Evert, Gilbert Preview US Open, Discuss Serena’s Comeback & Seeding, Sloane’s First Major Defense & What Makes New York Special; Duo Debates WTA Maternity Leave Policy
- ESPN’s Exclusive, First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Monday, Aug. 27
ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Brad Gilbert spoke with media today, previewing the US Open. ESPN’s exclusive coverage – from first ball to last ball – begins Monday, Aug. 27. See here for more details. Here is the transcript.
Q- Chrissie, I wanted to hear your thoughts about Serena Williams obviously going to the US Open. She hasn’t exactly had the most inspiring campaign on the hard court, but does that matter when it comes to Serena and competing at the US Open where she’s had so much success?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that it’s not only with Serena — you said it correctly. It’s not only presently what’s going on, it’s in the past, and she does have a lot of confidence on that court. She has a lot of confidence playing in front of the U.S. crowd. To me, she played a very on-form Kvitova last week. I didn’t really feel like that was a failure for her. I felt like at times like for a set, set and a half, she definitely had her “A” game going, and really if you look at that match, 6-3 in the third, the way Kvitova was playing, she would have won the tournament the way she was playing. Serena was to me the second or third best player still last week, and she is getting better every week.
The more she trains — I know she came down to West Palm, I think she’s training down here now, and she needs to put in a little bit more training, get a little bit quicker around the court, get a few good matches under her belt. If she gets into the second week of the US Open with those matches under her belt, she’s going to be a favorite for sure. I mean, I just feel, as I’ve seen her progress this summer and I hear her say that she can feel it and taste it and she’s close and she needs to keep working harder — and you know she’s working harder. She’s got to be one of the top three, I think, favorites for me.
Q. Brad, I’m wondering whether you think a young player is on the verge of breaking through and winning a Slam and who you think the most likely candidates are apart from Zverev, I guess, and what do you think they need to do to take that step to the next level?
BRAD GILBERT: I mean, obviously that’s the $64,000 question. Everybody is waiting and hoping somebody 25 and under can make a breakthrough. If Cilic or Delpo don’t win the Open and no one under their age wins it, after the Open there will be no one on the men’s side 30 and under that has a major. Blame the big three; they have wiped out quite a few generations, and without seeing the draw, which is made tomorrow, I’d put at a minimum of 79.83 percent right now that one of those three win the last Slam of the year. I think the most important thing in the draw is where Djokovic falls. If he happens to fall in the same quarter as Rafa, then I actually think that there is the possibility that something could happen because now that means only one of those two could get to the quarters. I think the likelihood of anybody young or anybody having to beat all three of them, let alone two of them to win the Slam is a monumental task at the moment. Blame the big three for their greatness.
Q. What do you think Zverev needs to do to take that next step? What does he need to do to improve?
BRAD GILBERT: Well, he just took a step in the right direction, which he probably should have took sooner. I see that he has hired Lendl. I think that was an incredibly positive step in the right direction. When I watch Zverev, for some reason he plays freer when he plays in the thousands and some of the smaller events than he does in the Slams, and when I watch him, sometimes I say so goes his forehand, so goes his chances. But I think that he has to forget about the expectations and play the opponent on the other side of the net and avoid playing five-set matches early in the tournament. That’s what’s kind of gotten him in trouble a little bit the last few Slams.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Can I just interrupt? You know, I think the thing with Zverev when you said what can he improve, I think that’s the mental attitude. I think he gets down on himself. He gets emotional. And I think it does affect his play, and I’m all for showing your emotions if you can forget about it when you’re going to the next point, very much like Mac and John did very, very well. But I think he carries it with him. And I think if it’s true that Lendl is coaching him now, what he did with Andy Murray was phenomenal, and that is if he can improve his mental and emotional, that side of his game, I think Zverev will have it all.
Q. I wanted to ask you two questions. First on Federer, it’s been 10 years since his last US Open final, but he’s coming off the since I final. What do you see for Federer and what has to happen for him to make another run? And then secondly on the Serena seeding, do you agree with it? Do you think the seeding should have been higher? What’s your position on the Serena seeding?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Was that today? I didn’t see what her seeding is.
Q. She got moved from 26 to 17.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Gotcha. 17, okay. I need to think about that a little bit. But as far as Federer is concerned, I think it’s just — for some reason, the US Open hasn’t been easy for him, and it’s at the end of the year, it’s the height of the heat, and three out of five sets. You know, he’s created miracles before in the last two years that we’ve been surprised, and he could do it again for sure, very capable of doing it again. Is he rested up enough, because it’s going to be a grueling two weeks for him, and this sometimes is when age creeps in, those three out of five sets when you’ve had three in a row. I just think Djokovic and Nadal would have to be favored over him at this point.
Brad, what do you think about that?
BRAD GILBERT: Well, first of all, it’s absolutely amazing at 37 years young how fit of a fiddle he is. He seems to be able to put himself in a position. It’s not what happened the last 10 years. He’s only focused on the next two weeks of potentially what could happen.
I think the biggest win possibility for him could be is if Djoker is in the same quarter or half as Rafa, and I think that potentially, let’s say he’s in the same quarter or same half as Roger, but just potentially having to beat those guys back-to-back, it’s still possible for him to do it, maybe no one else. But it’s just a huge obstacle. So I do think the most important thing by far in the men’s draw, because basically Djoker being a 6 seed, he has a 1 in 4 chance of being in everybody’s quarter. I’m sure the entire other 125 guys are opening that he’s either in Roger or Rafa’s quarter, which then maybe will create some more openings in some other sections. But I do think that that is the most important factor, and for Roger, like I said, if Djoker happens to fall in the Rafa quarter, you know, he wouldn’t say anything, but we’ll say it for him: I think that’s a big win.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think as far as Serena, looking at her hard court season, it has not been good, and losing first round in San Diego, and then she lost second round — I’m trying to think here. What did she lose in?
Q. She lost early in Stamford, obviously she had the issue —
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, that’s Stamford. She lost first round Stamford, right, and then Montreal — what happened in Montreal? Did she pull out of Montreal?
Q. Yeah, she pulled out of Montreal and just played Cincy, so that’s it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: And then she lost in Cincy to Kvitova. So I think 17 is fair enough. Listen, if she would have gone to the finals of these tournaments, I think that would have raised her seeding a little bit, but again, she was — I think safely we can say unsuccessful in the hard court lead-up. For them to seed her 17, I think that’s pretty fair.
BRAD GILBERT: I know one thing: Never underestimate Williams, Serena. And there’s two tournaments. If she can get through the first week, get some confidence going into the second week, she becomes a different player. I blame the WTA. I think it’s an absolute joke what they’ve done, and they should be embarrassed that they don’t have anything — injuries are different from somebody coming off of maternity leave. I think that she should have come back after her absence with the protected ranking of No. 1. If you’ve seen me tweet in Indian Wells, I felt like she should have come back for eight tournaments with a protected ranking and seeded ranking of No. 1, not just Serena, whoever it is. Whenever you come back after maternity leave, if you were 8, you should be 8; if you’re 15, you should be 15. So when she left the tour, she was clearly 1. So since something like that hasn’t been done, and they need to do it, which like I said I think is an absolute joke, I would have seeded her probably 5 to 8. I said I would have seeded her 1 at Wimbledon based upon her past, and I would have based upon her past success at the Open, I would have said about 5. That’s just me. But the WTA definitely needs to look into this. Azarenka had it, now Serena. So any future women that have a baby, when they come back — you get the benefit of getting in the draw, getting into some tournaments, but okay, they’re going to get wild cards anyway, but I do think that it’s unfair to opponents to potentially have to play her first round.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, but it’s a tough call, but Brad, it’s the same thing as being injured. If somebody comes back strong —
BRAD GILBERT: No, I mean, I think — I hate to disagree with you, Chrissie, but I honestly don’t think it’s the same as being injured. It’s not an injury —
CHRISSIE EVERT: In philosophy, though, right?
BRAD GILBERT: I think they need to look at it and come up with a better ruling because I actually — this is me; I really believe when you come back after this, whatever you were ranked before for eight tournaments you should be ranked at and seeded at. Then after eight tournaments you’ve played, your ranking will be adjusted. That’s just my philosophy.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, I think it’s fair right now because for this — considering we’re dealing with this decision that the WTA made, we’re going along with it, I think the fact that she doesn’t have to play a top 8 player until the second week I think is fair, and I think — I mean, I agree with you, Brad, but at the same time, if Serena Williams has dominated tennis for 10 years and then she had an auto accident and then she came back after a year, you’re saying that she should start from scratch or she should start with a protected ranking?
BRAD GILBERT: I mean, I will put the distinction, an injury is different, because in work, if you’re having a baby, they make provisions for when you have a baby and you come back. You get a paid leave. I don’t understand why the women’s association, the WTA, doesn’t draw a distinction between being injured and having a baby. It is something that really needs to be looked at a lot closer for this to happen in the future. That’s just my humble opinion.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, but all I’m saying is I think if you’re going to protect being pregnant and having a baby, I think injuries should have a little consideration, too. That’s all I’m saying.
BRAD GILBERT: I agree. I also agree that if you’re injured and you come back after a year, they use it, once again, just for the draws. Like Murray has no ranking, no seeding. Same with Fed. I would do that differently, as well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Gotcha. Well, then we’re agreeing, okay. Sorry, people. We agree. I think just having a baby — I think if you have a terrible injury and it’s not your fault, you’re in an accident or something, I just think you should come back and be protected somewhat. That’s my point.
Q. If I could follow up on Sloane, what do you see for Sloane, just her first time defending a major, but she has reached a major final this year.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know what, I think Sloane is playing unbelievable, and she’s playing the same form that she played last year’s US Open. I think she’s got confidence. She’s just — she is a more confident player, which I think is going to help her. The only thing that will be against Sloane is the pressure of having to defend, and that always remains to be seen how the player reacts to that.
You know, I think that Sloane is still — she’s still a little bit of a nervous player, but I think that’s one area that she’s improved tremendously. So I mean, I have faith in her ability. I have faith in how mentally tough she’s gotten. It just is going to be — if she can get the crowd on her side and be inspired, I think she can win this tournament. But it all depends on Sloane. Obviously it depends on how she reacts to the pressure.
BRAD GILBERT: I would say with sight unseen the draw, I would put Sloane as about the second or third favorite. I would probably put Halep as the favorite at the moment, Serena in the mix. The biggest thing, exactly what Chrissie said, first time defending a major. And without seeing the draw, I will — I said there’s about a 79 percent chance that one of the big three wins the men’s. I’m going to say if you told me at the end of this tournament 20 different women could win this tournament, I would say you’re probably right, and there’s probably the likelihood of something happening at Wimbledon where we could see lots of upsets, because I think between 1 and 40 in the women’s is — I mean, monumentally closer in level than 1 and 40 in the men’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost half the top eight seeds in the first two, three rounds.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I agree with you, Brad. Nothing has changed since Wimbledon except a couple of new players like Bertens, who you’ve got to put her in the mix now. She’s playing so much better, Kvitova seems to be playing better. You’ve got Sabalenka, you’ve got some new players that have really popped up in this hard court series that you have to take seriously, but at the same time, I’m saying I agree. Any one of — I would probably say 15 players. You know what, I might just even not even say that. I think 1 to 10 player. It’s gotten to that. It’s starting to be a few less players, I think, could win this tournament, because I just think the top players are still mentally — Halep is looking awfully tough, and again, Serena is going to play better at the US Open, I think, than she played the last couple months. Kerber winning Wimbledon, she likes the hard courts. Wozniacki, I don’t know what’s going on with her, but Sloane is going to be better than she was at Wimbledon. I think one of 10 players could win it. Don’t count out Madison Keys. I just think she’s got a Slam under her belt in the next year.
Q. I actually have a question for both of you guys about Coco Gauff. I think she’s still the top rated junior right now coming into the US Open after making the final there last year in the girls’ competition. She’s so young and she’s got a French Open title under her belt now. I think she just turned 15. I’m wondering when you see a young player like that who kind of has a lot of potential and has a lot of things left to show us, how do you make sure you can carve out your own path and not draw those comparisons to people like Capriati and people who have had success young beforehand? What’s the most important thing?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, for me, she needs to keep her team. She needs to not — she needs to just keep the routine the same even though she’s having success. And when she starts having big wins against the pros again, she doesn’t need to be looking for a new agent or a new coach or changing anything, her schooling, where she practices. I mean, you’ve just got to keep it down to earth, and you’ve got to keep it humble, and you’ve got to go back to basics and just live the life that you’ve led before, because that’s the one thing I see that once a player starts to have success, all of a sudden they’re on every talk show and they’re doing every interview and they’re doing appearances and they’re changing coaches and changing agents, and she just has to keep everything the same and be humble. That’s what I think.
BRAD GILBERT: I mean, she should probably call Chrissie for some advice, but I saw Coco play when she was 12 years old. I’ll say this now: She was probably in the main draw, I wouldn’t be surprised if she made it to the second week. She’s an unbelievable athlete, and I’ll be very surprised if she’s not competing to win Slams before she’s finished being a teenager. She has all the capabilities, an amazing athlete, and I think that everything what Chrissie said, your main focus at that age — she’s 5’10”, she can hit a serve almost 120 already, is just improving. Keep working on your game. Keep getting better. I hate the whole limitation of rules that now she can only play a certain amount of events and everything like that, but I think her, Amanda Anisimova and Whitney Osuigwe, these three are going to do great things for American tennis on the female side. All incredibly talented. But Coco is the head of class, and like I said, I will be very surprised if she’s not competing to win Slams before she’s finished being a teenager.
Q. I have a couple questions about Eugenie Bouchard and all the work she’s putting in to get back in the top players, that she was playing Challenger tournament last week, so maybe a comment about her playing. She won a qualification match yesterday. Do you think she has the potential to come back in maybe the top 30? And a question for Brad about our two young players, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime, will play in qualification today and has a huge win in Toronto a couple of weeks ago against Lucas Pouille.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, the thing I like about Genie Bouchard is very much like Andre Agassi did, and Brad, you know this, starting to play the lower-tiered tournaments, to really win some matches, and to gain that confidence and to gain match practice and really to get her game back, and I like that. I like that she’s doing that. I think it’s going to humble her, and it shows me that she’s hungry to get back to close to where she was. I don’t think she can get back to where she was, but I don’t doubt that she can get back to top 30. I don’t see why not. She’s proven that she has the game to be dangerous when it’s on, but the problem is it really hasn’t been a — she still shows us in bits and pieces, but it hasn’t been a consistently — the game that she has three, four years ago. I mean, again, she’s got to work on just — her game is to be aggressive, to hit the ball. She’s got to work on her moving, to be in position to hit the ball. She’s got to work on consistency, and she’s getting the matches that she needs right now, and she’s gaining more and more confidence. You know, I mean, she’s on the right track. She’s on the right track, and I do not doubt that she could be in the top 30. I think she’s learned a lot. I think she’s learned a lot through this adversity the last few years.
BRAD GILBERT: To pick off of what Chrissie said, you build up equity by winning matches, and then obviously when you’re not winning any matches, your opponents don’t fear you. She needs to play a lot at this level and gain confidence that when she moves up that she’s ready to make that step. And then sometimes you’re measured by what you did four years ago, and everybody says, when is she getting back to that. You know, it’s building blocks. Win some Challengers, win some small events, get some confidence, and then when you move back up, you’re in position to do some things. I always find that when players drop, men or women, whoever it is, they measure you for what you did before, how quickly can you be back to that, and sometimes that’s a tough obstacle.
On the two Canadians, I think Denis is incredibly talented. I was incredibly surprised after Wimbledon because I thought he has an unbelievable serve for a guy — he’s generally listed at six feet tall. I’d say he’s probably 5’11”, he has an unbelievable serve, but then he just completely changed his serve, which is a little bit odd to make a change like that in the middle of the season. He kind of went to this abbreviated motion, and it doesn’t look nearly as smooth as the other motion, albeit I think he’s incredibly talented. I think that for him, the next step is making a run in a major and getting in the top 15 and then going from there.
I think that his skill set is tremendous, got a good forehand, quick, and got a lot of belief. FAA, as I like to call Felix, is loaded with talent. He’s got phenomenal athleticism for 6’3″, 185, and if he was a stock, I’d put a buy on him. I love his athleticism and his ability, but on the pro tour, nobody gives it to you. You’ve got to go out and earn it and continue to work hard, and I like that he’s been moving on the Challenger level. I think that he potentially has a big future. I think him and Denis, I’d be very surprised in the next three to five years if they weren’t competing to win Slams.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m going to build on that Genie Bouchard. Brad, you said something interesting about the players. In the beginning when she came up, nobody knew how she played, nobody saw the patterns. Now everybody knows. And a player gets a reputation. And I think when these players now or in the past have gone on the court with Genie the last three years, they have a sense that if she can just keep the ball in play and be consistent, Genie is going to make the error, and sure enough, she’s been making a lot of errors the last three years, and when I would commentate her matches, that year she had a great year, her winners and her errors, the ratio was the same. Now she makes twice as many errors as winners. If she can be more consistent and clean up her game, clean up the errors a little bit more, I think that’s going to help with her reputation. I think that players will go on the court thinking, oh, my God, I’ve got to win this point from her because she’s not going to give me anything. She’s given away too many free points the last three years, so I think that’s one area she can work on.
BRAD GILBERT: I’d say one other thing about men and women; when you’re 5 in the world, you come out of the locker room, you come out of the tunnel, it’s a different mentality. All of a sudden when you’re ranked 100, 150, you’re not 5 anymore, all of a sudden people think, man, you’re beatable. That’s the equity of winning and the equity of losing that how players all of a sudden, besides knowing her game after that first time around, it’s all of a sudden, okay, when you look at her records, see what she’s been doing, and people have a different view that, okay, you’re not the same player. I don’t have to overplay to beat you. The only way you get that back is by winning matches.
Q. I wanted to ask your — these have been really interesting tennis insights, of course, but I’m now interested in asking your views as broadcasters. It’s a milestone this year with the new Louis Armstrong stadium, and it’s kind of coming after these really dramatic changes to the venue. Can you offer any thoughts about what it’s going to be like this year, what viewers can expect, how you feel the whole team at ESPN has kind of gotten its sea legs as you’ve kind of explored and settled into the totally redesigned venue?
BRAD GILBERT: I think that it’s exciting that in a way, all these Slams, they compete against each other when they make improvements, the other one wants to make an improvement. No one wants to be 20 years behind somebody else, and I think it’s amazing that they’re continuing to try to make the experience better for the fans, for the viewers at home. I’ve come every year to the Open since 1981, and as a kid, like you just dream about going there one time and playing there.
As soon as I walk through the gates on Sunday morning, it’s almost like I’ve got to pinch myself that it’s the same like Wimbledon; this is what you dreamed about. I never take that for granted, and I get so motivated and excited for the next 15 days, I just root for great matches and great drama and then hopefully we don’t have blowout seeding in matches. That’s kind of what I root for. I root for great matches and good tension, good story lines.
It’s up to the players, but listen, we have fun being a part of it. It’s a great experience. ESPN is absolutely an amazing team. They have so many people behind the scenes doing amazing work to make us look better. I’ve got to pinch myself, my wife says I talk to the TV at home, and I do it for free, and I get this great experience and great opportunity that ESPN gives me, and I hopefully don’t take that for granted.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, it’s New York, and it’s a show. Every Grand Slam has its charm, and every Grand Slam has its niche. In New York the US Open, the last one of the year, it’s showbiz. It’s a spectacle. It’s an event, and it’s always exciting. Nighttime is more exciting in a US Open than any other Grand Slam. Everybody gets dressed up — at ESPN we feel it. You get dressed up, you’ve got the fireworks going, you’ve got the bands playing, you’ve got — it’s just so exciting, and I think that the players feel it, especially the American players feel so much support when they walk out on the court at the US Open. And I think that being the last Grand Slam, I think it’s the last hurrah. It’s like, okay, you’ve got to put all your eggs in one basket and play the best you can this one last Grand Slam of the year. It can salvage your year, it can create new stars. But it’s all — but it’s all about being a show and being an event, and that’s what it has over the other Grand Slams.
BRAD GILBERT: And to say what Chrissie said, I totally agree about the nighttime atmosphere in New York is different than any other Slam. I think all players kind of dream about being on the biggest court in the world. It’s just something that has a different feel than anywhere else. And a little bit like school, this is like — listen, whatever has happened in the year, you have a chance to like completely — from mid term to the first test, you have a chance to completely — if it hasn’t been the year that you want, you can completely change your year in this event.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Turn it around, yeah.
BRAD GILBERT: Yeah, and some of the players that have done well, you have a chance to maybe make an amazing year. It’s the last statement event of the year.
Q. Can I ask a quick tag on Louis because it’s just an iconic part of the experience. It speaks to everything you guys just talked about. Do you have a sense of — what’s it going to be like to have that whole new Louis Armstrong?
THE MODERATOR: Let me quick jump in before the answer. Armstrong is going to have scheduled night sessions this year, so we’ll have a choice of two matches for our evening sessions.
BRAD GILBERT: Well, first of all, I think it’s epic that now Louis gets its own — so you have two different venues at night, separate tickets. Listen, it was an incredible court, but it needed an upgrade, and now Louis is getting like the most incredible upgrade that it needed, and I’m excited to call my first match there. I think all the pictures, everything I’ve seen, everybody is saying it’s an amazing new court. I can’t wait.
Q. I’m going to ask an Andy Murray question. The first Slam since last year’s Wimbledon, it’s been a long time. What would be success for Andy at this tournament? He’s obviously had a little bit of success at points in the hard courts just to get back out there and enjoying it at a Slam again.
BRAD GILBERT: Well, I would say first, he needs a full year of being healthy to play a lot, to see what he can do. So that would be first and foremost. He’s obviously at the mercy of the draw. He could play Rafa, he could play Fed, he could play anybody first round because of how low ranked he had. So obviously not knowing his draw, that’s a difficult thing to project. But I’m sure that like all of a sudden he’s not the kind of guy that like, man, I’m hoping to be able to win a couple — he’s hoping, okay, maybe he has a decent draw and can get into the tournament by getting through the first week and go from there.
I mean, I saw Stan like a couple of months ago, and he didn’t look very good when he played Murray before Wimbledon, and then all of a sudden I see him in Cincinnati, and he’s completely a different player. So I do think that Andy’s ability, once he’s healthy and can play week in and week out, I do think the results are going to come. His game is a bit different than let’s say Fed coming back from injury, even Djoker or Rafa, because his game is more — he’s got to use his legs more, and he — so a big thing is when he was out, he wasn’t probably able to put in the hard yards. He had hip surgery, so it’s not exactly like you can do cardio. Djoker was out with an arm injury, but I’m sure he could be able to do cardio.
Fed, I mean, he’s more — even though he had that knee injury, he’s way more offensive minded in his tennis than Murray. The way he came back didn’t surprise me because of the way he can still take time away from opponents and he can take some stock in like how long that DelPo was out a couple different times and was able to come back. If in 12 months from now, if Andy was totally healthy, no more injuries, and you told me he was back in the top five, I wouldn’t be surprised. But he’s just going to need time.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and I think — I’m no doctor, but I don’t think we have a lot of case studies of hip surgeries of players that have come back. I don’t think that’s happened — that’s happened so much with knees and shoulders and wrists, successful stories, but we haven’t really had many top players, if any, that have had hip surgery and come back. And the hip, to me, Andy has to develop — he has to regain that agility back and that flexibility back that every step that you move, your hip — when you serve, when you swing, when you run, your hip is a part of all that.
I agree with Brad. I think it’s going to take time. He’s just starting. He’s just — we can’t expect anything from him, any results from him, and I’m just — I think everybody has to be patient, including himself, and just be happy that he’s out there in the first place, but have no expectations.
BRAD GILBERT: On the guys’ side, he’s probably 15 years back, and I know medicine is a lot better, but a couple prominent guys come to mind that had hip surgery that never recovered were Kuerten and Magnus Norman, and especially Magnus Norman never recovered. But I do think that training is better and technology is better, and to me somebody of Andy’s competitiveness and seeing how Djokovic has come back, seeing how Fed has come back so quickly, he’s not an old 31. I think that will inspire him. But like you say, it’s not an easy task. He needs a whole year of being healthy and time to see if he can put everything together.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and how much he’s willing to work to make it happen, and that’s a big thing. And we know that Andy has shown a lot of resilience over the past few years. And if he has that resilience and if he has that hunger, then the results will start happening.
Q. To win a five-set match, would that be kind of a stage in his recovery? He’s not really been asked to do that. I know he could get anyone in the first round.
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s a big question.
BRAD GILBERT: Yeah, you don’t know where he’s going to be in the draw, and then it’s a big — obviously physically playing two matches in a day, he didn’t want to do that in Washington and played until 3:00 in the morning, and that was a tough week for him. But you don’t really know about yourself physically until all of a sudden you play to 7-5 in the fifth, maybe you get through it, but how do you recover on the one day off and putting yourself in position to play another day later. So I think that you’ll know a lot more about him when he plays three months and he’s got a lot more matches under his belt. I think these questions are easier to potentially answer, but not having so much under his belt, I think that’s probably why he decided not to play Wimbledon, because he maybe thought physically he wasn’t ready to play best of five. So that is the big question that probably needs to be answered and will take time.
CHRISSIE EVERT: We can all speculate about this, but Andy Murray is the only one that knows what his body feels like and what it feels like after a five-set match. We didn’t have the surgery, so he’s the only one. It’s about speculation, but you’d think that the more five-set matches he has, it’s not going to be a good thing for his body.
Q. Kind of another question on the women’s draw: Who is the biggest threat to Serena, and I’m wondering if we should put much weight into Simona Halep withdrawing this week because of the achilles injury? Is it more because you think she needed rest, or is this injury going to be a concern over the next two weeks for her?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think she’s had achilles and ankle problems all year, and I think she’s taken weeks off because of it. After Wimbledon she took weeks off. I think it was the pounding of the hard courts. This woman, I would have been shocked if she would have played this week. I was like — I didn’t even think she’d play Cincinnati after that week that she had in Montreal. She played a lot of matches, doubled up on a lot of matches. She has to run more than most players, and she has always — seems to have three-set matches. It was the best thing for her — unfortunately for the tournament, but the best thing for her and her health and her fitness to not play this week. I don’t think it’ll affect her at all at the US Open. I think she’ll be rested and ready to go. And you know what, she will be a threat to Serena. She’s one player that will be. Sloane for sure, but Halep also because she’s so solid and because she can run down and defuse a lot of Serena’s balls. And she’s confident. You can see it. She gets herself out of holes. The last couple weeks, she was down in matches and she pulled these matches out, and it was like, okay, that’s like Serena-like, and she’s starting to do it now because she has that belief in herself. But because she’s solid, because she can run all day and she can still play offensive tennis when she needs to, I think definitely she’s going to be a threat to Serena.
BRAD GILBERT: The biggest thing is we don’t know where Serena is in the draw and how her draw is, but like I said, never underestimate Serena on her ability to elevate. But albeit, I do think players now feel like when they come out of the tunnel they’re not 4-0 down. So they actually have — especially so many of them, they got crushed by her during a ten-year period or five-year period where they had no hope, probably take the court with a bit of a different attitude, that okay, let’s see what happens. So I do think that that is a factor.
Absolutely Halep — I mean, she’s fine. That was totally a precautionary move. She was one point away from doing the double, which has never happened before, winning Canada and Cincy. She’s Chrissie’s size. She’s 5’5″. It’s amazing what —
CHRISSIE EVERT: 5’6″, don’t make me shorter than I am!
BRAD GILBERT: Okay, 5’6″. It’s seriously amazing how well she has gotten the last few years, and unbelievable credit to Killer Cahill for his unbelievable belief in her, that she’s put herself in — listen, she’s earned to be the No. 1 player in the world. It’s an amazing accomplishment. I would say there’s probably a lot of players — like I said, I still think there’s 20 women that can win Wimbledon. I said there was 20 women that could win the Open: I said there was 20 women that could win Wimbledon, and I didn’t have Kerber as one of them, because she didn’t really have any form coming in. That just shows you where the women’s is, and like I said, I would not be surprised if somebody put together a hot run and we were like, wow, didn’t see that coming. That’s just — I don’t think there’s much difference between 1 and 40 right now.
Q. You mentioned how people when they come on court against Serena, they don’t feel like they’re 4-0 down right off the start right now, they feel they have a better chance than perhaps they would have had before. I know Serena loves to spend as much time with her daughter as she can and I’m sure she will be in New York with her. Is it tough mentally for her — or maybe it’s better suited for Chrissie, but is it tough mentally to be 20 minutes before the match playing peek-a-boo with their baby in the back and then stepping on court? Is it easy to switch or get into that competitive mode?
CHRISSIE EVERT: (laughing) First of all, I’m offended that you didn’t ask a mother that question. That’s me, not Brad. What does Brad know? How does he know what goes on in the mind of a mother? Come on!
To turn the switch on and off is very difficult, and that’s what she’s trying to navigate right now. She’s never had this feeling before. She’s never had this love before in her life. She’s never had this nurturing feeling, this protective feeling. It doesn’t switch on and off. It’s there. Even if it’s not consciously there when she’s on the court, it’s in the back of her mind, and it will creep in, I’m sure, once in a while, because she’s not a robot. So yes, it is very difficult, and that’s, again, I think — even more than the physical part, the emotional part is the toughest one to try to figure out for Serena to be successful and to get back to being No. 1 and also to feel guilt-free that she’s spending enough time with her child. It’s just a love affair that she’s never had before, and it’s just gut-wrenching sometimes when you’re feeling guilty about your kid. Again, these are — she’s only had to think about herself her whole career. She’s only had to think about Serena.
BRAD GILBERT: Yeah, obviously exactly something Chrissie has got a lot of experience on. Guys that have kids, it’s not the same. They maybe have support staff to take care of it. But the amazing thing is Serena is six weeks away, I believe, from being 37 years young. So it’s not like she’s 26. For any athlete, it’s learning that balance, learning how to be able to have all the time to do all the things. When you’re 26 and you’re singly minded focused or even 35, so now she has different priorities, and so it’s learning how to balance all of that and then get to the court and feel free to be able to just look on the other side of the net and be better than the opponent on the other side of the net. That’s the big question.
But honestly, two years ago when people took the court against her, they were just hoping not to get beat 6-1, 6-1. They were 4-0 out of the tunnel, and these are even top five and top ten players would get blown out before even walking on the court. So I do think that that part has changed, and the only way — Chrissie knows it. Every great player in the history of the game, you build up the equity by crushing people, and then all of a sudden when that doesn’t happen — look what happened to Djokovic when he lost a few matches when he had crushed people. People had expectations, all of a sudden, you know what, I have a chance today. Listen, that’s been always the case in the game.
Q. Brad and Chris, could I ask you to comment on two players; Tsitsipas, could you please critique his game; and Kyrgios, do you think he’ll ever stay focused enough to fulfill his potential?
BRAD GILBERT: First off, I watched Tsitsipas kind of grow in our eyes in Canada. I did all of his matches. He’s 6’5″, he’s unbelievably athletic. He plays great defense. I like his ability to finish at the net. I remember two years ago about 26 months ago or 25 months ago, I watched the semifinals of Junior Wimbledon. I watched Shapovalov play Tsitsipas in the semifinals of Junior Wimbledon, and I remember watching with my son and Chris Fowler, and Patrick Mouratoglou told me about him, that he had been training at his academy since he was 14; you’ve got to watch this kid. And I sat there thinking to myself, I can’t believe this is the juniors. I can’t believe the level what I’m watching. Two years later, fast forward, it’s not surprising me at all. I think his upside is tremendous. I think that as he gets stronger, I think he can serve bigger. I think a good goal for him probably 12 months on is to cut his ranking in half, and I think that he will compete to win Slams. I think that after Zverev, he’s the best at the moment that’s 23, 24 and under, tremendous upside.
Kyrgios, like I’ve said many times, he’s got immense talent. But unfortunately he doesn’t know how to use it at the moment. You know, he’s become a bit of a prisoner to hitting tweener shots between his legs, imitating other players’ serves —
CHRISSIE EVERT: Showman.
BRAD GILBERT: He’s become too much of a showman. I think if he could get a coach that could help him and he’s going to listen to him with structure, and actually the coach is the one that’s making all of the decisions, then I think he could compete to win Slams. But he needs a trainer, he needs a coach, and then he needs the ability to let them make the decisions for him. Then if he does that, I think that his skill set is still better than probably anybody’s. So those are the questions that he’s got to learn to answer and want to do. But maybe he’s happy doing what he’s doing. I don’t know him, so I can’t give you answers that I don’t know. I haven’t seen him on the practice courts. I know that week in and week out, he seems to struggle physically. His knee is taped up, it’s his hip, it’s his arm, so he’s battling a litany of injuries, and he’s kind of become, like I said, a little bit of a prisoner to the showmanship that he does. But if you ask me about his skill set, there’s nobody, nobody 25 and under that has more skill than him athletically, the serve, the movement. He’s got it all. But he’s not putting it to the use that he could be.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Okay, so Kyrgios is — it’s frustrating to watch him. He, as Brad says, kind of brings talent to another level that we’ve never seen — that we haven’t seen, I don’t think, in the tennis world. This is a new level of talent. But you can’t change DNA. You can’t change the wiring of somebody. This change has got to come within himself. You know, he’s going to coast as long as he wants, as long as he can, but at some point I think we all who are fans of his and love his tennis are probably wanting this more than he is right now. Right now he’s happy — I don’t know if he’s happy. I don’t know if he’s happy. But he’s a complicated guy, and I wonder if — he just doesn’t want to give up a lot. He doesn’t want to give up — because you have to make sacrifices to be the best to win Grand Slams. You have to make mental and emotional sacrifices, as well as physical, which is the training, which I think he doesn’t train like the top men do, and I don’t think mentally and emotionally he’s at that level of the top players. But he’s gotten by with not having to work that hard at any of those components.
What is going to be the trigger that’s going to open his eyes to — if at all this happens, the fact that I really want to win a Grand Slam, I really want to be No. 1 or whatever. The hunger is not there. He loves tennis, he loves to play, loves to compete. All that’s there. But he doesn’t have that champion hunger yet. Will he ever get it? Will somebody get it out of him? Or will he get it out of himself? That is the thousand-dollar question.