On Wednesday, June 20, a media conference call previewing The Championships, Wimbledon was held with ESPN analysts Cliff Drysdale, Chris Evert and John McEnroe. The action begins Monday, June 25, exclusive to ESPN platforms through to the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Finals on Saturday, July 7 and 8, respectively.
Q. I wanted to ask about the men’s field and whether you see anybody having any chance of winning this title other than the three guys who have won 28 of the past 29 Grand Slam titles. And also just wondering for a little perspective on that run by those three, and if that’s a good thing for the game, a bad thing for the game and its popularity.
JOHN McENROE: Well, let me just jump in and say that it’s good for the game. As far as the rivalries, I think any sport that’s a one‑on‑one sport needs that. I think that’s what’s hurt our sport for a while, that we didn’t seem to have that, and with the Nadal‑Federer obviously and then Djokovic in the mix, to me has made it more interesting and in some ways more historic as we saw at the French.
As far as anyone else, Murray is obviously the other guy. He would be the other guy that would have the next best chance. It seems like there’s a little bit more distance. It’s not as far as I think people think, but he has been unable to break through with these guys, and that just shows you how great they are.
The only other guys like an Isner, a Berdych or a Tsonga, I say it when I do a telecast, to see someone have to beat three of these four guys seems almost impossible. It’s a string of events that would have to occur for anyone else besides one of those four guys. If someone gets hurt, you don’t want that to happen, or someone gets upset, or someone let’s say like a Tsonga doesn’t have to play more than one or two of the guys at the most. That would be the only scenario where someone could go all the way, otherwise at the moment it’s still going to be one of these guys.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I feel like we’re turning a corner here in tennis, and one of the big questions for me is whether the big servers, you mentioned them, like Isner, you have to had to Raonic and Kevin Anderson of South Africa, and whether we may be getting back to the era when big serves did dominate, the Sampras‑Ivanisevic final, for example. And if one of those guys can upset the top three that you’re talking about, then that could open the draw up. I’m just saying could open the draw up. That for me is part of the excitement question here.
CHRIS EVERT: I think if I may say, I think that it’s like one of the most exciting times in men’s tennis, because you have three men who are not only the greatest in their era, but I would put them in the top five in the greatest in the history of the game, and they all are breaking records right and left. The French Open was one example. Wimbledon is tricky. I’ve always thought there was a little luck when it comes to winning a Grand Slam. You’ve got to have a break. And these three have been very healthy so far. But you just never know. If one of them, something happens to one of them, they’re sick or they’re hurt or they’re upset, like Cliff said, it really does open up the draw, and somebody like a Tsonga could slip through or an Andy Murray and have one big win and win the title. But if that doesn’t happen, then one of the three definitely are going to win.
Q. I wanted to switch over for a minute to the women’s side. The last time we spoke before the French Open, everyone was very high on Serena, and she was kind of the big favorite, with people saying that Maria had elevated her game, too. Can you talk about what you expect going into Wimbledon. And what does Maria’s return to the top mean for the game and what do you think about Serena’s chances?
CHRIS EVERT: First of all, I feel like Serena, she can’t be too happy with that first‑round loss at the French. I think grass is so much more suited to her game and her style, and she’s so much more comfortable on the grass. Yeah, I think knowing how competitive she is, she’s going to be full blast. She has to definitely be one of the top ones, if not the top one, in my book. But again, if you look at Australia, she’s lost to Makarova, then you look at the French, and her last two Grand Slams she hasn’t been very successful. It’s a two‑week tournament. So hopefully if she’s on top of her game, I don’t think anybody disputes the fact that she is the favorite to win Wimbledon because of her game. But there’s that unknown factor again. Maria on the other hand has to be coming into Wimbledon with that much more confidence. Her serve has got to work on the grass, and it started to get better at the French. The double faults were down and she started to, I think, free herself up and serve the way she wanted to serve. I think she’s looking good. Azarenka, kind of an unknown on grass. I’m not 100 percent sure that she is 100 percent comfortable on the grass. And Kvitova, the pressure, I think she lost first round in the warm‑up tournaments, so you kind of have to wonder how the pressure coming in as Wimbledon champion is going to affect her.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: In my book Serena is a clear favorite. I think she was the best player in women’s tennis going into the French championship. So she loses a match on clay. It’s not her best surface by any means. You can name anybody including Sharapova, and you put them head to head, Serena is the clear favorite. I still think she’s the best player in the business. The confidence level for her I think will be just fine, having lost the first round. I don’t think that’s a big issue for her. I’d be very surprised if she doesn’t win. ‘
JOHN McENROE: You know, basically I would have thought Serena would have won the first two already, so I’m sort of surprised at what’s happened. What I would think, unless I’m seriously misreading something, the two that have been mentioned, hopefully they won’t be in the same half, but Serena and Maria to me definitely have distanced themselves. If Maria has problems with her serve, that could be more of an issue because she’s not going to break as easily on grass as she was on clay. Sort of ironic that for her, considering clay was always her most difficult surface, it actually worked for her because I think it took some of the pressure off her own serve because she was breaking so much, but it won’t be quite as easy on grass. Her serve has gotten better, but it’s still not where she wants it to be. So hopefully it’ll be a little bit better.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: The toughest floater is going to be Kim Clijsters. She’s done it before, comes out of nowhere, wins a Slam. Just watch for her.
Q. Just a quick follow‑up for John: Do you think that anyone in the field believes they can beat one, two or all three of the top three? And if you were asked to pick those three of the rest of the field, who would you take?
JOHN McENROE: I’d pick Roanic, Isner and Tsonga if I was going to pick the three guys that are sort of ‑‑ not in left field, but would be the best bet to upend all those guys. But I don’t know if anyone can do that, have that great a day three times in a row. Also, I find that as much as I’ve seen John advance and he’s a legit 10 in the world, and Roanic is certainly headed in the right direction, I would like them to alter ‑‑ to me if they’re going to beat those guys, they’ve got to play more of a Pete Sampras style where they unsettle the guys that are playing, and don’t get stuck in the type of rallies that these guys seem to be getting stuck in, especially ‑‑ grass would seem to be tailor made for that type of big shot tennis, going for broke, holding serve. They don’t come in much. I’m looking at these guys, Isner is 6’9″ and Roanic is like 6’5″, and these guys are in the baseline, it’s incredible. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d see guys serving big and staying back. So it’s a bit crazy. But I think they could be even more dangerous if they altered the game a little bit. Tsonga has done for of that, and Berdych got to the finals. He’s dangerous. He’s one of those big hitters. He’s one of the guys that I would pick.
Q. And if I could follow up for all three of you, a couple Americans heading in different directions, Donald Young has lost his last nine first‑round matches and Melanie Oudin just won a tournament. Can you guys comment on those two?
JOHN McENROE: I’ll comment real quick before these guys. I’ve seen my brother working out with Melanie in New York, and I think the change of scenery obviously could do nothing but help her because of what ‑‑ I think people know sort of the history of what she was going through the last couple years, and obviously there was distractions and then obviously confidence loss among other things and conditioning. It was nice to see I’m sure for my brother especially, because he’s put in a lot of time with her to try to get her back on track and see her win that tournament. So that was nice. I think her breakthrough was a couple years ago when she beat Jankovic and someone else at Wimbledon. It’s a shame what’s happened to Donald Young, but that’s sort of like an old story, because I saw him when he was 10 years old. Disappointing to see what’s happening, but it’s nice to see when the more obvious hard work pays off.
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll just comment about Melanie. When she was training with the USTA down in Florida I got to see a lot of her training down there. One thing about Melanie is she never lost that look in her eyes, even when she was losing first round in $50,000 tournaments. She was in that gym for hours, on the practice court for hours, and I’d watch her play matches and she was losing to a lot of girls in practice that she should have been beating. But she just had that look in her eyes that she was ‑‑ that determination, and I’m so happy ‑‑ I think we’re all so happy for her because the work has paid off, and the perseverance has paid off. She never lost it. She never lost that look, and I think that really helped her get through the adversity that she went through. And I agree with John about the ‑‑ John was talking about getting into a new environment and to a very positive environment I think has really helped her.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: A very interesting thing to me is this keeping up with the Joneses factor. With so many young players doing well at the French, Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale, Lepchenko. I think that’s huge, too. And if they can do it, I can do it, and I think Melanie has woken up. I think mechanically and technically she is good. Her problem was, as John said, mental. So I think she’s in a good place.
Q. For John, I was curious, it seems like Roger is ‑‑ well, not seems like, but he’s getting older, so I’m curious how much longer you think he can keep up winning majors and keep up the level of play that he’s become accustomed to.
JOHN McENROE: Well, that’s a question we’d all like to know the answer to. It’s going to have to play out. I’m sort of picking him to win this year at Wimbledon, even though it looks like the gap has grown between the other two and him. But to me Wimbledon is his best chance to win another major. He seems to still want it as much as he’d already won. His body is ‑‑ he’s a lot better athlete than he’s given credit for. His movement has allowed him to remain incredibly healthy for the most part. I think this is going to be his 52nd straight major. He’s been to 32 straight quarters or better. His record speaks for itself. But I think the fact that he wants it so bad still, he’s just got to find a way to get that ‑‑ sometimes he seems to sort of ‑‑ he could probably, people are pulling for him, use the crowd to his favor. I’d be interested to see if he does any of that and alters any of that because he doesn’t show much on the court. It seems like he’s losing out on something that could help him maybe against these other two guys if he had to play those guys. I mean, not if, when. So I think he’s got a great chance this year. I think that’s his best bet. Obviously, I mean, everyone knows he’ll be 31. He could play another three, four, five years. His body has been pretty resilient. But winning majors, that’s a short span now that you think he’d have a shot. Certainly at Wimbledon he’d have a shot the next couple years to me.
CHRIS EVERT: John, you’re talking about a guy coming along and playing serve and volley and play aggressive against the baseline. I think this is his best surface. He’s going to try to keep the rally short, and he’s going to try to serve and come in a lot against the Djokovices and the Nadals, and this surface suits him of all the Grand Slams better because I don’t think he has the patience to sit out there and hit groundstrokes all day. Certainly didn’t at the French.
JOHN McENROE: I hope not. He comes in one out of ten points in Wimbledon.
CHRIS EVERT: I think we’re going to see something different. I don’t know, I think he has flair, he has finesse, he can drop shots, he can slice that backhand and come in, he might sneak in a couple times on serve. He’s not prepared to ‑‑ at this stage of his career, he doesn’t want to stay back there, so he’s going to try to make an effort anyway to try to come in. But it’ll be interesting. I think between Wimbledon and the Olympics both being on grass, it would be great to see him win one of them.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: 31 isn’t that old anyway. The 39‑year‑old Connors a semifinalist at U.S. Open. Rosewall, 39, finalist at Wimbledon, and I don’t think things have changed that much. He’s got years left in him.
CHRIS EVERT: The great thing about Roger is he takes ‑‑ I think one of the reasons he has a lot of longevity, he doesn’t take his losses really, really hard. I think he’s a pretty happy‑go‑lucky guy considering he’s such a competitor, and I think he can kind of let it go. And then he can just go on to the next week. I think that just emotionally and mentally will keep him in the game even longer. But I think in the last few Grand Slams my question has been he hasn’t closed. He’s been up and he’s having trouble closing matches, so that’s got to change a little bit.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: He won’t like it too much if he keeps losing.
Q. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind a specific about another young American and that’s Christina McHale, where you think she’s at, what you like about her game, if anything, and her chances as one of those future American stars in tennis?
JOHN McENROE: You know, I hit with her on a handful of occasions, most recently probably a month or so before the French, and each time I’ve noticed a noticeable improvement in her game. She’s someone that she listens well. She’s been well coached. She’s gotten herself in better and better shape. She seems to have learned from her time on the tour. She’s got a bigger game, like her forehand is bigger than people realize. If she can do sort of more with her serve, that would be quite helpful, and develop more her own sense of identity. I think she’s already going to get to like the top 20, but as far as if you’re going to talk about top 10 and higher than that, she’d have to develop something more like her own thing that would allow her to get in the heads of more opponents. But I think her progress from when I first saw her maybe three years ago, she’s really made some great progress. So if she can even keep close to what she’s done, she’s really got a chance to move quite a ways higher up the rankings.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, I think she’s the most solid of all the young American players, and obviously the best prospect that we have right now. I think she’s gotten to where she is now, a lot of because mentally she just doesn’t give up, she just digs in. She’s a great competitor, and she’s been very consistent. And I agree with John as far as she’s still ‑‑ when you look at the top ten, you look how these women are so strong and big, and I think physically she has to develop a little bit more, get a little bigger, get a little stronger and maybe work on that backhand a little bit in the serve. She’s a work in progress. It takes longer for these girls to develop the all‑court game and to develop their strength. It takes more years than, say, in my day. And very often it takes somebody to be 22, 23 years old before they’re completely sort of at their peak physically, emotionally and mentally. So she’s a work in progress. But I think there’s an uphill swing with her right now.
Q. This is for all of you or any of you, and I hope this doesn’t seem too tired of a question or tedious, but I really wanted to ask about grass. Could you remind us, what are truly the skills and the smarts that are required to really excel on the grass? And is it truly gentler on the body for a player? And then finally, could you foresee a day where it’s just too retro or old school to be continued? Will it live on as long as tennis lives on, or is it kind of a vestige of the past?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: Let me fire away first on this one. It’s a really good question and a really interesting one, because the game is evolving. In the same way that the strings and the rackets and the tennis balls are evolving and changing, so has the grass court at Wimbledon. It’s not the same as your daddy’s grass court. When we played, and I think even in the early years of John’s career, and I know he’s going to address it, but when we played at the Australian on grass and Forest Hills, they were both terrible grass courts. The ball hardly got up at all.
Wimbledon was always the best grass courts, but they were not what they are now. They’re so much more like a hard ‑‑ the surface is much harder. The ball bounces up, the bounces are good, the balls are heavier, so there’s been a balance of conditions. Grass is here to stay.
I’ll just say one more thing: To me, watching tennis on the grass court now is more fun than either the hard court or the clay court.
CHRIS EVERT: I feel like I was in the wrong era. I played against the serve and volleyer Martina when the grass was really fast. I think that power is very important. I think court coverage, moving is very important. But I also think for a baseliner, for a ground stroker like myself or Steffi or Monica or anybody, I think you have to adapt and you have to make adjustments in your game. No other surface do you have to except on grass. You have to shorten your swing, you have to bend your knees and get down lower for the ball. You have to make split‑second adjustments if that’s what it takes. And I think, therefore, you don’t see a lot of baseliners winning Wimbledon because a lot of them can’t make those adjustments, can’t adapt to them. But I hope it’s around forever because Wimbledon is just the epitome, really, of tennis, and I hope as long as they keep the courts really well groomed, I think it’s around forever.
JOHN McENROE: I think it will be. I thought it was going to be gone in the ’80s because the serving just got so absurd, particularly by the time you got to Sampras and Becker. But the change has been so much the other way, it’s unbelievable to watch guys in the baseline. So it’s sort of thrown away the argument that there’s no rallies. If anything, it’s too much like the other surfaces, which is incredible. But the subtleties of the game, I still think the ball will react in a different way, it’s going to go through the grass and hit a knife slice. People don’t seem to get the nuances. They play a similar way almost, and to me maybe that’s why Roger, if he made those subtle adjustments, could win.
In my day the reason I was taught the way I was taught was because three of the four Slams were on grass, and like Cliff said, the grasses were bad, so you had to have short back swings and take the ball in the air as much as possible. Which you don’t have to do. It allows the guys, big swingers like Nadal or Sharapova, they have those lasso‑like forehands, they can get away with it. It’s totally different. I guess the good news is all the guys that are good all around they can pretty much any surface now.
But it’ll be interesting to see what they do in the next ten years to sort of address some of the issues now with what’s going on, the changes that have taken place, if they hopefully will continue to try to work with things so they get the best out of all the players.
Q. Chris, women’s tennis seems a little like golf now with a different winner in each major, not one sort of lead presence in contrast to the men’s game. Do you think women’s tennis needs that presence, and is Sharapova able to be it for a while?
CHRIS EVERT: First of all, I think it’s at a better place than it was this time last year because I remember we were all making predictions last year at Wimbledon, and we were choosing one out of like eight women. Any one of eight women could have won Wimbledon. It was so wide open. And I think the gap has closed a little bit, and when I took at the top now, I see Maria and I see Serena and I see Azarenka, and only Kvitova because it’s a grass court, but I see the gap closing. Azarenka the first four months of the year was very dominant, and Serena on the clay court, the warm‑up started to really come into her own, and of course Maria. I think it’s coming to the point where it’s starting to form some rivalries, and it might take another year to get to that point, but I think tennis is more interesting when you do have rivalries, and you do have contrasting players, and you do have different sets of fans for different players. I just think it’s more interesting. It’s not there yet, but I think it’s getting to that point.
I think it is great that Maria won the French and that it really sort of solidified ‑‑ I know she’s so young, it’s hard to believe she’s only 25. It seems like she’s been around for so much longer. But it really has put a stamp on her career by winning that fourth one, and puts her in a very exclusive club of Wimbledon. Good for her, and good for women’s tennis.
Q. John, you talked a little bit about Andy Murray earlier, and he’s got two shots at Wimbledon this summer, given the Olympics coming after the championships. I was just curious, what do you think his chances are right now given the strength of the men’s field like you talked about, his back problems recently, his first‑round exit at Queen’s?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it’s obviously very difficult to say. He’s focusing on the majors. That’s why he hired Lendl. I think he’s tougher to beat in the longer matches. He’s gotten himself in that type of condition that he can deal with almost anyone except these guys, and he played for five hours with Djokovic in Australia. He’s been in three finals. It’s hard to tell how much it’s gotten in his head, how discouraged he is, how close he really thinks he is, how big the gap is. It might not be as big as it appears to be. If he’s willing to sort of somehow figure out a way to have the crowd help him. These are the type of things we won’t be able to tell until we get out there and see it. But he’s only going to have to play two of the guys, for starters, and it’s possible that one of them may be upset. That’s not inconceivable, so that he’d have an easier road potentially.
But it seems like as each event goes by, the pressure is amped up, and it seems less likely for it to happen because he’s still the same age as Djokovic, and he’s only a year younger than Nadal. I don’t know how well he’s meshing with Lendl as far as the coaching situation, if this is something that takes time or it’s not working out as well. It’s hard to say what’s going on. Obviously the results haven’t been that great so far. But this is where ‑‑ let’s face it. The French was always a long shot for him. That’s the toughest one for him out of all of them, and Wimbledon is where he’s going to, by far, get the most support. It seems this will be the real test to see if he’s able to bridge the gap at all.
Q. Is there somebody that they can bring in to help Andy cope with the pressure, if that’s what it is?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think it’s a mental thing. It’s not like how to play Wimbledon. I think he knows how to play on the grass as well or better than Lendl. Chrissy said she played when the grass is not as good. With this court Lendl wouldn’t have had to serve and volley, and he decided he had to. I think Murray stays back too much personally, doesn’t use the grass to his advantage. But I don’t think they need to bring someone else in. I don’t see that working at all.
CHRIS EVERT: Can I just say one thing as far as bringing somebody else in? Do you think you think it’s like when Azarenka brought in Mauresmo at the French Open, and that didn’t work. You’ve got to rely on yourself. You can’t rely on other people to help you win. It’s got to be inside you.
JOHN McENROE: The irony is she had just won her first major, and she was already bringing someone else in, so that seemed like bad timing.
Q. This is for everybody, about the Nalbandian incident, just curious your thoughts about that, and could it affect him at Wimbledon in terms of the crowd reaction, British tabloids?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I would assume that it could definitely affect him, and it’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen. It’s not like he’s going to be Centre Court in the first round. That seems to be ‑‑ I think everyone agrees that that wasn’t done on purpose. I think anyone who saw it, obviously he was upset with himself. He wasn’t even upset with the linesman as far as I saw. He just missed a ball and was pissed at himself, and then he reacted and he paid a pretty stiff price for it, because I don’t think when he kicked that wood that he expected the wood to splinter or break, and then hit the guy in the shin and then the guy suddenly have what ‑‑ I don’t think it’s fake blood, I think it’s real blood. And then sort of their backs were against the wall as to what to do. I don’t even know if it could have been out anyway, but if the linesman had said he’s okay and said, I don’t want him to be defaulted, maybe that would have allowed the match to continue. I’m not even sure if that’s possible. But obviously Queen’s did not have the field that it had in the past at the tournament. Murray had lost early, a lot of guys had lost early. It looked like the weather was dicey as usual, and finally they had a good crowd it looked like for the final, and that was a bummer way to end the match.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I don’t think it’s going to hurt him at Wimbledon. I think the crowd is going to take a negative position, obviously. I agree with pretty much everything that you said, John, I just don’t think it’s going to affect him too much. Tennis players are out there on their own. It’s one‑on‑one, and they’ve had to deal with these issues before. I wouldn’t breathe any easier if you get Nalbandian at Wimbledon.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, I think the first match the crowd might be rough on him a little bit, but I think if he can get through the first match, people will just get on to Wimbledon and forget about the week before.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: Can I just go back quickly to Andy Murray? We talked about coaches and we talked about mentality. There’s another thing that it takes to win matches, and that’s the technical side of it, and I think that is where he’s lacking below the top three. I think his forehand has got to be worked on. Just wanted to throw that in.
Q. I would just like to ask if the rest of the world has caught up with the Bryan brothers. And if you can also see if you can give me an idea of the development of Ryan Harrison.
JOHN McENROE: I’m not quite sure what you mean about the world catching up with the Bryan brothers. You mean what exactly? Help me out there.
Q. Well, it’s been a while since they’ve ‑‑ Nestor and Mirnyi win the French Open. They’ve been losing some matches that you would normally think they would win, that’s all.
JOHN McENROE: Oh, okay. You know, there’s sort of a bit of the carousel. The only constant has been the Bryan brothers, otherwise the Nestors and the Mirnyi‑type guys, they’ve been sort of trying to find combinations that work maybe good enough to deal with the Bryans. There’s about ten guys, six or eight of which keep switching teams and trying to make a run. Perhaps it’s to see if they can deal with the Bryans, who have been pretty consistent. It’s pretty amazing how well they get along, the twins, and it’s a cool story.
Doubles players come in ‑‑ I believe Nestor is 39 and Max is 35 and I believe the Bryans are 34. Doubles you can go on much later. There’s not a lot of guys taking on ‑‑ the top‑ranked singles players play an occasional event, but don’t play it that seriously. So doubles, to me, continues to sort of be on life support, but there’s a handful of guys that sort of keep it ‑‑ the Bryans are doing their very best to keep it going, and there’s a handful of other guys that make a great living off it. It’s sad because doubles meant something to me, and so did Davis Cup, which is another thing that seems to be on life support.
As far as Ryan Harrison, again, he’s made some very good progress, he’s very serious about his professionalism, and he’s made it to where I think he’s going to get straight in the Olympics. Again, he’s got to find his own identity, his own thing that sort of separates him. He’s not just a guy out there playing. He’s already a very good player, but if he wants to make a real breakthrough and get higher than the top 20, 25, which I think he’ll get to at some point, in order to get to the top ten he’s going to develop his own thing, something that distinguishes him, and I haven’t seen that yet.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I would still take the Bryan brothers over any other team on a consistent basis, notwithstanding their age. As for Ryan Harrison, I feel better about his chances now than I did when I first saw him. I thought that he was a little slow. But he speeded up, he’s really dedicated. He’s got a great, outgoing Andy Roddick‑type personality, so I think he’s going to continue to get better and better. I have high hopes for him.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, I think with these young kids, so much is about experience, and just being in that situation where you’re on Centre Court or you’re on a show court or you’re playing a top player. These are all still new experiences. You’ve got to know through experience, also, what shots ‑‑ like John was saying, you’ve got to know your own style of play. You’ve got to know what shots you can fall back on, what shots you can go for under pressure, and this doesn’t happen when you’re 18, 19. This happens after playing years on the tour. Like I said, they’re all a work in progress right now.
Q. Cliff, this is for you: When you called the first tennis match on ESPN back in 1979, could you ever have imagined a time when ESPN might be televising the entire Wimbledon tournament?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: In those days, people wondered whether you could take 24‑hour sports on television and what a crazy idea it was. There were those who thought it wasn’t going to last, and that it was going to be the broadcast networks forever. In these years, since the beginning of ESPN, obviously a lot has changed.
And could I have imagined it? I really couldn’t. I’m just not that smart enough to be able to figure out how quickly things are changing, period, in this world, and that was one of them. And it became what it is now, a behemoth.
Q. This is for John primarily, but if Cliff and Chris could also respond, that would be great: John, you were involved in two of the greatest matches in the ’80 final and you commentated on the Federer‑Nadal 2008 final. When you think of those two matches, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? And why did those matches resonate with tennis fans the way an Ali‑Frazier match resonates with fight fans?
JOHN McENROE: Well, that’s a good question. The first thing that come to mind is it was a tiebreak obviously with Borg. That’s when something unbelievable seemed to be happening. And then when I won it I thought okay, finally I’m going to get this thing done, and I didn’t. It was rather spectacular and certainly hopefully some other people felt that way. I don’t know if I could pick one thing. That last serve seemed to be in the dark. Where I was sitting it seemed to be completely dark, and people were taking pictures of Nadal‑Federer, which with the rain delays and the way it all panned out, and the way it ended, it couldn’t have gone another point or two was unbelievable. It was a privilege to be a part of in a way. It is sort of like it’s amazing when you feel like you’re part of history in a sense. That’s makes me feel very proud.
CHRIS EVERT: You know what’s interesting is when they replay John and Björn’s tiebreak so many times, and at one point I didn’t even know who won the match. Nobody really cares about who won the match because that tiebreak is so dominant. That’s what everybody remembers about that match. It’s not who won it.
JOHN McENROE: I remember who won it.
CHRIS EVERT: I know you do, John. But most people don’t know that you lost the match because everybody probably assumes that you won it. But it was such a great ‑‑ I love it when they replay it.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: From my perspective, what I was interested in is Djokovic, you talk about the great matches, he’s played so many great and close matches in the last year, and he’s escaped some traps, like Federer used to do and may not be doing now, that I just wonder how much longer it can last for him. It sort of translates to what Djokovic is faced with now, and I think that may be one of his problems between now and the end of the US Open.
Q. John, my question is just past Wimbledon, you’re going to be leaving the booth to come back onto the courts for World Team Tennis. I want to know what the appeal is for you in terms of playing World Team Tennis and what the benefit is for players like Ryan Harrison who are on the tour to switch formats and join up like that?
JOHN McENROE: Well, the appeal for me is that it’s very short. And then the other appeal is that the New York team plays at my club, so that helps. And also, I like to play as a team. I actually enjoyed team sports as a kid, so I sort of like the idea of what the concept is. But I’m not sure what the upside is for a guy like Ryan is other than paying respect to sort of the people that sort of trailblazed, particularly Billie Jean obviously, it’s her baby that she’s been working out for 35 years. And I think really the respect that the players have for her is really the overwhelming reason why people think to play it. It’s also sort of a nice way to not have the pressure of a tournament. You go out and you’re playing a competitive match, but it’s not something that counts on your record per se, and you get to go somewhere and be part of a team for a few days. I only play a couple of matches out of the total amount, so that suits me, and I can come in and just get into it for a few matches, and then go my merry way.
Q. John, your approach to developing tennis appears to be working. How has the academy found its niche so fast? And what do you think will be accomplished with the Open tryout you’re having on the 21st?
JOHN McENROE: Well, the Open tryout is hopefully for people to realize that we’re in this for the long haul and that we’re looking for talent and athletes and that we’re trying to provide opportunity for people to can’t afford it. Also we want to see the best kids. I like to work with the best kids around, so in a nutshell that’s where I’m at. As far as expanding, the club that I work for has like 14 clubs. The idea is that I’m almost predominantly in one place, but to make it easier for some people they may have to travel fairly long distances, so that we have sort of a semi orbit or triangle where people can go to one or two different places, and a lot of the same pros will be there at the same time. So that’s the idea behind it, and hopefully it will work and allow more people to be part of our program.
Q. Just very quickly, you were saying that with Andy it’s a mental thing. Just explain what you mean about that in terms of the way he deals with the pressure. What do you mean by it sort of could be a mental thing with him?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think that was Cliff that said that, but obviously the mental thing is a big part of it. Belief and will and overcoming things, whether or not ‑‑ who knows what’s ‑‑ I don’t know what’s going on with his back. I know that when I had stages where I could have sworn I had back problems and I started second‑guessing myself, and then wondering how mental it was because obviously that affects your body at times. It’s very difficult to say exactly. Only he knows, and he may not even know. It could be a combination of a whole lot of things because he might be frustrated that he’s not doing as good a job as these other guys, and it gets in your head. There’s all types of scenarios that make it difficult to say exactly what’s going on, and there’s certain issues as far as his playing. I don’t know. I don’t know if he knows.
Q. It could be stress and pressure that ‑‑
JOHN McENROE: Well, stress and pressure play a part in it, there’s no doubt about it. Stress and pressure, everyone feels that. I think Cliff made a good point because he talked about how many close matches can you play before that starts to wear on you? Djokovic has pulled the rabbit out of the hat in some matches, but to put yourself under that stress takes its toll.
Q. You know Tim Henman very well. Do you think the crowd are less forgiving of Andy than they are of Tim? With Tim do you think the crowd are a lot better towards him than they are towards Andy?
JOHN McENROE: No, I think it’s pretty similar. You know better than I do. I don’t know if there’s anything with whatever. You tell me.
Q. I just thought the Scottish thing sometimes people don’t get behind him.
JOHN McENROE: You know that better than I do. I’m not really sure. I don’t see a big difference.
CHRIS EVERT: No, there’s no difference. The British want to root for somebody. Can I say something about Andy Murray? I just think we forget that Andy Murray, he’s beaten all of these guys. He’s beaten Federer and he’s beaten Djokovic and Nadal. He knows how to beat them, but can he put together two matches like that in a row? He’s up against three of the greatest players of all time. I mean, let’s just cut him some slack, and hopefully he’ll get a little more pumped up since it is England, and I think the English love to have somebody to cheer for, and they’re going to cheer for him. Hopefully that’ll maybe elevate his game a little bit.
Q. Just a couple of quick ones if I may. Cliff, first of all, you said you were very critical of Andy’s forehand and seemed to suggest that may be a technical problem in his game, which is stopping him. Just want you to elaborate on that. And also, I think you’re coming up for 50 years in terms of visiting Wimbledon. Just what changes have you seen in it over the years? You maybe touched on some of that. And for Chris, you spoke with Petra Kvitova and maybe she’s feeling the pressure of being Wimbledon champion. Could you elaborate on that for us?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I’ve watched very carefully, I’m very interested in the technical side of things. It’s very hard to find any chinks in the armor of the top three players. With Andy on the forehand side in my opinion, he meets the ball a little bit, sort of like Stefan Edberg used to do, and he doesn’t have the same margin for error of the forehand side that any of the other three have. And that to me, you need three things: You’ve got to have fitness, which he has absolutely, you’ve got to have a very strong mentality, which I think he has, but the one thing that I think is lacking and the one thing that keeps him from beating the top three or going higher than where he is now is technical on the forehand side.
As for the changes at Wimbledon, they’re almost unrecognizable. The game that is played now is unrecognizable from the game that we played. We had slice forehands. The only reason to play a shot was to try to get into the net and then to finish the point off at the net. That was what it was all about on three of the four Grand Slams. As you can see now, it is a completely different game. The balls have changed, the court surface as we said earlier, that’s different, the strings have changed. It’s a very different game. I don’t think it’s any worse to watch than it was, it’s just different.
CHRIS EVERT: Petra, this is a different year for her, and last year she won Wimbledon. Number one, she had nothing to do, she felt no pressure, she wasn’t on the radar. And number two, I felt like she played the match of her life against Sharapova. This year she hasn’t won a lot of matches coming into this. She can’t be confident because in the warm‑up tournament she lost first round. It’s going to be more of a struggle for her to win it this year. Does she have the game to win it? Yes, but everything is going to have to be working. Her serve, she’s going to have to move as well as she did last year, and I haven’t seen that since. I haven’t seen her move as well since last Wimbledon. I think it’s going to be a bit of a struggle for her. She wouldn’t be one of my top two favorites to win the title.
Q. Chris, did you see Caroline Wozniacki against McHale yesterday? What do you think of her situation right now? And what should she, in your opinion, do to get back on track?
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, I actually did not see her yesterday play. But I have observed her in every other tournament. Caroline, you know, I think that one big problem with Caroline is her court positioning. I’ve always been critical of this. I think she stands too far back. I think she waits for the ball to come to her. I think she’s got that big swing, and I think she needs to really move in and take the ball on the rise a lot more, and be more aggressive with her groundstrokes. I sense that her serve she’s starting to get a little more zip on her first serve, which she’s going to need to compete or be back in the top four. Hopefully her new coach will be able to cite these things. But I would hope that she’s working on being more aggressive and not just happy with the fact that she was ranked No. 1, and it’ll happen for her and she will win a Grand Slam. She’s got to make some changes. I don’t know how you feel, Cliff, but that hasn’t been evident to me yet.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I agree with everything that you’ve said, and in a way she benefitted from a stagnant women’s game to become world’s No. 1. Now she has got to do technically the things that you’re saying that she has to do to get back to No. 1 or just to stay alive in the top five.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, not only change her court positioning and move it and hit on the rise but also even speed up the racquet head. She kind of guides the ball sometimes, and that would have been good enough for ten years ago, but it’s not good enough for this. The women are playing so much better now than they were this time last year.
Q. One more question on a specific player: Mardy Fish has had some serious health issues, and he’s slated to be coming back at Wimbledon. Do you think he has the capability to be in the conversation as one of the top men’s players, or do you think even John Isner has more potential in the long run than Mardy Fish?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: In my view John Isner has got a lot more potential than Mardy, regardless of Mardy’s health issues. He had a terrific year last year, Mardy, but he’s struggling with this health thing that you mentioned, and he hasn’t played. So his confidence quotient is way down. So I’m not expecting much from Mardy, to be honest.
On the other hand, I’m very high on John Isner because he’s got the kind of game that can really work on grass, and for me the big question is whether the big servers, as I said earlier, do we go back to the era of Sampras and Ivanisevic or at least get closer to it? I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where the servers can dominate like they did in the Sampras era. But if we can get closer to it, John Isner and Raonic and maybe Kevin Anderson from South Africa, all huge servers, are the guys that can benefit from that sort of new game.
CHRIS EVERT: I think John Isner is going to be kind of scary to watch him serve on grass. I mean, that ball is going to come through pretty fast, and that’ll be something that I’m really looking forward to seeing. I think his downfall has always been the return serve, but he knows it. He’s aware of it, and he’s trying to work on being more aggressive on that return. Gosh, if he could just get a better return of serve and be more confident, just think how lethal he would be on the court.
As far as Mardy, I think Mardy had such a great resurgence, like a resurrection last summer, he was playing so well, he lost the weight, he was confident, and he had a really great five or six months, and now with the illness it’s going to be a little bit of an uphill battle for him to get back to that place again.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: Just one more word on Isner: If I’m a player at Wimbledon this year and I’m looking at the draw, and you said would you rather play Berdych, Del Potro or Tsonga? I want to stay away from John Isner, I think he’s a really dangerous player on grass.
Q. My question is directed for Chris: Regarding player development, can you talk a little bit about the state of player development in the U.S. these days? Do you think the USTA is kind of in the right place, or do you think more academies kind of like yours and John McEnroe’s are needed?
CHRIS EVERT: I think they all should work together. I don’t like the division, if there is any division. Patrick and I, we talked all the time about the girls from my academy and the girls from the USTA academy, and the beauty of being down in Boca is they are at my academy. The USTA are on our property, and they’ve rented the property. Our girls play matches every afternoon, and it’s wonderful to see Melanie and Coco and all the girls that are down there playing matches with ‑‑ there’s Jamie down there, playing matches with a Tracy or playing matches with a Lauren Davis. We’re all mixing and we’re all supportive of one another. I think everybody should work together, and nobody should sort of have a division there.
But I always said, we missed a generation after the Williams sisters, but there are a lot of girls from like 16 to 21 right now, there’s a good stable of women, I’m not as educated on the boys’ side, but I know on the girls’ side there’s a good stable. They keep playing one another, practicing, playing matches, playing on the clay, that the cream is going to rise to the top, and some really hopefully top 10, top 20 players are going to emerge from that group right now.
I think the USTA is really doing a good job, and they’ve really kind of revved up the New York ‑‑ as far as at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I think they also have a great program up there. The USTA is working up there with Patrick, and the more programs the better as far as I’m concerned.