.

Q. I don’t know if you guys have talked about Federer yet. Do you guys have any insight on what his status is? If he does end up playing, which it looks like he might since he’s in Paris, how far into a tournament do you see him playing, or do you think part of his thinking is that he wants to save himself partially for the grass court season and Wimbledon? And my second question is which Americans both on the men’s and women’s side do you think people should look out for that might be kind of a player that might surprise some people? I know some of the young Americans like Francis Tiafoe and Bjorn Fratangelo, they like the clay. I know Francis hasn’t qualified yet, but the young Americans like the clay. Which Americans would you look out for in the tournament?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, obviously Federer is hoping to be healthy. That’s number one. I don’t think he’s really concerned about saving himself. I think he’s concerned about playing at 100 percent, and if he’s 100 percent, he’ll play. I mean, he’s always done that.  If he thinks he’s at risk of — obviously Wimbledon is coming up, which we all know is a much better shot for him, so I think that that’s got to be playing into his head a little bit, that maybe if it was Wimbledon he would for sure play knowing that he has a big — a longer break coming up. But I think that he’s there in Paris. We’ve seen some video of him practicing. But he was able to play last week and he wasn’t at 100 percent.  It’s kind of hard to get a read on him from watching him practice, but I think it’s safe to say that I would think that if he does play, he’s going to want to at least get to the second week. And look, if he gets into the tournament, he certainly believes he can go far. He’s done great at the French Open before, but one would think that in the back of his mind or maybe even closer to the front of his mind that Wimbledon is looming even larger than the French Open because realistically, even at 100 percent, his chances of winning the French are not great.  As far as the Americans go, let’s hope a couple of the younger guys qualify. Fratangelo did a great job, as did Taylor Townsend, to win the wild card, and he loves to play on clay, but I think it’s the younger guys, the Fritzes, the Pauls, the Tiafoes that have the most upside of our young guys at the moment, so let’s hope that a couple of them can sneak into the quallies. I think Fritz is playing in Nice right now, so he’ll also potentially be a factor.  But probably out of those guys, I mean, Tommy Paul is the one who won it last year, the juniors. Is he still in the quallies?

Q. Yeah, he’s playing second round of quallies today.
PATRICK McENROE: But for any of those guys to get in and win a round or two at this point would be a bonus, and that’s what you would hope for. But I think out of this group, they’re going to be making some noise in majors within the next 18 to 24 months.

BRAD GILBERT: On Federer, even Cal Ripken’s streak came to an end. Roger still has this absolutely incredible streak going of playing Slams. I don’t think that he wants to see that end. I think it’s — we’re close to 65. So I think if he’s healthy, I’m sure that he’s going to play because I actually think he needs matches heading into the grass court season to get some confidence. It’s not like you can just turn it on with no matches.  In his mind, if he’s anywhere near 80 or 90 percent, if he can get through the first week, that will give him a lot of confidence and some match play heading into the grass court season. I think if he doesn’t get many matches or play the French, I don’t think it will make the grass court season easier.  On the women’s side, the Americans, we’re loaded. I mean, we’ve got athletes. We’ve got players. We talk about Madison Keys every time or Sloane, not to mention Chirico just had a good run. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of ten different women could make a run to the second week. You don’t know which one could get hot.  On the men’s side, an absolute monster win of any of the guys that are on the main draw to make the second week, I think Jack Sock is by far our best hope. Just disappointed that he’s not playing more in Europe, like he should start the clay court season in Monte-Carlo and do a lot like Missile Raonic and base himself more over there so he could play more. So any one of the other Americans in the main draw, to make the third or fourth round would be a monster win.  Of the 21 and under, to get one guy in the third round would be tremendous effort because I do think we’ve got seven to ten guys that are coming potentially, but that first move is getting to a third round of a Slam. It gives you a lot of confidence moving forward.

Q. Brad, just to clarify, you think Jack Sock is the best American hope on the men’s side to go the furthest at the French?
BRAD GILBERT: Without seeing the draw, yes, I think he’s our best clay court player. I just don’t think he plays enough on red clay. I think if he played more on red clay, I think his fitness and confidence would grow on that surface. But if I was advising him, I would tell him in 2017, go stay in Monte-Carlo. Play Monte-Carlo through Wimbledon; don’t come back until after that season is over.

Q. I want to hit on something that Chrissie talked about earlier. Djokovic has tried to win the French every which way but loose in the past and it hasn’t worked. This year he’s going to come off what I thought was a very disappointing week in Rome where he lost his temper, lost his script, had a lot of difficulties and didn’t manage them well. Do you think that this could be actually a good thing for him in the fact that he can regroup a little bit, do some soul searching and come into Paris with a little lower expectations and maybe more calmness?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, that was my — what I was saying before. I think it’s a blessing in disguise that he did. I mean, how perfect can the guy be? He’s perfection. We’ve marveled at the consistency and the wins. How great was he at the beginning of the year? The guy is human, but he’s close to being perfect, and I think he was a little testy during Rome, and he was a little antsy, and I don’t know if it’s because he’s starting to feel the pressure or the year just caught up with him so far, because it’s still been pretty intense. He’s played a lot.  And I think you’re absolutely right; I think some pressure will be off, and hopefully he’s going to go — he went back and he’s just not playing at all for a couple days and just chilling, because he still needs to be fresh. I mean, he plays, he trains so hard, so intensely, and he wins, and that just — it’s just hard emotionally and mentally to be always 100 percent winning, and at some point you need a little release and you need a little relief, and that’s exactly what he got last week. This to me won’t hurt him at all; it will only help him.

Q. Have any of you gone through an experience in your career —
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll add one other thing. The pressure is not off. It’s like I’m watching the Dubs. The Dubs had this amazing season 73-9. It’s not to come in second place. It’s not to lose in the semis. To me there’s no other result that Djokovic is looking for other than winning the French. Come in second — Andre would say if you lose in the first round or the final, it’s the same when you’re trying to win it and you’re at this level.  So to me, I said early on that to me that Djoker is the best player to have never won an individual Slam since Borg at the US Open, and I think his sole focus for the entire year, if he won one tournament, would be to win this one, and still, no male player has won the first two legs of a Slam since Jim Courier. It’s been that long, since I believe ’92. So it’s been — it’s either ’92 or ’93. I’m losing the years. But he’s the last player to do it. To me whether or not he won Rome or lost Rome or Monte-Carlo, any of those don’t matter; he’s judged on Paris.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, but I think the thing is, I mean, you said has anyone experienced it. When I was No. 1, and there were times when I won four or five tournaments in a row, and then I felt the pressure build and build, and then I had a loss, and I was almost relieved when I lost. And that really did help me. It really did help me just to relax a little bit more and regroup and set new goals after having a week or two off. That’s where I think that he’s at.
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, I would compare it to going in — like the Pats going into the Super Bowl undefeated or the NCAA tournament undefeated. So I think that’s similar. Doug Robson pointed out, well, he’s done both. Well, sort of, but he went in not having lost a match one year and then losing one match. I mean, that’s still pretty incredible. So now he’s lost a couple, and at this point of course the pressure is on him. Of course he’s looking to finally break this and win it. But he’s got to — he’s going to be playing little mind games with himself to say, listen, I’m going to go out there and be as relaxed as I can, et cetera, et cetera. It’s all about the little head games he can play with himself, with his team, and hope that he plays his best when it matters the most.

Q. I’m just curious about the age-old questions about why Americans don’t do better on clay, and how that could be changed, and I know Brad mentioned that a player like Jack should just spend more time preparing overseas. But what is it about the surface that Americans have traditionally not done as well on clay, and what could they do to change that?
BRAD GILBERT: Well, Patrick has heard me say this a lot, and I’ve completely changed my views, and I want to see a lot more junior tournaments in the States played on clay, and I would start changing — and I know it’s money and establishment of hard courts, but we have way too many tournaments in the junior level in the United States away from clay, and last I checked in Europe and South America, they’re playing so many tournaments on clay, and to be a great player now in the men’s, you must be a great player first on clay, because you now — if you’re a great player on clay, the hard courts, the grass, everything is slower. It teaches you so much about building poise, about fitness, about moving, that you can’t learn playing on hard courts. And when we played in the ’70s and ’80 it was about hard courts. It was about faster tennis. But life has changed. There’s no birthright because we’re American that we have to be good anymore. But until we accept the fact that we need to play more on clay, I think that those obstacles won’t change.  I had a hard court for 25 years in my house. My wife said, you always complain about clay court tennis on TV and I’ve got a hard court in my house. So for the last two and a half years, I have a red clay court at my house.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m going to talk before Patrick because I’m kind of a prime example of being a Floridian and growing up on clay, and yes, all the Californians, there was not a clay court in California. Well, there wasn’t a hard court in Florida. It’s just basically what we were — I remember Brian Gottfried and Harold Solomon and Eddie Dibbs. We were clay court specialists because at age five or six we grew up on the clay. We learned instinctively how to slide. We learned patience. We learned how to open up the court. We learned drop shots. We learned how to play on clay.  Every other state except for Florida had hard courts, and our American championships were on — what were they on? When I started playing they were on grass courts, and then they went to clay briefly and now back to hard courts.  I think most of the Americans have been brought up on hard courts, and that’s why it was about the Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, it was about the power game and Billie Jean King. It was all about power, it wasn’t about like the Spanish players, they’re grinding it out and they’re running balls down.  And I agree, I grew up playing clay court tournaments. Never played a hard court tournament until I was probably 16 years old. So Brad, that’s a great suggestion, get more clay court tournaments out there, and what’ll happen is it’ll be gentler on the body, also.  That’s another gripe I have. That’s why I feel like my injuries — I don’t even think I had an injury in my life, and I remember Tracy getting — her career went south as soon as she got the — she had some lower back issues at such a young age, and it was horrible because somebody like Tracy Austin had another great 10 years on her side ahead of her. Let’s get some more clay court tournaments back on the map.
PATRICK McENROE: Let me be the voice of reality here, okay. I’m agreeing with pretty much everything that’s been said, and the bottom line is if you want to be good on clay, you have to play on clay. That’s the bottom line. But what Brad is saying is not going to happen. Okay, no one is going to start building clay courts, and for all the money, and I say this out of my experience with the USTA, so I’ll pat myself slightly on the back for this, okay, which was because I realized very quickly that it was going to be impossible to do what Brad is saying needs to be done, okay, it’s just not going to happen, you’re not going to get facilities around the country to build clay courts and pay for them and keep them up when they can barely stay open at the moment, okay, and to move tournaments to those courts. It’s just not going to happen.  So what we at least did with our USTA program was that we made sure we had clay courts at each of their three training facilities. Even here in New York, we built four clay courts that went in parking lot A at the US Open, and dare I say that’s where Louisa Chirico, for example, spent much of her youth, practicing on those courts, and Christina McHale and different people like that that have come through the program.  Obviously in Florida there’s lots of clay courts, so many of the players that we’re seeing now, Tommy Paul, Francis Tiafoe, Stefan Kozlov, Reilly Opelka, who may end up being better hard court and grass court players, but they can all play on clay. And even in California, where Brad — I think maybe the two people in northern California, does Larry Ellison live there?
BRAD GILBERT: Yeah, he lives in the high rent district.
PATRICK McENROE: And you have a red clay court. So we have them in — I say that with my USTA hat on, which is no longer part of what I do, but we have clay courts. They have clay courts at the USTA center out there. So the Sloane Stephens, when she was coming through the program or Claire Liu, who’s one of our best young girls who’s 15 now, and players like that, have played a lot on that surface. So I think while it’s unrealistic to do what Brad is saying we should do, which would be great, but it’s not going to happen, what the USTA can do and what it’s going to do in its new facility in Florida, because Brad would give me a hard time and say, well, you can’t have green clay, you have to have red clay, okay, so what’s the USTA doing in Orlando at the facility that’s going to open within the next year? There’s going to be real red clay courts so that our best young prospects can be brought there and train as much as possible on that surface. We would all love to see red clay courts at all the clubs that we go and play at, but unfortunately those clubs are in the business of trying to stay open and make money, so they’re not going to build clay courts because that’s not conducive to them staying in business and making money.   And by the way, there’s far more hard courts now in France than there are red clay courts. They’re running out of red clay courts in France because nobody can afford it anymore, even in France.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, they need to practice on the hard courts.
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, most of the French players are actually better on hard court now. Anyway, that’s my more than two cents on that issue.

Q. I just wanted your thoughts on Andy Murray’s coaching situation and the split from Mauresmo and what you think he needs now from a coach. Could linking up with Ivan Lendl again be a good idea?
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll take it. I mean, to me he’s playing his best tennis at the moment I’ve ever seen him play, and Jamie Delgado is the sole coach at the moment. I don’t think that he will do anything, certainly not until after the French, but I don’t think he’ll do anything until after Wimbledon. I’ve heard that he wants to link back up with Lendl, but you never know if that will happen. I see the odds were once 12 to 1, they’re down to 7 to 4 because you like to play the odds game in England.  I think at 29, whoever he does hire will be his last important hire of his career. I mean, he’s still in the thick of things to win majors, so he’s got to find that right person that can help navigate his game. He says Jamie Delgado is going to be with him 35 to 40 weeks. He’s looking for somebody like for the Slams to help get him over the hurdle.  I do think it’s probably somebody that’s been in that situation, somebody that has either coaching experience winning Slams, or playing experience winning Slams, so it’s got to be one of those two.

Q. Chris, the split with Mauresmo, how do you feel about that?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, it’s not a shame that she has a child, that she has a newborn child, and she’s got a whole new world opening up to her. Everybody is kind of forgetting about that. This is all good. This is a mother wanting to spend more time with her newborn child. And I see at times she’s been a little criticized because of that. But I think it’s the right decision, and I think she’s helped him tremendously as far as emotionally and mentally. I think that’s where her — the big emphasis was on with her being coach.  You know, it’s all about emotions with him. It just seems that we see what kind of a player — he’s a great player, and like Brad said, he’s playing some of the best tennis ever, and he’s consistent. He’s using his power when he can. He mentally seems to be in a good space, emotionally and mentally, and I think that’s having a child, himself having a child. I think it’s Mauresmo’s influence, so I trust that their team is going to — they’re going to be fine. They’re going to be fine. His momentum is going up, and he’s on the right track right now, so I mean, I wouldn’t worry about him too much.

Q. Just following up to the question about Andy Murray, as Brad said he’s looking for big name Grand Slams seeing if any of you guys are interested, in some cases again, and if not, have you got any suggestions who might fit the bill?
PATRICK McENROE:  I’ll follow up with one line on this whole Andy Murray situation. Why change a winning game? I mean, I don’t get this. He’s doing great. Why change a winning game? No, I have no suggestions for him, no. My suggestion is why change a winning game.
BRAD GILBERT: And Patrick, just to say, I think it’ll play out how he does at the French and Wimbledon. If he happens to win one of those two, I doubt he makes any changes. If he doesn’t win either one of those, then he’ll probably start to think about adding somebody to the team just because of — it’s been a while that he’s won a Slam, and he wants desperately to win another Slam. That would be — I don’t have a name for you, you know, what he’s looking for, but like I said, I will reiterate, it’s got to be a coach that has at least won multiple Slams as a coach or a player that has won multiple Slams as a player. Has to be one of those two.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think at age 29, if you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses and what to work on by then, you’re in big trouble. I mean, you’ve got to know yourself pretty well by age 29 and you’ve got to know what you mean and how your body feels and how your mind and emotions are and act accordingly.  You know, as I said before, Lendl helped him so much, I think, with, yes, focus, but also on the physical side. Mauresmo I think helped him on the emotional side. I think he needs to just have that support mentally and emotionally. He has to have that support.  But I don’t know if anybody — I don’t know what anybody could teach him at this point, technically or anything else.

Q. Obviously a very, very crowded summer when you throw the Olympics into the mix. I’m wondering how much you think that will affect the interplay between the likes of Novak and Andy, particularly when Andy could also be looking at a doubles gold medal with his brother, which is a hell of a thing to achieve?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, it’s going to be very important for all these top players, whether it’s Murray, Djokovic, obviously Serena. She’s entered in the doubles at the French. They’ve got to pace themselves. I mean, they really have to take care of themselves, and the recovery after the French Open for them will be crucial because they’ll have that extra week, so thank goodness they’ve got that extra week now, which is relatively new. That could certainly help, but you know, obviously it’s the Olympics this year and everybody has been aiming towards that.  So it’s a huge summer. It’s a lot of tennis, a lot of big events, and I think for those top players, particularly the ones that are a bit older like Serena or Federer, for example, boy, they really have to manage themselves and manage their bodies as well as they can.
BRAD GILBERT: You know, if you’re a coach of one of these players that’s in the mix for all of these tournaments, the most important thing that you do is focus on the French. You don’t start thinking about the Olympics. It’s so easy to get ahead of yourself thinking about, man, I’ve got to plan for — let’s focus and get through the French. Then you get through Wimbledon, and then after those two, if you need to tweak your schedule and figure out how to make and adjust yourself to where you’re fresh for all of them is what you’ve got to really think about.  But put your focus right now solely on Paris, and if you’re already thinking about your schedule and the matches that I’ve got to play in Rio and the Zika virus, you know, it’s going to affect you in Paris.  That to me, from the coaching standpoint, focus on Paris, move on to Wimbledon, keep it simple.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think work hard, rest hard. You know, take your — the periods like Patrick says, you’ve got three weeks after the French. Normally you might just be rushing right into practicing on the grass. Take that time to rest and regroup and relax. After Wimbledon, after the grass court season, you know, you’ve got to schedule yourself so that you maybe have a couple weeks off after the grass court season before you go to the USTA tournaments, before you go to the Olympics.  In the back of your mind you have to prepare. Yes, you have to be in the moment of your tournament, but you have to look ahead; how can I still be fresh for the US Open because that’s the fourth one coming up. You know, there might be some pull-outs and defaults or whatever in some of these summer tournaments right before the US Open because it is more intense, a more intense year than ever before.


Dave Nagle

As I write this on 11-11-21, it's now 35 years for me at ESPN, the only real job I’ve ever had. I joined merely to help with the upcoming America’s Cup in Australia. I was told it would be for three months at all of $5.50 per hour. I like to say I simply kept showing up. I’ve worked on almost every sport, plus answered viewer calls and letters (people used to write!), given tours, written the company newsletter and once drove NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to the local airport. My travels have been varied…I’ve been to Martinsville, Darlington, Indy and Super Bowls; the America’s Cup (all 3) in San Diego and College GameDay in the sport’s meccas such as Eugene, Auburn, Lubbock, Stillwater and more; the NBA Finals, Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, my main areas are tennis, UFC, boxing, network-wide ratings (by month/quarter/year), and corporate communications documents, including fact sheets, chronologies, lists and nearly 35 of the Year in Review press releases. UPDATE EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER: Today, November 11, 2022, I am retiring from ESPN -- 36 years to the day I began. As I ride off into the sunset – top down and E Street Radio blaring – I do so with so many wonderful memories, proud of my contributions and a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity. 
Back to top button