ESPN’s Evert, John McEnroe Preview US Open, Discuss Serena Williams’ Impact, Legacy, Future & Her Chances

Tennis

ESPN’s Evert, John McEnroe Preview US Open, Discuss Serena Williams’ Impact, Legacy, Future & Her Chances

Other Players Discussed: Djokovic, Nadal, Venus, Medvedev, Osaka, Fernandez, Federer, Alcaraz and Auger-Aliassime 

ESPN’s Exclusive First Ball to Last Ball Live Coverage Begins Monday, August 29

ESPN analysts and tennis legends Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media today, previewing the US Open, which Chrissie won six times – a record she shares with Serena Williams – and John won on four occasions.  They discussed a wide range of topics in the sport, including many aspects of Serena Williams – her impact, legacy, future and her chances at the US Open.

ESPN’s exclusive first ball to last ball coverage – all courts, all matches, all days across platforms – begins Monday, August 29.  Here is the transcript.

Q- Nick Kyrgios has picked Alcaraz to win. Do you think he’s right? Do you think there are any other contenders to pick up a maiden title this year?

JOHN MCENROE: Yes would be the short answer. But obviously the draw has not been made. So that will be a factor. I don’t know, for example, maybe you journalists can tell me what the situation is with Novak Djokovic because I think that bears, what happens with him if he’s able to come in — as of what I know right now he isn’t. But I’ve heard varying reports.

And obviously Alcaraz, a lot has happened with him. If Kyrgios was able to sort of keep his head together the last couple of months the way — if he could continue to do that, he’d actually be one of the two, three, four guys you would say also has a chance.

But I think because of the uncertainty of Novak, as well as Rafa — is he 100 percent healthy, for example — it certainly opens the door for a bunch of guys, to me, to have an opportunity to break through.

I mean, it’s trending towards what’s happening in the women’s, where there’s any number of players that could win it, in my book. But Alcaraz is certainly the guy that’s made the biggest impact the last year. Moved the needle as much as anyone. Plays with a joy that I think we all love and has made incredible advances in the last year. But it’s a lot to ask for him to win it. But certainly he has a shot.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m looking at the top five guys, and Novak six, Zverev, let’s say we take them out, any one of those four — Medvedev, Nadal, Alcaraz and Tsitsipas — any one of those four would have to be have a great chance. And as John said, these two weeks, you’ve got to play top line, your A game. You’ve got to put out your A game for seven matches in a row. And who is going to be able to do that? That’s the challenge.

Q- Obviously one of the main stories, expected stories here at the Open is going to be Serena Williams and the apparently strong possibility this will be her last Open and perhaps last tournament. Was wondering if, Chris, if you and John could sum up the strongest memories of her, the impact she’s had and just what she’s done for tennis, if this is indeed one of her last tournaments or her last one?

CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, I think that for me, she’s been very inspirational off the court. I mean, on the court, it’s obvious, those tangibles — her record, her power, her mental toughness. That’s all her ranking, that’s all obvious and you can see that very clearly.

But the intangibles that — the fearlessness in her has really impressed me. The fact that she’s never set any limits in tennis or in life. To get that message across to everybody, I think, is very, very powerful.

And she really has spoken her mind. We haven’t always agreed with her. But for the most part, I think the good has definitely outweighed the bad.

And she has so many platforms, from the body shaming, to working moms, to women of color, and just empowering women. I think that message, off the court, to me and maybe to millions of people, is more profound and more powerful than even what she’s done on the court.

JOHN MCENROE: Just briefly for me, it goes back — it wasn’t accurately totally portrayed in the movie. Great movie. But when I first met her, when she was 8 years old, when she was brought to the court I was practicing on and then being told by my then-coach Paul Cohen and Richard Williams that her and Venus were going to be the two best players in the world. It was like call me in 10 years, we’ll see what’s happening. And her winning the U.S. Open the first time, it’s hard to forget that, with the braids and everything.

I want to give credit to Venus as well because I’m sure Venus is thinking about the same thing that Serena is, and she’s done a lot for Serena, in my book, supporting her and being with her because she was the one that was at the top and then the dad was saying, which you can’t forget, I’ve got the younger sister’s gonna be even better.

Maybe Chrissie can relate. I can relate. If my younger brother blew by me, was better than me I don’t think I would have handled it as well as Venus has.

That’s a memory. The other one would be when they first played, Venus and Serena prime time in the finals. The ratings were through the roof and that was incredible. That just electrified the women’s game even more so, I believe. Took it to a whole other level, the two Williams sisters.

There’s countless others that we could go to, but those are the ones that hit me the hardest — that I remember the most.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I think you hit on a very important point because having a sibling, and you having a sibling, with the grace, with the way they handled competing with each other, the family came first. And the competitiveness came second when they played each other.

Venus, nobody is even talking about Venus. I agree. It’s like, if you just set her apart from Serena and you look at her record and you look at how many Wimbledons she’s won and you look at grand slams and doubles and you look at the influence she’s had, and she’s been such a different personality than Serena. And she’s not getting a lot of attention. And, I don’t know, I think it’s just interesting to me. Are they going to both retire at the same time? Is Venus going to keep going and Serena is going to retire? I think that’s an interesting question too. What are Venus plans? She’s kind of in the shadow of Serena right now and nobody is taking stock of what her tennis plans are. But that would be interesting, too.

Q- Could you recall your goodbyes to tennis? What sticks out the most about your final tournaments and whether either of you wishes you had done anything differently about the way you walked away from your playing careers?

CHRISSIE EVERT: I also retired at the U.S. Open. I mean, I think that’s — I think that Serena’s timing is perfect. I think this is a great way to go out, if she is going out. But I retired at the U.S. Open, and is there any way I would have liked it to be different? It was so different in that day. I mean, it’s like I just waved and walked off the court and that was it. So I wish maybe that I could have savored the moment a little bit more and really looked at the fans and maybe been a little more emotional about it and felt a little bit more. But basically after I lost I kind of wanted to just get off the court.

And there’s no fanfare or anything. No parties. Nothing. Nothing going on. So, I thought it was pretty low-key. But I think that maybe I kind of avoided the issue of how I really felt about retirement, how it had been my whole life and the feelings and emotions. I kind of avoided it the way I always did — I just put everything aside and went out there on the court, trying not really to think about anything, having any distractions. So, I guess I wish I would have been a little more in the moment and a little more engaged in the moment when I retired and walked off center court.

JOHN MCENROE: For me, I have actually never retired. I didn’t retire. I told my ex-wife now, but my present wife at the time that if I didn’t win a major in 1992, that I would basically stop playing. And we had three kids at that particular time — and she would be allowed to try to do her thing. And it wasn’t looking particularly good that I was going to win one since I hadn’t won one in six or seven years. So, I was thinking this is probably going to be the end, but didn’t sort of want that type of fanfare, wasn’t sure. But pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen.

I don’t want to get into details, but it ended up that we ended up getting separated and that went through. So, I was with my kids and just stopped playing.

Sort of ironically, I got asked, 14 months after my last tournament, which was an event in December of ’92, to play an event in Rotterdam because I think two or three of the players at the time — I think it was Edberg, and I forgot who else the other guy was — pulled out. I agreed to play the event, even though I had no plans to play anymore. I was just trying to help out the ATP. Not that I did a whole lot. I lost first rounds and got to the semis IN doubles. But that delayed my induction by two years into the hall of fame, which was sort of like, really? That was a while ago. It doesn’t matter.

But it really boils down to what a player wants. Do they want that type of fanfare? Do you get showered with some gifts, which is nice. I recall Martina doing more like that type of farewell tour. To each his own. But to me it was like a lot was going on off the court. So, for me I never even had any of that. But that’s the way I preferred it.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Martina got a motorcycle, I think a Harley-Davidson at Madison Square Garden. I was a little jealous of that, not that I wanted a motorcycle but I would have settled.

JOHN MCENROE: A car.

CHRISSIE EVERT: A necklace, diamond necklace. [Chuckling]

But going back to mine, mine was kind of orchestrated in the sense that it was planned. It was like, okay, you know the year before I was really starting not to enjoy my tennis. I was getting burned out. And we decided, Bob Kain and Andy and I, my husband at the time, we decided let’s just go one more year and let’s go back to all the cities that I played for years and kind of have one last goodbye to the city. I played the whole year, but I knew from January on that I was going to retire at the U.S. Open. So, as John said, sometimes it’s orchestrated. Sometimes it’s just a last-minute decision, whatever it depends on. It depends on the person.

Q- If you don’t mind staying with the Serena topic, I’ve loved all that you’ve said. My question is about her impact on the game of women’s tennis and, in particular, her impact on other players. And I’m wondering, from the moment she won that U.S. Open in ’99 onward, have you seen ways in which her opponents or women who came up behind her altered their games or toughened their mental approach or added power? In other words, did she change the way the women’s game was contested and fought in any way, in your view?

CHRISSIE EVERT: In my view, she revolutionized tennis. She revolutionized the power in the game. And I feel like she really inspired women of color, because we’ve seen a lot more women of color playing the game.

And I think that she’s changed the way women compete as far as it’s okay to be, like, ferocious and passionate and vocal out there, emotional out there on the court and still be a woman, still not take away from being a woman. But the fearlessness of playing, because after she came on the scene, there definitely was a different level of power. And there’s a lot of errors as a result. There are a lot more winners and there are a lot more errors because the women were really trying to, I think — I don’t know if they wanted — nobody could match her power but they wanted to be able to sort of keep up with her. And so the game did change.

And I think the idea of having a big serve changed also because before then serving was a way to really set up a point, to start a point. But Serena brought to the game the fact that you could end a point by having a big serve.

So I think strength and power and having that really intense competitive attitude, I think all of that went up a level when Serena came on the scene.

JOHN MCENROE: I would just add, because Chrissie is pretty much dead on, the first person I saw really be aggressive consistently was Monica Seles in the women’s game, just attacking the ball and just overpowering people.

Serena took it to that next level because she had the greatest serve ever, better than a lot of guys. Unbelievable.

I would compare her in a way, the way she changed it, to Steph Curry in a way because Steph Curry has changed the basketball game, everyone is shooting 3-pointers, but no one does it as well as him.

People try to match the power, but that was a level beyond I think any — it took 20 years, basically, the better part of 20 years. And also Serena is not 19 or 18; she’s 40. So, it took that long for, really, people to catch up to her where they can match her. It just shows you how much of an impact she had.

And obviously, because in my book the playing field’s more level in the women’s tennis game, the women’s tennis than any other sport, the better athletes generally — and Chrissie mentioned girls of color — it’s inspired, obviously. Hopefully, it will continue to give more kids that opportunity to get out there and play because that’s exactly what we need in my book. So the impact is going to be long lasting, obviously.

Q- John, was that portrayed in the movie accurately, the story you told us when you saw Serena at 8 years old?

JOHN MCENROE: It’s incorrect. I didn’t walk away in disgust, refuse to see Serena. That’s all I’m saying. I was there. Saw them. Why would I walk away after being told that I’m going to see two kids, 8 and 9, that are going to be future number ones, like, I refuse to see these kids, for what? Because I’m a hothead. But that’s not correct.

Q- On Serena, how do you two see Serena in retirement? Do you think she’ll be an ambassador to the game? Do you think she’ll disappear like Sampras did?

JOHN MCENROE: I think that she’ll be more of an ambassador, truthfully. She represents so many things to so many people, and I think her interests are — she sounds like she’s got a ton of interests and I’m sure that some of those are going to have to do with tennis. I think she doesn’t want to sort of walk away and sort of not continue sort of opening the door for players of minority or kids that normally can’t afford it.

Her story with Venus is like the one-in-a-hundred-year story. But I’d like to see it where it’s one in five years that happens more often, or 10 years, or something plausible, where more kids get the opportunity to play. So, I think from that viewpoint alone she’ll be around, I would suspect. And I would, by the way, just FYI, I would like to see Pete come back a little bit. It’s never too late to sort of re-engage. So hopefully that will happen.

CHRISSIE EVERT: She’s never been one to be really into the politics of the game. So, I don’t — I don’t envision her really around tournaments. I think she’s mainly going to be — I think maybe having another child. She’s mentioned that more than once. I think she wants to grow her family. I think she wants to spend more time at home with her husband and her child. I think she’s into entrepreneurship. And she is into — she has a lot of businesses that she’s started away from tennis. So, I don’t know. I don’t think tennis — I don’t think she’s going to be as visible in tennis as she is maybe outside of tennis, in those businesses and entrepreneurships that I mentioned and raising a family. I could be wrong. But that’s just my feeling.

Q- The way she’s playing now, obviously struggling, what’s your prediction?

CHRISSIE EVERT: Actually, you know, she’s not playing that badly. I thought that last tournament she looked better than the tournament before. She’s gradually getting better. And supposedly she’s moving better now.

And I mean every week that she has to train is an added bonus because she can get up to that 80 percent level, I think, pretty quickly.  So. I think — I say don’t underestimate her. I still think she was serving well in the last tournament. She’s hitting the ball hard, she’s going after second-serve returns. She just needs to get that little ball tolerance up another two shots. And I think she could have a decent couple of matches. So, I think she’s getting better and better as time — but the problem is the field. The problem is everybody else is getting better, too.

And I mean, when you look at the way Coco is playing and Madison Keys, Halep, Jabeur, I just think there’s so many…Raducanu, she’s stepped it up. I think there’s a lot of good players out there now who, number one, aren’t intimidated by her; and, number two, know that she’s not at her best at the moment; and, number three, want to beat her. I think it’s going to be tough for her to — it’s going to be tough for her to get to that second week.

JOHN MCENROE: My two cents would be that it’s totally unknown Could be first round, or she could actually make a run. Depends on the crowd. Sometimes when you’re not playing well you sort of feel like the crowd doesn’t get that you’re struggling. And the pressure that they want to give you the love but you’re not able to take it in the right way. So, it sort of depends. It obviously depends on who she’s playing as well, that level, how early she gets a couple of wins under her belt, type of thing. So, to me anything could happen. It’s so wide open. At the moment, obviously we know she can hit shots but it’s going to be how well can she play some defense and recover and move. That’s the part that gets, as we all know, gets tougher as you get older. And especially if you haven’t played.

And so then you sort of get like that mental — I’m speaking for myself; I’m not — Serena has come back from more deficits than I’ve ever seen — but you sort of, why weren’t you helping me before — your head gets into some negative thoughts, even though the crowd is for you. So, it depends on how she reacts to that if things aren’t going well or the way she anticipates. We’ll have to wait and see, because I know the crowd will be super behind her if she makes a good run.

CHRISSIE EVERT: The draw, like you said, the draw, she could just…the draw is going to be, when it comes out, is going to be interesting. And I think when you haven’t played for a year it’s virtually impossible to play seven matches with your A game. And I think that’s why — I think it’s going to be tough for her to get into the second week because I think that you just have more ups and downs when you’re not match tough. So, I don’t know, she always seems to keep us in suspense, doesn’t she? So, we’ll see.

Q- The sport obviously finds new stars and it certainly continued after both of your playing days have ended. That said, Serena Williams is really a unique figure in terms of how much she’s carried the viewership of the sport, particularly women’s tennis. I wanted to know from both of you, where does your confidence level fall in terms of viewership interest in women’s tennis in the United States in the near term in a post-Serena environment?

JOHN MCENROE: That’s a good question, like Tiger Woods not playing on the golf tour. It’s like a half or whatever. So that’s certainly something that’s concerning Steve Simon and others, and everyone, actually, because we play a lot of tournaments together. So that’s definitely a big issue trying to sort of…we need to do a better job promoting these up-and-coming players. Obviously, we’ve been saying that for 30, 40 years. And clearly there’s going to be a void, a huge void that’s going to be tough to sort of overcome in the short term.

We all know that life goes on and they keep playing. And hopefully, eventually, there’s other superstars that come along. But at the moment, you’re absolutely right, that it’s going to be almost impossible, if not impossible, for the moment to be able to fill those shoes.

Coco, obviously, starting to get there. Raducanu, a great story in England. They absolutely want to see much more of her. We all do, actually. That was so unpredictable that it actually made it more interesting. Believe it or not, the ratings for the Raducanu-Fernandez match was higher than the Djokovic-Medvedev match when he was going for the grand slam. So that’s crazy. I’m not sure that says something all that great for the men’s game that that was going on at that time when Novak was trying to create further history for himself. Hopefully it had something to do with the timing of the NFL that particular day. But nonetheless, that story intrigued a lot of people, the young kids playing. So people are clamoring for those up-and-coming stars, so hopefully they’ll come soon. But certainly with Serena and Venus leaving the stage, that’s going to be a very tall order.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Yes, that’s a double whammy to have both of them leaving the stage. And I think Serena, hands down, has been the most prolific, not only woman tennis player but tennis professional that we’ve had and that is going to be leaving the game. And she’s the biggest draw. Like you said, the ratings have been, the last few years, have skyrocketed because of her.

And I think it remains to be seen. I’ve always thought — and I say this — John, you can relate to this because this is kind of in your documentary a little bit — when Bjorn Borg retired I thought tennis was doomed. I thought where the heck is tennis going to go — men’s tennis, especially — where is it going to go? Bjorn Borg was…he was a rock star, like John says in his documentary — he was like the Beatles. I’ve never seen — no player has had that many bodyguards to get him through a crowd than Bjorn Borg. And I thought it was doomed. And it just bounced back in one or two years. And John was there and Jimmy was there and Lendl was there and Becker was there. And it just bounced back.

And women’s tennis is going to bounce back. Nobody is bigger — really, nobody is bigger than the game. And I think that, thank heavens, we have Coco and we have Leylah and we have the younger girls, Raducanu, who are big draws, huge draws. And I think it just remains to be seen, really.

But I think as big as she has been to the game of tennis and as prolific and as instrumental, I think that it will take maybe a year, maybe two years, or whatever. Right now the high point of women’s tennis depth, nobody’s dominating. I mean, you can’t really say Swiatek is dominating now. It’s all about the depth. And hopefully in the next few years somebody will emerge from that depth with charisma and with great tennis and personality and kind of take over the women’s game and we’ll be in an even better position.

Q- Chrissie, you touched on this briefly. I just want to talk about what Serena has meant not just to tennis but women’s sports in general. I mean, she was the highest paid, because of her non-tennis winnings, athlete for years. She raised the bar on what is possible for athletes in general and brought all kinds of attention. Do you think that’s one of her biggest contributions? And where would you rate her maybe amongst sports icons? We just talked about Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali. Would you rank her up there?

CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I would. I would put her up there as far as the influence, the fact how she revolutionized the game and also how she’s influenced girls and women and people throughout the world. I agree, the money thing, we haven’t even covered the money thing. But, yeah, that’s how big of a star. She’s a superstar. That’s why, for me…I think as time goes on and as an athlete…we saw Billie Jean King, I mean, you’d have to put — Billie Jean King you’d have to put in that category, too, by the way.

But sometimes, at the end of their career or after they’ve retired, then you see the true contribution that they’ve made. And I think that now we’re seeing more and more what Serena has done. And I keep saying honestly what impresses me the most is just off-court influence and how she’s influenced young women to own their power, to speak their mind, to be fearless.

And you have to give Richard Williams a lot of credit for that because he taught his girls to be fearless. I think when you grow up with a parent or parents that teach you to be fearless, I think that’s a plus. And that’s really important because I was, like, fearful my whole life. [Laughs] It was like, can I start over? I’ll start over in my next life, be fearless. But anyway, I’m kind of talking around circles.

JOHN MCENROE: I would only add that, like Chrissie just said, that all you need to say about Serena is that she’s put herself in that pantheon of G.O.A.T.s of G.O.A.T.s. She’s up there with what Chrissie said, Billie Jean King. You mentioned Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady. That’s where Serena is. I think that tells you all you need to know about what her status is. She’s become like an icon of icons. It probably happened later than it deserved to for her, but it’s here now. And so God bless her for being able to get there and hopefully she enjoys it the way we hope they all do in sort of post-career endeavors, because she’s set herself up beautifully. She seems to be in a great place. And obviously it’s huge for tennis that she’s been a tennis player for as long as she has.

CHRISSIE EVERT: A lot of athletes retire and they haven’t set up a future for themselves. And I think that you’ve seen a lot of depressed retired athletes.

But the thing with Serena is that she has so much to go to. And so much more richness in her life and experiences and happiness that I’m sure it’s going to be, like, crushing for a while. But for me, I don’t know how John felt, but for me, once I retired, I felt like every day I was on vacation for a while. I really realized how much pressure was put on a tennis player and how much I didn’t have to be intense. I didn’t have to be nervous and have that knot in my stomach every day.

And then you have children and then it’s like it’s all about them. And there’s joy. It’s like, whoa, there’s joy in your life. You can’t really feel sorry for her. I think she’s going on to bigger and better things.

Q- I was going to say I thought tennis was doomed the day that you and Martina retired. How do you like that? I actually want to talk about another potential retiree, and really who is making his comeback and that’s Roger Federer. I want to ask you to look ahead, particularly, John, because you’ll see Roger in London at the Laver Cup. And I’m wondering — both of you, but John in particular — what do you expect of Roger when he does show up in London? Is he our next retiree and if so, how soon? And I guess, lastly, John, you captaining the World Team, looking at that stacked European Team, what are your thoughts?

JOHN MCENROE: [Chuckling] That’s a lot of questions I don’t know the answer to. But I’ll start with what we expect from Roger at Laver Cup. You expect Roger to be Roger, to some degree. That’s because they’re so great that you always — it’s like when we saw Serena, you’re like, whoa, she lost first round at Wimbledon? You feel like it’s almost impossible no matter how long they haven’t played. Roger is in that similar situation. He hasn’t played a match in, it will be 15 months.

As far as retirement, I thought that what he was going to do was he was going to play Laver Cup because he in part owns it and he wants to make that a big event, which I think it should be because it’s his name and Rod Laver’s. I thought he was going to play the Laver Cup and go to Basel, play in his hometown and retire. That’s what I thought he was going to do.

I guess it’s still possible based on what he’s feeling physically, which I don’t know the answer to. But then I read that he said he wanted to play a full schedule in ’23. So then, you’re like…What? But okay. Roger is obviously entitled to do whatever he wants. And if he feels up to it, he could do some damage. It’s hard to envision that at 41 that he could win a Major, but then again I said that six years ago when he came back after having not played for six months and having surgery at Wimbledon after the year I was with Milos and got to the finals.

As far as Laver Cup, the law of averages state, I believe, that at some point the [inaudible] can come through. It’s more unpredictable, obviously, because Roger hasn’t played. Murray is obviously a legend, a first-time ballot hall of famer, but he’s not at the level he was at.

So, there’s the door open. Of course, they’re the big favorites as usual. I’d like to think that at some point they’ll speed up the court for the good-old World squad so that we have a better shot. So, we’ll see what happens.

I love the event. I just love to be part of that event in any way, shape or form. Obviously, my days are getting numbered since my record isn’t too good. I don’t want to take all the blame. I certainly have to take some of it. But just seeing my buddy Bjorn on the other side. We’ve been close a couple times, not last year. But hopefully since it’s more unpredictable this year, you go in with a solid puncher’s chance.

Q- Chrissie, do you think that Roger is in that same stratosphere that Serena is in that everybody is talking about?

CHRISSIE EVERT: You know, that’s a good question because I want to say…I don’t know the answer to that. I think in the sense of mentally and emotionally, I don’t know.  He has four kids and he has such a great life in Switzerland and he’s got — he’s all set up with businesses. And he’s just…it would take a Herculean effort to get back to the top, not even No. 1 but back to the top five. I think that would be a Herculean effort, I really do.

With Serena, you kind of…she reveals more about herself and her feelings. And you can see it on the court. Oh, you know, she’s losing to players that she shouldn’t be losing to. And you don’t know how much she’s training and she’s getting injured. And you kind of feel that the end is close. But with Roger, I don’t know what he’s doing. I mean, who knows. I don’t know how he’s training. I don’t know if he’s really eager and hungry or if he’s like very satisfied with the life he’s living. I think we’ll be able to tell just by the first tournament he plays what’s really going on with him. But I don’t know. I just…as we’ve said before, to each his own. Everybody retires on their own time and for their own reasons.

Q- One of the younger players, Liv Hovde, 2022 Wimbledon, girls junior champion, turned pro earlier this month and is starting her pro career. I don’t know if you’ve seen her play but if you have…What advice would you have to a young professional starting out at the Open and trying…and in the months ahead what she should expect and how she should prepare?

CHRISSIE EVERT: How old is she?

Q- She’s 16?

CHRISSIE EVERT: And so, she’s still in school, high school?

Q- Yes, but she’s doing remote learning.

CHRISSIE EVERT: Look, it’s brutal out there. The qualifying tournament is like, it’s like a WTA tournament. The qualifying at the U.S. Open, it’s like a WTA tournament, when I looked at the names. I don’t think we’ve ever seen as strong as qualifying as we have. I’m not as familiar on the men’s side but I know on the women’s it’s like the big names — I’m seeing women that are — Genie Bouchard, players that did really well before.

She’s 16 years old. There’s another example of Coco Gauff. And it’s all about developing your game right now. It’s not about results. And it’s about competing and developing your game and finding out your strengths and weaknesses, finding your game. Just experience, that’s all it should be about. There should be no pressure whatsoever involved. When she plays professional tennis…when I used to play at 16, 17, I never felt any pressure at all walking on the court with anybody, like Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals because I knew I had time on my side and they didn’t. I knew they would be nervous because they don’t want to lose to a kid. So you just have to really feel like appreciative that you’re in that position, you’ve worked hard. But at the same time don’t put too many expectations, don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

JOHN MCENROE: I’m not familiar with her. I look forward to seeing her now to see like another up and comer, but I’d sort of…there would be a lot of things I’d have to look at, where she’s at physically, try to get to see sort of an indication of where she’s at mentally, if I was around at all, just get a feel for that. But obviously I think the key thing is, like Chrissie said, take it slow and try to keep the pressure off would be my (indiscernible). But at 16, as Chrissie said, plenty of time.

Q- Could we talk a little bit about Rafa? He seems lost here, but obviously from early on when he started his game was so physical everybody talked about how he was going to basically burn himself out with the physicality of his game. And some way, somehow he’s still not only comes back from all these injuries, but to win grand slams and whatever. How remarkable it is and how long do you think he can sustain? And the other question I had is we’re into a few years with the pandemic, if you guys have any sense how maybe the pandemic situation has changed the tour and whether you think any of that change will be permanent, maybe for the good or the bad.

JOHN MCENROE: That’s a good question. As far as I’ll answer the second part first. “I don’t know” is the answer. I’m not sure what it’s done. I’m not around enough. The first year and a half, two years, I called the last two Australian Opens from the East Coast. And I called two French opens from Malibu.

So the great — going back, you got the feel — I think the players did, I know I did, of how great it is to play in front of people. As far as procedures and protocols, I don’t know the answer to that.

As far as Rafa, it’s unbelievable obviously what he’s been able to do. You hit the nail on the head. We didn’t think he’d be playing this long. So, the answer of how long could he play, there’s no way to know the answer to that either. I’ve never envisioned he would take six months off at 35 and turns around and wins the Australian from two sets to love down in the finals and comes through after having barely played and then wins the French at 36.

That was less unexpected, obviously, but still nonetheless mighty impressive. And then he was at the semis in Wimbledon and defaults.

We don’t know where he’s at exactly here. What we do know is that he could win this because he just won the Australian Open having not played. Doesn’t mean just because he only played one match with (indiscernible) — didn’t do too bad after all in Cincinnati, won the whole thing. Rafa is definitely one of the favorites. There’s no question about it. Obviously, we’ll find out if Novak is playing. Then it’s going to be where the seedings are and what the draw looks like. But Rafa has as good a chance as anyone to win this. If not more of a chance, obviously. The guy’s won 21 majors, what is it, 22 majors? I’m losing track. It’s incredible. We can never write him off. It’s going to be Rafa’s like when I played Connors, that effort level. But Connors loved to play. So at 39, he was still out there, got to the semis of the Open. There’s no reason to think that if Rafa continued to love to play that he couldn’t keep producing at a pretty high level. I just thought for him, since he won so much, if he would keep doing it if he fell off at all. He’s got to feel he’s there winning or close to winning. So, I would suspect that it’s going to be fairly soon. Although wouldn’t hold me to that.

CHRISSIE EVERT: If I could just say about Rafa, I agree with you. I think we all thought the guy, the way he trained, the way he — he practiced like he was playing matches. Physically, his game, he stands so far back. So, he had to — he had to take more steps than everybody else. He’s such a physical player. We all thought he’s going to have like a 15-year career. And he surpassed that now. And the thing with Rafa that’s so impressive, it’s not the body or the injuries or the fitness level. To me it’s the hunger. The second he loses that hunger, that’s a huge part of his game. And that’s 25 percent of his game is going to drop off because that hunger has won him a lot of matches and gotten him out of a lot of tight spots. And that hunger has kept him going. And I think he realizes that he’s going to milk it as long as he can, because he’s very smart, and he knows, oh, my God, once it’s done, it’s done. You can never get it back. You can never go back. And this has been such — it’s been just what’s kept him going in life is being a tennis professional.

So, I think he probably will miss it more than anybody once he retires. But, yes, he’s just awe-inspiring. And I didn’t pick him to win the last two French Opens. I go, sure, Djokovic or somebody has come close before and Rafa can’t keep this up. But he has. He surpassed everything. So, everything should be icing on the cake.

As far as the pandemic, I think it did throw some players off. Number one, not having crowds. Number two, disruptive of people’s routines, their timing, getting COVID and having to recuperate from that. You saw new names in the top 10, names that you would never expect to see, maybe, at that time. And I think it did throw some people off. But I think it will return to normalcy now that everything seems to be getting back to normal, I think it will return to normalcy. And I think by the end of this year it will return.

Q- What was the first time that you saw Serena and what were your impressions?

CHRISSIE EVERT: She played in my first celebrity tournament. I had a celebrity (event) that was the fight against drug abuse and prevention of drug abuse. And she and Venus were living down here. And they both came and played in my first celebrity.  And I think they played…I don’t know if they played singles, I think they played doubles. Again, the first thing that strikes anybody is the power, the power in their games. The athleticism, the relaxed athleticism that they have and the way they move and everything. And the fact (indiscernible) 12, 13 years old, they weren’t afraid to go to the net and volley. They had such an advanced game for that age. It was a different kind of a game than any juniors that I had ever seen. And they were very happy. Very happy, smiles and they were enjoying the attention and they were enjoying going out there and playing tennis. So that was my first recollection. It was at my charity event.

Q- A question about Venus and John’s opinion about Novak.)

JOHN MCENROE: My opinion about Novak is what I’ve been stating for a while that I think it’s a joke if he’s not allowed to participate here. We could go into this for a lengthy discussion. But the bottom line is I don’t know if…it doesn’t look good. I guess we’ll know by tomorrow when the draw is made. It’s been very unfortunate for him and for tennis, I believe, just to have an opportunity for him play. It’s just a shame this whole year.

As I’ve said before, if it was me personally, I’ve had couple of vaccines, a booster shot. I would have done that. But maybe that’s why he’s won 21 and I won seven, because he’s using (indiscernible) mentally to fuel him, that mentality, I’ve got to do what I believe in. So that’s an issue. Just seems like after all this time that we should be allowing him to play.

And Venus, I’ve said — she’s been the greatest thing that’s ever happened to her sister. She’s obviously an unbelievable player. And she has some varied interests as well. We don’t know as much…Venus has been pretty tight-lipped for a long time. It’s hard to know where exactly she’s coming from. But I hope she’s in a good place and she deserves to be. And I’d be surprised if she plays much longer. As a matter of fact, I would think that she would stop playing the same time Serena does.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I think, again, the thing about Venus, it’s just lovely to see the support she’s given Serena. She’s always in the stands when Serena is playing big matches. And she’s always shown a lot of class and a lot of grace off the court as well as on the court. And I think she’s — I don’t know to say she’s been underappreciated, but I think, again, there’s a little shadow cast on her because of Serena. Venus herself merits having a great send-off and her contributions to tennis as well.

Q- Just to follow up on Novak, John, with the comment about it being unfortunate that he can’t play. Could you expand on that a little bit? How detrimental to tennis or bad for tennis and the Open and the fans of the Open will it be if Novak, a guy with 21 majors, can’t play at this tournament? And also if Rafa goes on to win and it’s 23 to 21 for Rafa, how much harder does it make for Novak to catch up or unlikely that he’ll catch up?

JOHN MCENROE. Novak’s been battling for years to get the same level of love and respect as Rafa and Roger. And he could probably play to the end of time and that won’t happen. I’m sure on some level that’s frustrating to him. It shows you just how great he really is. He’s been able to fuel him mentally to heights that no one thought was possible. And last year you would have assumed that when he was a match away before that that he was going to be the guy that had the most. So, this is going to be a great tournament. It will be better if Novak is there. No question.

Chrissie said it earlier, tennis goes on, it’s bigger than any one individual. Hopefully, it will be a great event either way. I believe it will be. It would be better if Novak was there, obviously. So, the biggest thing for him is his personal risk that he’s risking.  Rafa, if he were to win this he would be two ahead, that it would be tougher to separate himself in terms of the overall grand slam wins. And he’s talked about wanting to be at the top of the heap and the greatest ever, which I respect, that he has the guts to say that.

His stance has risked that, getting thrown out of Australia where he won eight or nine times, that’s one he obviously could have won, as well as the French, he wasn’t ready. I think the ramifications of what happened hurt him against Nadal. I think he got tired, either mentally or physically. I’m not saying he definitely would have won but he could have won. If he won that match he would have won the whole thing in my book.

He wins Wimbledon, gets back to that level and he’s not able to play here. And I don’t even know for certain that he could go to Australia in January right now. So obviously there’s a lot at stake for him personally.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that — I mean, I understand. I understand 100 percent that COVID can be very, very serious. I understand that. I was vaccinated and had a booster and I got it. I think now especially the protocols have really loosened up and kids are going back to school. Kids are back in school and not wearing masks. And people are going back to work. And there isn’t as strict a rule with the masks. There are full-packed crowds. I don’t want this to be a stupid question, but you don’t have to be vaccinated to get into the U.S. Open as a spectator, correct? Right?

JOHN MCENROE: I don’t think they’re checking.

CHRISSIE EVERT: They’re not checking. You look at the crowds, they’re full-packed crowds. Everything is pointing to, kind of, why isn’t Novak playing? I keep going back to the protocols, that life is seemingly getting back to normalcy and the rules aren’t as strict and the protocols aren’t as strict and people are living their lives and going to work and going to school. So it’s a tough one. I mean, I don’t want to sit on the fence because I could see both sides. But I wouldn’t be adverse to him being accepted and playing.

JOHN MCENROE: Honestly, I don’t even see the other side. Because he’s the one that’s risking more, isn’t he? He’s the one that’s not vaccinated, if you go by that particular point. And he’s willing to do that.

CHRISSIE EVERT: He can spread it. But he can spread it.

JOHN MCENROE: He could spread — but he would spread it the same way as a vaccinated (person). You said yourself, me included. I got it three months ago and I was double vaccinated and boosted. I just don’t get the…I don’t get it.

Q- One of the big rule changes this year is off-court coaching. What are your thoughts on that, and would you have liked it as a player?

JOHN MCENROE: Off-court coaching where they can yell from the stands?

Q- They can’t yell. They can talk to the players on the same side.

JOHN MCENROE: It’s been sort of what’s been happening for a while anyway, but they’ve legalized that part. They can’t go on the court. I personally like (that) that’s one of the things that differentiated tennis. I guess I’m old school. I liked it when you just had to go out there and there was no coaching. If it’s good for the game, I’m okay with it. But to me it was sort of nice that we differentiated ourselves from other sports in that way. Once you got out there, it was up to you. So that’s my personal opinion. But the yelling — go in, serve and volley — from the sidelines, I find that sort of funny.

Q- Would you have liked that as a player, if your opponent was getting advice?

JOHN MCENROE: I don’t think I would have cared because I think I would have figured out a way to tell myself that they’re getting bad advice. It’s just another person that you would sort of…you should be able to understand what’s going on anyway to me. If you need a coach to tell you, but I don’t think we have enough time to get into that topic. But personally I wouldn’t have cared.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I don’t like coaching, because I think that part of being a champion, part of winning a match, is problem solving and making your own decisions. It’s an individual sport. So, I’m not a fan of it.

I think it’s entertaining. It’s entertaining and I know that it’s always — but I don’t know. I never had a coach that gave me a signal. I wish they would have now. I wish Dennis Ralston would have told me to do something. But I never had any signals.

So, I just think that the coach’s job is everything before the match, everything after the match, but during the match it’s up to the player. And I think the mental toughness and the strategy and the thinking and I think that’s all part of winning a match, the problem solving.

Q- How do you assess Daniil Medvedev’s game now and what do you see for him at the Open? And the same question Naomi Osaka, a two-time former U.S. champion?

JOHN MCENROE: Medvedev, it’s tough to say, actually. He looks more or less the same. You wonder what’s going on in his head, obviously, with what’s going on with that war. So, I can’t imagine it’s not playing a part in all these Russian players and what’s going on in that part of the world. Having said that, I still think he’s one of the favorites, one of the top two couple guys, no question about it. So that’s obviously an interesting storyline to follow. And tactically there’s a whole other thing. Obviously he plays so far back. It seems like that will catch up to him…they’ll figure out, players should figure out a way to deal with that and he’s got to adjust. We’ll see if that adjustment is made or if it needs to be made.

As far as Naomi, when she went out with the whole mental health thing it was sort of a gutsy thing to talk about and bring to the forefront and it was important especially with the pandemic. She’s not the first person that’s gone through this obviously. We all have gone through it, athletes. But she brought it out. The problem I thought at the time and still do is that if anything, there’s more attention thrown on her because every time she walks on the court, you’re like, did she look happy? Does she look sad? Does she look this way or that? So, in a way it made it more difficult for her. So that part I think she didn’t take that — I don’t know; I shouldn’t say it; I can’t speak for her. It seems like that part may not have been taken into account enough. And so that’s made it trickier. I don’t know where her head’s at. Obviously, she’s incredible on hard courts. And I’m sure if her head is into it the way it can be, she’s obviously one of the favorites, in my book. But at the moment it doesn’t seem like she’s all there. But you just said, she’s won it twice and she’s won four majors on hard courts. To think she wouldn’t be capable of doing it would be crazy.

CHRISSIE EVERT: I didn’t mean to laugh at that. I thought the way you said it was interesting about…I think we all…because I agree…I want to watch her. You don’t know how she’s feeling and she’s made it very…she’s made us very aware that mental health is very important in her tennis. And I think she’s hitting the ball fine. I’ve watched her the last couple of weeks. She’s hitting the ball fine. She’s made some coaching changes, which I think was probably because of the time of — I don’t know why. I don’t know why. But anyway, she’s made some changes. I think she’s hitting the ball fine. And I think she just isn’t match-tough. I think that’s the one thing that’s hurting her. She just hasn’t played enough matches where she feels her instincts are back and she feels confident going for the shots, going for shots on big points like when she was playing her best tennis. And I think in saying that, if she gets to the second week, I think she’s going to be dangerous. She will be dangerous because I think all she’s lacking right now is match practice. She loves the hard courts and I think she’s going to feel good playing at the U.S. Open.

Q- One of the storylines we’ve obviously talked about potentially being Serena’s last dance. Just for the younger rising stars, trying to step into the massive shoes that are left behind. What are some of the important things to focus on in tournaments like the US Open? Obviously outside of winning, of course. And secondly, John, I wanted to ask about the documentary coming out next week about your life and career and how you were feeling about is it as the premiere day gets closer and if you had any thoughts on the documentary overall.

JOHN MCENROE: The documentary, it’s always weird when you do something about yourself and look at yourself and what’s in it, what’s not in it, how open or revealing, et cetera. You could go down the list. But I felt it was like important for me to sort of talk about the journey I’ve taken as much or more — and where I’ve come out hopefully better the other end. And how you go from your world changing at 18 to suddenly here I am at 63. Feel like I’m in a good place. Hopefully people will like it. I mean, that’s — obviously learn something perhaps. I think there’s a lot of things that people can relate to, going through a divorce, issues with your parents, et cetera. Obvious things. Kids. Post career, et cetera. So hopefully there will be a level of interest, and I guess it comes out at the right time during the US Open.

And ultimately, I feel like once it was — because it was unclear whether it was even going to happen at certain points. The pandemic hit. It took a lot longer. I won’t get into the details. But the bottom line is I tried, once you decide to do it you try to put your heart and soul into it. And I’m proud of it, ultimately. Of course, you want certain things I wanted to be maybe in there. Certain things weren’t. Some other parts. But it’s like you’ve got to put it all in 90 minutes or whatever it is. So, you try to do the best you can. That’s like anything. You do the best you can and hopefully it’s let the cards fall where they may be. I’m proud of it and I think — I think it’s pretty good.

CHRISSIE EVERT: The younger kids, I think — the tough thing about the US Open, it’s at the end of the year. You don’t want to be burned out if you’ve had a big year. Players are starting to get tired. It’s hot. It’s noisy. You want to be fresh. You want to have peaked in your game. You want to manage — it’s two weeks. It’s seven matches and you’ve got to manage yourself well emotionally, mentally, your expectations. You want to take care of your body. There’s so many elements that have to be accomplished if you’re going to win this title.

And the thing is now with the depth being so deep, that’s why it’s really increasingly harder to win a grand slam because you have to have your A game every match. And sometimes you have peaks and valleys. It’s how you manage yourself over two weeks how you take one day at a time, one match at a time, you try to stay healthy and you try to stay calm and at the same time it’s a balancing act.

Q- Wanted to touch on, there’s been chatter about potential merger of the ATP and WTA. Just wondering what your thoughts are about just like the future administration of the two tours and what you think may be the pros and cons of…

CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, is that still — I haven’t heard that talk recently.

Q- Some of it has been kind of floating out there this spring. I think there’s generally some chatter about what the future of tennis may be and if a combined men’s and women’s tour makes sense. Generally, my question is what you think about looking at the future of professional tennis, if you think there are benefits to be gained from having the administration be cross — or not?

CHRISSIE EVERT: It was a big story last year or even during…I remember it being a big story in the past. But I don’t think it’s been brought up. I think the women are very successful on their own. Obviously, the men are successful on their own. The only problem I see is equal prize money because I think the men still get more prize money than the women do, aside from the grand slams, aside from the majors. And are they going to agree (to) that — on unequal prize money? I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they would have to come down a little bit in prize money and the woman would have to go up a little bit in prize money.

I don’t know. I just feel like right now it’s still status quo, both tours are very successful in their own minds. And I just think it would take a lot of leveraging and a lot of compromise especially on the men’s side, if this were to happen. I could be wrong. Maybe the WTA and ATP are still talking about it. I just haven’t heard anything as of recently.

Q- Leylah Fernandez, last year she made the finals at the US Open. Was It kind of a surprise? And what do you think of her progression this year and the way she’s been handling the new pressure that she’s had since she made that final? And can she cause another surprise at this year’s tournament?

CHRISSIE EVERT: Tough act to follow for both Emma and Leylah, it’s going to be tough act to follow.

I love watching Leylah play. I mean, talk about passion. Talk about just putting everything into her game, throwing her whole body into her shots, the emotion that she has, the love of the game, the hunger. It’s all still there, maybe more than ever. And she’s really in the thick of — what is she? She’s 14th in the world right now, which is awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised if she got to the second week, but I would be surprised if she ended up in the finals only because I still think there are some players that are bigger and stronger players that can overpower her. But I love everything about that girl. And I love the way she plays. So, I wish her luck. I hope she does well.

Q- Felix Auger-Aliassime, he made the semifinal last year. He’s had a good year, some ups, some downs. What do you think it means to improve to maybe take the next step in the big tournaments?

CHRISSIE EVERT: Felix had a very good last year. He’s getting better and better. I think his confidence, I think in the past he probably hasn’t really believed that he can play with the top players, and I think that’s improved. I think he feels that he belongs at the top and he can play the Djokovics and Nadals now and really have a good chance of winning. I think in the past it’s been, again, the physicalities has maybe kept him a little bit apart from the top players — meaning I didn’t feel that physically he was as strong as they were. But, again, I think it’s a journey. And it does take a little longer for the guys to get their physicality. You just have to be so strong. You just have to look at Alcaraz and see how strong he is at a young age. Not everybody can get that physical and play that physically at such a young age. So, I think Felix is just a matter of maybe just getting a little more power in his game at this point. 2

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Dave Nagle

As I write this on 11-11-21, it's now 35 years for me at ESPN, the only real job I’ve ever had. I joined merely to help with the America’s Cup for three months at all of $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, Darlington, Indy 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, Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, my main areas are tennis, UFC, boxing, ratings, and corporate communications documents, including more than 30 of the Year in Review press releases.
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