ESPN’s Evert, John McEnroe Preview Australian Open
- Topics: Impact of Pandemic, Quarantine; Comparing Chances of Winning a Major for Serena, Federer; Chances of ATP-WTA Merger; Challengers to Djokovic & Nadal; Osaka’s Evolution; Best Advice They Ever Got from a Champion
- ESPN’s First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Sunday, Feb. 7
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 totaling 110 hours on TV including overnight marathons and all courts covered on the ESPN app – begins Sunday, Feb. 7. Here is the transcript.
Q- Let me start by asking about the latest development down in Melbourne, this positive test of a hotel worker, one of those quarantine hotels. They’ve called off play for Thursday over there in Australia. I’m just wondering sort of in general how precarious this whole thing seems to the two of you. From the standpoint of a player, if you could put yourself in their shoes, what do you think would be the hardest aspect of this whole thing with the quarantine, the restrictions, practice time, mental difficulties, physical difficulties? If you could take a stab at that, I’d appreciate it, and then your picks (laughter).
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think the players are just getting thrown off guard a lot. I think it’s going to demand a lot of patience and a lot of flexibility and who is going to really adjust and adapt the best under those, like you said, precarious circumstances.
Players are so used to routines, they like to be in control. They’re not in control. I mean, even Djokovic, who is like a control freak, just you got to throw everything to the wind and wake up every morning and just be ready to go with whatever is going to happen.
It’s not easy. One thing I think the players appear to have is gratitude. I mean, I hear it in their press conferences. After being in a hotel room for two weeks, I feel like they’re very grateful.
Again, what happens if this happens again? What happens if there are some players that test positive? What’s going to happen to the tournament? I’m not an authority. I don’t know what will happen.
John, what do you think?
JOHN McENROE: I mean, this is obviously totally unprecedented. People, the players, everyone around, everyone wants the tournament to happen obviously after going down there and spending a couple weeks. A lot of the players not even able to leave their hotel room.
I guess you have to sort of go into it, be prepared for anything mode. Look at the glass half full instead of half empty. Some players will be better at that than others.
It’s always been a little bit unpredictable when you have the first event of the year, who’s going to be training the hardest over the holidays and be as prepared to win the thing. So it’s a difficult one to call. They may just have to go in with the mindset that this may take longer than two weeks. If there’s a test, the tournament will be delayed a couple days. I’m not really sure. You have to sort of go into it with sort of any possibility.
At this point the players are going to want to play the event. If it’s just three weeks instead of two weeks, I think the players would do that. I think that’s sort of their only choice.
I’m like Chrissie, I don’t know what the protocol is. I heard a couple people were tested positive on the plane, and therefore they couldn’t leave their hotel room for two weeks. So now you have some hotel worker who tested positive. What does that mean if he was around some of the male or female players or had some type of contact? Does that mean those players can’t leave their hotel room for two weeks? I don’t know. I read in the paper they have to stay in their rooms or quarantine until they test negative.
They say sometimes you test negative, then two or three days later you test positive, like this hotel worker. I mean, it’s just totally crazy.
They had one case, one, in Melbourne. So we’re sitting here in the States going, Wow, it’s a totally different ballgame. They’ve had, I believe, under a thousand deaths in the entire country during this entire pandemic where we’re at 450,000. I don’t know what to make of it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, look, they flew all the way over there. They put in two weeks of quarantine. As John said, they’re going to want to play no matter what is thrown in their face.
One thing for sure, it will be as equal a playing field as it’s ever been because nobody’s peaked. Nobody can say they’re playing their best tennis. The lower-ranked players, this is a time for upsets. This is a time for the lower-ranked players to come through if they’re ever going to do it against the top-ranked players, in my mind.
JOHN McENROE: I mean, who is the highest ranked player in the male or female, either one, that couldn’t train for two weeks, couldn’t leave their hotel room? That would seem to be, I mean, especially for a guy playing best-of-five, if Djokovic couldn’t have trained… As far as I know all the top players were able to train for two weeks. I’m not aware of any of the top players not being able to train.
I believe some of the women, two of three.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, yeah.
JOHN McENROE: I mean, I would say that would be a disadvantage in terms of you can’t train. Like Bianca Andreescu hasn’t played. The advantage is it’s two-out-of-three. That’s helpful. Then the weather. If it got super hot, I mean, as we know it’s unpredictable there.
So the whole thing, listen, everyone’s making the effort so let’s just hope it goes well, as well as it can be.
Q- Can Serena win that 24th Grand Slam? You were saying about how maybe upsets could happen because of the unpredictability of the whole COVID situation. What do you both think of her chances given the uncertainty and if you’ve seen how she’s been playing so far in the warmup tournaments?
CHRISSIE EVERT: First of all, it’s really hard to tell how the players are playing. But in saying that, she looked awfully good. She’s looked awfully good. If anything, she’s looked probably better than anybody else to me.
When I say there could be some upsets, to me, she’s not in the top five, right, correct? What I mean is somebody like her, even though you don’t consider her an underdog, she still is as far as rankings are concerned. She’s the type of player that could come and win this tournament for sure because the other top players aren’t match tough, in my mind.
Serena doesn’t need tournaments necessarily as she’s proven in the past 20 years to play her best tennis. She looks quicker than I saw her last year when she was playing, even the year before when she was playing. She looks like she’s really improved her movement. Her fitness looks good. She’s striking the ball well.
This would be the ideal time for her or tournament for her to win, if you look at everybody else, again, not struggling, but everybody trying to find their form. The question is will they find their form at the Australian Open.
I’ve watched Naomi. I’ve watched Kenin. I’ve watched most of these players. Simona. Nobody is in top form yet. I mean, for Serena to sneak in there and take this title wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever.
JOHN McENROE: I would just add there’s got to be inspiration from watching Brady who is 43. Not that Serena needs inspiration. When you look at sort of LeBron James is playing so great still, at that high level. What Federer has done. Obviously it’s an individual sport.
I think a lot of it depends on is she, like Chrissie said, better or quicker than she was six months ago. That would be a big, huge thing if that was the case. That would be quite helpful.
Obviously these girls now, when they play her, she’s got the game, the big game, but they’re going to try to wear her down if they can and get her on the run as much as possible. That’s a key thing.
But she seems to be in a good frame of mind, and that’s important. You just don’t know what will rattle these players. She seems to be one that could handle it better.
As long as she’s playing to me, I would pretty much pick her almost any time. That’s where I’m at.
Q- Are you excited or happy to see 30,000 fans perhaps each day? Do you think that’s a good move? I guess Roger might be coming back soon. He’s up there in age. Do you see a chance of him winning another Grand Slam or do you think maybe that time has passed?
JOHN McENROE: It’s hard to say with a guy as great as Roger Federer, that he couldn’t. I mean, to me it’s going to be very difficult to win another one. He’s coming off a couple more surgeries. He’s 39. He’s going to be 40. I mean, Wimbledon to me would be his best shot by far obviously. He could try that a few more times.
So the answer is, it’s going to be more difficult, in my opinion, for Roger to win another one than Serena.
As far as crowds, I don’t know if you saw the exhibition they did for charity in Adelaide where it seemed to be packed. I played there a number of times. It’s about a 6,000 seat stadium. It was unbelievable. It’s incredible.
Listen, when we see 10,000 fans at these NFL playoff games we’re thrilled. Like Al Michaels, 10,000 people, sounds like 70,000 people. Imagine what 70,000 people would sound like.
Any sport, any time, anywhere, you got to love seeing that. I guess that’s the advantage of being isolated in a completely other side of the world in Australia, being an island that has 25 million people, they’ve been able to sort of shut it down completely.
The upside is now that these players, presuming hopefully this thing is going to be okay with this worker and they don’t get other tests, they’re going to have a lot of people there. There’s going to be an energy there that’s going to be unreal.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think the players have said they feed off the crowds. Crowds can lift you up. Crowds can get you, can change the momentum of a match if you’re losing. Crowds can inspire you. I mean, there’s so many positives to a crowd.
The atmosphere is so much better when there’s a crowd. So I think the players are really looking forward to it and are excited. I think they will play some good tennis because of the crowds.
If it’s perfectly safe, looking at the record of Melbourne, as far as Roger is concerned, I got to agree with John. I think Wimbledon is the only shot he has. I just don’t think he can win on the hard courts against a Rafa and Djokovic as long as they’re in this era with him. You take those two out, he’d have a good shot.
Those two are so strong. It’s not that Roger is not strong, it’s that those two are getting better and better, peaking. But Roger, he does have a chance on the grass as we saw year and a half ago when he should have won that match against Novak. It’s shorter rallies, better movement. His serve can be more of a weapon. He can volley. I think everybody would love to see that.
But I agree also with John. I think it’s hard to pick either Serena or Roger to win a Grand Slam. I just think Serena still has a better chance because she can play on all four of those surfaces.
Q- I’m curious about whether you see Rafa and Djokovic continuing to dominate the slams in the coming year or has Dominic Thiem kind of made a case that he should be considered a threat in every one of those tournaments, or was last year just an aberration and he’s not really there yet? Anyone else on the men’s side you think is a threat to those two?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think that’s an unanswerable question, number one. How long can they do that? They’ve already done it longer than I thought they could do it. That’s the first part of that.
These guys are putting themselves, with Roger, the three greatest guys that ever played the way they’ve operated. They’ve just intimidated these guys mentally, just figured out a way to stay a step ahead of them.
These guys have had to show respect. You always do that. But you’ve got to dig deeper, more than you’ve ever done in your life to compete with these guys.
Thiem didn’t have to do that. Djokovic got defaulted. Federer didn’t play. Nadal didn’t play. The door was wide open. I’d like to see a guy like Medvedev, I think he’s like a chess master to me. He’s basically my favorite guy to watch now because he just plays like old school a little bit. He’s strategizing, he’s thinking ahead. These are the type of guys that we need and that we’re going to be seeing.
Novak and Rafa are going to be around a couple more years. They’re obviously going to be tough to beat. Djokovic looks amazing. Nadal looks amazing. They both look incredible still.
These guys are getting closer. Ultimately they have to believe that. Tsitsipas, he has to look at himself and say I’ve got to do this to add to my game, if I don’t I’m not going to beat these guys, but I can.
They’re closer than they’ve ever been. It’s more open and more unpredictable than it has been for a long time in some ways because of the pandemic, the age. But these guys leave no stone unturned, the top guys, so they’re going to have to step up and improve.
Who has improved the most during these sort of crazy times? That would be the best answer to a question. I think it would be better for the game if some of these guys beat those guys before they stop playing. It would be a shame if they kept winning. It’s like if Brady won again and he retired. You’d be like, Wow, unbelievable.
He loves to play so much. Maybe they do. Maybe they’re willing to put themselves out there two or three more years. These guys can finally have a shot at them. But they’ve got to step up.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I can’t disagree with that. I think Thiem and Medvedev are the two that I would think about. I think Thiem especially has beaten all the top players, has a good record against them. Medvedev is so talented, has to be confident because he had a good year.
To me, they have the game. It’s just about them believing that they can beat the top three legends of the game. Nadal and Djokovic, if they stay the same or if they back off a little bit, they’re going to get beaten. They, too, have to continue to work on their game and to improve.
Q- Do you see Naomi Osaka developing as like a dominant force, winning more and more slams, being a dominant No. 1? We’ve seen CEOs of the ATP and WTA talk about synergy, doing more together. In an ideal world, what would that look like? Would it be a unified tour or playing bigger combined events? What would be the best thing for the sport? The late great Hank Aaron was quoted as saying you were his all time favorite tennis player. Did you have any interaction with him, know him, meet him?
JOHN McENROE: You made my day there.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Right?
JOHN McENROE: I didn’t have any interaction with him. I wish I had now obviously. That’s quite a nice thing to hear. Thank you very much for that.
Unfortunately not. I mean, reminds me of Arthur Ashe actually, that same sort of the way he acted and presented himself, the dignity that he had, the difficulties that he faced at that time, the uphill battle he had just getting the respect he should have had from the very beginning, the treatment. That’s an amazing thing. Thank you for that.
But as far as the first part of the question or the second part, I think the ultimate in the future within five years I believe, if we want to stay a step ahead and show something different to the sports world, we got to have the men and women play everything together. We’d be a step ahead of people. We’re the only sport that does it, to some degree now.
I think it’s headed there. Obviously there’s going to be some people that are going to not be thrilled with that, and I get that. I’m sort of out of the loop in a sense. But in order for us to make the type of progress that we could make, I think there’s an opportunity to sort of be ahead of the curve.
That’s going to require these people to be able — I don’t know if it’s going to happen because there’s different mindsets, but I think it will happen.
I can’t remember the first part of the question.
Q- Naomi Osaka.
JOHN McENROE: I think Osaka, I played an exhibition with her the day before Indian Wells was canceled, and it may have been me, but she barely uttered a word the entire time she was playing. From that point forward, I saw her at the Open. She was sort of opening herself up, what she did there to make people more aware of her feelings, her beliefs, the Black Lives Matter movement, wearing the masks of a number of different individuals that had been killed, that was a huge, huge step for her I think as a human being. I believe there was, like, some type of almost in a way she was destined to win that.
As far as being able to dominate, I don’t see her able yet to dominate the way Serena did by any means. But she’s going to grow into herself. She’s growing into herself. You’re seeing her grow up in front of your very eyes. I think that’s a great thing. Becoming the person that she didn’t even know she could be. That’s a great thing. I believe that will help her tennis, too.
Certainly there’s a limit, but she’s got work to do obviously. As Chrissie said about Rafa and Novak, you got to keep working at your game, and certainly there are things that need to be improved. She’s also in a tremendous place to me, like, mentally which is great.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think the one thing she has going for her, she’s the most explosive and the most powerful player out there right now, with the exception of Serena. I’m not thinking Serena’s going to be around the next five or 10 years, so I’m not including her in this group.
I mean, when I watch her, that racquet head speed on her serve, her forehand, I mean, that serve is rivaling Serena if not harder than Serena’s now. With that respect, she’s got all the tools to dominate and become even a better player than she is.
In saying that, John made a big point, that she’s had a lot of changes in her life. She used to live in Boca Raton where I live, so I used to see her all the time. She kept to herself. They were very humble, very humble house, very humble beginnings, didn’t associate with too many people. It was just she and her sister, mom and her dad. Her whole world has opened up. She’s living in L.A., she’s got a boyfriend, she’s a role model, has endorsements.
The hunger still has to be there for her. Now, I kind of compare it a little bit with, like, when Martina came over from Czechoslovakia. Not that extreme, but Martina came from a certain environment. She came over, same thing, she kind of went to the L.A. experience. It affected her tennis for a little bit, but she settled into it.
Once Naomi settles into the growth she’s going through, the changes that she’s made, she has to be true to herself. At the same time she has to really still want to improve and still want titles.
I hope with everything that’s come her way that hunger has not diminished. I don’t see that it has yet. She still has so much room to improve. She can learn to be softer with her hands. She can learn how to volley. But, boy, she has that power quotient in her favor. I think she’s the player in the future to look out for.
By the way, about the men and the women. I don’t speak for the women or for the WTA, but I don’t know if the women would join with the men if it wasn’t equal prize money. I don’t know if the men would want that. I think there would have to be a lot of things that would have to be worked out.
- You think the men would have to go three-out-of-five sets at majors or the women would have to go three-out-of-five?
CHRISSIE EVERT: You’re not talking about majors because majors does have equal prize money.
Q- Just in general.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I don’t think that’s going to change.
JOHN McENROE: By the way, I was saying that I believe it will be equal prize money at all the events. They will not change the best-of-five to best-of-three I don’t believe. If anything, they would change the men’s quicker a match, not the women’s longer matches. If anything changes at all, there will be a tiebreaker at the end of the fourth set, a 10-point tiebreaker. That’s where we should be headed, not having the women play best-of-five.
It’s already taking too long. These poor souls goes out for five or six hours. Fans’ attention spans aren’t that long. That’s asking too much. You see that in other sports where they’re shortening matches and games. They’re not lengthening them.
I do believe when the tours are together, they will have equal prize money or they should.
CHRISSIE EVERT: My point was there are some top men players that don’t believe that should happen. There’s going to have to be things worked out.
Great idea about 10-point tiebreaker. I go along the junior circuit, that’s all they do, the ITFs. There’s still enough points in a 10-point tiebreak so that you can play your way into the tiebreak. It’s not like a seven-point tiebreak where every point is like you’re shaking in your boots. John, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Q- The three-out-of-five to two-out-of-three sets. Used to be that the Masters 1000s, the Davis Cup, everything for the men was three-out-of-five. Now we’re only down to the majors. Is it time to do away with three-out-of-five sets for men at the majors as well?
JOHN McENROE: Well, my answer to that would be that I was always looking for that solution in the middle, which is best-of-five, but say a 10-point tiebreaker at the end of the fourth set. That would be my compromise. I wouldn’t make it two-out-of-three now at the majors. I would still have it different.
We’re heading in that direction for a number of reasons. We want this sport to grow, for God sakes. Shoot ourselves in the foot all the time. I don’t understand it. We have this incredible sport, so we should try to make it as accessible so people could afford to play, a big issue obviously, but accessible in other ways, so that they want to tune in, to take advantage of all the good things about the sport. That would be one that I think is a no-brainer personally. I mean, I’ve been saying that for 30 years.
Q- Should they start next week, given so many players have had ill preparation going into the Australian?
JOHN McENROE: Actually, I hadn’t thought of that. I would totally endorse that, absolutely. There’s a number of players, I don’t know how many men and women out of the 72 that were quarantined, that couldn’t leave their hotel room, but there’s obviously some type of disadvantage. Not to mention a lot of players come from colder climates. I was one of those when I went down there. Eastern European players. You have to go there a lot earlier. Maybe for the people nowadays, I remember Ivan was one of the first guys I recall that went a month early. I was like, Too good, you can have it. Guess what, he has three Australians and I got none.
Being able to train for five hours a day for two weeks, that’s pretty much what they would do anyway doing that. But having said all that, I think it would be a tremendous idea. I don’t think the players would go for it, probably the top guys, that radical a change that quickly. I would be, Hell, yeah, as far as I’m concerned.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I guess what I was going to say was, I don’t know if you can spring it on them now, you got to play two-out-of-three sets. Two weeks ago when they were in quarantine, they should have had some discussions on Zoom with the ATP. They should have thought of this two or three weeks ago when this was going to happen, don’t you think? I don’t know if you can just spring it right now. I think it’s a bit late. I don’t think they’re going to do that.
My other comment was, at the end of four sets, if you had a 10-point tiebreaker, wouldn’t you want to do that at the end of the third set for the women? Wouldn’t you have to be uniform if you’re going to incorporate that? Something to think about.
JOHN McENROE: That’s what they’re doing now. Isn’t the Australian, the final set, is…
Q- That’s just for doubles.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You got to play out the set.
JOHN McENROE: 10-point tiebreaker.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, yeah.
Q- Overnight it seems there was yet another case of COVID positivity among a staff member at the height. They’re not playing today. 600 people have to be tested. This could be a disaster. Is there a point where you say, This tournament is star crossed? Do you just shoulder on?
JOHN McENROE: You got to soldier on at this point. There’s always, like, the devil in you, in your mind, that tells you the negative stuff, then you got to battle that and look at the glass half full, realize how lucky you are to be a professional tennis player, an athlete.
I was saying earlier, if this tournament goes an extra week, you got to be ready for that.
CHRISSIE EVERT: We were talking about this earlier, about how they’ve made the trip over here, they’ve had the two-week quarantine, they’ve done their due diligence. They’re not going to quit now. They’re going to deal with it. Players have got to be flexible. They’ve got to be patient. They’ve got to adjust.
If there’s any fear, I just don’t want it to continue, like, players are getting COVID. Then it’s going to be a whole different ballgame.
Q- John, what do you expect from Felix Auger-Aliassime this year based on how he has played so far in his young career? Chrissie, the same question about Bianca Andreescu. Are you worried about the injuries that she’s had?
JOHN McENROE: Felix has an opportunity to be potentially the best player in the world in the future. There’s not many players that you can say that about.
However, this past year it seems like he’s sort of leveled off. He seems to be a very mature young man. He’s extremely professional. He wants it. I don’t know exactly what his coaching situation is, but he needs to take that step up again.
I think he lost a little bit of confidence. His ranking should have been higher to me at the end of this past year. I don’t know if he was affected by the pandemic, exactly what’s gone on. He took a slight step in the wrong direction or just sort of stayed the same, and other people sort of figured him out a little bit. He’s going to have to make a move. He’s got an opportunity to be right there with the best.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m concerned about Bianca. I don’t know if that was the best decision for her not to play a tournament because she wasn’t prepared, properly prepared. She hasn’t played all year. She’s fighting injuries. Her career, her tennis career, is going to be defined really by her body, how well it holds up. She is injury prone.
When you haven’t played for so many months and months and months, then you play in a tournament, that’s when you’re going to get injured. I worry about her body, her injuries, and also it’s at little worrisome about her confidence level at this point. I don’t know if there’s a little fear there to play. I just question a little bit why, unless there’s something I don’t see.
Why wouldn’t you want to throw yourself in a tournament that really didn’t count, but you just needed match practice before the big one? Now she’s putting all the pressure on her, now the big one is going to be her first match back. That to me is the worse of the two evils.
I could be wrong. This girl could come win the tournament, she could be full of confidence. But it’s just looking like she’s just holding back from really giving it 100% and being confident and being healthy. We’ve seen what happens when she is at her best. Will we see it at the Australian Open? Considering she hasn’t played, I don’t think so.
God, that was negative. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.
JOHN McENROE: Her coach tested positive. I don’t know if that’s a reason why she couldn’t have played a warmup.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It is. She was on the plane. She could have played a warmup tournament, but for two weeks she didn’t play tennis. She withdrew because she felt she wasn’t prepared. Am I right or wrong? She wasn’t injured, right?
JOHN McENROE: I don’t know the answer to that.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I don’t understand why she didn’t play.
Q- Your thoughts with Serena and this number 24, does it make sense to even talk about this sort of chase of Margaret Court’s record given the different eras, different circumstances, different draw sizes, all that sort of thing? Does it make sense, the fact that Serena has the ultimate era record should be enough or is that still a number out there that does mean something because she did accumulate that number 24?
CHRISSIE EVERT: People love records, don’t they? People love records. I for one think that too much is made of Grand Slam wins, Grand Slam victories, tournaments. I think just as important is the career. This isn’t because I was consistent, I had win/loss percentage.
I think in our day, I don’t know if John played all the Australians, I played six out of 18 Australian Opens because it wasn’t really a big deal and it was during Christmas. I missed three French Opens because of World TeamTennis.
I look at somebody like Steffi Graf, for instance, who only won 21, but she won the Golden Slam, she won the Olympics, and she won a Grand Slam in the same year. I just think people like numbers, people like records, people like seeing records broken, setting new records.
At the end of the day, to me I think you got to look at somebody’s whole career, and that speaks for itself.
JOHN McENROE: I pretty much completely agree with Chrissie. It was different times then. Look at the draw. You mentioned draw size. Take a look at the draws when Margaret Court won 11 Australian Opens, how many players were in that, who was in it, how many players from out of the country played, as an example. Much more diverse in amount of players and countries that are involved now.
I played five Australian Opens out of 15 in my career. Australian Open at the beginning of my career was less important than the Masters at Madison Square Garden or finals in Dallas. I give them a lot of credit for reinventing themselves, moving it to Melbourne Park, putting it on hard courts, changing the dates, et cetera.
I think it’s, like Chrissie said, people love records. It’s just another thing. Maybe it motivates Serena in some way, shape or form. Okay. But to me it’s an argument, like who is the best ever? You can say whatever you want.
This idea of comparing that record seems rather absurd. Chrissie just said she didn’t play three French Opens. She probably would have won at least two of them if she played. She would have won a bunch of Australian Opens. She would have had 24.
Borg played one Australian. He didn’t play the French. They wouldn’t let him play the French a couple times because he was in World TeamTennis. I don’t think it’s really comparable.
- What is the best advice a former champ ever gave you? You’re both known as two of the best ball strikers, clean, precise. In context of today’s tennis, who are the players you look at they really hit the ball clean? Does ball striking as a skill mean as much in today’s tennis as it meant when you were dominating?
CHRISSIE EVERT: The first one, a former champion?
Q- The best advice a former champion ever gave you.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, I would have to say Billie Jean King kept telling me to move forward, move forward, go to the net. I mean, I know it sounds silly, but it was advice that I learned at the end of my career to take. It proved successful. I think that would be it.
As far as the other one, I’m looking at Simona Halep, Naomi, I’m looking at Kenin. You can’t be a top player and not strike the ball unbelievably well in this day and age with these racquets especially, the strings. I think everybody strikes the ball, really clocks the ball well.
I guess I would say as far as groundstrokes when Serena is in position and she’s having good footwork, she clocks it probably better than anyone.
John, what advice did I give you?
JOHN McENROE: The best advice Chrissie ever gave me was to not play the French Open (laughter).
No, the best advice I ever got was when I played early on in my career, I had beaten Ivan the first two times we played as professionals, we did play in the juniors, too, then he beat me I think seven times in a row, and I was about to play him in the finals of Philly. Don Budge came up to me and said, John, when you hit your approach and come to the net, you should approach up the middle. You’ll take away his angle.
I’m like, All right, whatever. I’m probably going to lose anyway. He should be able to do this.
Then I went on a run where I beat him eight out of 10 times or something. That was some tremendous advice.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Good old Don.
JOHN McENROE: Listen, the game is so different than when I played, I tried to envision who I played like or what it would be like to even play, it’s so crazy. I look at it as we’re watching a different game almost.
It’s a breath of fresh air when you see thinkers like Medvedev. Shapovalov, he’s like the guy that reminds me the most of what I would play like, although he’s a bit of a wild stallion. If he’s harnessed properly, he’s already a great player, but he could do some tremendous things potentially.
How many people serve-and-volley now? None? Ivo Karlovic, John Isner at Wimbledon. Not many. But these guys, it’s just a totally different way they play the game now. I like it, but I’d also like to see some relics of the past brought in every now and then would be good.
Q-The Australian Open will be the first major with absolutely no lines-people at all. Every court is going to be electronically called. Are we in a new era where we don’t see lines-people? How would it have impacted your relationship as far as firing yourself up on the court? Put you in a vacuum without that human element.
JOHN McENROE: The second best piece of advice I ever got was Nastase. You remember when Cyclops came in? I was like, What are we going to do now? We won’t be able to yell at the linesmen.
He was, Macaroni, don’t worry, we’ll think about something else.
If you can have a situation where electronic equipment is calling the lines right, what the hell would you need linesmen for? I mean, why the hell would you have a human error when you have it if it’s absolutely right? It makes no sense.
I could have saved a hell of a lot of energy. Wasted my energy. I think the linesmen sort of liked me, deep down.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You do?
JOHN McENROE: They didn’t like me a whole lot maybe while it was going on. I was getting a lot of people pissed off at me. I could have harnessed that in a different way. I would have maybe really enjoyed that. You live and learn.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Technology has changed the world. It definitely will change our sport. I like the human element. I like the linesmen. I like making mistakes. I like the human element.
JOHN McENROE: She loved yelling at the linesmen.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Who, me? I gave them dirty looks, and you know that.
I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I guess it’s the fairest thing of all.
JOHN McENROE: If you like the human element, I have a better idea. Have the players call the lines, then you’ll see some interesting developments.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, well, I’ve seen junior tournaments enough. That’s not going to work.
JOHN McENROE: But you have a challenge system, though.
CHRISSIE EVERT: True.
JOHN McENROE: They could challenge.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Forgot about that.
Q- I was there in Philadelphia for that match you played against Ivan. I think you’re lucky he didn’t do to do what he did to Vitas at the Masters where he went straight at Vitas’ forehead and sent him falling to the ground.
JOHN McENROE: That was also the same year that Vitas made the greatest line in the history of tennis: no one beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times (laughter).
Yes, that’s true. He hit me numerous times, there’s no question. More than any other human.