On Tuesday, Jan. 8, ESPN tennis analysts Darren Cahill and Chrissie Evert spoke with media about the Australian Open, tennis’ first Major of the year, on ESPN2 and ESPN3 starting Sunday, January 13, through the finals two weeks later. This press release has all the details.
Highlights from the conference call:
Q. Watching Serena and seeing what shape she’s in, watching what she’s done early in the season, is there a chance she could win the calendar slam? I know it’s hard to do. Obviously she has to stay healthy, which is a question. Looking at the way she is right now, certainly seems she might want to do that. What do you guys think?
CHRIS EVERT: Is it possible? Absolutely. It’s absolutely possible. I think you nailed it when you said the thing with Serena is not only her health but her motivation. I think she’s got the motivation, there’s no doubt about it, because she’s been out of the game so many different times, either for injuries or for other interests in her life, whatever, so she’s still a fresh older player. So I don’t think that motivation will be a factor.
To stay healthy in this day and age is, as we’ve seen Nadal and other players, I think more difficult, especially for someone like Serena who is such a physical player and has a tendency to get injured. When she’s on, she’s unbeatable. She’s dominant and unbeatable. I don’t know if anybody can really stop her. But you have to remember that we’re talking Grand Slams in the same sentence, and they’re two-week tournaments and have always provided surprises for us.
So the big question is for those two-week periods, can she keep the high level of focus and fitness for 14 days in a row. There’s no easy matches anymore, as we saw last year here when she lost, and also last year at the French when she lost. You got to start out 90% to 100% from the first match.
But is it possible? It’s absolutely possible. Do I think it will happen? I have my doubts that it would happen only because she is human.
DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. I think at the moment she’s playing a level or two above the opposition. She’s a stronger, faster athlete than she was maybe three or four years ago. I think she’s a more intelligent tennis player now. I think the fact she’s been looking to take other people on, other people’s advice, has helped her tennis. I feel like she’s always learning. I think it’s a great example for everybody, that even once you reach your 30s there’s still ways to improve your tennis. That’s why Federer has been so good over the years and with Andre lasted until he was 36 inside the top 10. He was a student of the game and was continuing to try to get the most out of himself.
I agree with Chrissie. The reason so few people have won the Grand Slam is because it’s such a very difficult thing to do, different surfaces, different balls, different challenges along the way, stumbling blocks along the way, they’re enormous. Some of them you do see, some of them we don’t see. But a fit and healthy Serena absolutely has a chance. I think if anybody can do it on either side, Serena can do it.
Q. Can I ask you what you’ve seen from Sloane Stephens this year? What are your impressions of her coming back this year?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I think that last year really helped her as far as experience. She went into last year with these big eyes, you know. She was a novice. She was finally on the big stage, on stadium courts. I think it was an awakening for her. It was like a dress rehearsal for her. Now I think she’s had that experience behind her and it seems to me that she’s moving better and she’s also more relaxed in the position that she’s in, you know, in the top 50 in the world. She certainly was one of the more touted players as a junior. I think there are a lot of expectations. I think finally now she’s mature, she’s calmed down. I for one think she does have the talent to win a Grand Slam title. So I think she’s on the upward swing.
DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that as well. We see a couple of kids, male and female, come through every year that to me have top 10 written all over them. Sloane is one of those players. I feel she’s matured in the last 12 months. Her game is great. It’s always been good. I feel like she’s got that personality that expects to be in the top 10, and that’s half the battle, feeling like you belong on the big stage, you belong playing the greatest players in the world.
We even saw that last week in Brisbane, when she was playing Serena, she maybe gave Serena her toughest match of the week. Even in conversations with her coach, you can see it’s a confidence, not an arrogance, it’s a confidence that, Okay, when everything comes together, when she gets a little bit faster and stronger, becomes a more intelligent tennis player, this is going to be her stage.
You just have to play a little bit of a waiting game with a player like her because she has a lot of weapons. She needs to find the best ways to utilize those weapons. Maybe that might come in three months, maybe that might come in three years, but there’s no question she has top 10 written all over her and can certainly win a slam.
Q. Could you say the same thing about Laura Robson?
DARREN CAHILL: Absolutely. I think she’s a half a step behind Sloane as far as the development. She’s certainly got a lot of weapons. Laura has improved her movement around the court, which is going to be a big factor with her to deal with the strength of shots, a lot of the top ladies, what they play with in today’s game.
There’s no question Laura has the talent. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in the ladies’ game that varies the spin the way she can do it. The fact she is a lefty is a slight advantage going forward. She also understands the game extremely well. She certainly has the weapons. But there’s the court speed and the ability to play a little defensive tennis at times that is going to be important for her to evolve and improve. But there’s no question there can be a rivalry there.
Q. Back to Serena real quick. She’s done so much in her career, has had an amazing career already. Getting a Grand Slam this year, where would that rank her in terms of all time with Chrissie and Billie Jean and even some of the other international players? Then if y’all could talk a little bit about Ryan Harrison and what he needs to do this year, where he’s at.
CHRIS EVERT: Let me tell you, if she wins four Grand Slams in a row this year, I would think she would be the greatest of all time for the simple reason that, first of all, does she have 14 now, is that what she has?
DARREN CAHILL: 15.
CHRIS EVERT: She has 15. Anybody who wins a Grand Slam in this era with the level of tennis as high as it is, because the level of tennis gets higher every single year, would currently have to be the greatest player that ever lived. Point-blank, that’s all that needs to be said. She would still be the greatest player that ever lived even if she didn’t win four in a row, in my mind.
DARREN CAHILL: I would agree with that, Chrissie. I think in the era we’re playing in, it’s so competitive, so many different countries competing. Look, the game has changed. It’s improved every year. I feel the players now are more professional in turning over every single stone they can, not just on the men’s side but the women’s side as well. If she would go through and win the four majors in a row, that would mean she won six in a row. If she won six in a row, there’s no question in my mind she would be the greatest female player that’s lived.
CHRIS EVERT: You asked about Ryan Harrison. Go ahead, Darren, you can take that one.
DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, look, I’m a big fan of Ryan’s. There’s talk down here in Australia about Bernard Tomic, how it was last year. He’s a young guy that’s made a bunch of mistakes off the court. Some of those mistakes have come on the court as well with a lack of effort the last two or three months of last year. I’m sure he’s very happy to see the rear-end of 2012 and look forward to 2013. But always the second year on tour is always an extremely tough year for these players. You make a break as a youngster, break into the top 50 in the world, people pay more attention to you. They work out your strengths and weaknesses, they spend more time breaking down your game. All of a sudden, players are coming onto the court to play these kids and they have game plans which they’ve never seen before.
The second year on tour is a real learning year for a lot of these players. It’s what happened to Ryan as well. Exactly the same at Bernard Tomic. What would be a pretty good ranking for Bernard Tomic this year, I would have said around 50, because it’s going to be tough to replicate what he did in 2011, and I would say exactly the same for Ryan Harrison. He slipped down a little bit after having a breakthrough in 2011. It’s a learning year for him. I feel that this is a kid that takes the right steps to be as good as he can be.
He’s changed coaches a few times. He works incredibly hard off the court. He’s taken on a mentorship with Andy Roddick, which I think is a good thing for him. I think you’ll find in the next few years, with Tomic, Goffin, Raonic is already up there. They’ll be around the top 10 if not in the top 10.
If you have a look at the top 20 at the moment, most of these guys are approaching 30, if not 30. The shape of the men’s game is going to change in the next three or four years. These guys need to keep working on their games, staying healthy, getting the best out of their games and they’ll find themselves at the top of the game very soon.
CHRIS EVERT: I’d just like to add that I think the men’s game, as far as American men players, was a bit disappointing last year. I think the women’s game, the American women’s game is looking stronger than the men’s. I think Ryan and even Jack Sock, Isner, these players – not to be too critical – but need that hard work ethic where they look and see how a Nadal trains, Djokovic and Federer and Ferrer. The top players are at a different level when it comes to hard work ethic and the training and even the dedication. I think it’s just brutal now. I think that’s got to be one of the things, intangibles as far as, Okay, you got a great game, but how much do you want it and how much are you willing to work for it? I think there’s a lot of talent in those two players I mentioned, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison. But I think they’ve got to maybe go up a little level as far as their fitness and their hard work ethic.
Q A question about Federer and Nadal. Do you think this is going to be the first year in what would be 10 years or more that neither one of them wins a major? What are the chances that neither one of them wins a major this year?
CHRIS EVERT: Oh, heavens. It’s all speculation, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know how you can say. First of all, Nadal, we don’t even know if he’s going to come back, right? I think it very well could happen. Yes, it very well could happen. But I just think if Nadal gets his act together in February, March, and he gets healthy, he’s pretty invincible on the red clay, even though Djokovic did have a good match with him last year at the French. I think Nadal, he puts all his eggs in one basket when it comes to winning at least that one Grand Slam. I think he’s going to do everything he can to prepare for that one Grand Slam. So in that respect, you know, no, that won’t happen. I mean, I predict Nadal is going to come back and win the French. I think Murray is also going to win a Grand Slam this year, and Djokovic also. And Roger, you can never count Roger Federer out, especially on the grass. But I think, gosh, each year gets a little bit tougher, you know, for him.
I would love to see him win a Grand Slam, but I don’t know. I don’t think you could ever be 100% sure with him.
What do you think, Darren?
DARREN CAHILL: I have a question for you in are you willing to go bet against Nadal?
Q. I’d never make that bet.
DARREN CAHILL: Then you can’t expect us to make that bet!
Q. I don’t expect you to. I just see it as the first time in a long time where that’s a possibility. It never even used to be a possibility.
DARREN CAHILL: It’s always been a bit of a possibility because these players, the ones that have been chasing Federer and Nadal are so good these days. No question Nadal, I think he’s going to come back and he’s going to be just as strong as he was. It was three years ago at Wimbledon that we were all throwing our hands up. I went through the same thing, patellar tendonitis, not to compare myself with him, it’s in a different world completely, but I understand what he’s going through when it comes to this knee pain. It put me out of the game when I was 25. I was going, you know what, this is going to be tough to get back to the level he was at. Lo and behold, he came back a better tennis player.
Anything he achieves on the tennis court is not surprising. Everything Federer achieves on the court is not surprising considering what he does to get the best out of himself and what he’s achieved in the past. I do think you’re right that 2013 might shake the future in the men’s game. We might get an insight as to how the men’s game is going to look at from the next five or six years and beyond from the results in 2013. But there’s no way anybody is going to put a red line through Federer and Nadal just yet.
CHRIS EVERT: If I were to be a betting woman, you know, you can never bet against Djokovic on a hard surface, like an Australian or a US Open. And Federer certainly I think is going to be — I think Wimbledon is his goal in his life. And Nadal, the French Open. Murray, he’s going to be the spoiler this year. Somehow he’s going to be the spoiler. He can play great grass court tennis, as we saw last year at Wimbledon. And he’s a great hard court player also. So he’s going to be the one that’s going to be the spoiler, I think.
Q. Around the time when Nadal or Federer were winning everything, 2005, 2006, I think everyone saw Murray and Djokovic as strong, probably going to get to the top, the only thing holding them back were these two guys. I don’t know if you would say that now about some of the guys younger than Murray and Djokovic. What do you two think? Is that next generation maybe a little bit behind where this generation was a few years ago or are they coming along okay?
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll just say briefly, because Darren knows a lot more about this than I do, I’ll say briefly I think this is the year, 2013, for these players to emerge. I think we kind of saw hints of it last year.
But especially this year, with Nadal not being 100%, Federer, like I said, as each year goes on, it’s going to be harder and harder for him to be mentally tough for every match. I think this is the year that some new faces are going to pop up, and have to. That’s always been the way it’s gone in tennis.
DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. You’re right, absolutely. This generation of Murray and Djokovic, the one previous in 2005, 2006 that came up, were right there with these guys.
I remember a little story actually with Andre. Remember back at the French Open in 2006 when Djokovic got through the quarterfinals, played that match against Nadal. He walked off the court after a couple sets because he was injured. Obviously it was a big thing for the young kid to get through to the quarters. In the after-match press conference he said he felt comfortable on the court against Nadal. That caught the attention of Andre back in 2006. I remember vividly the tournament right before Wimbledon, just before Andre announced it was going to be his last Wimbledon ever, and the US Open was going to be his last tournament, he played an exhibition against Djokovic.
Andre said, The kid just played Nadal, right? This is the kid that said he felt like he was the better player at the French, right? I said, Yeah, this is the kid. So walking out from the locker room onto the court, I remember walking next to these guys, and Andre peppered him with questions about his career. This is an 18-, 19-year-old kid that came out and said he felt like he was a better player than Nadal on clay. Obviously I’m paraphrasing him a little bit.
Andre peppered him with questions about why he would make such a statement. Novak wasn’t being cocky, he wasn’t being over the top. He basically answered each question with, No, I just felt for this reason, if I could play my game off the backhand side, I have a big pocket. I felt if I could push him back on the backhand side I would make this progress, my forehand down the line, I could make this progress. He answered every one of Andre’s questions like a true pro. That’s the intelligence and the thinking of that generation of player.
Now, Murray was exactly the same. You’re right, that generation of player is slightly ahead of the generation we see right now. I think Nadal, Murray, because Nadal is only a year or two older than those guys, but Nadal, Murray and Novak was a unique circumstance for men’s tennis to get those three guys into the game. But they are special tennis players that you rarely see. We haven’t got those generation of players coming through. We have some really good players. But it might be the generation after that that comes through and pushes them. But you are right, they are a level ahead of what we have at the moment.
CHRIS EVERT: The four men are so dominant, they’re so close. They beat each other. They just keep beating each other. Nothing is predictable when they play one another, whereas that’s so different in the women’s game.
Like you said, Darren, they can sort of rationalize and speak intelligently, have intelligent strategy against the other men. In the women’s game, I think the top players look at playing Serena, and they’re hoping that she just has a bad day. It’s hard to figure out what the winning strategy is against her. That’s where it’s different.
Q. In Abu Dhabi, Janko Tipsarevic described Andy Murray as a different animal. Have you seen a difference in the way Andy carries himself on the court, his attitude? Can you see him going on to win multiple majors this year potentially?
DARREN CAHILL: Look, I do see a slight difference on the court with his attitude. I feel like he spent 12 months now with Ivan. He knows exactly what the plan is. This time last year, it was a little bit, Let’s look and see how this goes. Obviously it was a big step for him to take someone on like Ivan. He knew what media attention it would gain. He never won a Grand Slam tournament before. Obviously all eyes were going to be on the Murray/Lendl partnership.
They’re 12 months down the road now, they have an Olympic gold medal under their belt, a US Open under their belt. I see a little bit more swagger on the court. It doesn’t mean anything when it come to playing these top guys. It means he’s not focusing on that one major; he’s focusing now on multiple. There’s no question he’s capable of winning multiple slams.
Two or three years ago in 2010 when Novak was going through the rough spot, the serve was all over the place, the forehand was all over the place, he was struggling in the heat. Chris Fowler was doing a tournament with Brad Gilbert and myself, posed a question to us, if we could go back to coaching, who would we take on at that particular time, and both of us in unison said Novak Djokovic. The reason for it is we saw the most improvement coming from someone’s game in the top 10 from. Credit to his coach, Marian Vajda, to get him to where he is. I look at Andy Murray’s game a bit the same. Even though he’s achieved what he’s achieved, there’s still an enormous amount of achievement that can come from Andy Murray’s game. I think if they stay together the next couple years, I think you’ll see him realize a lot of his dreams and win more major championships.
Q. Do you think Ivan would be the key then?
DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, I think it’s important. I think stability in a relationship, in a player and coach partnership, is more important than people realize. The message sometimes is the same message. There has to be that belief and that trust between the player and the coach. You don’t get that from spending a couple of months together; you get that from spending years together.
I feel like in the next couple years, if they can stay together, it will only be good for Andy. Obviously the big question mark is the amount of travel is takes on Ivan with his family. The fact that he’s stepped up and committed to Andy to do this job, it was a little bit surprising for me that he would do it. But also I think it brought a smile to everybody’s face in tennis that somebody that achieved so much in tennis in the game would be so willing to invest in somebody else’s career. It’s great for everybody on a whole and specifically for Andy.
CHRIS EVERT: I think Ivan Lendl was the perfect, perfect fit for Andy Murray because Andy Murray’s attitude has completely changed and his demeanor on the court. It still shows up now, but Andy used to be a very emotional and very passionate and very impulsive, would just get down on himself so easily. Then you would have Lendl on the other side known for being stoic and unemotional. He didn’t let anything bother him.
I just think that nowadays when Andy is about to erupt, he’ll look over and Ivan will give him a look like, Don’t you even think about starting that kind of crap, you know. And Andy Murray will just go back to being more serious.
I think temperament-wise he’s really helped him. I think that’s exploded into his game. He’s just playing so much better. I think they need to stay together. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. I don’t even know where Andy Murray would be today if it wasn’t for Lendl because I think he significantly changed him and changed his temperament and his whole personality out there.
Q. The weather. It’s usually very hot in Australia. It’s particularly hot this year. Do you think that may play a bigger factor this year than in previous years at the Open?
CHRIS EVERT: Conditioning is always a factor. It’s 100% a factor. Especially coming off of everybody had a rest. Who knows, some players went skiing, some players really did take time off and are kind of working their way into the beginning of the year. Some already have worked hard and are very fit. I think conditioning and fitness is definitely going to be a factor with the heat. You’re going to have some players that are going to fizzle and some players that aren’t going to be able to cope as well as others. It’s just a matter of conditioning for the players.
DARREN CAHILL: I think that’s also why you see so many players get down here much earlier than they used to with the Australian Open. It’s to get used to the climate in Australia. Everyone is coming from Europe or America. The weather over there is pretty average at the moment. Ana Ivanovic was down here on the 21st of December to get ready for the Australia summer. Daniela Hantuchova was down here two or three weeks before Christmas to get ready. Most of the players are either doing their pre-season in Australia or they’re coming out before Christmas to make sure they hit the ground running. By the time they get to the Australian Open, they are well used to the heat, if they have to play matches in those 35, 36 degree days.
Q. I wanted to go back to the Andy Murray/Ivan Lendl partnership. Are there technical differences that Lendl has made in his game so far or would you just say it’s temperament-wise?
CHRIS EVERT: I think definitely there’s been some technical changes. But to me it’s mostly been attitude.
Go ahead, Darren, about the technical.
DARREN CAHILL: You know, I spent a lot of time with both these guys, especially with Andy back in 2011. It’s a little difficult for me to comment on the Lendl/Murray partnership because I played a small part in it. I’m sitting back now wondering how it was going to go last year. Like everybody else, I’m happy that it worked. Getting any real information out of Ivan is like pulling blood from a stone. The guy keeps everything really close to his chest. That’s what good coaches do. They reveal little bits of information but nothing too specific that is going to give you an insight as to what they’re actually working on because they don’t want to give any ammunition to their main rival.
Nadal doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when it comes to the serve. Federer doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when he’s working on the backhand, the net game, or being more aggressive. These guys don’t give you much and the coaches don’t give you much as well. Sitting on the outside looking in, there’s no question that he’s trying to get more weight behind that forehand side of Andy. If you go back to tape three years ago and watch Andy Murray hit forehands compared to the way he’s hitting them today, there’s a stark difference in the amount of weight behind each and every one of those forehands and his willingness to take that forehand up the line earlier in the point. That creates much more open court for you. While you can do it well, you can also look to the direction in which Andy is hitting the second serve. Used to hit it the same spot in the court every time. Now he’s moving around the service box to possibly get free points off the second serve. He didn’t serve great, even though he won the tournament in Brisbane. On the whole, there’s also a lot more miles per hour behind that second serve than there used to be. The first serve is now considered a big weapon and one of the biggest shots in the game. There’s no question that he’s targeted four or five different areas in Andy’s game. Again, that takes time to work on. You can’t fix that stuff in one week, in two weeks, in one month. It takes a lot of time. I think you’re starting to see the benefits of late last year, the Olympics, US Open time. All that came together for Murray and Lendl.
CHRIS EVERT: I think with Lendl, the attitude is a big thing, but I also think second would be he’s a more intelligent player. I think Lendl really helps him with strategy with these players. I saw that when he played Djokovic, when he plays Federer. Actually, he was playing Djokovic last year at the Australian Open. He’s just slicing his backhand, giving him no pace. That was something that had been talked about with Lendl.
I think Ivan is really one for exposing what weaknesses these top players have. So I think he’s become a more intelligent player as well as a more focused and more calm player on the court. Like Darren said, that’s why I gave him the question, Lendl doesn’t say anything. You are not going to get anything out of him (laughter).
Q. A lot of the Andy Murray stuff has been covered, but a quick one. Darren, how do you see the head-to-head between him and Djokovic if these are the two strongest guys? Who do you think has the upper hand mentally between the pair of them? Considering the kind of improvement you see is possible in Andy’s game, would you put a number on the amount of Grand Slams potentially he could be winning in his career?
DARREN CAHILL: Look, I think it’s a little bit, as I mentioned before, in the men’s game, it’s going to be really interesting how everything plays out in the next three or four years because of the fact that we see so many guys in the top 20 around that 30-year mark. These two guys might be completely dominating every single major like Nadal and Federer did. I think it’s impossible to put a number on it.
I just know from Andy’s perspective, even though Federer and Nadal were dominating the game a number of years ago, the guy he spent more time thinking about was Novak. These two guys, they’ve known each other since they were 12, 13 years of age. They were born a few days apart. This was his main rival, was Novak Djokovic. They both knew they were going to be good tennis players. Who knew how good they were going to be. This was his measuring stick for success or failure. He had to be competitive with Novak Djokovic.
I think you saw him go through a little period when Novak came out in 2011 and dominated, you saw some frustration in Andy’s game, in his demeanor on the court, the way he handled himself. He made the changes to fix that up by employing Lendl.
Who knows how much that win at the US Open is going to help Andy in the big situations. We get the Australian Open to see that for the first time. This is the first time Andy has ever walked into a major championship as a major winner, as a Grand Slam winner. Who knows how much confidence that will give him.
Now, we’re in unknown territory here for the next 12 months for many, many reasons. Novak is really the only sure thing we know at the moment. That is that he’s going to put himself in a position to win majors time and time again. The rest of it we don’t know. We don’t know how Federer is going to be, how good he’s going to be. We don’t know if Nadal is going to come back. We don’t know how much that US Open win is going to help Murray. I think that’s why it makes this year a real fascinating year for the men’s game.
CHRIS EVERT: You’re right, it’s an unknown about Federer because he put so much into winning Wimbledon last year. You wonder how much it drained him. The other thing, Djokovic has an advantage over Andy Murray. Unfortunately, when you know somebody so well, you have an advantage. Djokovic has played him so many times, has seen him lose his temper, seen him lose focus, get ruffled and riled on the court. I think as much as Andy Murray has improved, I still think Djokovic, when he plays him, he has still that little mental edge because he knows he still could erupt. Andy Murray, again, he’s improved so much. Hopefully we won’t see that. If we don’t see that, then I think Andy Murray definitely will reach a higher pinnacle in his game.
Q. This question is about the game itself. This year it seems that the umpires are more strict about enforcing the 25-second time limit between points. Do you believe it to be good for the game or do you think it will hurt the players that will have to rush themselves now?
CHRIS EVERT: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I’m a rule person. I mean, there are a lot of players that have taken advantage of that rule and have gotten away with it. So I think it’s good to enforce the same rule on everybody.
DARREN CAHILL: This generation of tennis player, it’s not their fault that they’ve been allowed to change the rules, this time violation rule in the last five to 10 years because the rule hasn’t been enforced. This particular generation of tennis player doesn’t understand playing to a time limit. We’ve had 45, 50, 55 seconds between points. We were never able to get away with that. While it’s not their fault, this generation of tennis players is not the first generation to play long rallies. You look to Connors, Wilander, Lendl, they used to play just as long matches, and maybe the game is more physical now, but it’s become more of a physical game, taxing on the body, sliding on the hard courts, whatnot. But it’s not the first generation of players to play incredibly long rallies, where they have the heart rate up around 190 after every point. Because they don’t know it, because that rule has never been enforced, it’s a bit of a shock to the system for these guys.
But I believe for the good of the game, for the game moving forward, not just from a spectator point of view, but also from a television point of view, even from a player point of view, because the fittest and the strongest will benefit from this, that time violation has to be enforced.
I have a little flexibility with it. I feel like maybe 25 seconds might be a little too fast. 20 seconds at the Grand Slams, that’s just ridiculous. I believe 20 seconds is going to be enforced again. They don’t actually enforce it at the Grand Slams. This is an ATP thing, where the ATP is becoming much more stricter on the time violations.
I think there’s an easy way around this. After you hit a serve, it’s an ace, no problem, the umpire calls the score, starts the clock, there’s a pregnant pause in the time between when the crowd applauds, 5 to 10 seconds, the umpire calls the score, then you start the clock. At the moment, no matter if it’s a one-shot rally or 50-shot rally, as soon as that point is dead, the clock is being started. I think there’s a little adjustment that could be made. But I applaud the ATP for taking the stance. I believe this is a good thing for the game of tennis and tennis moving forward, no question about it.
CHRIS EVERT: Boy, you put a lot of time into researching that one, huh (laughter)?
DARREN CAHILL: More time violations given out in the last couple weeks than all last year. A real big shock to the players. All of a sudden they don’t know what’s going on. A couple players have lost a couple of first serves in big moments. I think Baghdatis lost a first serve for a time violation in Brisbane. It’s been a real shock to the players, but it’s not their fault. They’ve never played to a clock before. It’s going to take a little time for the players to adjust.
Q. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about Caroline Wozniacki. Do you think she’s able to win the Australian Open and how do you see her year in general after a really bad 2012?
CHRIS EVERT: I think that’s a question that we’re all wondering. Anybody who admires her, there’s really no harder worker out there than Caroline. She trains so hard. You can tell she wants it so much. She’s had trouble with the coaching situation. She had her dad, then she tried two coaches, that didn’t work out, so now she’s back with her dad again. I think that’s probably a good idea. You have to get the person back that you feel the most comfortable with. And I think it’s just obvious to everybody and to her what she has to do, and that basically is just to hug the baseline a little more, take the ball earlier.
She’s playing the tennis of the last generation. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She never misses a ball, she’s consistent. She’s got great feel, great concentration. But the fact of the matter is she’s giving her opponent too much time on the other side of the net, when she could be offensive. She has to take a few more risks off the second serve. Anything inside the baseline she should go for. It’s a tough task for her. You know, I think her goals have to be she has to take baby steps. Right now she’s not looking to be No. 1. She should be looking to be in the top 5, top 6, work her way to be back in the top 5. That would be a reasonable goal for her. She has everything else. But I think her game, her thinking is going to have to change and get a little more offensive and a little more aggressive.
DARREN CAHILL: I agree. You know I know Caroline quite well and I think the world of her. I think the game is better off if she’s in the top 5, pushing for majors. I think she’s good enough to eventually win one, no question about it. I think she’s got herself into a little bit of a rut at the moment because she doesn’t know what type of game she should be playing. I agree with Chrissie. She builds her game on making her side of the court feel so small to everybody. At the moment she’s trying to be the player that she’s not really comfortable with.
You have to evolve as a tennis player; you have to get better. She needs to pump up her serve. She needs to find spaces in the court, not being three meters behind the baseline and wait for the game to come to her. You have to become better at her game. You can’t go away from what’s made her a great player.
About Lendl and Murray, stability, there has to be stability in the camp. I think you’ll find that Piotr is a very intelligent man. I think you’ll find that he gets a bit of a hard time because of his whole coaching scenario. But Caroline is just as strong minded as what Piotr is and she wants Piotr around. She wants her dad in charge of her career. If that’s the case, call her shot and say, This is the way it’s going to be. Stop messing around with the trial coaches. She has the ability to get some advice off other coaches in the game as well through the adidas program. But get that stability that she’s looking for.
I think the other factor, she fell into a little bit of a trap that a lot of players do when they have success on tour. She made a change to equipment. She was the No. 1 player in the world. All of a sudden you get these major contracts being offered to you. The two things, unless it’s going to do your game a lot of good, that you should never mess with, I believe, it’s my personal opinion, I talk about this all the time, never mess with the shoes you’re wearing and never mess with the racquets that you’re using. They are the two most important pieces of equipment that are going to determine how many you’re going to win and how many you’re going to lose. Any change you make to that, it takes time. You can never turn a career around because of that particular change. I would have loved to see her stay with what she had and keep evolving her game from there.
Look, I can point to a hundred examples where a change of equipment has been a negative for a player. I can maybe point to a handful where it was a good one. A good one last year was Sara Errani. She handed back a big check for her racquet sponsor because she found a piece of equipment that was better for her game. Look what happened to her. Unless you find a piece of equipment that you know is going to be better for your tennis game, stay with what you have.
CHRIS EVERT: I agree. Darren, you made a good point about, I think she does feel comfortable with her dad. You know what, she tried it the other way. She went past her safety zone and she went to two coaches and she tried it and it didn’t work. So now she’s back with her dad. My dad was my main coach for my whole career. But I had hitting partners. I had other coaches come in and out, travel to tournaments with me. But my dad was my main coach. And I think she makes that decision and now we’ve got to respect that.
The other thing is, you have to change with the era. When I played, when Martina played, we played through three different eras. I started with Margaret Court, then I went through Martina, then I ended up with Steffi and Monica. I had to change my game and I ended up being a better player than when I was starting out and when I was No. 1. You have to be flexible, you have to really understand that the game has changed and you’ve got to make those minute, and they are, you keep the main focus of your game and the main strengths, the base of your game, but you do have to change certain elements of it to really play in that era. And that’s what she maybe hasn’t adapted as well as she could have.
Q. I also wanted to ask both of you guys where you feel Rafa is right now. Should we be worried about Rafa or not? What other girls are there that we should watch? Petra certainly has had a slow start. Who else can challenge?
CHRIS EVERT: I’m going to give you the girls and Darren can do the Rafa. I mean, I have one eyebrow up when it comes to Rafa because I don’t know. He’s been out of the game really since the French. Even at Wimbledon he played, what, one or two matches. That’s a long time. So, yeah, I think everybody is concerned.
As far as the American girls, I think we’ve had four girls do extreme think well at the start of the girls. Madison Keys, I like to mention her because she’s had two big wins. She had two upsets actually. She’s in Sydney right now in the quarterfinals. I mention her because she, like Serena, is a power player. I think her serve even rivals Serena’s. I think it could be just as good if it isn’t now. So I think we’ve got to watch her.
Jamie Hampton, I have to give her kudos because her work ethic is unbelievable, she’s a fighter.
Then Lauren Davis, she had a big win over the 27th-ranked player in the world, Cirstea. I think between Lauren Davis, Jamie Hampton, Madison and Sloane, starting out the year the way they have, I would like to personally keep my eyes on them.
Q. Then we can watch Taylor Townsend.
CHRIS EVERT: Then there’s Taylor Townsend and CoCo. And Donna Vekic, being 16 years old and being in the main draw of Australia, I think that merits having a look at her also.
Q. Is there hope for CoCo?
CHRIS EVERT: There’s always hope for CoCo, but CoCo has to get in better shape. She’s got to drop a few pounds and get into better shape and she knows it.
Then I’ll throw in Maria Sanchez who went from 800 to 127 in a year, too. She’s an American player that graduated from SC. She’s out there on the tour, too. She was actually 800 last summer. At the end of this year, she’s 127. She’s taken a big jump. She’s an American player. But I think between the American players and Ashleigh Barty and Donna, I think it’s looking really exciting.
Q. So the American women look promising coming up?
CHRIS EVERT: Yes, because there’s 10 in the top 100, and that’s more than any other country. I think Russia might have 10. So it’s looking good.
Q. Darren, can you address the mysterious Rafa.
DARREN CAHILL: You know what, for me I look at him and we never quite know the stuff that flows through the veins of champions. It’s a little bit different from us normal people. I feel like whilst there’s a big question mark about his game, I know he’s been out for seven or eight months now, this is a guy that you can just see it in his eyes when he steps onto a tennis court, you can see it when he’s put into a position when somebody is threatening him. The guy hates to lose.
He won’t put himself back on a tennis court unless he’s ready to win. The guy will do everything he can to get back to where he was. If he does come back, he’s not coming back to be top 10 in the world, he’s not coming back for the money, he’s not coming back for anything but to win majors. When he does come back, and hopefully he will, he will be 100%. He will put himself into a position that he feels like physically he can compete with these best players in the world again.
So that’s why I feel it was a little blessing in disguise, I know it’s not perfect for him, but blessing in disguise that maybe he’s not restarting his career in Australia because it’s a brutal thing for him to do on the hard courts. Looks like he’s going to play his first tournament in Acapulco, a clay court event, to ease his way back into the game.
But make no mistake, if Rafa steps back onto the court, he’s stepping back onto the court to win tennis matches, simple as that.
CHRIS EVERT: Also history has shown, if you look at Serena, players that have had injuries and taken time off, they come back with more of a vengeance, more passion. They appreciate their health and life so much more. If he can get himself back physically at 100%, he could be a better player, no doubt about it.