Evert, John McEnroe Preview Australian Open

Tennis

Evert, John McEnroe Preview Australian Open

  • Topics: Air Quality, Serena and Djokovic as Favorites, Battle of Old Guard vs. Next Gen among Men
  • ESPN’s First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Sunday, Jan. 19

ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media today, previewing the Australian Open and discussing issues in the sport.  ESPN’s usual exhaustive coverage – from first ball to last ball – begins Sunday, Jan 19.  Here is the transcript.

Q- Obviously the story that’s dominated the qualifiers right now has been the air condition due to the fires. I’m curious if you feel like tournament organizers need to be doing more to protect players. In addition to a heat policy, does there need to be an air quality policy?

JOHN McENROE: Well, I think there is an air quality policy. I actually did a radio show with my brother, ESPN, the Stephen A. Smith show, and we had Craig Tiley on, the tournament director who runs things down there, and he never thought they’d have to see the day, but that’s exactly what’s happening. I don’t know, I’m reading what you’re reading in the qualifying that some players were coughing and one of them had to stop, and they stopped play for a bit, and that’s going to be an ongoing issue, actually.

This is a terrible situation down there, and I firmly believe they’re worried about the fans and the players, but it would be extremely difficult to envision, at least to me at this point, that they’re going to not play or move the dates. That’s way too difficult it would appear. But I suppose anything could happen.

But at the moment, I think that at least what Craig Tiley told us last week, that the conditions there generally around the tournament when it starts are going to be pretty — more favorable than they had been a few weeks ago. So I’m hopeful that that was just a temporary blip yesterday. But that’s clearly an ongoing issue.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I think that the bigger cities probably aren’t as affected as much with the air, but when I turn on the TV and I heard that Genie Bouchard had been coughing and she was complaining, and I don’t know who the player was that pulled out, and they need to have some sort of measure, not only with the heat but about the air, because it is a health issue, and especially when it gets on to three out of five sets and you’re out there for a long time. You want to be able to breathe some clean air.

I think that they really have to keep a close eye on it. You know, it’s really devastating what’s happening, and I guess I’m thinking of the whole country and all the animals and all the people that are affected. The tournament seems to be such a small sort of thing compared to what’s happening in the country, but I would put the players’ health first for sure, and even if they had to play at a different time. It doesn’t matter. It’s really — we’re talking about lives.

Q. If we could stick with that same topic at least one more round, I’m wondering whether for the ATP council or the WTA, do either of you or both of you have an opinion on to what extent players’ concerns on health-related issues and this particular air quality issues are being heeded, and is that the appropriate level in your view?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, I have to say I haven’t — I probably should have done my homework a little bit more and talked to Micky Lawler or Steve, and I haven’t. But I do know the WTA, the players, they have a huge voice, and I think if there was a problem, they would all get together and go to the WTA and say, this is unacceptable, and that’s what player unions are based on and built for, and I think if that would happen — that would have to be the thing that would happen to sort of postpone play at this point. It’s not going to be one or two players complaining, it’s going to have to be WTA getting together and saying — with saying this, look, the sun could be out and the air could be great from here on in. I’m not sure about wearing my broadcaster hat about whether the weather is going to be bad because I think unfortunately with the wind I think you have to take it day by day. But yeah, I think the ATP and the WTA would have to get together and voice their opinion if the air does continue to be poor.

Q. John, any thoughts on the muscle of the ATP or the megaphone they have on health-related issues?
JOHN McENROE: Well, as you can imagine, I don’t think anyone has an easy answer, whether it’s the players or the tournament organizers or the government of Australia. So this is something that hasn’t been experienced. Listen, they have fires all the time in Australia. That’s an issue. But this is the worst it’s ever been. And there’s still a couple more months in their summer. So this is something that’s sort of unprecedented that we’re talking about this for the first couple questions on the conference call. So that obviously makes you realize how big an issue it is.

But I’m sure people, players included, and I can’t speak from having spoken to these players because I haven’t, scrambling to figure out what is best for everybody. Players are obviously extremely excited when they go play a major event, the first one of the year, down in Australia to start the year. Everyone is excited and everyone is concerned. So I think everyone is trying to figure out what to do here.

Q. I was going to ask you about Jannik Sinner. He’s the Italian 18 year old, youngest player in the top 80 since Rafa Nadal, winner of the Next Gen Finals in Milan. Some people have likened him to Roger Federer, and I wonder what do you make of his progress in 2019, and how far do you think he could go in his career? What is his potential?
JOHN McENROE: Well, his potential is to win numerous Grand Slams. He’s one of the most talented kids I’ve seen in 10 years. He’s only 18, but he’s got some pretty good size already, looks like he has a great head on his shoulders, and has an unbelievable upside.

Of course he’s going to have to deal with the fact that now all of a sudden he’s going to be hunted a little bit himself and people are going to dig in a little bit more and not want to lose to an 18 year old. So he’s going to have that to contend with. But I suspect in a few years you’re going to see him in the top 10 of the game. Give him two or three years for sure, I believe.

Q. John, what is it about his game that makes you say this sort of thing? You don’t say it about a lot of young players, so he must be kind of special.
JOHN McENROE: There’s just a combination of things. He seems to be mature beyond his years, but he also physically seems — he’s getting where he can — and I don’t know this yet about the best of five. We’ll see how he’s going to be able to handle that. But he looks to be physically very gifted. I’d heard about him because I know Ricardo Piatti, and he’s been telling me about him for a couple of years, so I’ve been — along with many other tennis fans and tennis players have been watching him from a distance and understanding that this guy is a rare talent.

So it all maybe came together slightly quicker or he’s moving quicker than some people thought, but he’s got it all. And now of course the more versatile you are, the better chances you have of going deep and winning and being able to — I don’t know how comfortable he is at net yet, how good he is as far as taking short balls, et cetera. This remains to be seen. But everything I’ve seen would lead me to believe that potentially he could go and become one of the best players in the world for sure.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I’ve watched him play, also, and I think the composure that he has and the mental — the mentality that he has, like John said, the maturity that he has, has really propelled him at this point, and he plays like he belongs on the big stage, and he doesn’t seem intimidated by pressure. He doesn’t have any fear. You know, he’s just very attune to what his goals are. I love the demeanor that he has on the court, aside from his game. And I saw that with Roger Federer and Nadal, too, at a young age, with the current champions, and I see a familiarity there.

Q. With Rafa going for the record to tie Roger, and they’ve won the last 12 Slams in a row, they’ve dominated this tournament. What do you see for Novak, Roger, Rafa at this tournament, and following up on what you said at the top of the call, do you think that someday we’ll ever eventually see an indoor Grand Slam?
JOHN McENROE: Well, to answer the second part first, if you had been around me at all, I always thought that would be a tremendous addition to the sport, to have one that was indoors. We didn’t want to necessitate it by poor air conditions, but when you were playing in my day we were playing indoors virtually from October through the better part of April into early May, so it made no sense to me to go in and out. But of course we go from clay to hard and et cetera, different surfaces and changing balls and conditions, so it’s not something that’s totally unprecedented, but it seemed like that could be an opportunity that we haven’t utilized. But maybe — that just hasn’t happened. I still think it would be a good thing for the game.

And the first part of your question, it’s still — I think obviously these guys, Roger is 38, he’ll be 39 this year, Rafa and Novak, if they’re healthy, especially in best of five, they’re extremely difficult to beat, any of these guys. To me I would still look at Novak, but he’s won seven of them, so at some point you think, okay — or maybe it’s just like he’s going to win the same way Rafa wins the French.

Medvedev to me is the guy that has the best chance of winning it right now. I think it’s closer than ever, obviously, that these young guys are going to make a breakthrough, but you’ve got to tip your hat to the three guys.

Roger, I’m sure if he could win one more, he’d be thrilled. How much longer can he play at almost 38 and a half? This year, maybe possibly one more year? So he’s thinking — I’m assuming he’s thinking his best chance is at Wimbledon, but he’s won Australia two or three of the last four years, so it’s not like he’s not comfortable down there.

You’ve still got to put those guys ahead of the other guys. They just know how to get it done. I feel like Tsitsipas made that mini breakthrough. He took a step back in the rest of the majors. He’s pretty well positioned, although I don’t know if he quite believes, but I think physically he could handle the rigors of a Slam, and Medvedev showed a gear that we haven’t seen at the Open. There’s other guys moving ahead and getting there, but it would be hard not to pick one of the top guys still.

Q. Chrissie, do you have any thoughts on that?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, I didn’t know if you wanted me to weigh in on that last one. I think Novak is looking — I don’t know, he’s just looking better than anybody right now. But I think that something thrilling, there’s like an undercurrent of Medvedev and Tsitsipas, we’ve talked about him, Stan Wawrinka. There’s just a lot of talent there, Berrettini, Zverev, Thiem. I think it’s going to happen. I think this year that they will break through and one of them will win a Grand Slam. I don’t know if it’s going to be this tournament, but Novak is looking pretty comfortable at the top.

As far as Serena, it’s really good that she played that tournament, because a lot of times she comes into Grand Slams not really prepared and she thinks she can — she figures she can play her way into a tournament, so it was very smart of her, I think, to play that warm-up tournament, and she looked good. She still doesn’t look 100 percent, but she doesn’t need to be 100 percent to win. As long as that serve is working and she’s moving well, those are the two things that have to be working for Serena to win.

But you know, once again, every year there’s more and more competition for her, and Barty has certainly come on strong this year. Pliskova, I scratch my head as to why she hasn’t won a Grand Slam. I think this could be the year that she will win one. Naomi looks great, too, in the few warm-up tournaments that she’s played. She’s looked sharp. It’s a shame Andreescu is not playing because I think she would have been right up there with everybody else.

But I think Serena, she certainly looks hungry, and I think she’s got a little momentum going into the Australian Open, and it would probably be the least pressure, this Grand Slam, to win for her. I think every other tournament, the French Open, the clay isn’t her best surface. Wimbledon is a lot of pressure, US Open is a lot of pressure, and this one, the first one of the year; it’s a happy Slam. I think if she just takes a little bit of pressure off herself and she can just play her brand of tennis, I think she’s got a good shot at winning it.

Q. Just a quick question on Canadians and the Australian Open. How do you see Felix Auger and Shapovalov doing? And also a second part, do you think Eugenie Bouchard can climb back in the top 70, top 80, something like that?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Really, really happy to see Genie Bouchard doing well, and she actually was practicing at my academy for about a month this fall, and I firsthand would just go there and watch her, and she’s definitely put in the work. She was very focused in her practices. She was playing matches. She was doing work in the gym. You know, she just — the conversations we had, she really was willing — she wanted to give it another try.

And so the results have shown that she has worked hard, and I’m really happy to see that. Her shot tolerance has been where she’s getting balls into the court, not trying to go for a winner on the second shot. She has improved overall, I think, having the new coach. I think that’s really — he’s really, really good for her. And just, you know, really happy to see her doing well.

It’s a baby step thing, though. It’s not all of a sudden she’s going to get to the semis of the Australian. I think she needs to be patient with herself, but the more confidence — I think she’s just lost so much confidence over the past few years, and the more matches she can win, the more confidence she can get. She’s a super confidence player, and that’s when she can go for her shots and keep them in the court. It’s great that she’s stuck in the game as long as she has, because she’s just had a lot of misfortunes, and I’d go on, and I think a lot of the tennis fans are happy she’s playing well.

JOHN McENROE: As far as the two guys you mentioned — they’re kids, actually. What am I saying? I think both of them are going to win multiple Grand Slams before it’s all said and done. The question is I don’t know if they’re quite ready quite at this particular moment to win Australia, but I think their tennis has made some progress. I think the Youzhny hire was a good one, and obviously Felix had a breakthrough year, and there’s going to be more pressure and expectation, obviously, but I think both those guys are top-10, top-5 talents not that long down the road. I can’t wait to see how they develop. I don’t think it’s going to happen this actual event, but we will see.

Q. I’m curious to hear how you rank the 25-and-unders on the women’s tour. I’m thinking Barty, Osaka, Bencic, some young Americans. How do you rank them at this tournament and going forward the next few years?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Barty of all the players, she’s surprised me the most because I always knew she had the all-court game. But I think that turning point in her career came at the French Open when she was down a set in 3-love against Amanda Anisimova, and she pulled it out. Mentally I think she turned the corner, and I think she believes now that she can win anything.  Barty, you’d have to put her right up there.

Osaka, you know, again, I love the way she plays, and I think when I watched her — I watched her in the matches that she played, the lead-up tournaments, she’s still moving really well. That’s the one area that she’s really improved, her moving. She’s still hitting the ball well. I think she could definitely win this tournament or win any Grand Slam this year.

I’m a little worried about Andreescu because of the injury situation. She just seems to be getting a lot of injuries, and every year she’s out for three months or four months or whatever, and I think she’s such an athletic player, and she just leaves it all out there, and she just throws her whole body into every shot, and therefore I think that’s paying the price a little bit with her injuries. But boy, if she’s healthy, she’s really dangerous.

Who else are we talking about, Kenin? Kenin is looking good. A little disappointed in Sloane Stevens. I don’t know what’s up there, but she can just turn the switch, she can lose to anybody in the top 100 but she can also beat anybody in the top 10. We’d like to see her get her game back.

And then you’ve got Jen Brady, who’s playing really well, Danielle Collins. There’s a lot of players. Look at Keys. You’d have to say Madison Keys the way she played has to be a dark horse at the Australian Open. You have to give her a little thumbs up for the way she played. She’s going to be dangerous in the draw.

Yastremska. There’s a lot of young players that are up-and-coming.

Q. What about Coco and Anisimova? Can they make runs at this event?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, Amanda, I think it’s going to take Amanda a little more time. She really hasn’t played that much. She’s looked impressive, but then against Serena she didn’t look impressive at all. She wasn’t moving well. So I think she has a future, no doubt about it, but I think she needs some more time, more competition, some more time on the court. And with what she’s gone through, I think that’s going to take a little bit of time for her to be 100 percent focused.

And Coco Gauff, it goes without saying, she’s great. Anybody who doesn’t think she’s going to win a Grand Slam has to have their head examined. Again, she’s got it all, and she’s got the power and she moves so beautifully, and she’s going to cause some upsets for sure this tournament, the Australian Open, I predict.

Q. In that large group, who do you think will end up having the best career?
CHRISSIE EVERT: The best career or the best — the best career, like at the end of their career?

Q. Yeah, most Grand Slams, most reaches to No. 1.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Good question. I’m looking at Naomi Osaka’s name right here. I think Naomi. But I don’t know. That’s a leading question. I mean, some of these — you could get married, have kids, you could get burned out. That’s a tough question. But I think Naomi as far as she hasn’t been — she’s been pretty injury-free and she’s, I think, been pretty hungry because she didn’t come from — I don’t think she came from nothing, but I think she — every victory means a lot to her, and I think she’s very inspired to play for a long period of time.

Q. John, you’re considered one of the greatest tennis players during your time. Nowadays young players are showing some aggressive temperament. Do you think this is good for the game?
JOHN McENROE: You’re asking the wrong person. Why would I think that’s bad for the game, to show emotion, wear them on your sleeve? I made my career out of that. So I think you know the answer to that before you even asked.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m going to interject. I’m going to just say something right now. I was talking to somebody the other day about social media — we were talking about how Roger, Nadal, Djokovic, the top three, how big they are, and I said to somebody, I said, you know with social media and the difference in the press nowadays, in my era there was Wilander, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, and those three would have been much bigger than these three because of personality and because of charisma and because of, yeah, at times, tempers. But they would have been rock stars and rock idols in this day and age.

You know, the sport has gotten so gentlemanly, and whether that’s good or bad, I was like that, but I love — I love both. I love a little excitement. I love charisma. On the other side, I appreciate focus and concentration, also. But you’ve got to have a little bit of everything to make the sport entertaining or else people will not be watching it.

JOHN McENROE: I think what Medvedev did, that that’s one of the gutsiest things that I’ve seen, when he was embracing they keep booing me and that type of stuff. That took a lot of cojones, as they say.

Q. Chris, you played both singles and doubles for several years, but nowadays we have seen better players who play singles don’t prefer to play in doubles. What do you think is the main reason for this?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I think there’s so much depth in the women’s game, and from the first match on, you’re getting three-set matches and you’re really taxing your body, and I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of the top players don’t play doubles. But you’re right, in our day, and John did the same thing. In our day — John, right? We played doubles, mixed and singles at Wimbledon —

JOHN McENROE: Once or twice mixed, yeah.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I won’t get carried away there. But you were one of the ones who played doubles, and I played doubles, as well. I felt like — nothing against my era, but until the quarterfinals I had easy matches because again, there wasn’t the depth in women’s tennis. So instead of practicing I would play doubles also, and I’d get those extra matches in, get practice on my serve. In doubles, you know, maybe you had — I don’t know if it was a little more important, but it was definitely fun back in those days, and it was definitely more relaxed back in those days.

Now I think it’s just the thing that the top singles players really want to save themselves. Although lately, I’ve seen some doubles being played. Well, you know, Serena and Wozniacki played, Bencic plays. I don’t know if Barty — does Barty play? Yeah, Barty has been playing doubles. I would say half of the top women still do play doubles. You know, I think they want to sharpen up their game.

Q. My question is Nadal clearly seems to have a hard court problem against his two biggest rivals, Federer and Djokovic. He hasn’t beaten either of them on the hard court since January of 2014 when he beat Federer in the Australian Open semifinals. He’s lost nine straight times on hard courts against Djokovic, with each of those losses coming in straight sets, and I think against Federer his last three meetings on hard courts he’s lost to him in straight sets. I know he’s someone who doesn’t like making drastic changes when things aren’t going his way, but if either of you were on his coaching staff, what would your advice to him be?
JOHN McENROE: I think he’s getting great advice. He’s tried to shorten points. He’s tried to be more explosive. He’s tried to get a little more on his serve. He’s tried to move forward more. He’s changed his position when he returns, mixes that up. So he’s doing everything he possibly can. I think adding Moya was a great addition. It’s helped him hear something different than his uncle, even though his uncle did a great job. He’s doing absolutely everything he can. I mean, Djokovic is arguably the greatest hard court player in the history of tennis. To me you’re looking at the three best players that ever played, with Rafa and Roger.

So the surface suits him just the way if Nadal plays Novak on clay, it heavily favors Rafa, or certainly favors him. Maybe not as dominating as the way it’s been recently, but I think you saw that when they both — when they bring their A games on hard courts, especially last year, I don’t see Rafa beating Novak if Novak is playing his best. I don’t see anyone beating Novak if he plays even close to that level. If he’s in the right space mentally, physically, he’s clearly the big favorite to win this.

But I do think that Rafa is trying to do everything he can. It’s just a lot more difficult than — it’s extremely difficult to be able to succeed against a guy who has the answers to everything you’re trying to do.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I’ll agree with John. I don’t think there isn’t anything that Rafa hasn’t tried. I think he’s tried everything, and he’s throwing the kitchen sink at Djokovic and it’s still not working, and you have to admire him for a few years back he did obviously shorten his swing. It was obvious that he is coming into the net more. I just think his instinct is to stay back in the baseline, to wind up, have that big swing and to just crush the ball with spin, and you can’t do that on a fast court like a hard court. And plus the fact that Novak doesn’t hit with a lot of top spin. He hits the ball pretty flat, and that’s just going to help him even more.

So kudos to Nadal for making those adjustments and tweaking everything in his game, but Novak is just a machine. He’s just a machine out there, and it’s — in saying that, I think has he lost like the last nine matches to Novak. Is that true? Did I read that?

And I’m sure that Novak is still trying to figure out how to beat him on clay. Like John said, it’s a matter of one player is a genius on one surface and the other player is a genius on another surface.

Q. John, you touched upon it a little bit before, but one incident I wanted to ask you, why is it so difficult for the Gen Next of the men’s tour to kind of break through in the Grand Slams? We’ve had Zverev, we’ve had Tsitsipas having success elsewhere, but in Grand Slams somehow they fall short. Why is it that we haven’t yet been able to break through in the Grand Slams? Question No. 2 is about Kim Clijsters. I know she’s not playing in the Australian Open but I know she’s expected to play at Monterey and then we’ll see how far she goes. How is her game looking? How are her prospects looking when she comes back?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’ll just comment on Kim. John actually would be more of a person to ask about that because he’s played quite a few, I think, mixed doubles exhibitions with her, whatever. I don’t know how she’s playing. I don’t know what her training is. I know there was a setback. I feel like we won’t know anything really until — and even she won’t know anything until playing a few tournaments and really hitting the ball against these women because the standard is a little bit different from when she left. But again, once a champion always a champion, and she hits a great ball.

You know, so I think we have to wait and see. I wouldn’t put it past her to get back into the swing of things and really challenge the top 10, 20 players. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. But you know, I just — we’ll have to just wait and see.

JOHN McENROE: I have not seen Kim since the Open, and obviously, as Chris said, she hits a great ball, but she had a setback. She got hurt while training. She’s had three kids. It’s not easy to retire twice and come back. I think it was seven, eight years ago that she retired for the second time. So this is a very tall order. She’s one of the best ball strikers, and everyone loves her, including myself, so I’m pulling for her to do well and be happy doing what she’s doing. But she’s going to have to tote around or be away from her kids, and that’s not going to be easy mentally.  So it’s a combination that’s extremely difficult.

And as far as the first part of your question, those guys at this point, they’re not as good as those other guys. That’s the biggest reason. They’re not as versatile. They don’t have as much overall talent. They haven’t been in those positions as often. So you’re asking to do something that — maybe you saw Tsitsipas, he had a great run where Roger didn’t have one of his great days and beat him, but then he got overwhelmed in the semis and he’s struggled since. Zverev has been forced to put in too much effort, and it’s wore him down even to get to the later rounds. He’s only been in a couple Grand Slam quarters, never been in the semis. They’re trying to figure out ways to improve their games, but maybe they just expected it would happen, and it’s not that simple.

These guys have great teams. They leave no stone unturned, and they are tougher to beat in best of five than they are best of three. They have to continue to accept that they need to keep adding these younger players, adding to their game, doing something different. That’s why Medvedev has had the success, because he’s thrown a curve ball at these top guys that they weren’t anticipating, almost like he was going back to the 12- or 14-and-unders and pushing the ball. No one expected to see that from him. It’s been a very effective tool mentally to me.

They’re getting closer, but certainly Tsitsipas, Zverev, he wants to win majors, so they want to prove themselves. But they’ve got to keep working at it, adding more to their game.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I think if I can just say, I think one advantage the top three have is they’ve done this for so long that their match tolerance is much better than younger players. They can play three, four big matches with a lot of pressure and sustain a high level of play longer than these other ones, the other kids. And I think that’s because — that’s experience, and that’s maturity, and that’s having done it year in and year out. They play a match and they know how to turn it off and turn it on, I think, better than the younger players. That I think is a big difference, also.

Q. In looking at the same things, are we going to be seeing best of three sets this year, any chance? I know you’ve spoken about an indoor Grand Slam.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I love that idea about an indoor Grand Slam.

JOHN McENROE: I wish they would have done it when I played. But I don’t think they’re going to change best of five right now. I think they are looking for ways to shorten some matches. That’s why they brought a tiebreaker in in three of the four majors. Why the French hasn’t done it, I don’t know. Maybe just to be different. But to me they should all be six-all at the latest. But that’s a topic for another day. But the bottom line is right now, I can’t imagine that they would change that.  I guess you’re referring to because of the conditions with the fires.

Q. Yes.
JOHN McENROE: But I don’t see that happening where it changes to best of three. But the first year or two I played on the circuit where a couple of the majors like the Open was best of three until the third or fourth round. So it has happened in the past. I guess that’s something that would be worth thinking about, but it hasn’t taken place in 40 years.

CHRISSIE EVERT: John, let me ask you a question. When you were No. 1, were you having easy matches like the first week? Were you being pressed that much?

JOHN McENROE: Not regularly, but maybe at the French. I didn’t have that success. I played 10 Frenches and five Australians out of 15 years. I can’t give a great — but yes, I do think that — I think what you’re inferring is that the depth is greater. There’s more of a chance. Although they’ve changed the rules. Like in my day there was only 16 seeds, so now there’s 32, so there may be less of an opportunity for an early upset because it’s players outside the top 32, they’re even less likely to pull off that upset.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I guess what I’m —

JOHN McENROE: That’s part of why they like it best of five, the top guys. They don’t want it best of three because that decreases their chances of something bad happening.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Exactly. But what I’m referring to, also, is the more — as the depth gets even deeper and the Djokovices and Nadals are going four and five sets in the early rounds, then it might be worth a discussion that they would bring up, like if I’m dead by the end of the first week.

JOHN McENROE: I’m sure Roger wouldn’t mind. Actually it would be an interesting question to ask Roger at 38 if he believes the first week should be best of three. I’d be interested to hear his answer at this point in his career.

Q. John, continuing in the same vein, how long do you see these top three dominating, and what exactly are the next-gen players lacking? From your time until now, have you ever seen three players dominate for so long and the gap between them and the next lot is so huge? What is your view on that?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I mean, I can’t speak for way, way back in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s when people were dominating, but it does feel like these three have dominated like no other trio of players ever in the men’s game. I know that Chrissie and Martina were dominating in the women’s, but this seems absolutely crazy that they’ve been able to keep this up. I mean, again, I’d have to — Rod Laver was my idol, Sampras was a great fast court player, one of the greats ever, but these three could be the three greatest ever. This is a special time that we’ve got to sort of enjoy it while it’s still there.

And these other guys, if you look at them player by player, they don’t have the overall skills that these top players have right now. It’s as simple as that. In any way, shape or form, whether it’s physical or mental. So in essence it’s a big hump, mountain to overcome for these guys.

But as far as what they need to do, it would obviously depend on each individual specifically. You could point to a number of different things, but the bottom line is the more they have — are able to add to the game, the more things they can do to throw someone off or make them feel uncomfortable, the better, so they have to keep diversifying and adding on to what they already have and not be satisfied with what they have there. I think it’s been proven because they haven’t been able to break through. I’m sure anyone that’s around these young kids is telling them, look, don’t force it, but you just need to keep trying to be — have as many shots as you possibly can at your disposal.

Q. Chrissie, you’ve spoken about Serena’s chances, but do you really feel that after her comeback she’s really up there to actually win another Grand Slam? And who would be in your view the next best talent coming up?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, she got to the finals of four of them last — yeah, she can win a Grand Slam. She’s better at Grand Slams than any other player when you look at the last two years. So I think that — people kind of get mad at me when I say this because it’s inferring that she doesn’t have much else, but she has the greatest serve that we’ve ever seen, and that serve wins more games for her than other serves win for other women. It’s the best, it’s the hardest, it’s the most consistent. She just — it’s so tough to break Serena’s serve, and I think that is the advantage that she has. Even though other players have great serves, they’re not as good as Serena’s. And she follows it up, again, with really strong ground strokes, and she was on a mission. She’s still on a mission. She’s 23. She wants to break Margaret Court’s, and maybe at the Australian she’ll want to break it even more because Margaret is Australian. Who knows. But I think that really gives her a little bit more of an incentive knowing that she can set another record and even break it. So yes, I do think she —

Now, on the other hand, there are some darned good players out that that I have a lot of respect for, and the way that Osaka, Barty, Pliskova, Halep, there’s not one or two threats to Serena, there’s probably about eight threats, eight players that can probably do some damage and that can compete against her.

And one more thing is I always have this — I always felt this way. The older you get, I think the more bad days you may have, days when you feel burned out, days when you don’t want to get out of bed, days when you don’t have incentive, and you don’t want to have that day during a Grand Slam, but sometimes you can’t help it.

Q. Another question away from the Australian Open, I just wanted to ask, Leander Paes has announced that 2020 will be his farewell tour. Normally players don’t really announce a farewell tour, but Leander said he wants to go and pick a few tournaments and play for those fans, and it would be his final year. What would you say to that?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Who are you saying, Federer?

Q. Paes.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, he wanted to pick a few tournaments to play, did you say?

Q. He wants 2020 to be his farewell year?
JOHN McENROE: Hasn’t he been doing that for about 10 years? The guy is 40 — he’s almost 50. Jesus Christ.

CHRISSIE EVERT: You know what, it’s fine with me. Whatever he wants is fine with me. He’s proven himself. He’s given back to the game. He can do whatever he wants.

Q. When you look at Serena on the court, you see a very dialed-in competitor. On social media you see a doting mom and a friend who’s having a good time. Which is the Serena you know, maybe a little bit of both?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Serena has many personalities. She is not one personality. She has a lot of sides to her. And I’ll leave it at that. She’s a well-rounded person. You can’t stick her in a box. She’s also creative. She’s got a fashion line. Like you said, she’s a mom, she’s a wife. She’s a leader in many causes. She’s a great tennis player. You know, I think that the world is her oyster at this point, and she’s pretty good at everything she tries to do.

Q. You said she might like to get her 24th in Australia. Do you think it’s on her mind that they’re celebrating Margaret Court’s 50th anniversary of a Grand Slam this year?
CHRISSIE EVERT: No. No, I don’t think she thinks — I think she’s pretty focused on her tennis, and she doesn’t really — that doesn’t really concern her. And I didn’t mean anything personal against Margaret Court, that she’d want to win. But I think that it would give her some more motivation, but also it is a happy Slam and it’s the most relaxed one, and I think in the past when she’s lost in the finals of these majors, I think according to her she’s felt the pressure a lot, so maybe this tournament would be different.

-30-

Tags

Dave Nagle

It was 32 years at ESPN for me as of November 2018 (the only job I’ve ever had) after joining merely to help with the America’s Cup for three months at a robust $5.50 per hour. I like to say I simply kept showing up. I’ve worked on almost every sport, plus answered viewer calls and letters (people used to write!), given tours, written the company newsletter and once drove NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to the local airport. My travels have been varied…I’ve been to Martinsville and Super Bowls; the America’s Cup (all 3) in San Diego and College GameDay in the sport’s meccas such as Eugene, Auburn, Lubbock, Stillwater and more; the NBA Finals and Indy 500; Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, in addition to overseeing the Fan Relations, Archives and ESPNPressRoom.com, my main areas are tennis, ratings, and corporate communications documents, including ESPN’s history and growth.
Close