- First All-ESPN US Open Starts August 31
Today, as the first all-ESPN US Open approaches, ESPN’s John and Patrick McEnroe discussed a variety of topics with the media.
Topics on the call included:
- Serena and the Grand Slam / Pressure – Patrick: “I do think the biggest difference for the calendar slam (vs four straight) is the pressure. I don’t think you can underestimate that, the pressure that the player is under. Yes, there’s no doubt winning four in a row almost never happens. It’s arguably as impressive but not quite because of the pressure factor of what’s building now towards the US Open. There’s no doubt that Serena’s feeling that. And there’s also no doubt in my mind that she can certainly handle it.”
- Serena / Better than ever? – John: “To me she’s the greatest female player that ever played. She’s better in every way now. She’s more prepared now. She used to sort of maybe not get as prepared because she figured she was so much better that she didn’t have to be on her toes, be mentally focused, she could sort of ride in and out of it, which she’s even shown when she’s feeling some pressure and not playing her best, she still figures out a way to win… if she brings her A game, she’s going to win this for sure.”
- Same topic – Patrick: “Serena’s a far more complete player now than she was at 26. Obviously she was a great player then because of all the things that John mentioned, how tough she is, how physically great she is, what a competitor she is. But I think now she’s become a better all-around tennis player. She plays the percentages better. As John said, she’s more prepared…She’s done everything possible in the last, you know, five, six years to win as many Majors as possible. You got to give her a huge amount of credit.”
- Tennis’ New “Bad Boy” Nick Krygios – Patrick: “He’s got a flair. He likes to be on the big stage, all those things. He could be a great player. But the bottom line is, and I’ve been saying this about him for a while, if he doesn’t become more professional, I’m not even talking about the way he acts on the court, but that obviously reached a new low, if he doesn’t become more professional in how he prepares himself, there’s no chance it’s going to happen. I’m talking about doing the physical work and the stuff it takes off the court because this guy is getting a lot of injuries at 20. The reason he’s getting a lot of injuries is because he’s not as fit as the other guys. But he’s got an unbelievable upside. He could be incredible for tennis.”
- Same topic – John: “He’s having such issues right now. The pressure’s getting to him. As a 20-year-old kid, I did my share of dumb things, inappropriate things at times. The good part is I had people that I looked at. Connors did some crazy things, too, but he was a hell of a competitor and he made me go out there and give more effort. I think he’d be well-served to look at the guys like Nadal, the guys that go out there, tremendous effort players. These guys are so professional now that he can’t afford to waste as much energy as he’s wasting with these sort of off-court comments that he’s making that just cause more problems for him.”
Q- Should we be making such a big deal about a Grand Slam in a single calendar year for Serena? Is it any more significant than being the holder of all four championships at the same time, which she is now? Seems kind of random. Do you think it’s really that much more of an accomplishment? My second question about Serena is, John, you opened this Pandora’s box last week with playfully talking about playing with her. Every time I ask people about comparing her to the men’s game, I get wildly different estimates in terms of where she would rank, anywhere from 80 to 8000. Could I put you two on the spot in regards to that, as well.
JOHN McENROE: Let me answer first. As far as a calendar year Grand Slam, I would put it as even more an incredible achievement than something, as you mentioned, she’s holding all four right now, which is obviously amazing, too. If you keep in perspective how suddenly it happens, how people ramp up the pressure as it gets closer, I think you could understand there would be a difference between winning it all in the same year because people don’t bring it up in quite the same fashion, although there was certainly pressure for her at Wimbledon.
As far as the second part of your question goes, I’ve answered that many times. Jimmy Kimmel asked me a question about Serena. I think personally, because of what she’s trying to accomplish right now, I think the focus should be on her attempt to win the Grand Slam. I don’t know why they don’t ask other players about this, if they think they can beat Serena, any of the top 500, or 750, college players.
I’m out there. I don’t think that’s something we should be talking about now. If people in a month or two months want to go back to it, it interests them, we can get back to them. But for the moment I find it at this stage I don’t want to take away from what she’s trying to accomplish at all because I wasn’t the one who brought it up.
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll quickly follow up. I do think the biggest difference for the calendar slam is the pressure. I don’t think you can underestimate that, the pressure that the player is under. Yes, there’s no doubt winning four in a row almost never happens. It’s arguably as impressive but not quite because of the pressure factor of what’s building now towards the US Open. There’s no doubt that Serena’s feeling that. And there’s also no doubt in my mind that she can certainly handle it. I think that’s why you’re hearing her say she can’t wait till the US Open is over so she can take a step back and take a real breather from the spotlight.
As far as the second question goes, it’s always puzzled me why people bring up the male/female comparison in tennis more than other sports. I’m not going to put a number on it. I don’t think that’s appropriate. As John said, it should be all about Serena. I never hear people say, Where would the greatest female golfer be in comparison to men’s golf, how would the women’s World Cup soccer team do against men.
Q- But Sorenstam did play in men’s tournaments, remember?
PATRICK McENROE: I do remember that. I don’t think that really was worth too much, to be honest.
I think tennis would be even more difficult for a female to play against a male, let’s put it that way. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s really that relevant. Serena, what she’s doing is amazing, it’s incredible. We should focus on that rather than what she would be ranked as a man. That’s like, Who is the greatest female basketball player? Tell me who that is, I don’t know who that is.
Q- Right now probably Diana Taurasi.
PATRICK McENROE: All right. How would she do in the NBA?
Q- It’s an interesting question.
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll let you ponder that one. I’ve answered this one.
Q- Could you talk to me about your impressions of Kyrgios, whether you think this kid is beyond self-destructive or whether you think he’s able to pull himself together. John, when he gets angry, it doesn’t seem to help him much.
JOHN McENROE: One thing I can’t condone or never condone is watching one player, any player, throwing the towel for a period of time. He tanked a game against Gasquet. He sort of denied it, but it was obvious that he did. He’s having such issues right now. The pressure’s getting to him. As a 20-year-old kid, I did my share of dumb things, inappropriate things at times. The good part is I had people that I looked at. Connors did some crazy things, too, but he was a hell of a competitor and he made me go out there and give more effort. I think he’d be well-served to look at the guys like Nadal, the guys that go out there, tremendous effort players. These guys are so professional now that he can’t afford to waste as much energy as he’s wasting with these sort of off-court comments that he’s making that just cause more problems for him. As far as what I personally hope, I feel that he could be a tremendous positive for the game. He’s tremendously talented. He’s charismatic. He’s got a look that’s different. He brings something to the table. But obviously if he goes down this sort of black hole and loses, which I don’t want to see happen, but he’s not heading in the right direction now. I think he can turn it around and I’d like to see him turn it around because I think we need that spark in tennis. When he smooths out the edges, he could be a tremendous positive, I think, for the game, and a top-five player.
PATRICK McENROE: Just to follow up, I mean, I think he went over the line in a big way as far as bad-mouthing another player in the middle of a match. Maybe that happens, that sort of trash talk happens in other sports. We hear that all the time about football, basketball, guys say these things all the time. It still doesn’t make it right, number one. Certainly tennis is a different sport, especially now with the mics everywhere. The reality is he’s been saying inappropriate things, maybe not as bad as what he said to Wawrinka, but similar things not even under his breath to the crowd, making comments like that. That’s got to stop or else he’s going to have a very, very difficult time on the tennis court because it’s hard to live that kind of life, travel around with the same group of people and the same players. I know most of the top players now have their own entourage, et cetera. But the reality is, you walk in the locker room, as I did in Cincinnati before the semifinals, and the only people in the locker room are Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Dolgopolov, that’s it. That doesn’t mean you have to go out to dinner with these guys, but you have to at least respect them and treat them appropriately on the court, otherwise you’re going to be in for a real tough, long ride.
Q- Why is Serena dominating more now at age 33 than when she was, say, 26? Also, as far as what you said on Kimmel, you said, Let’s revisit it in two, three months. Would it be great for the sport to have a battle of the sexes for charity maybe in the late fall or so?
JOHN McENROE: Me personally, this is just my personal opinion, because people have asked me this quite a bit over the time. I think that shows you that tennis has got problems if this is something we need to do. If you need to put together a battle of the sexes, that to me means we have some deep issues we need to deal with even before that. So that would be like the answer to that question because I don’t get why it sort of is brought up much. I agree with Patrick, I don’t know why it’s brought up in tennis all the time. It was so long ago that it went along when Bobby Riggs played. It’s a totally different time. So much water is under the bridge, I find it sort of humorous. I seem to be asked more. Why don’t they ask Agassi, these other guys, or guys that are 10 or 20 in the world, see what they say. It always seems like me that’s, like, challenging her. If it turns out that this is some overwhelming thing that needs to happen in order for tennis to be successful, then we can talk about it down the road after this has died out and we’ll see. I’m 56 years old. I like to get out on the court. So I continue to try to play as best as I can. Obviously I’m nowhere near what I was when I was half my age. That’s another issue. But I still can hit a pretty decent ball.
As far as Serena, the first part of your question, to me she’s the greatest female player that ever played. She’s better in every way now. She’s more prepared now. She used to sort of maybe not get as prepared because she figured she was so much better that she didn’t have to be on her toes, be mentally focused, she could sort of ride in and out of it, which she’s even shown when she’s feeling some pressure and not playing her best, she still figures out a way to win.
Athletically, you have to put her, Venus and Steffi Graf as the greatest athletes that ever played tennis. So she’s got a big edge there. Then mentally she’s always been exceptionally strong. The other part on the women’s side is that as you get older, the advantage of playing two-out-of-three, that takes far less of a physical toll on you than best-of-five in the men’s. So that allows her to sort of be able to maintain this dominance. Rivalries, Henin retired, stopped playing. Clijsters stopped. Venus has been ill. Azarenka was out a long time. Capriati had shoulder surgery. Some of those great, great players of the game aren’t around anymore, so she’s at a time where there seems to be a bit of a lull as far as challengers right now. There’s not enough challengers to really push her to the point where I would think — I mean, to me, if she brings her A game, she’s going to win this for sure.
PATRICK McENROE: I would say, first of all, that Serena’s a far more complete player now than she was at 26. Obviously she was a great player then because of all the things that John mentioned, how tough she is, how physically great she is, what a competitor she is. But I think now she’s become a better all-around tennis player. She plays the percentages better. As John said, she’s more prepared. And she doesn’t beat herself. There were times when she could just start missing and literally beat herself. Even last year she did that a little bit in a couple of big tournaments before she won the Open. That still happened.
I totally agree with John, as well. I mean, no other great players out there in women’s tennis right now. Venus has obviously been a great player, but she’s well past her prime. If you look at everybody else in the field, there’s not one guaranteed Hall of Fame player right now (NOTE: He later amended, adding Sharapova.). There’s just not one. So you combine the fact that Serena’s gotten even better than she was and more professional. For Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray to win majors, they’ve got to beat two other all-time greats to win these tournaments. They’re obviously doing it at a pretty good clip as well. She’s got nobody else that’s even in the conversation with her at this point.
Q- Do you remember the very first time you watched Serena play, and what was your initial impression back when she was a teenager with braids, coming on the scene, and everyone was wondering who these sisters are? My second question is, 10 years ago, like we were saying, when she was 26, I think a lot of people doubted – I know I did – and Chris Evert wrote the letter ‘Don’t waste what you have, you could be one of the all time greats,’ there was much discussion she was throwing away all of her talent, going out to clubs, and would never reach this point. Did you think at that point when Chris wrote that letter, did you ever imagine she would be at this point right now, about to reach 34, No. 1, heading into a Grand Slam possibly?
JOHN McENROE: The first time I saw Serena I believe was in 1989. I was coached at that time by a guy named Paul Cohen. He worked a little bit with a unheralded little kid named Pete Sampras who I saw. I don’t know how he knew Richard Williams. But he brought Serena and Venus Williams where I was practicing. I’m guessing they were eight and nine. I saw them before that. I was told by Richard and Paul Cohen that they were going to be future No. 1 players. I said, Call me in 10 years. Both of them turned out to be absolutely 100% dead on. We’re talking about the greatest player that ever played and one of the all-time best players that ever played.
To me personally, I think her sort of disillusionment and her problems at that time was sort of motivation. You mentioned going out. To me it was more about the horrible tragedy that took place with her sister. She was like emotionally sort of just in a place where she wasn’t able to go out there and enjoy her tennis, was sort of at a crossroads in a way. I would say if I had to pick one thing that was of concern because it was such a horrible tragedy, to be able to overcome that, I think that was the biggest, most difficult thing. Once I saw her sort of getting back, I mean you never overcome that totally, but move on in best a way you can, handle it the best you can, that slowly but surely she got more and more into realizing as she got a little bit older she had this unbelievable gift. She can design clothes and do other stuff later, but that she’s become even, as Patrick said before, more professional, more prepared than she’s ever been. That’s been good for the game, very good.
PATRICK McENROE: I’ll say that I’d be lying if I said I remember the exact first time I saw her play. I do have a memory of when she played out in Indian Wells, of all things. Obviously she made her reappearance there this year, which I thought was a great move by her. I remember when she made that great run where she played Steffi in the final. I think she was 18 at the time. I think it was her first big title.
When both my brother and I are asked what’s wrong with American tennis, much more so American men’s tennis, we need great athletes. In addition to a lot of other issues, we need great athletes. When you saw Venus and Serena, you saw incredible athleticism. If their dad hadn’t watched that tournament where somebody won $30,000, got them into tennis, they could have been track stars, volleyball players, basketball players, what have you. Thank goodness there was some tennis on television at that time that Richard Williams saw and got his daughters into tennis.
The other thing I’ll say that I remember is probably about seven, eight years ago, maybe a little less, when Serena was on one of her comebacks, or at least starting to come back, I remember saying, Serena could have the same sort of second career that Andre Agassi did. When Agassi sort of got the wake-up call and became more professional, became obsessed with his fitness, et cetera, et cetera. Comparatively Serena is obviously a more dominant player as far as women go compared to Agassi, who was a great player, but he wasn’t dominant like she is. To me that’s exactly what she’s done. She’s done everything possible in the last, you know, five, six years to win as many Majors as possible. You got to give her a huge amount of credit. I think one point I remember her going to Hollywood. She wanted to be a Hollywood action star, something like that. I think she quickly found out, Maybe that tennis thing isn’t so bad. Maybe these other things will help me in what else she does, designing clothes, going on the QVC network, which she’s successful at, and I think she’s successful because she’s the greatest female athlete on the planet.
JOHN McENROE: If you had to pick a match, it was when she played on Louis Armstrong, I can’t remember the exact year, but she played Clijsters. They were both teenagers. That match, when you looked at them, you could see that both of them were going to be tremendous champions. You didn’t realize Serena was going to be as great as she was, but that was really a tremendous match when I think they were both 16 and 17 or something like that.
Q- I’m wondering how you think ESPN’s exclusive coverage, the improved technology, freeD, is going to help you do your job, help improve the viewers’ experience this year?
Moderator: Have you two guys seen the freeD? We used it at Indian Wells a time or two. It’s that replay where the action gets frozen, then spins around on the screen. Don’t ask me to explain it.
PATRICK McENROE: I was there for that. I thought it was amazing. I mean, I thought it was off the charts. In fact, I’ve been asking how come we haven’t been able to use it in other tournaments. Of course, the reason like all other things is money. So obviously ESPN is pulling out all the stops for obviously getting the US Open for as many years as we’ve been able to get it and also covering it wall-to-wall. Obviously it’s the first year. It’s an exciting year for everybody at ESPN. I think that we’re throwing as much stuff as we can at it, including countless hours across all the networks. For us, it’s very exciting. Obviously John has been doing it for a million years on all different networks, so I’m sure his perspective will be unique as well.
JOHN McENROE: I look forward to it. CBS, USA before, subsequently ESPN. Everyone was trying to do the absolute best they could. ESPN now all of a sudden, this is unique because this is the first time one network is covering the whole thing, as far as I can remember. So it’s going to be interesting.
I haven’t seen that particular technology. I’m all for trying some things. I mean, you’re never going to get it where they all work. But the only way to experiment is to try some things. Some will work, some won’t. I think we need to do more to try to bring the experience of watching on TV, make it better for the fans. The way it is — well, maybe it will never be like American football, but it almost seems like the experience of watching a football game is better at home than it is at the game. That’s very rare. Tennis is also a sport where it’s more impressive when you’re there. So I’m assuming and hoping and expecting that ESPN will continue to try to figure out ways to enhance that experience while you’re watching on TV.
Q- John, what is your opinion on having more microphones on court, bringing the fan on court?
JOHN McENROE: It depends what they’re doing it for. If you want to hear someone utter a four-letter word… I’m sure some of these players aren’t saying, Hello, how are you in all the other languages. It’s magnified obviously when it’s in English and we’re here. Me personally, I don’t think that enhances the experience if you hear the guy breathing. Sometimes some things are better left unsaid. There should be some level of protection. You watch a baseball game. Some manager is yelling at the umpire. They don’t have it right there. If they did, I think it would be more of a turnoff than people like it. We hurt ourselves sometimes by doing some of these things. So you hear the sneakers squeak a little more? I just think that is something that I railed against as a player, and I’m not quite sure why there’s more microphones. Beefing up the sound in some ways maybe could help in certain situations and some it will hurt. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know what they have in mind.
Q- Serena is unique that she can completely lose her mind, break things, yell and scream, then come back and play even better. How does she do that?
JOHN McENROE: I was going to say, most people go down. I did myself towards the end of my career.
I think it’s pretty amazing that she’s able to do that. That’s very difficult to do. From my own experience, I had success. Connors did that. There’s a handful of people that have benefited. Obviously it’s a high wire act. She’s done a pretty outstanding job. She’s used that to motivate herself, scream at herself, curse at herself. It’s actually helped her, like at the French Open for example. A perfect example. In the final, she was absolutely screaming, then she ended up scaring the heck out of her opponent.
Q- Do you think the atmosphere in New York, being an American going for the record, will have any sort of intensity or electricity? (also) Dimitrov, he was on the verge of maybe the Wimbledon final. Now he loses that heartbreaker to Murray in Cincinnati. Where does he go from here and get it back because he’s so gifted?
JOHN McENROE: As far as Serena, we’re all hoping that that would add to the excitement and add to what she’s trying to accomplish. It’s going to be hopefully awesome. I mean, this doesn’t happen every year. It last happened with Steffi in ’88. In the men it hasn’t happened since Rod the Rocket did it in ’69. That goes without saying that this could be a tremendous shot in the arm hopefully for tennis.
Dimitrov, he’s gone like in the wrong direction. He’s got obviously a lot of talent. The best match he played all year is the match he played against Murray in Cincy. He should have won that. He had all types of chances. You worry he can’t put away a match like that. There’s not a lot of good news right now. At least it seems like his fitness has improved. He’s looking for a fresh start. He’s on his own off the court. He’s got to know that the panic button is right there. He’s got to sort of get his head together. That’s easier said than done. Again, like Kyrgios, to me it would be great if both those guys got their acts together. Would be a shot in the arm for the men’s game, and hopefully that will happen. I definitely am concerned about some of what I see with him. But he definitely deep down has a ton of ability. I’m hoping that he starts to get tougher mentally, which is obviously the key to have tremendous success in certainly a one-on-one sport. We’ll have to wait and see. Better start turning it around soon.
PATRICK McENROE: I think New York is the best place she could be going for the slam. There’s no way that she’s not going to be able to be pumped up. There’s no doubt that the crowd is going to be totally into it. The New York crowd, they want it to be more than just a tennis match, they want it to be about the entertainment as well. Obviously that’s this and then some tenfold. I think it’s actually a perfect place for her to go for the fourth one in the same year because of that.
Number two, the best thing that could happen to Dimitrov at the moment is that he’s on his own. He’s been too catered to for too many years. He’s had everybody telling him he’s the next great player. Obviously he has a lot of ability. He’s done really well already. But to get to the next level, he’s got to toughen up a little bit. That’s just the bottom line. He’s got to toughen up. And I think taking some time and basically going on his own for some time could be the best thing for him. That was a brutal loss. Obviously I was there in Cincinnati. John is right. That’s the best tennis he’s played in a while. But you could just tell that Murray knew if he stayed close, that Dimitrov would choke, and that’s exactly what happened.
Q- You made it pretty clear that if Serena is on her A game, you feel there’s no one that can touch her. The top women are here in Connecticut this week. Given the surface, where their games are right now, which one player would you feel is best positioned to challenge her at the Open?
JOHN McENROE: Patrick has been making some brilliant comments all afternoon. The one thing you forget, there is one Hall of Fame player out there. Sharapova will be in the Hall of Fame. She’s an unbelievable competitor. But she’s not in the same league athletically. I think that’s what Patrick was basically referring to. There’s no question that she’s an unbelievable, great ball-striker. She’s a great competitor. If I had to pick one person, I’d have to go with Azarenka. Hard courts is her best surface. Her two majors are on hard courts. I was shocked when I saw she lost to I think Errani in Cincy. I think it was Cincy or Toronto. Is she playing up there?
PATRICK McENROE: First of all, John, you’re right. I should have remembered Sharapova. So I appreciate you reminding me. Obviously her head-to-head against Serena is not very good, so maybe that’s why I forgot. But both Sharapova and Azarenka are coming in with some injury issues, which to me is a huge concern for both of them. And I agree that if everybody were 100% healthy, I’d probably give Azarenka the best shot. But from a tennis standpoint at the moment, I would probably put Halep up there, even though after she lost to Serena in Cincinnati, I was a little bit surprised when she said in the trophy presentation that she hopes Serena wins the Grand Slam. That’s why I sent out the tweet that I did, which got all sorts of people going crazy thinking I was saying something negative about Serena, which is the last thing I was doing. It seems some of these women players, and obviously she should, I mean, Serena is at such a high level, it’s almost like they don’t really want to beat her. From a tennis standpoint, I think Halep has the most game and ability. Obviously she’s small, but she sort of reminds you of a mini Justine Henin. I don’t think Justine Henin would ever have said, Serena, I hope you win the next Grand Slam. I don’t think she would have said that.
Q- At Serena’s age, almost 34, then you have Federer who is into his 30s, what does this mean to tennis to have these players at this level playing at this age? I’d also like to ask about the US Open, a lot of Cinderellas, like Bellis, Duval, Oudin. Do you see anybody filling that role this year?
PATRICK McENROE: First of all, I’d be hesitant to call a Cinderella somebody that won a round, as CiCi Bellis did last year. Obviously Oudin made a great run, but that was just to the quarterfinals. It’s pretty rare that somebody makes a really deep run all the way to the end because it’s so physical and there’s so much pressure. The top female players are all in great shape, too, much like the men. Obviously there’s more chance of an upset in two-out-of-three. You look for some of the younger guys on the men’s side, like Borna Coric, (Alexander) Zverev. (Frances) Tiafoe qualified at Winston-Salem, won his first round there. To me, a Cinderella is making it to the third or maybe the fourth round. I don’t know if anybody is capable of going further than that. On the women’s side there’s a chance somebody young could make that kind of run, but even that’s becoming more difficult.
I think it’s amazing, it’s great for tennis. Thank goodness for the people that run professional tennis that they still have Federer, Serena, people like this to continue to promote and drive ticket sales, drive sponsorship. Obviously we all know the reasons why these players are playing longer: they’ve got more people around them, they’ve got more resources, they have more trainers, et cetera, they take care of themselves better. How awesome is it to watch Federer at 34, I mean, play the kind of tennis he played in Cincinnati? Back when my brother was playing, obviously he played into his mid 30s, not quite at the level he was in his 20s, with all due respect Johnny Mac, but even guys like Edberg and Becker, they basically retired around 30 or so.
I think it’s great for tennis that they get to keep these guys around. Obviously considering you’ve got a couple of the all-time greats in men’s tennis playing at the same time, it’s certainly making it tougher for the Dimitrovs of the world to make through, forget about winning a major, but getting to the finals of a major.
Q- How much longer do you think they can last?
JOHN McENROE: Obviously you have to think about Andre. He got to the finals of the Open at 35. You’re talking about a situation where Roger absolutely loves to play. That’s the key, he loves to be out there. He does his homework, he’s training. You get an appreciation maybe as you get older. That’s why it’s good. There’s a time maybe you’re on the tour for a while, you get fatigued mentally, and disillusioned in certain ways. Because of the technology that Patrick referred to, the knowledge they have now about training and recovery, what to eat, the right time to get a massage. Everything is analyzed to the Nth degree. That’s allowed players to peak at a later age and appreciate the game more, allow them the time to sort of realize how lucky they are to be in this position. That’s helped the sport in that way. Hopefully that will continue down the road.
But you have to appreciate every moment. You don’t know. 34, it’s not like in baseball where you’re a pitcher and you’re pitching once every five days or you’re part of a team. Even if you are an everyday player, they can give you more time off. You’re out there by yourself. What Roger’s doing is amazing. But you can’t expect him to go on that much longer, or Serena, even though she’s got to play two-out-of-three. So we’ve got to appreciate every moment.
Q- Patrick, we have so many local girls from South Florida in the main draw of the US Open. Sloane, Samantha, Keys, McHale down here now. Could you put your finger on why that is? Is it the weather, the academies, all the years you were in Boca, is that kind of the reasons?
PATRICK McENROE: A lot of players that you mentioned, some of them are from there originally, some of them are not. Certainly the weather and the expense is a big factor. My brother and I know all too well the difficulties of training young tennis players in a big city, particularly in New York City where the weather is not great the whole year. That’s problematic for tennis in general in this country. But, you know, certainly at the USTA center down there, having lots of other really good academies as well, good coaches, is a factor. But they wouldn’t all be going there if it was in Minnesota or North Dakota. The weather certainly helps. But overall I think our success with the young women has been pretty good. I’m sort of still waiting for one of these young women to really step up. I mean, obviously Keys has done well in the majors this year, but still has been a little up and down. Sloane has started to show signs of coming back to a pretty high level. But even though we have really good numbers for the young women, I’ve been just a little bit disappointed in the last couple years. I thought we would break out a little bit more. I think that could still happen with Keys, she’s still young. She probably has most of the upside of any of the youngsters. Clearly we have a good group of young players, and any part of Florida is a good place to train.
Q- John, a few minutes ago Patrick mentioned in regards to Kyrgios trash talking. Is there much of it in tennis? Can you give an example of when you used to be involved in it?
JOHN McENROE: Me and Connors would be an example of trash talking. I don’t think we went to the level of what Nick was throwing out at Wawrinka, but it certainly happens a lot in other sports. I think it’s part of sports in general. I don’t think there’s much of it now. In a way, I sort of miss it a little bit.
It’s a one-on-one game. We sort of want to be treated in the same way or hopefully respected as other sports. It’s not upperclass (where) you have to wear long pants and behave a certain way. That was my goal. Some people may disagree. Some of that’s important and good for the game, as opposed to sort of seeing people that they don’t feel — you know, there’s times where I did, Jimmy, others, go too far like Kyrgios did, but I think that’s an entertaining and an important part of a one-on-one sport. I’m not saying they should go out and start cursing each other, but this is an extremely mental game. This isn’t just about how you hit a forehand. It’s about like how you can handle adversity under pressure and keep your composure in front of a lot of people and execute. All that is very exciting. It’s more exciting, sometimes it’s brought out the best in players. You saw Djokovic at the Open when he was ready to explode at the crowd. He turned lemons into lemonade. Nadal does it, uses the crowd, and it’s magnificent when it happens.
Q- Are you able to give specifics of one time with Connors?
JOHN McENROE: I could give you specifics with Connors one time in the French. He was telling me I was more immature than his kid, a baby. The words he was using weren’t as nice as those to describe what he was seeing in me at that particular time. And I thought he was a pompous ass. That’s part of why we brought out the best and worst in each other. We were going at it. You know, he taught me things. He brought an intensity in the locker room. He tried to beat you in the locker room. You come out in the court, he’d be coming at you with tennis. Often it was an experience. It was a lot to try to sort of figure out what to do. Ultimately it made me a better player. I’d like to think it made him a better player.
Q- I think tennis fans like the bad boy kind of thing. I wonder if Kyrgios is tapping into that or do you think he’s going way overboard?
JOHN McENROE: I think it’s both. I think all sports like to see some contrast. It’s not just tennis. I mean, they want to see someone with personality. No one wants to take it to the point — it’s the law of diminishing returns. Right now Nick hasn’t studied that economics course. But he’s only 20 and he’s got time. There’s so much focus on him that he’s cracking under pressure. Hopefully he’ll regroup and come out of this a better man and a better player. That’s what my hope is. But that’s just the way that the system operates. He’s got to be on his toes. But to think that we don’t need personality, that’s crazy. In all sports people want to see that. But, I mean, there comes a point where if you take it too far and you’re not good enough, you’ll be gone. That happens in all sports also.
PATRICK McENROE: To quickly follow up on that. I think the ATP did the right thing in how they fined him, sort of put him on I guess a double (indiscernible) probation, whatever you want to call it, to try to get him to learn a lesson. Absolutely he created more attention for tennis. But just strictly creating attention doesn’t mean it’s a positive all the time. So obviously the guy goes out there and whips Nadal on Centre Court at Wimbledon last year, and beats Federer this year in Madrid, you know, that’s exciting. He’s got a flair. He likes to be on the big stage, all those things. He could be a great player. But the bottom line is, and I’ve been saying this about him for a while, if he doesn’t become more professional, I’m not even talking about the way he acts on the court, but that obviously reached a new low, if he doesn’t become more professional in how he prepares himself, there’s no chance it’s going to happen. I’m talking about doing the physical work and the stuff it takes off the court because this guy is getting a lot of injuries at 20. The reason he’s getting a lot of injuries is because he’s not as fit as the other guys. But he’s got an unbelievable upside. He could be incredible for tennis. Again, I think the ATP recognized that and recognized that it’s for the good of everybody in the sport that he keeps the positives of his personality but realizes you can’t go out there and say that kind of stuff to a fellow player, it’s just unacceptable.
JOHN McENROE: I just want to add that I have a charity event tomorrow. Rafa has been nice enough to come to raise money for — Patrick was referring to the cost of tennis in the New York area. Kyrgios is going to be there as well playing doubles. Hopefully he’ll get some better advice. Some people wouldn’t think the advice I would give him would be good. Hopefully he’ll get some better advice. I’d be happy to give him some and be supportive of this. I think Patrick is absolutely right that the ATP gave him a stern warning and supported him in a way by not suspending him. There was pressure to do that. I think that would have been ill-advised and unfair to him. But ultimately, look, you’ve got to get your act together. This is potentially a win-win for tennis and for him. I’d like to be one of those guys that is going to support this guy through this and hopefully will be able to look back on this and say this guy turns out to be a great plus for the sport.
Q- What is the event for?
JOHN McENROE: The event is for my foundation, which is basically raising money for kids to be able to play tennis from the inner cities. Part of it goes to the costs of trying to get my best players the type of training and type of costs it costs to go travel and play. This is what is so difficult about this sport, it’s too expensive. It always has been. All the money goes to that. Hopefully Nick being here is going to be a plus. I want to be supportive of him. Rafa is one of the all time class acts. He’s been nice enough to come for nothing, which is amazing, so all the money can go to the kids. I want to say thanks to both of them and hopefully people support it.
Q- You touched on this a bit with the women’s side with the young players. 10 years ago you wanted to see how Serena Williams would do, she’s proved to be an amazing player. Madison Keys, Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe, Bouchard, do you see any of those players that we’ll be talking about in five years, if they maintain their health, their attitude about trying to be No. 1? Who do you think we’ll be talking about then?
JOHN McENROE: Forget about comparing them to Serena Williams. I don’t see that level. But I do see that Madison and Sloane, out of the four you mentioned, those two in my opinion have the biggest upside and have the potential to win a Grand Slam, and perhaps a couple of them. Obviously things have to improve in all aspects as far as their professionalism, as far as their preparation, as far as their decision making on a court. But the raw ability, and they’ve made some progress. Sloane seems to be on the right track again. She’s sort of fallen off, the wheels fell off a bit. Madison has had tremendous moments, like Patrick mentioned. She’s extremely dangerous. She seems to be making some good decisions, you know, bringing Davenport in, hopefully taking her to another level as far as the coaching. So I’m cautiously optimistic that one of those two. And hopefully the — Bouchard is in an unbelievable rut. She can’t beat anybody. CoCo has always been a nice young lady. Hopefully she’ll succeed. Hopefully we’ll see some other people.
PATRICK McENROE: The only other one I would mention in that group would be Belinda Bencic. Her tournament in Canada was amazing. She’s got incredible court sense. I think she’s mature as a player beyond her years. I think the question is, does she have the physicality to stay there. I think she’s got the tennis IQ, tennis skills. Does she have the firepower, that’s probably the biggest question. I would say Keys has the most upside because she’s got very easy power from basically the serve, forehand and backhand. It’s a learning process for her of how to put the whole thing together. We’ll see if there’s a couple of youngsters on the horizon. I know of a couple that are quite young, I’m not going to say their names yet because it’s a little early, but I think there’s a couple Americans that are 14, 15 right now, that could be – could be – the players we’re talking about in a couple years.
Q- A couple of follow-ups on Nick Kyrgios. Patrick, after what happened in Montréal, do you think there’s a possibility there might be a bit of a lasting backlash against Kyrgios from the other players, in that Stan Wawrinka is a popular guy, and a lot of people would have taken great offense at what he said? And, John, putting aside all the behavior issues, how good is Kyrgios and what can he achieve, do you think?
PATRICK McENROE: There was already a backlash for Kyrgios before that happened in Canada. There’s already players that are basically fed up with him, fed up with his act. If you want to say this took it to another level in that department, there’s absolutely no doubt that it did. Again, there’s some players that don’t care about that. But, you know, that’s a difficult way to live. As John said, if you’re not great, you’re going to be out in a hurry. He’s got some serious fence-mending to do if he wants to do it, if he cares. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he’ll clean up his act a little bit and still sort of do his own things, which certainly other great players have done, and can be done. But there’s already that backlash that began long before what happened in Canada.
JOHN McENROE: I think he could achieve winning Grand Slams, could be like one of the top players in the world. I think that’s what he could achieve. This has taken away from it. Patrick zeroed in on the conditioning, which it seems like he’s in and out there. He can’t get away with either one of those. He needs both of those. But if he did both of those, he’s got tremendous upside. But at the moment it’s a bigger ‘if’ than it was a few months ago. I think he’s taken a step back and complicated things for himself. I’m not sure what he’s doing when he’s been sort of trying to figure out how the hell to get himself out of this hole. Hopefully he’s making sure he’s in tip-top shape. That was somewhat of an issue when he was growing up. He seems to have outgrown it. But he’s not going to be able to get away with that down the road. We’ll know a lot more in the next year.
Q-John, I believe you had the chance to spend time with Andy and Jonas. Can you give us any insight into what was said, how you think he’s feeling about his chances this week?
JOHN McENROE: He was nice enough, he sort of wanted to get a little quiet hit in. He came over to my club, which is great. We have a little camp going on. Kids are obviously tremendously excited. He spent a little time with them, which is great. To me, we had a nice talk, but he’s in a good frame of mind. He’s got to be. He beat Djokovic in Montréal. He broke that streak. Roger’s played some amazing tennis. He lost to him. He was obviously feeling some fatigue from the effort in Montréal. But he’s positioned himself well. We’ll see when the draw comes out because he’s a 3 seed, not 2. He is going to have to play one of these two guys in the semis for sure. We’ll see what pans out. He’s positioned himself just right other than if he didn’t want to play Novak in the semis. Now that he’s broken that streak, he’ll be feeling better about his chances. He’s worked hard over the course of the last 18 months since he had the surgery to get himself in the type of position he’s in right now.
Q-Do you feel the defeat to Federer is a big setback for him?
JOHN McENROE: I think he has a better shot of beating Federer in a best-of-five set match. He lost at Wimbledon, it didn’t happen. He’s lost I believe five times in a row. Listen, you’re talking about, what, the first or second greatest player that ever lived who is playing tremendously. It’s not like he’s going to just walk through this. But he’s got himself as well-prepared as possible. I think he knows that he’s got to keep adding to his game. That’s clear. He’s got Bjorkman on tap to figure out ways he can be more aggressive, take advantage of his skills at net. We’ll see if he’s able to bring that to the table at the Open.
Q- The word ‘pressure’ has come up several times with regards to Serena. Her habit of getting behind, what we saw in Toronto when she lost her temper, lost in the semis, would you attribute those little cracks recently to the pressure of the moment? As talented and dominant as she is, is there a danger that could sidetrack her at the Open if she’s not careful?
JOHN McENROE: Well, of course. Look at this achievement. We’ve talked about that throughout the hour. Obviously, I mean, she’ll be ready for this to be over with. Let’s just say that. It’s a lot to be put on your shoulders. It’s a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment already what she’s done. She’s distanced herself from the other players. It’s hard to argue that she’s not the best ever. Certainly I guess some people could throw in one or two people. But to me she’s the best ever, and has been that way for a while. She solidified that.
There is a lot more riding on it than there should be perhaps considering what she’s done in her career. She’s a human being. I saw her yesterday at a Nike event. She’s excited but she’s ready for this to be over with, too, because she’s been walking around with this ever since she won the French again, then having to go to Wimbledon, now this. It’s been months and months and months.
She’s won a lot of matches where she’s been coming from behind, especially at the French. I got to hand it to her. She’s done at the end of the day an incredible job, being able to get that W at the end. Being this close to it has definitely made this event more exciting for the fans. I’m into it and I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are going to look forward to seeing if she can pull this off.
PATRICK McENROE: My one follow up to all that is the only thing I can really compare this to in sports, it’s sort of like when people start chasing the Joe DiMaggio hitting streak. I think it’s a bit magnified. As John said, this has been happening now for a few months for her. Obviously the hitting streak is just as difficult if not maybe even harder. But that’s sort of the pressure I think she’s feeling. Clearly there are players that can compete with her. It’s not like she’s winning 6-2, 6-2 every match. You tie that into it, and as John said, there is the benefit of two-out-of-three, but there’s also a little bit more pressure in two-out-of-three. If you do lose a set, you get down, the match could be over. I think there’s that piece of it, as well. An upset is slightly more likely in a two-out-of-three than a best-of-five set match.
Q-A broader look at Kyrgios and Serena. You talked about the emotional outbursts that they’ve used. I was hoping you could pull back a little and talk more in general terms about what it is about playing tennis itself that drives players to the point that they vent the way they do sometimes during matches? There’s a long and vivid history of it in the sport.
JOHN McENROE: Have you ever played?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think if you played, you know how frustrating it is. It’s like golf. To me that’s one of the few if only games that’s even more frustrating than tennis. With tennis, you’re running around, you break a sweat, physically you feel better. But it’s incredibly difficult game to master.
You’re asking the wrong guy about keeping it together on a tennis court clearly (laughter). But also I think it’s tough for other athletes to keep it together. Just a lot more going on, teammates, underneath you may miss it. But when you’re the only person out there, the focus is on you and one other person, it’s so much more magnified, how difficult it is to keep things together at all times.
I got to say, tennis is just a tremendous sport. It just takes a long time to master. You always have to keep working at it. Even as you get older, you have to keep your focus. A lot of it’s about the mental part of it. That’s the part I think people miss sometimes. That’s to me why it’s so difficult.
Patrick talked earlier about Dimitrov losing in Cincinnati. The guy had like one of the easiest balls in three hours, match point, his forehand, his best shot, he misses it by three feet long. He couldn’t even get the ball back in the court. That’s how much the nerves got in the way at that time. It just shows you how difficult it can be to execute at those type of moments.
PATRICK McENROE: Coming from myself, a journeyman player, I say to people all the time who are parents involved with their kids in tennis, just be prepared to lose a lot. Even the best players in the world pretty much lose almost every week they play. Even the best years of Federer’s career, even Serena, maybe not this year, but the best players still lose. There’s 128 people that play in the main draw of the US Open and only one of them is going to walk out having not lost a match. That’s frustrating.
Not only that, even when you play a tennis match, you win it, you miss a lot of shots. Unlike in other sports where you have teammates to vent to, rely on, you don’t have that in tennis. One of the things we talked about a little earlier, which is a factor in trying to broadcast tennis on television, there’s only two players out there. You could say that’s part of the beauty of tennis, a great match is like nothing else with the drama and intensity. But a boring match can be pretty boring because you’re looking at the same rectangle with two people on it. You try to look for different things to get people interested.
I think that’s part of the reason you see tennis players get so frustrated out there, it’s because you make a lot of mistakes when you play tennis, even if you’re really, really good.