Evert, John McEnroe Preview Wimbledon, Discuss Serena, Importance of Rivalries, Djokovic & the Big 3 (4?), Being No. 1, American Men, Murray, Barty, Konta
• ESPN’s First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Monday, July 1
ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media today, previewing Wimbledon. ESPN’s usual first ball to last ball coverage begins Monday, July 1. Here is the transcript.
Q. John, could I ask you about the American men? It’s been since Sampras in 2000 since an American man has broken through and won Wimbledon. Is there any hope that this year things could be different? Is there anyone you’re looking at that could finally have a breakthrough for American men at Wimbledon?
JOHN McENROE: I think that the odds are pretty low. Isner has been out. He finally seemed to figure out how to play on grass last year, so he’s sort of an unknown quantity. And the other guys to me, whether it’s Opelka, he’s like a younger version, Tiafoe has been struggling. There’s been some injuries. Fritz is solid, but he doesn’t look to me like there’s guys ready to go and make that move or they would make that deep run.
I think that in a couple years you’ll see some guys that will be in the top 10, but I think anyone that we talk about right now would be people that need to add more to their game and some seasoning and that belief that is obviously critical to sort of make that jump into winning Slams.
Q. Is it a failure of the American process of training players? A country of 380 million people, they can’t seem to get an American man —
JOHN McENROE: Well, obviously we only have an hour to talk about it, so it would be hard to break it down that quickly. But obviously if you look at — and we’ve been seeing this for years or decades, but our best athletes seem to be playing football and basketball more. Soccer has grown, as well, so you need to go after athletes and make it — again, tennis, if anything, is more expensive than it was before. So the accessibility is a big factor.
I think in the other countries, particularly Europe, that the tennis, the sport of tennis, is higher up on the totem pole, so the generally better athletes from those countries are playing tennis.
Now, we have good athletes. It’s that the cream of the crop, you look at Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray, these people that are some of the best athletes their country has produced. We have Tiafoe is a great athlete. He’s still learning. He made a breakthrough getting to the quarters of Australia. There’s going to be guys that are dangerous, but at the moment, the more athletes in the game because of the quickness of the game, the better chance we’ll have of making that breakthrough.
At the moment, it’s been a little bit difficult to see recently because you just — it would be so helpful for the men’s game if we had a guy that was winning, winning Slams.
Q. I also wanted to talk a little bit about the men, but not just Americans. We all know we’ve been gifted with three of the greatest men’s players of all time, but they’re well into their 30s now, and is it time that maybe we express some disappointment in the performances of the so-called generation next, a lot of hype and no majors, Nishikori, Raonic, Kyrgios, Dimitrov, and now it’s Zverev and Thiem who are younger, of course. But the big three have won 10 straight majors, I think, and the last time a relatively young player won a major, it was Cilic five years ago. Is the predictability hurting men’s tennis?
JOHN McENROE: That’s a very tough question to answer. You’re looking at most — to me the three greatest players that have ever lived, playing at the same time. They’re extremely hungry, which is an amazing quality at that age, and they’ve been — they’ve psyched out opponents, I believe.
And they’re better. You add all those things together, and sure, you could say that we’re disappointed with the fact that these guys in their sort of mid to late 20s haven’t been able to make a breakthrough, but these guys are all-time great players.
And so they sense and understand that, and they’ve gotten in — I believe, to some extent, gotten in the heads of these guys and also done more to me to add some elements to their game, which some of the other players maybe have tried to do but haven’t been as successful.
So that’s like saying do you want — no one wants to see any team or individual in any sport lose it because of injuries. You want — you say Golden State was in the finals five years in a row, or I think it’s five or six, five, and a part of you would say, wow, it’s just awesome to see a dynasty, and then there’s another part that says, hey, let’s get some other people in the mix here.
I have a lot of respect for those guys, obviously. I know to some degree what it takes to do what they’re doing, and it’s been absolutely amazing. But I am definitely one of those guys that’s like, okay, it’s time to see these next generation of people.
Now, the next generation, the younger guys like Tsitsipas and Aliassime, who are definitely I think going to win majors, and Shapovalov has shown — he’s struggling now, but there’s some guys out there, and Zverev, there’s been a lot of pressure on him, and he hasn’t been able to handle it too well in the majors, but nonetheless, you can’t count these guys — they’re 22, 21, 20, even 18. They’re almost there.
I think Tsitsipas beat Roger at Australia, but to get over there is a very tall order. If you look at Tsitsipas throughout the French, he had to play Wawrinka, who he lost like a heartbreaker, 9-7 in the fifth, to play Federer, to play Nadal, to play presumably Djokovic or Thiem, that’s an incredibly difficult feat.
This is one reason why they’re having their breakthroughs. You have to beat a couple of these guys usually in the same event. I would like to see it happen, personally.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think you can say the same thing on the women’s side, why Serena dominated — Serena is right up there with Novak, Rafa and Roger and won more than one or two Grand Slams. You can say the same thing about the women’s game. And it’s just the degree of what kind of a champion these players are, and Serena, Novak, Rafa, Roger are all — they’re all the ultimate champion.
These other players so far may win a Grand Slam or two, but they’re not up to the same intensity and hunger and consistency as these older players.
But it very well could happen because the guys that John named and then the women that are coming up, the young women, they’re still young, and you’ve got to get into the middle 20s, late 20s, and we’ll see if some of them have piled up some more Grand Slams.
But these champions are exceptional champions. They’re like exceptions to the rule.
Q. I’d like to ask you both about Serena and whether this is maybe the least confident you’ve been in a long time in her ability to contend for a title, or is her, I guess, greatness, experience, track record, both in general and specifically, at Wimbledon and on grass such that you still think she can contend even without a lot of match work? She mentioned at the end of Paris the idea of maybe taking a wildcard into a tune-up, which is not something she normally does, but she didn’t do that, and I wonder whether you think she ought to have done that.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think definitely she should have done — I think it would have helped, for sure, just so she can gauge where she is on the grass and what she needs to work on. Even if she would have lost in the second round or quarters, Serena is the type of player that learns a lot from her losses. She can make those adjustments.
I think she should have. I don’t know if she could — I don’t know if the wildcards were already taken. I’m not quite sure what happened. But it’s hard for me to bet against Serena. Look what happened last year: Two finals in Grand Slams.
The one difference that I see in Serena is since she’s come back, she’s been one or two steps slower than normal. I think that’s a little bit of fitness. I think it’s a little bit of match play. I think it’s a little bit of confidence. But on the grass, we also can’t forget that’s her best surface. That’s a surface that her game, with the power, with the free points on the serves, she’s the most effective on the grass. I have a feeling she’s been practicing hard, and I never think you can count her out.
Q. Just a quick question about rivalries. Obviously there were great rivalries in your day. We’ve been very lucky with the ones we’ve had with Roger and Rafa and Novak and Andy. Of the young guys now coming through, which of those guys do you think can actually put down some good rivalries that we can enjoy going forward?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think the guys that — Tsitsipas I think is going to be a great champion and player. He’s got everything that you could hope for. And I think that this Canadian, Aliassime, is going to be — to me he’s going to be a No. 1. And Shapovalov, he seems to have lost his confidence. Some of that’s because he’s had to play on clay a lot, and maybe some issues that I’m not totally aware of because I haven’t seen him for a while.
And there’s other guys like Zverev, he’s still — he’s pretty early on with Ivan, working with him. So you’ve got to give that a fair shake because he’s got Ivan, obviously some history with Murray and a lot of success there.
And then it depends. But yeah, of course. Listen, anytime you can push each other, we all know that these guys have gotten better because of each other, and I know that — I know I got better because I had to get better in a way, and when I didn’t get better, I fell off. But Borg, Lendl, Connors, hopefully I did the same to them. But an individual sport desperately needs that.
Q. Chrissie, you had one particularly noted rival in your career. How important is that to the fans’ appeal of the sport?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, I think that tennis has been at its best as far as spectator-wise, TV ratings-wise, which you have one of two things: You either have a great rivalry or you have a dominant player. The ratings were huge when it was Serena against the world, and Serena did not have a rival, but she was so much better than everybody else that everybody outside of tennis wanted to watch her. She transcended the sport.
Or else you have a rivalry, like John was saying. John and Bjorn or John and Jimmy or Martina and I. Definitely people love to see those head-to-head kind of warrior-type competitions.
You know, that’s why the women’s side is a little bit — I’m so happy that there’s a lot of talent and a lot of depth, but there’s just not that next Martina, Steffi, Serena. You just don’t see that yet happening.
Q. I also wanted to ask, similar to what you were just talking about, essentially some of these start really fast, like Ostapenko, and Bouchard for a while looked like she was going to be a champ, and then they really fade for years and lose their game entirely for the women’s. I’m wondering if there’s pressure that’s involved in that, too, at a certain age? And also I’d like to ask about Serena, if you could give me a percentage where Serena is now in her ability, like what level she’s playing at.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I have no idea. I mean, that’s like — that’s a guessing game. I mean, honestly, I don’t know how anybody except for Patrick and Serena could have any idea where she is right now. Who knows. Only because the lead-up — there hasn’t been a lead-up. We haven’t seen her play a tournament in a while. She’s got a lot on her plate. We don’t know the distractions, what’s going on there, how many there are. We don’t know the hunger aspect.
So I think that’s really tough. If I were to be — I mean, I’m putting all those intangibles in, the emotions and the emotional content, but again, she — when she’s on form, she’s still the best grass court player out there, and I will say that. So how far off is she on form is another question.
She was not at her best last year, and she lost in the finals. She was not at her best at the U.S. Open, and she lost in the finals. Maybe she doesn’t need to be 100 percent, but she certainly needs to be 80, 90 percent to really have a chance.
And I don’t remember what the other part of the question was. Oh, the younger players.
You know, it’s maturity. It’s maturity. Somebody like Kenin seems to have that tennis IQ, seems to have that emotional maturity out there on the court and doesn’t seem to let too much bother her. Anisimova, although her match at the French, I think she got a little flustered there, but I think she’s still mature for her age.
You know, I don’t know — I think hunger is a big part of it and kind of that hunger to win every single match and not let up and really want it badly and really need it. I don’t know if that’s good for you as a person, but I think as a competitor that’s an ingredient that you probably need to have to consistently win.
Q. Do you think Osaka was hurt by a new coach? They had won two Slams in a row —
CHRISSIE EVERT: She was doing so well, yeah. That was — it still remains a mystery exactly what happened. But I think he was great for her. He was great for her. And he taught her a lot of lessons that he learned from working with Serena, and he was front and center, front row with training Serena and he saw all of the ways that she became a champion, and I think that he parlayed that into the way that he coached Naomi.
I don’t know, and I don’t know — we’re talking about grass, we’re talking about a different surface now, and I think that’s one area that she maybe doesn’t feel completely comfortable as far as on the grass, but I think she’s got the other ingredient, which is the power and the big first serve, and I think that, again, she’s got a good shot at it, too.
Q. I just had a quick two-part question. First, the big four, they’ve won the last 16 Wimbledon titles. How do you handicap Roger, Novak, and Rafa going into this? And since the two of you were really polar opposites as champions and neither of you were physically as big and strong as some of your top rivals, can you just talk about the mentality and the psychology, how did you sustain it at No. 1 going at sort of bigger, stronger people? I’m asking in the context of Ash Barty because she’s like 5’5″ and No. 1 in the world now, and how much more stressful was it for you being No. 1 than No. 2 or No. 5 or whatever?
JOHN McENROE: Well, you look at the men, obviously the big four, are you including Murray? Is that the fourth?
Q. Right, but not Murray now because Murray was quoted as saying it’s going to be Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic, like basically nobody else can win it.
JOHN McENROE: That’s what it certainly appears. It would be highly surprising if it’s not one of those three guys at this stage. I think a lot of us want to be surprised and see who could step up, but the way things are panning out, it would be — you look at guys coming back from injury, the guys, Anderson, Isner, these guys, do they even have the fitness to go the distance at this point, at this stage of their careers, and they haven’t been playing. Raonic, guys that can do damage, but could they go all the way.
Tsitsipas, yeah, he seems ready to make a breakthrough. To me he’d almost be the most likely guy that would do it if it wasn’t one of those guys.
I still think this young Canadian — both of them are going to be great, but in particular right now, Aliassime has gone by Denis, and he’s got everything it takes, so now it still seems like he’s learning on grass how to best handle that for himself because he lost to Lopez in the semis, but there’s a lot of unbelievable signs.
As far as — what was the other part, because there was a few other parts to that.
Q. It was just neither you or Chrissie were physically as big and strong as some of the people you came up against, but your mentality, your psychology, your approach that way I felt helped you both. What does it require when you’re trying to sustain No. 1 and physically you’re going against stronger people in terms of Barty, Halep, players like that?
JOHN McENROE: I think it’s more difficult now than it’s ever been to sustain it because guys and girls hit a lot harder, and so if you’re not on it physically and mentally — mentally obviously is a place where I believe we had an edge over people, but at the same time — and Barty has got that now, and she’s got a grass court game. So right now she’s got the confidence and the belief, and that’s a big, big part of it.
To sustain it I think in any sport it’s difficult to sustain being at the top. It’s easier to sort of be hunting the person than being hunted. That is like a no-brainer. That’s why what you see from these other guys like Roger and the guys we just talked about is so amazing, that they’ve been able to continue to realize they need to keep improving and add stuff. That’s something that I wasn’t able to do nearly as well as these other guys when push came to shove.
And so there was other guys coming up that were sort of new to the game that all of a sudden the power game came into it, guys are more prepared for it now, the top guys, because it’s been around longer. But at the time when Sampras came along and Becker, it was like, oh, my God, I’ve never seen the guys hit the ball that hard. So that was an adjustment that I wasn’t, me personally, able to make well enough.
But these guys, you have to admire these guys. They’ve been able to. And consistently sort of force these guys to lift themselves up to levels that they haven’t been able to do.
And so because of that, it’s been rare that these guys have been falling off in any sort of way. Every now and then you see guys like Kyrgios beat Nadal, but he’s not shown the ability to compete nearly often enough to give that effort. And so there’s certain basic things you have to do even to have a chance. And there’s certain things you have to do to try to stay at the top.
All of those things are easier said than done. It’s not that easy to pull off. If it was that easy, more people would be doing it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that when you talked about John and I — John, if I may say, you might not have blown people off the court with power, but you had such fantastic hands and touch and feel and a big lefty serve. You relied on those strengths a lot with —
JOHN McENROE: Keep going.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, and your looks and —
JOHN McENROE: Thank you.
CHRISSIE EVERT: And the way you dressed and the girls you dated (laughing).
And I think with me, it was more like I knew — I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I knew I wasn’t going to blow anybody off the court, but I knew I could stay in every single point and concentrate and focus on every single point and not play loose points and just play consistent.
I just think your self-awareness of your game, of your strengths and weaknesses and feeling confident is a big thing, and I think most champions have that. And I think that I agree with John, I think that — I was trying to figure out, I think we had a lot of easier matches in the early rounds than this generation. And, again, you take somebody like — I’m just going to pick somebody like a younger player. Let’s say Anisimova, let’s say her or Kenin or somebody, with a Grand Slam, they’ve got to probably win five — maybe two matches will be easy, but there’s like five big matches, and they’ve got to be, like John said, 100 percent in those matches.
And the players that are more seasoned, the veterans, the ones with the experience like a Serena, Venus, they can do it because they know — they’ve done it so many times before. They know how to manage themselves in between matches.
You know, they don’t get all excited if they have a big win. If anything, they just like forget about it, put it aside, and they rest and they look forward to the next day. And I think a lot of that is a learning process with these young players. Maybe their emotions get in the way, and by the time they get to the semis or the finals, they’re exhausted. So that’s the managing of that whole thing.
And what was the last question?
Q. The last question I really wanted to ask, since you both had great footwork, what’s the best footwork you ever saw or played against?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, geez, we’re talking like 40 years. You’re asking me —
Q. People say Graf, people say Hingis, people say Borg —
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, for sure Chris Evert. Chris Evert for sure. That’s hard. I think Steffi had excellent footwork, and she got off the mark quick and she planted her feet and she went for her shots. So maybe my pick would be her.
JOHN McENROE: Mine would be Borg and Djokovic, and with Federer very close behind. And Rafa is right — I mean, it’s not a surprise that the best guys are also great at that. But Borg had great quickness. He had to. He had an unorthodox game. And Djokovic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy cover the court better. He’s taller, and that helps, but he’s got great flexibility. And if you watch him, he’s got incredible footwork and balance.
Q. Chrissie, just wanted to go back to Serena. There was a time in her career where she was so far above the competition that she could barrel her way through a Grand Slam draw even if she was having an off day. And I know you said earlier that you wouldn’t bet against her, and I’m not sure I would either, but with the combination of injuries, the time off she took to have a baby, and now she has this limited playing schedule and increased standard of women’s tennis right now, is her window of opportunity to rack up more Grand Slams — is it closed? Is it still as wide open as it was?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Good question. Well, it’s not closed and it’s not wide open as it always was. So I would say it would be — — I would say a little bit in the middle because I just have so much respect for her as a competitor and having seen her pull out matches from a set and two breaks down so many times. She has that intangible championship quality that not a lot of players have.
Again, I talk about the fitness, and I think that it’s the fitness, that one or two steps slower than at her peak, I think that everybody would have to agree that’s what was missing in the last year since she’s come back. And also the confidence.
And also John talked a lot about intimidation. I think these players go out — now, I don’t know how they’re going to go out at Wimbledon when she fires the first three aces. I don’t know if they’re going to have that same confidence. But the players kind of know that she hasn’t been the same player that she was three or four years ago after she came back last year, and maybe there is not the intimidation factor as much.
And so, I mean, I think there’s just so many — there’s so many things that may be going against Serena, and she thrives on that, and she loves that, and that’s when she comes through.
So I would say, looking at this year, if there’s any Grand Slam she’s going to win, I would have said in January, if there was any Grand Slam she was going to win, it would probably be Wimbledon, and I just think with her game, she just loves hitting the ball. She just loves that power. And if her serve is on, she’s going to be tough to beat.
JOHN McENROE: The only thing I would add is, obviously, in any sport, she’s going to be 38, and she’s had a baby, so this is — how does your body react to that is the obvious question. To me the fact that the women still play two out of three is a big help for her. And like Chrissie said, Wimbledon, things happen faster. She hasn’t served as big, as consistently as she had in the past, but I would suspect that after the French, she went back and worked on her serve even more to make sure that that’s the weapon that it’s been, and that way she can be more freed up to do more on the return and other parts of her game.
As long as she’s playing, she’s going to be a threat to win anything. But it’s just now there’s more things that can go wrong, I suppose, like more days where she might not have it and other days where players won’t give in as easily. So that just makes it more difficult.
But that means that if you had to pick five players that you thought, okay, who’s going to win it this year, you’d still put her in there. You might put her in there even down to four players.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, yeah, top three. I wouldn’t even name — yeah, top three for sure.
JOHN McENROE: So she’s got that going for her. But of course as you get older, at least for me, I felt there was more pressure because you realize that your window is closing and you don’t know how much longer you’re going to be doing it. So you end up feeling like, oh, I’d better do it now. And I don’t know what she’s thinking. But I’m thinking she can’t be thinking, I’m going to be playing much more than a year or two.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I have to add, it’s so hard — the prediction is so hard because, again, we haven’t seen her play, and we haven’t seen her practice, and we don’t know what her frame of mind is. So, I mean, if you don’t know those three things, you don’t know anything except her past, which has been always — she’s always been a champion.
Q. With Naomi Osaka, what do you think has been at the root cause of her struggles since the Australian Open?
JOHN McENROE: I’ll just briefly — I’d say, to me, I think what Chrissie alluded to earlier about this coaching change, so there’s this added scrutiny that probably I’m assuming she wouldn’t have wanted because it did seem rather weird that she won two in a row and then she gets rid of her coach. So obviously there was things that were rubbing her the wrong way, whether he was taking too much of the spotlight or saying things that she maybe deep down disagreed with.
Athletes are usually pretty superstitious, so normally you would wait until something not so good happened. So the added scrutiny of that along with the expectation, all of a sudden she’s won two straight, and it’s like, well, maybe she could win the Grand Slam. I would guess it got to be a little overwhelming for her. So she hasn’t been able to — it appears, been able to play with that same type of intensity, the effort level. The pressure has gotten to her a little bit.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I mean, everybody is gunning for her. She’s got a target on her back right now. Up until this week she was No. 1 in the world.
I think that Naomi had no distractions before last year, no distractions. She’d just play her tennis, and I think now she’s a global star, and I think she’s been getting a lot of endorsements and making some appearances and just has — you just have to be careful to balance that the right way and not — I’m not saying that she hasn’t, but just to be aware that that could also affect the focus on every single match, every single point.
I don’t think it’s anything game-wise necessarily. You know, I don’t think it’s anything — and I think also the fact that grass and clay are not her best surfaces. She needs good footing. She’s like Azarenka, she needs solid footing so she can plant her feet and unload that power. She still is trying to find that at a young age, trying to find the stability on those two more difficult surfaces.
Q. When you each became No. 1, what changed for you on the court? Was the added expectation really something real that might be affecting her now?
JOHN McENROE: I think there’s no question, yeah, absolutely. I mean, you put more pressure on yourself. People expect more. You want more. But people are, like Chrissie said, gunning for you. It’s a bigger deal to beat the No. 1 player.
For some reason, people look at 1 and the 2 or 3, even, are down a bit quite a bit differently. So that’s something that I learned when I took the ranking from Borg, I didn’t realize there was such a great difference in the way people looked at you and the way you were viewed and what you had to deal with. So that’s something that can be overwhelming.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, you feel it. You feel it. But I think it’s how you — when you walk out on the court, I don’t know if I just talked myself into it, but I used to feel like, okay — I used to feel more alert being No. 1 because I knew everybody was after me, and that would probably be the biggest win of their career, because to beat a No. 1 player is always the biggest win. So I was always alert to it.
And also when I walked out on the court, I had a positive outlook. Instead of thinking — being nervous about it, I thought to myself that they might be a little intimidated. I’m No. 1, I’ve deserved it, I’ve had the best record, I’m playing well, and maybe they’re going to be the ones that are intimidated, and I felt like at times that gave me a little edge.
So I think it’s how you approach being No. 1, and I think different players approach it differently.
Q. Do you think Nishikori’s window is closed, and does there become a certain point where the coaching relationship reaches an end? He’s been with Chang for a long time.
JOHN McENROE: No, he hasn’t been with him that long. He’s been with his other coach longer than he’s been with Chang, and I think Chang has been good for him. I think he brings that fight that he needs. And the problem is that he’s just physically — it’s like a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Size-wise he’s not just there with the other players, so when he gets stuck into some of these matches that he has to play into a fifth set, he’s got a tremendous five-set record, but that takes its toll on him. And it seems like if you have to play some tough matches leading up to the ones that are really tough, like Nadal on clay or Nadal — I think he played him down in Australia, too, or Djokovic, I think he just ran out of gas. He didn’t have anything left in the tank. I think you have to sort of be able to overcome that, which is very difficult to do mentally, to say, look, I’ve still got to battle.
And generally I think he’s become a better player, no question, with Michael being around, but there’s just a point where he hits a wall, and that will, that’s where it’s hard to keep that going.
So I think considering what he’s had his career and what he’s been up against, I think he’s had a great career. He’s been in the top 10. He reached the finals of an Open. I mean, that was his chance, I think, to — Cilic, for both those guys, to not have to play another guy, when he beat Djokovic in that heat that time. It’s the obstacles. It’s so difficult to envision beating one, two, three of these guys, so that opportunity was an incredible — but even there, if you look at his results there, he played some really tough matches. He played Raonic, I believe, very late into the night, and he had some very tough — that heat that he played Djokovic in.
I think he’s done about as well as he could have done.
Q. For both of you, Novak came out of a real clay court background, and yet now he’s a superb grass court player, pretty much as good as he is on hard courts. Are you guys surprised by that, and what do you think are the great elements that have made him such a terrific grass court player?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think he’s benefitted by the fact that the grass courts are much more similar to the other courts now. It’s a different game. The bounce is much better. I think it’s better, but you don’t see him serving and volleying. It’s not as if he’s altered his game. He’s more or less playing the same way he plays on the other surfaces.
So if you throw in the fact that the courts have slowed down, if you asked all these players, the ball sits up more. He’s an incredible athlete, so he’s going to adjust anywhere. The guy is an amazing athlete. He’s like a human backboard.
So he understands that he can use what he does best, and then he’s added to it. He’s been able to finish points when he’s needed to. His serve is solid. All this stuff is something that — I still think hard courts is his best surface, and I think clay and grass — arguably maybe just patience-wise he’s better off playing on grass because he doesn’t get into as many deep rallies as he does on clay, even though obviously he’s great on clay, too. But I would say grass would be his second best now and clay would be third.
But he’s very close — there’s not a big difference in any of them compared to — he brings the bar high to begin with. So that alone wins him most of his matches wherever he plays, and then there’s the occasion, whether he has a bad day, someone has a great day, et cetera, that — the Nadal match last year, fantastic match, no question about it, and he just — he’s so consistent. That’s really what it is.
And the courts — in some ways, you could argue grass is slower than clay at times, the way these balls were flying and the balls kick up much higher on the clay. It may suit him even better that the ball stays true and low and not that high. It helps him against like Nadal and some other players.
And listen, he’s got the greatest return in the history of the game. So the fact that now you’ve got more looks at returns is — saves him when he has to play the Andersons of the world or the huge servers that maybe in the past could more have easily blown someone off the court.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think John said it best in the last thing, the return serve. I mean, I think he has the best return serve, and that you can almost say as almost as important if not as important as the serve. He can break. He can break serve.
I think that — I feel similar in style to Djokovic in the sense of — with my game, it forced me to play more aggressive, and I think it forces Novak to play more aggressive, to get bigger first serves in, to be more alert. He’s incorporated that slice backhand very well. I think that’s one shot he’s improved and he’s coming in on that shot. But I think, as John said, it plays like a hard court. Grass courts play like a hard court. They don’t play like they did in the ’70s, that’s for sure. And because of that, he doesn’t have to make many adjustments, but I think he can play even better because I think he still forces himself in his mind to be more aggressive, to be more alert and to make more chances and to take more opportunities. And I think that only enhances his game. It doesn’t take away anything.
Q. John, having played Borg on grass so often and had such great matches, what would the prospect of playing Djokovic — what does that make you think, react automatically? What do you think?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I mean, the idea of playing someone that great is exciting because it’s — it forces you to feel like you’ve got to go out and do your thing the best that you can possibly do it, and even then you don’t know what’s going to happen. But that’s the ultimate test.
Even though these courts, the bounces are truer, I would prefer to play on these courts now, even if guys are staying back more, and maybe it would be more difficult to serve and volley, especially the way guys return now.
But that would be the ultimate test. I don’t know if I’d want to go so far as wanting to play Nadal on clay, Roger on grass, Rafa on clay and Novak on hard courts. All of them can be almost as difficult on the other surfaces but to a slightly lesser degree. But either way, that would be like — sort of you’re like, okay, if I played them 10 times, each of them in their best, you’d think, okay, I think I could give them a run for their money a couple times, like two, three times. I think I would lose most of the time. But I’d feel like I could be in there and maybe get a couple wins here and there. I could at least make them think a little bit.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think in the ’70s, though, you’d serve him wide on that backhand side. They’ve never seen a serve like that because Nadal doesn’t have a serve like you did.
JOHN McENROE: Obviously the courts now, they wouldn’t be playing like this. Even though I never would have expected seeing guys serving and staying back the way they are, in certain ways I enjoy it more because you see more rallies, not just — it’s like Sampras, Ivanisevic. It’s like wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
So that’s helped, but now it’s almost gone too far the other way. I’m like, oh, my God, these guys go in like 5 percent of the time, 10 percent of the time. It’s amazing.
Q. I’ve often wondered because the racquets are getting so powerful, is there any chance if they go back to wood rackets —
JOHN McENROE: No.
Q. — so that we could see real tennis?
JOHN McENROE: No.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You can’t go back.
JOHN McENROE: That’s what’s known as a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen. The cat was out of the bag way, way too long ago.
Q. Sad but true.
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s for sure.
JOHN McENROE: Imagine how little they’d look in Isner’s hands and these big guys? They’d look like toothpicks. They wouldn’t serve as big, though, that’s for sure. It would be tempting.
CHRISSIE EVERT: No, that would be for sure.
Q. Who do you think feels like has chance to see go deep in the tournament? And obviously Canada tennis progression maybe over the last year.
JOHN McENROE: Well, who would have thought that the best prospects would be Canadians? We’re like looking with egg on our faces in America because you’ve got Shapovalov and Aliassime, Andreescu won Indian Wells. I know she’s having shoulder problems. But there’s this incredible run that’s taking place. Milos came through and got to the finals. It’s like a great time for tennis in Canada. There’s no question. I mean, these guys are going to be — Aliassime, he’d be No. 1 in the world.
As far as how he could do, these guys come along once every five, ten years, like a Becker type, a Nadal type.
I think that he’s got as good a chance as anyone at making a deep run of the young guys. No question about it. Him and Tsitsipas to me would be the two favorites to make a deep run at this point. Now, winning it is a different story.
Q. No, obviously. You said physically he looks like 25. How do you think about the mature side because he’s only 18, but he seems to be very ready. He seems to take his place on the Tour and there doesn’t seem to be any intimidation.
JOHN McENROE: I think he’s going to be a No. 1 player in the world. That’s what I think. I think that’s a pretty good indication of how I think about his — not only the physical part but the mental part.
It’s great to see someone at that age able to sort of handle it right now and seem like it’s no sweat. We’ll see what happens the next couple of years, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he won something in the next couple of years, a major.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I agree. I think he’s got it all. He’s got it all, and he’s got that composure that you don’t see. He doesn’t get flustered on the court. He is very mature.
I’m disappointed, Bianca and the injuries. She withdrew, right, from Wimbledon? She’s not playing Wimbledon?
Q. No, she’s not. She’s out.
CHRISSIE EVERT: She’s out, right? That brings up — it kind of brings up those decisions on your tournament schedule, too, and not overplaying. I hope she gets better. She was really exciting to watch that whole tournament, and I hope it doesn’t — she doesn’t have to get surgery. I hope it’s not that bad. But it seems like it keeps lingering on, so I wish — I think we all wish her the best.
Q. Obviously looking at Andy Murray’s remarkable return in the doubles at Queen’s Club, what would you give him right now, the chances of ever winning another singles Grand Slam again? And do you have any sort of story today that Rafa Nadal was sort of slightly unhappy that the seedings make him No. 3? Because obviously that could open things up a little bit for the other half of the draw depending how it pans out with Djokovic and Federer?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it would be hard for him to really complain too much about Federer going ahead of him, considering what his record is at Wimbledon. But it could — it makes it where potentially he’d have to — he’d still potentially have to play two of them. Maybe if he was seeded 2 and Federer was on the other half, he’d only have to play one of them is what he’s thinking. So I get it, from both sides.
And Murray, listen, everyone wants him — he looked like — he talked about being pain-free. Doubles is obviously a completely different animal than singles. Best of five is totally different than best of three with a third-set tiebreaker. But it was nice to see him sort of eager and into it and looking like he was — like relatively healthy. You can’t really determine it until he starts playing singles matches and how the body reacts if you’re on a hard court, for example, as opposed to grass.
It looked very promising, which is great, but he also will — and I think everyone wants him to be able to come back and then be able to leave and retire on his own terms.
It looked like — I didn’t see like — he’s covering half the court, he’s not moving the same way, but all things considered, I was extremely — I think everyone was extremely happy to see that he was making some real progress.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Although, I’m watching a match right now at Eastbourne — anybody watching that match? He’s down —
JOHN McENROE: He should have pulled out is what he should have done because he played more matches than he expected, and he won it, and let it just sit there and then play Wimbledon. But you get stuck, and he found a commitment. But I’m sure there’s a letdown physically and mentally, so I wish he hadn’t played, but it’s easy to be the backseat driver.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Plus I think the fact that his arm felt sore and his hips felt sore from the bending and I’m not sure he should have played. But, yeah, I think he’s looking for a mixed doubles partner and he’s looking for a doubles — to see that smile on his face playing doubles, that’s enough for me right now.
I just think it’s baby steps. You’ve got to start from the bottom. He’s done great so far in the last week, so you know, I think let’s not rush things.
Q. What do you think of his chances of winning a mixed doubles at Wimbledon? What are the prospects that he could be lifting silverware? How would that be for the fans’ emotional side of it if he were to be victorious in two weeks’ time?
JOHN McENROE: I forgot who he was playing with. He’s playing with Herbert. I think he’s got a chance to win it. He could win it. He could also lose first round. That’s the bottom line. But would it be — it would be a great story if he won it, and it would be — I don’t think you’re going to be able to determine whether or not he’s going to come back in singles or how high his ranking will be in singles, but doubles is a great way to sort of get things going.
I’m glad he’s doing it and feeling it out right now, and we’ll see what happens. But there’s no question the way he plays and returns and he’s into it, like competitive-wise, he could go all the way potentially.
And then again, it’s just totally unpredictable.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Does he have a mixed doubles partner yet?
JOHN McENROE: Not that I’m aware of.
Q. He’s deciding tomorrow. He’s going to announce tomorrow who his partner was. Serena was being linked to him, Serena or Venus potentially.
JOHN McENROE: He might as well go for that.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I know Serena wants to concentrate on her singles, but I hope if he got a good woman partner, I think — he’d have a great chance.
JOHN McENROE: Give Barty a call.
Q. On Johanna Konta, does she have the mental resilience to become a Grand Slam champion, she’s lost in three semifinals, hasn’t won a set yet. And as we saw in the French Open, she was outdone by a teenager who then suffered stage fright in the finals. Do you think Konta’s got it between the ears?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, you guys are brutal, God. Geez. No wonder the English are tough. You’ve got to stop putting pressure on your players, okay. I think the press has a lot to do with the fact, why the British players haven’t done better. I really have to say that. And I think you guys gotta — just be careful.
You know, I think Johanna, the thing is, I was calling a match at the French, and she could have won the tournament the way she played, and then I see her play a match where she could have lost to almost anybody. I think she’s still a work in progress with the mental side of the game, but I think she’s working really hard at it. And I think she works — she’s one of the hardest workers on the court, physically in her fitness. And just the way she’s wired, she just has to work a little bit more on taking the emotion out of the game and just being fully focused.
You know, it’s been a struggle for her in the past, but we’ve also seen her play some unbelievable matches. I never would count anybody out, and I never — I always give people a chance, and I think — I’m not going to say, no, she’s never win a Grand Slam. I’m going to say that she’s got — well, she’s got a shot, yeah, I will say that.
Q. Obviously we have Ash Barty as the new No. 1. What are her thoughts on her chances here at Wimbledon, and are there other women you have your eye on right now?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know what, she’s got a great grass court game. I think she loves the grass. I think it’s interesting that her parents were scheduled to come over for the grass court season, not for the clay court season. Look what happened.
I think it would be — it would be like a herculean effort if she won Wimbledon, to have won the French, to have won the warmup tournament — and what was the tournament she won? Sorry.
Q. Birmingham, I think —
CHRISSIE EVERT: Birmingham, and then when she won that, she became No. 1. At some point it’s got to be overwhelming, and she’s a human being. At some point. So that’s what I’m saying, it would be — I mean, it would be so impressive if she won Wimbledon. She has the game. She has the athleticism, the variety. I just kind of wonder when the tank is going to start to get a little bit empty, both physically and emotionally. So it’s going to be tough.
I mean, the more tournaments she wins, it’s going to get tougher and tougher because at some point you have to have a letdown after these big wins.
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