ESPN tennis analysts Cliff Drysdale, Chrissie Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez spoke with media Wednesday to discuss the upcoming US Open. Highlights of the call follow.
On: Does Serena Feel the Pressure of Winning Major No. 23 and breaking the streak of weeks at No. 1?
- “The pressure… is going to be a lot less intense this year than it was last year; that she finally buckled during the semifinal. I think she’s always the clear favorite for every major. Everybody knows that. That’s been the case for so long now. And I think, this to me, anyway, this is hers. It’s always hers to win, but I think she’s going to win it this year.” – Drysdale
On: The evolution of Serena the player.
“Somebody once asked her, do you remember winning your first US Open, she goes, ‘Yeah, I just went out and hit the ball. I had no idea what I was doing.’ And I think that sums it up. She had no strategy. She just hit the ball. That’s the way she was taught by Richard; just hit the ball, and she made a lot more errors. But she was a great athlete and she had the power. But you know, as like now, she uses her head a lot more on the court.” – Evert
On: Is Rafa again the Rafa of old?
“I saw him in Rio and he looked really good. He looked very hungry. I felt like his forehand was better than it had been. I do feel he played so much in the first few days that it caught up to him towards the end. He had to play del Potro and Nishikori back‑to‑back after having the Gold Medal in doubles, and I think that took a lot out of him, and you saw the effects in Cincinnati. But I have no doubt that he’s going to be a huge challenger.” – Fernandez
Q- What do you all feel about this race for No. 1, and exactly where Serena might be at this point in time with her tennis?
FERNÁNDEZ: I was with her in Rio. She definitely was not 100 percent physically with her shoulder. I think she made the right choice by not playing in Cincinnati and giving the shoulder a little bit more rest. I think it was tough for her because the No. 1 ranking is important to her, and she’d like to not just tie Steffi Graf for No. 1 at consecutive weeks, but she’d like to break it. I think it’s great that it’s in her hands. If she wins the US Open, she’ll keep the No. 1 ranking. I do also feel like she’s played less this season. I was looking at her tournaments, I want to say she’s only played seven tournaments, compared to everybody else, not that much. It was inevitable that players were going to catch up, and Kerber has had such an amazing year by winning the Australian and reaching the finals at Wimbledon, she’s the first one. I think Muguruza is pretty close, too. So it makes it exciting. They are playing for a lot. They are playing to break records and for the No. 1 ranking.
EVERT: Yeah, I think just to add on to that, there’s a lot at stake for her, like Mary Joe says, to break Steffi in so many different ways: First of all, to win 23, and also the consecutive weeks. She’s had enough time off so that ‑‑ whereas, a lot of the other players seem to be a little tired after the Olympics, because it’s been a really intense, demanding summer for players who have done well at the French and Wimbledon and the Olympics; Serena on the other hand seems to be rested up. Yes, she was injured. Hopefully she can get that shoulder ‑‑ I think a lot of it has to do with her shoulder because that serve is the big key for her to win matches. Yes, she has a lot to fall back on if her serve is not working but it makes life tough for her and she wins a lot of free points on that serve. The women are only getting better and only gaining more confidence when they play against her. There’s going to be pressure on Serena. There was pressure on her last year for different reasons, but this year, Mary Joe, don’t you think there will be a lot of pressure on her also?
FERNÁNDEZ: There’s still so much.
EVERT: Serena being No. 2 in the world doesn’t sort of sit well with her. I think, once again, it’s going to be a pressure. And the other players, hopefully Kerber is not burned out, because she has every right to be after this year she’s had. Muguruza, to me, really hasn’t gotten her game back after winning the French. So a lot of it is dependent also on how the other women are playing and if they believe they can beat her.
DRYSDALE: From where I sit, the pressure that you two are talking about is going to be a lot less intense this year than it was last year; that she finally buckled during the semifinal. I think she’s always the clear favorite for every major. Everybody knows that. That’s been the case for so long now. And I think, this to me, anyway, this is hers. It’s always hers to win, but I think she’s going to win it this year, because I think the pressure in general is off of her now. As you said, she’s had, generally speaking, a very short year, played very few matches. I think she’ll be eager to go, and I think that for her, the US Open will always be probably the most important event of her year, and I think she’s going to win it again.
Q- You talked specifically about the demands that have been placed on the players with the busy schedule. Who else to you looks fresh that could possibly threaten Serena at The Open, and whimsical question, if we look at our crystal ball, who for Roberta Vinci this year?
EVERT: You know, I always think Madison Keys inevitably will come through. She seems to have had ‑‑ she’s come close. She’s beaten Venus and she’s played Serena some good matches, and I always think if she’s on her A Game, and Serena is off, I always give her a shot. But you know, you’re right, Muguruza, as I said before, unless she’s playing her A Game, she just doesn’t ‑‑ she’s like hot or cold. But unless she plays her A Game, she doesn’t have a chance. Kerber always will, and if she’s fresh, I think that she is going to be a contender. But you know, and I’m thinking Cliff Drysdale, who always disagrees with Mary Joe and I no matter what we say, I’m kind of ‑‑ he kind of brought up a good point in the sense of Serena, yes, because she’s had time off, and because she’s ‑‑ I think this will give her motivation and she will be fresher than ever. You know, it’s Serena playing well ‑‑ I mean, Serena not being in top form, that’s how she loses matches. But it’s also, the other side of the equation, is somebody coming up and playing some really great tennis. And who is that going to be? I mean, are the players tired? Are they ‑‑ can Radwanska, does she have enough weapons? I don’t think so. So that’s why I’m looking at Madison and I’m looking at Kerber, Muguruza on a great day. But it’s going to be tough. And there’s so many other girls, women, out there, that all of a sudden, at the Olympics, started playing well. You don’t know if a dark horse is going to come along and play Serena a great match. But I think that once she’s in the second week, I think that’s when she’s her toughest.
DRYSDALE: What about Monica Puig, ladies?
FERNÁNDEZ: She’s the outsider. She’s not even seeded. She could definitely cause some damage. And she hasn’t played since the Olympics. Madison has not played since the Olympics and she’ll be fresh. I also think players like Halep and Pliskova, they didn’t go to the Olympics, so they will be a little bit more fresh mentally and physically, and they are both playing well. But I think those that went and played well, like a Kerber; poor Radwanska had to fly, I don’t know, like three days to get to the Olympics. That took a lot out of her. But I think the one player that’s always dangerous that has never really done well at the US Open, but if she gets hot, is Kvitova. You have to sort of always look out for her.
DRYSDALE: Keys and Halep for the reasons you mentioned, and Sloane Stephens has beaten her on a huge occasion. I would put her as the third one of my dark horses. And other than the obvious ones that you’ve been talking about, Kerber, Muguruza, Radwanska, I don’t think they have the arsenal of shots to be able to play with Serena.
EVERT: You know, Mary Joe, you brought up Halep before. She is somebody that, I mean, she’s somebody who is starting to play well, but her ‑‑ if she just had a better attitude and if she just wasn’t so tough on herself, she’d be another level higher. I think Halep on a really good day, she’s potential, too. She’s got potential to beat Serena.
FERNÁNDEZ: This is the most consistent I’ve seen her for awhile, winning the two back‑to‑back tournaments, reaching the semis against Kerber. She started to play well after she was down a set at 40‑love. But if she can bottle that kind of tennis and intensity and concentration and keep the attitude positive, she’s definitely one that should be a contender.
Q- Curious if you think that Djokovic is not the favorite going in? Federer said earlier today he thought he still is, even though he’s had a little bit of a murky summer. And curious from your perspective what kind of player Serena was 17 years ago when at age 17, she won her first US Open. Was she a very different player? And maybe first impressions you’ve had of that breakout run.
DRYSDALE: Djokovic is to me still the favorite. I’m giving him 55 to 45. Andy Murray obviously having a really good second half of the year. This game is based on really four legs: You’ve got to be able to get to the ball, you’ve got to be able to hit it and you’ve got to have some strategic jeans to you when you reach that level, but the other one is confidence. And to the extent that confidence is the most important leg, and Andy Murray is obviously more than a contender, but Djokovic is in my view going to win it again. How quickly we forget, what have you done for me lately. It was two months ago that we were talking about him winning the Grand Slam, the first man since Rod Laver to do it, and now we say, suddenly, gee, can he win the US Open. The answer to me is yes, he can and yes, he will.
FERNÁNDEZ: He’s only lost five matches all year, so he’s still a favorite for sure. It’s curious, I don’t know, Chrissie, if you got to see any of the Tennis Channel yesterday. I was with my son at the tennis courts, and they were showing old matches, and it was Serena, and my son was like, oh, my gosh, they were so good such a long time ago (laughing). And it was fun to watch. I think she’s better now, but she was really good back then. Now she has a better understanding of how to construct points and uses angles and I think is more aware of strategy. But wow, I mean, she was still, back then, the serve was as powerful. They were great. It was fun to watch.
EVERT: I think you could see the eagerness and the hunger in her more back then. Obviously at this point in her career, she’s going to have scratchier ‑‑ at the end of your career, you always have scratchy matches where you just can’t be as consistent. But I mean, if somebody once asked her, do you remember winning your first US Open, she goes, “Yeah, I just went out and hit the ball. I had no idea what I was doing.” And I think that sums it up. She had no strategy. She just hit the ball. That’s the way she was taught by Richard; just hit the ball, and she made a lot more errors. But she was a great athlete and she had the power. But you know, as like now, she uses her head a lot more on the court.
Q- Steve Johnson is now the top‑ranked American. How surprised are you guys at that, and what do you think his ceiling is? And for the women’s side, besides Serena, who are your favorites?
DRYSDALE: Stevie Johnson, he’s come of age, 26 years old. He’s got a lot of years, so he’s overtaken Isner as the top American. He’s a strong competitor. If you’re asking me if he’s a contender to win The Open, I would be very hesitant to say that. I think he has obviously a good chance and he’s got a great arsenal. And it’s sort of ‑‑ sometimes later on in life, because he was a USC grad. I look forward to seeing him continue to progress. I guess he’s got a medal under his belt, too, now. So it’s a nice story.
Q- What’s his ceiling? Does he have Top‑10 potential?
DRYSDALE: I would hesitate to put him in the Top‑10. I’m going to have to look at him for another 12 months before I’d commit to that. Because he started out really badly, you know, and now he’s come on. And again, if his confidence level is up and I think he’s had a good last few months generally speaking. But it’s too early in my book, anyway, to put him in the Top‑10.
FERNÁNDEZ: I was able to see him up close in Rio and I was really impressed with his speed. He is so fast. He hides his weaknesses extremely well, which is his back hand, but it’s actually not that bad of a weakness because he keeps the ball low and waits to use his forehand. He serves really well. Comes to the net really well. Has a great attitude. He really was so positive from start to finish. But you look at the rankings, and he’s 19, I believe, right now. So can he get to 10? Yeah, why not. You have players up there like Balsan (ph) and Lopez (ph) are ahead of him. He could. If he has these consistent results week‑in and week‑out, like he did just did in Cincinnati, there’s no reason why not. Because he plays to his strengths really, really well.
EVERT: As far as you’re talking about the women, challenging Serena, was that the next question?
Q- Who are the other contenders?
EVERT: You’ve got to look at Serena with the shoulder injury; you don’t know where she’s going to be, okay. But at the same time, she’s got to be going in there fresh and I think motivated to maintain, to keep the No. 1 ranking and win 23. Kerber, we answered this before, but you probably weren’t on the line. Kerber obviously is playing some unbelievable tennis this summer. Mentally got a lot stronger. Muguruza, she wins the French, and then the last two tournaments, she’s really not looked good the last two tournaments. Not looked like she’s made any adjustments to the hard court. I’m a Madison Keys fan because of her power on her serve and her ground strokes. And if she could ever get it all together and believe and trust herself and play her A Game, I think she could be a threat. And then the other one was Halep, who seems to be playing a little sharper. But she needs to believe in herself and have a little bit better attitude. Mary Joe mentioned Kvitova. Even she doesn’t look like she’s playing her best tennis. It’s something that somebody’s got to step up, and it’s been a tough year, because a lot of people are getting probably a little bit tired. But at this point, you know, someone’s got to realize that they have got a chance against Serena. Someone’s got to step up. We’ll see who that is.
DRYSDALE: One quick comment. You talk about Steve Johnson, the sliced backhand. I’m so fascinated by the fact that Juan Martín del Potro ‑‑ and this was not your question. But here is a guy who is playing with 50 percent of what he used to have on one side of his body, the backhand side. He’s slicing the ball now for the most part. He’ll hit two‑handed every so often. But we’ve sort of seen a mini‑come back of the sliced back hand, and I’m thrilled about it. I like it. I’m just in awe of how del Potro has been able to come back basically on crutches when it comes to your tennis game. You lose one of your major shots, and usually it spells doom. So fascinated by how he’s been able to do it.
EVERT: Mary Joe, did you watch any of his matches up close?
FERNÁNDEZ: I did. Yeah, I did. He’s definitely hitting his back hand more than he was at Wimbledon. But I think he’s realized that the slice is quite effective and it’s setting up his forehand nicely ‑‑ bigger than it was before.
EVERT: That was my question. Seems like he’s hitting it bigger than before. It seems like he’s hitting it bigger than before and it seems like he’s moving pretty well.
EVERT: He’s a big guy.
FERNÁNDEZ: He played great. He was so emotional about all his victories. But I think because, what Cliffy said, the slice isn’t always a weakness and he’s learned to use it to set himself up. And because he wants to cover the backhand a little bit more, I think that’s why he’s going for an even bigger forehand.
EVERT: That’s true.
DRYSDALE: Not to forget, he’s got an unbelievable serve anyway. But that was not the question, sorry.
Q- Picking up what you were just all talking about…..if you had to pick an outsider like a del Potro, Cilic, someone like that on the men’s side, who would you look at? And to pick up on what Chrissie was saying about Serena, if the shoulder is in a state where she can’t consistently hit 115, 118, can she be a spot server, mix in the slice and the kick, and still be a US Open Champion, or does Serena need the fastball, really need to be able to bring the heat, at 5‑all, 30‑all, to beat Serena?
DRYSDALE: First of all, you didn’t introduce yourself to me. Usually we start off by you telling me your name and who you represent, after all these years (laughter). So the dark horse, the dark horses on the men’s side for me are the aforementioned del Potro. It’s really setting up to be a fascinating contest at the Open because Raonic is again one of the big servers who on a relatively fast hard court, just like on grass, has got a potential. Cilic is coming back, and getting his serve to where it was when he won the US Open a couple of years ago, means that he’s another real tough dark horse. Then you’ve got the big four, with the exception, obviously Roger is not playing, but even Rafa, apparently, Mary Joe looked pretty good down in Rio, as well, even though he didn’t win the singles. I like Kyrgios has also had a win this summer in Atlanta. So, man, you’ve got a lot of contenders and I think for the first time, you’ve got the top three now in the world who are ‑‑ this is not a cakewalk for them anymore.
FERNÁNDEZ: On the guy’s side, I’d go with all those that Cliffy mentioned. I mean, Cilic, it was the first time he got to a Masters 1000 final and he ends up beating Murray in it, playing really well. It was nice to see that happen. Dominic Thiem has had a great season. He said he was beat up after Wimbledon. Is he fresh; can he translate his great play to the US Open? I think we’ll see. I think Monfils (ph), is the best I’ve seen him week‑in and week‑out. He’s had injuries, though, so that’s always a question mark in my book. Kyrgios can beat anyone on a given day. Can he do it over two weeks, three out of five, I’m not sure yet. And then you have your big servers. You have Isner and Karlovic, can they come up with some upsets. It was nice to see Grieger (ph) have two great weeks and winning some matches again. But at the end of the day you still go with Djokovic, Murray and Rafa in my book.
EVERT: Don’t forget Wawrinka. He could all of a sudden up his game. He’s shown that he can play great on a hard court. My two dark horses would be del Potro and Cilic. Those two I think could have a chance to win the tournament. The other ones, again, that you named Mary Joe, I think are great for an upset or two, but I think to win the tournament, you’ve go to have that big power game.
FERNÁNDEZ: And Nishikori. He played great at the Olympics, too, and he’s been to the finals there. So he’s a potential, too.
Q- Any thoughts on Serena? (followup from above)
EVERT: Oh, geez, that’s a tough question.
FERNÁNDEZ: It is. I think she can still win without her serve blasting all the time. It will be that much harder. I think the type of player ‑‑ the draw can obviously be a big part of it. If she plays a lot of players that are fast and can counter‑punch and make her hit a ton of balls, it will be more challenging. But you know, can she get away with it? Yeah, she’s that good, of course. It will just be much, much harder.
EVERT: Yeah, I think we saw her at the Olympics. We’ve seen her in tournaments at her three‑quarter, and she has that serve out wide and she has the nice one down the T. But I think because she has such a great return serve and she can break easily, especially with a lot of players like a Halep and a Kerber and Radwanska having weaker second serves, I think because she has such a great second serve, she can get away with not having her a serve and placing it.
DRYSDALE: If you would have asked me the question six months ago, I would have said there’s really no chance that she with one of her major weapons and the biggest shot in tennis ‑‑ 50 to 75 percent, would I have said no chance. But I would is said the same thing with del Potro and with his injury and his left wrist. It’s become a tough one. I don’t think she’s going to be able to do it, if she’s that far down on the serve effectiveness or her serve speed. But we will see.
Q- Is there an 800‑pound elephant in this world called age? 34 years is quite a lot, I’m both on the clock physically and emotionally. And the other question is about Rafa. Have you all given up hope on him? Do you think he can really do it?
EVERT: You know, I’m just going to answer the thing about Serena. I played the Tour when I was 34. I retired when I was 34. And mind you, we definitely had different games and I didn’t rely on what she relies on. But the fact of the matter is, when you get older, you have less days that you’re motivated and you have less days that you ‑‑ you really have more flat days, because it’s just mentally, emotionally and physically, those three components, aren’t always in sync. And when you’re young and you’re eager and you’re just on the Tour, those three components are usually in sync, and that’s why you play so well. So it’s so understandable to me, as I said before, that she has some scratchy matches during the year and she doesn’t play well. But her high level of play is still higher than any other player. So you know, who knows if she can get ‑‑ what it takes for her to get that high level out there, but we know it’s still there. We’ve seen it this year and it is still there. And if she can get it going, she’s still going to win majors. But she’s definitely going to have more bad days.
DRYSDALE: Jimmy Connors, 39 years old, semifinal US Open; Kenny Rosewall, finalist at Wimbledon, 39, finalist at the US Open. Age is very much a relative thing. As you said, Chrissie, to me, it’s not an issue. Very interesting what you say, by the way, about motivation, because I think that’s correct. It’s so much easier to go out when you’re 17 years old and just hit the crap out of the ball and don’t worry about it, and then you start to think about what you’re doing. So you probably have more up and downs. Except that how many downs has she had since this latest come back? She’s still No. 1 after going on a record number of weeks. Age is not an issue for Serena for me, not an issue.
FERNÁNDEZ: I was just going to add, the only issue I see as she gets older is her wanting it that much more and knowing that maybe the window is closing, so that adds pressure to Serena. But not because physically she can’t do it. I think if she’s healthy, she can stay at the top of the game for another three years.
EVERT: But at the same time, don’t you feel like her body is starting to let her down a little bit? I mean, she’s had, the last two years, really, she’s had ‑‑ I could venture six to eight times she’s had to pull out of tournaments because of injury. Definitely the body is starting to feel the effects.
FERNÁNDEZ: And the Rafa question, I saw him in Rio and he looked really good. He looked very hungry. I felt like his forehand was better than it had been. I do feel he played so much in the first few days that it caught up to him towards the end. He had to play del Potro and Nishikori back‑to‑back after having the Gold Medal in doubles, and I think that took a lot out of him, and you saw the effects in Cincinnati. But I have no doubt that he’s going to be a huge challenger. I still think he’s going to win another French Open. I still think he’s that motivated and he’s that good. He’s seeded four, so that could work in his favor with the draw, and nobody likes to play Rafa. Everybody knows that to play Rafa, they know they have to play their very best to beat him.
DRYSDALE: I have a fine dining dinner bet with Chris Fowler that he’s going to win another major, and I’m beginning to lose confidence that I’m going to win the bet. With that said, I agree with everything Mary Joe said and I think that I would put him in my book as a No. 3 or 4 favorite to win the title in New York.
EVERT: Yeah, after watching him play, if he’s as eager as he seemed to look on the court, he’s only going to get better. And he knows the little tweaks he can make in his game, which is from rust and from maybe not hitting with enough confidence. He knows what he needs to do, and I think if he gets a little more aggressive, and makes a few more little adjustments and really wants it badly enough, he’s going to go nowhere but up. So I think he’s still in the game.
DRYSDALE: We have not given up on Rafa (laughter).
Q- I’m going to follow up on Monica Puig. Have you seen her over the years? And Mary Joe, you just witnessed it as her captain. Was it a fluke? Does she have an arsenal that that could be her breakout?
FERNÁNDEZ: I was so impressed, I have to tell you, I watched a few of her matches, and I haven’t seen her that consistently. If she played that kind of tennis, she would be in the Top‑10. She served really well. Tough to attack in her back hand. That was her major strength. She really attacked well with the back hand and ran well. Like it was tough to get the ball by her. The question is her consistency. And Chrissie, you probably have seen her more with her training and stuff, but she has all the tools in my opinion.
EVERT: And I think I said this to you before: She has had a new purpose this whole year in her practicing. She’s had a different intensity, Darren work ethic. She worked her butt off, and I think Juan Todero serves a lot of credit because of that. They make a great team. And I ‑‑ along the lines of Mary Joe, it’s one thing, we knew she could always hit the ball hard, but never being that consistent. She was out rallying players with a lot of power, and I hope she can keep it up. You don’t know what that big elephant, that big word, pressure, you don’t know what that’s going to do, now that she’s won the Olympics; the expectations, what we’ve seen it’s done to other players. Hopefully she won’t fall into that category. But if she can keep that up level and not make the errors that she’s making and still hit the ball; and she’s also leaner. She’s lost weight. She’s in better shape. It’s not only her game; her moving was a lot better. Is she a fluke? No. She’s not a fluke. I agree; she could be in the Top‑10. Could she be No. 1? I’m not going to go that far. But I think just to consistently be in the Top‑10, if she continues this wave of momentum, yes, she could be.
Q- Sloane Stephens, I guess she won three smaller tournaments this year. Similar, is it a fire‑in‑the‑belly thing? Will Sloane ever get it back?
FERNÁNDEZ: I hope she gets it well. It’s funny, she was doing well at the majors and not the Tour level and now she’s doing well at the Tour level and not as well as the majors. We have to get Sloane to do both at the same time. She’s another one, she’s got all the ingredients, she’s got all the weapons. It’s a matter of putting it together consistently, and that’s the toughest part. I mean, Chrissie knows better than everyone. Mentally, to be there week‑in, week‑out, that’s what separates everyone from the top of the field.
EVERT: You really have to make that mental and emotional commitment to the game. I think that’s what Madison Keys is learning right now. She’s put more of a ‑‑ she’s made more of a commitment to tennis. She could still be better. But I think that’s what Sloane is lacking and I cringe when I say it, because I think everybody ‑‑ she has so much talent and everybody goes at their own speed and at their own pace. But I think that has to be revved up a little bit, again, that intensity and that desire, really, to do well.
DRYSDALE: I just wanted to say quickly on Sloane, in the career of an athlete, and tennis players in particular, there comes a moment in the career when sort of the light switch gets turned on. And it’s hard for me to imagine that Chrissie, both you and MJ talk about the talent question. When you’ve got that talent that Sloane has, I’m just waiting more the moment when the light goes on and she really breaks through. Because I think it’s going to happen.
FERNÁNDEZ: Yeah, that would be great. We all want that for her.
Q- I wanted to hear opinions on how significant the No. 1 ranking is. Serena is holding on for dear life and Novak is getting chased a bit by Andy here. Particularly Chrissie, you spend 260 weeks at the top; you wrestled back and forth with Martina for about five years. How important was it for you then, and how do you look back on the significance of those weeks at the top now? And in general, how important do you think today’s players perceive the No. 1 ranking to be?
EVERT: I mean, when I was No. 1, there’s no way I wanted to lose it. It’s a pride thing. It could be an ego thing, too. It’s a pride; there’s just a big difference between being No. 1 and being on top, and being No. 2 and being No. 3. It’s a tremendous, powerful feeling to be on the top and to be the one that everybody is striving to beat. I mean, that’s how I felt. I think Martina felt the same way, and I think Billie Jean in our day. Serena is the No. 1 player. Serena is arguably the greatest player of all time. So for her not to be bothered to be No. 2 ‑‑ I don’t think that’s ‑‑ I don’t think that’s a true statement. Because I think she does take great pride in being No. 1.
DRYSDALE: Any idiot knows that if you’re No. 1 in the world, it’s a huge confidence booster. My feeling about No. 1, in tennis, particular, confidence plays such a big part. And if you go through the history of the sport, it’s always been dominated by somebody, by the No. 1 player. And for the confidence quotient in a career, it’s just so important; that if you are No. 1 ‑‑ look, there’s another issue. And that is I think if you were to say to Serena, would you rather at the end of the year be No. 1 or win the US Open, for her, I would say, I’m 90 percent sure that she would say, I want to win the US Open, because I think titles are as important as No. 1 in the world. But that confidence quotient thing, that, to me, tennis ‑‑ it’s true in every sport. It’s true in golf obviously. In the team sports, individual confidence is not nearly the same, it’s not nearly as much of a factor. In tennis, the confidence thing is huge. If you are No. 1, you’re really confident. So those things work in tandem.
FERNÁNDEZ: For every top player, it’s important.
EVERT: I just want to say one sentence before Mary Joe. I’m thinking about, you said comparing the days. In my day, I think our ‑‑ because the Grand Slams were not as important, we would rather end up No. 1 and win one Grand Slam versus win two Grand Slams and end up No. 2.
FERNÁNDEZ: That’s so interesting. You’re right, and I think it’s changed. Now the slams are so important and the focus is so much on them that it probably would take a major before the No. 1 ranking. But I think just seeing Serena take the wild‑card in Cincinnati, not being 100 percent, because she wanted to see if there was any chance she could prevent Kerber from taking her spot, shows how important it is to her. I think when players say the No. 1 ranking is not important is when they know they are not going to be there. So I think the No. 1 ranking for the very few at the top is super important.
Q- Talking about Andy Murray, he’s played an awful lot, coming straight from Rio to Cincinnati. Is there a danger, can you play too many matches if you’re playing as well as that? And how do you think his preparation will contrast with Djokovic, who obviously skipped Cincinnati? And Johanna Konta could be a bit of an outsider to make a run in the women’s event?
DRYSDALE: Yeah, that’s a good reminder. Johanna Konta, down in Australia, I remember telling the chairman of the All England Club, I said: To me, this is not just a flash in the pan, because she’s got some serious ‑‑ some serious shots. So yeah, we should throw Johanna Konta into this little mix as somebody who could be a factor at the Open. As for your man from Scotland, the kind of condition that he has kept himself in for these years; he made a decision to turn himself into a super human athlete, as opposed to just tennis player. I think that’s going to stand him in really good stead; that No. 1. No. 2. is the confidence quotient, is for him now ‑‑ with all of the match 22, I guess in a row, and before he lost in the final in Cincinnati. But the confidence quotient, when you’re winning that number of matches, is huge. And again, that’s one of the four pillars of what makes an athlete and what makes a great champion is the confidence quotient, and he certainly has it. Now, I’m still backing his nemesis at the majors, Mr. Djokovic, but if you are asking ‑‑ if the question is, is this the best chance going into a major for Andy Murray, my answer is unquestionably yes.
FERNÁNDEZ: About Konta. She’s been impressive. The last 12 months, what a jump. She had to qualify for the US Open last year, was ranked outside the top 110. She has improved in so many categories starting with her serve. I think she has the third most aces for the season. The backhand is very good; that’s her weapon. The forehand used to be a weakness, and now she can get more topspin on it and pull players off the court with it. She has been impressive. She’s in the Top 15 now. Most improved by far in the last 12 months. So yes, can she make a deep run? Definitely.
EVERT: Yeah, she’s a big hitter and she wins a lot of free points off her serve. I just think these players, if they have one big weapon, they are going to be the ones that are going to make the deep runs, and she’s got the serve. She’s got the backhand. I love her attitude and I think she’s very intense and I think she’s very smart on the court. I think she analyzes the situation very well. She’s one of the more mature players, one of the more composed players. So definitely, she could get deep in to make a quarter or even make a semi, if all her weapons are in place.
Q- In the prognostication game, I would love to hear who you think will become the next No. 1 on the men’s and women’s side? Do you think Kerber and Murray are locks to be the next?
FERNÁNDEZ: I think Kerber has obviously the best chance. Serena has got to make it through at least the semis to hold on it because she got to that stage last year and Kerber I believe lost in the third round. So just mathematically, she has the best chance of overtaking her. Yeah, Murray is gobbling up the points. He’s played so well and he plays consistently week‑in and week‑out. He’s winning when he’s not playing his best and I think that gives you confidence. Those two for me would be the next ones.
EVERT: This might not happen. It might not happen. But if it does happen, it will be Murray and Kerber Muguruza for me. Cliffy, what about you?
DRYSDALE: Stewart, he throws these questions at us, knowing full well he wants the answer: It’s Andy Murray, of course.
FERNÁNDEZ: He got what he wanted.
DRYSDALE: He’s a Scot. He understands. So definitely Andy Murray. As for the ladies, it’s definitely not as much of a sink for Kerber, but she ‑‑ I’m really in awe of her talents as a tennis player. She has got a very ‑‑ the other thing is I think mentally she’s stronger. So yeah, Kerber, Murray.