Fortnight Commences Monday, June 29; Exclusively on ESPN TV and ESPN3
Both Marvel at Serena, Wonder about Nadal, Have Hope for Keys, Cite Bigger Issues than Slowness of Play
Today, ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media about Wimbledon, which starts Monday, June 29, exclusive to ESPN on television and multiple courts on ESPN3, daily to the Ladies Championship on Saturday, July 11, and the Gentlemen’s Championship on Sunday, July 12.
Topics on the call included:
- The Greatness of Serena – Evert: “I think Serena’s got a great shot. To me her game is better suited to the grass courts than it is to the clay. She struggled through the French, remarkably winning it. But her game, just because of her serve, she’s going to get free aces. Her power, her mobility on the court…Her adversaries are going to be, basically, motivation day in and day out for two weeks. She’s got to be sharp.”
- The Struggles of Nadal – McEnroe: “His legs don’t look as strong to me. He doesn’t seem to have that first-step quickness…There’s something that doesn’t seem quite right, but I couldn’t pinpoint it… I think in certain ways it’s not about the shots, it’s more about what’s inside his head and how healthy he ”
- Serena’s Comeback Ability – Evert: “I think sometimes she comes out flat….How she digs herself out of holes, I think she gets mad at herself, and that is the motivation, that gets her going.” McEnroe: If getting mad would have been the criteria for coming back, I would have been the all-time leader.”
- Madison is Next? – Evert: “I think if there’s any American player that can follow in Serena and Venus’ footsteps, at Wimbledon, it would favor Madison Keys with her power game.” McEnroe: “I would agree that Madison is going to make the most in-roads, and I think it’s going to be real soon. She’s got a huge serve. If she can figure out the movement on the court, she’s going to have a shot at going deep at an event like Wimbledon.”
- Slowness of Play – McEnroe: “Put a clock on. If the players really like it, all these players, put a clock on. It would solve the problem…The times they (chair umpires) pick to do it….It’s like the thing about the NBA and other sports, the NHL I watched, the referees tell the players, Look, you’re going too far. Give the guy some notice this is what you’re going to have to do, which I don’t see them do very much times (in tennis).”
- Bigger Issues in the Sport – McEnroe: “Why don’t you focus on the people calling trainers, abusing the rule? To me, that’s far worse. To me they walk off the court for a bathroom break after every set. It’s way worse than what (Nadal’s) doing.” Evert: “I have more of a problem with ‘I call a trainer because my heart is beating fast, I’m having a panic attack.’ You know what?…You’re nervous or you’re out of shape. Sorry, but there’s such a fine line between getting injured or getting tired or getting panicky…We see players sitting on the side waiting for 10 minutes. They come back and win the match. They have to be a little stricter with the timeouts, period.”
Q- Can Serena Williams continue her major streak we’ve seen so far? Two down, two to go. What are some of the obstacles she has in front of her to win at Wimbledon?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think Serena’s got a great shot. To me her game is better suited to the grass courts than it is to the clay. She struggled through the French, remarkably winning it. But her game, just because of her serve, she’s going to get free aces. Her power, her mobility on the court. It should be one of the easier Grand Slams for her. We’ve all read that quote: These matches are all on her racquet. It’s kind of true at this point. Her adversaries are going to be basically motivation day in and day out for two weeks. She’s got to be sharp. She’s got to be motivated every single match. Basically her health and injuries. I mean, it’s all up to her. When she is at her best she is better than anybody else. But at the same time we’ve seen some hiccups and we’ve seen some drama, like at the French Open. She can’t afford to have any more drama like at the French Open. Then the last couple of Wimbledons have been as well, especially last year losing to Cornet. It wouldn’t surprise me if she won. At the same time it wouldn’t surprise me either if she had a bad loss because I think the number one key is the motivation. As you get older that is not always there every single match and it’s not something you can manufacture.
JOHN McENROE: I was going to add that. Obviously Serena’s playing better than anyone. There’s no question about it. She’s chasing history in terms of her Grand Slam titles. I assume even though she’s still playing arguably her best tennis, you have to wonder at a certain point how long that can keep up. I’m sure she is. There’s got to be a sense of urgency. She’s going for a Grand Slam, which is obviously so rare. That should be significant motivation. The only part that would worry me is she had as many lapses, Chrissie referred to the French, where she got through just on her ability and will at the end. But on grass, a couple bigger hitters like a Kvitova, Cornet is not a big hitter, but if you get yourself in a hole, some of the women could get away and win more points on the serve than they would on a clay court or a hard court. They’re not as easily attackable because of the nature of the grass being a little bit more difficult to gauge where the ball’s going to be, even though the court has been truer than it’s been. I think five of her seven matches she won in three sets. She was down in a number of them. I anticipate, because naturally she’s so great on grass, that that won’t happen. There’s a few more people that can cause problems if it does.
CHRISSIE EVERT: John, you’re 100% on the money. To further that even, on the clay, you have the luxury of playing your way into a match a little bit more. Even when she was a set and a break down, she could still play her way back into it. As John says, she gets a Lisicki, who has a big serve, Kvitova, Azarenka, somebody who is hot that day, grass is not the same surface as clay. You can’t play your way into it as easily.
Q- 40th anniversary of the Ashe-Connors match. Looking back at that event, the cultural and sporting significance looking back on that now.
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll go real shortly because I was on an airplane coming home from Wimbledon. I have to tell you, I didn’t see the match. When I got home, I definitely saw clips of it. It just seemed to me that Arthur just played a cerebral game, just breaking up the rhythm of Jimmy, giving him a lot of junk and slices, not letting Jimmy play his own game. He just played a very smart match. John, you go ahead, because you probably saw the whole match.
JOHN McENROE: That’s absolutely true. The thing was, obviously in sports, at least on our side, this was a huge moment because there was talk, in some ways there still is, though it’s not nearly what it was, that black men or women were great athletes, but they weren’t the thinkers of whites. The mere fact that he out-strategized and out-thought Jimmy was significant, that a black player in a white man’s game, still to a large degree that’s the case, was able to out-maneuver him and fool him and surprise him. At that time, someone who is American, Jimmy had problems over the years with representing his country. I remember Arthur wearing the USA on his back, how important that was. He later was my captain for four years with the Davis Cup. The meaning behind that was more subtle. Maybe people in other countries it didn’t mean so much. For me watching it, it meant something. Jimmy was the best player in the world. For him to be able to do what he did, dominate him the first couple sets, it was extremely surprising, because it almost seemed like Jimmy was unbeatable, yet he made you think that’s what is great about sports, anything can happen. That was a pretty big moment for our sport.
Q- A lot of the top players, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, have switched coaches around to bring new insight into the game. Rafa hasn’t done that. He has his uncle. Is it time he brought in a new outlook on the game, someone to come in and help his uncle? If he were to pick you two guys to come in and give advice, what would y’all say?
JOHN McENROE: First of all, you’re talking about one of the greatest players that ever lived. There’s no question about that. He’s had unbelievable success with his uncle. If you don’t think that there’s people around Rafa’s camp over the last even half dozen years, certainly the last couple, that have thought, Hey, let’s bring in someone else, I think you’d be mistaken. I’m sure they’re always trying to max out the top guys. I’m sure that’s come up. It depends who you ask. Obviously Uncle Toni has had incredible success. I’m guessing he’s not as open as some of the other people in his camp to thinking that they should bring someone in. A lot of it, and I bet you in his mind, is simply the fact they’re managing injury as opposed to his game going away.
As far as the second part of the question, I’ve watched Rafa a lot. It seems to me like you look at him and it’s Rafael Nadal. I can’t quite pinpoint, because I went to watch him up close at the French, I’ve seen him on TV a lot, it’s difficult to say, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you just like what I think he should do. I would need to spend time with him and sort of figure out what is going on in his head as well as what’s different about his training, if it is different, that he can’t practice as much because of the knees. His legs don’t look as strong to me. He doesn’t seem to have that first-step quickness. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Is it me or is it actually happening?’ It’s difficult to say. He came off winning the event in Stuttgart, lost first round in Queen’s. There’s something that doesn’t seem quite right, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I couldn’t tell you right now, without spending some time with him, what to do with him right now. I think in certain ways it’s not about the shots, it’s more about what’s inside his head and how healthy he is.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I think these other players like Federer with Edberg, Murray with first Lendl and now Mauresmo, and even Djokovic with Becker, I think a lot of it was mental. I think a lot of it was they were maybe feeling that they were losing a little bit. I know with Djokovic he lost a few finals. Federer’s trying to get that next Grand Slam. I think it was they hired these coaches not as much for the physical aspects of the game, but more for the mental inspiration and experience, just a new set of eyes, a new set of ears. This is the first time in the last year really that it’s been this sort of serious where he’s definitely lost his form. That was evident on the clay court, during the clay court season. In past years he’s always been able to get it back in the clay season. This is the first year. So maybe since it does seem to be a little bit mental, maybe they will think about it now just for inspiration reasons. I agree with John. The moving isn’t as strong as it has been in the past. I think even more so than this, just listening to him talk, it’s the confidence. You have to almost be a little arrogant to be a champion, and that seems to be missing, too. Maybe this is the time. Not to change anybody in his team, but to bring somebody onboard that can inspire him a little bit more, like a John McEnroe.
JOHN McENROE: Yeah, I’m ready (laughter). I’m somewhat committed to the secretary of defense with the Trump campaign (laughter).
Q- Here in Canada, everybody is asking the question, What the heck has happened to Eugenie Bouchard? Also the coaching change, if that played any role.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s a multifaceted question and answer. I think Nick Saviano was really good for her. I think he was a very positive influence. I don’t know what happened. I’m not privy to what happened there. But I think that probably has had an effect on her. It’s a good question. She did so well at the Grand Slams last year. But we have to remember, though, she also lost first round in nine events last year. It wasn’t like she had a sterling year. She had a great 12 months. She did well in the Grand Slams, but she did not do well the rest of the year.
In saying that, you would expect her to build on that, to come back, match it or do better. It’s interesting because I haven’t really seen her play that much because she’s lost seven first-round matches, and first rounds aren’t on TV. I’m not commentating all these tournaments. I’ve seen bits and pieces of her play.
It seems to me that it is a mental thing because she seems to be hitting the ball fine. She’s had a lot of three-set matches. She gets into a position to win or to finish the match in three sets, and she can’t finish, she can’t close. That to me is more of a mental thing with her. She is a player that has to step in and belt the ball. That’s what she did so well last year. There’s only one piece for her, that’s to be aggressive, to be arrogant out there, and to believe like she’s the best. We heard from her press conferences that tone all last year. She doesn’t have that same confidence. She’s not stepping in. She’s not nailing the ball with the same confidence on the big points like she was last year.
So I think it’s a confidence factor. I think it’s a Nick Saviano factor, too. I think he was really good for her. She’s still young. She can still get it back. We’re so quick to build up our stars and then sort of to talk them down. At the same time she hasn’t had a good six months. It’s not like she hasn’t had a good two years. This is just six months.
JOHN McENROE: If you’re interested, it appeared like she was so arrogant, which arrogant can be a good thing, and on the court, I don’t know her off the court, but to me, if you’re exposed, like she was in the Wimbledon final, because last year I thought she was playing well, I picked her to win the tournament. She got to the final, but then she was sort of out-hit. She was out-played. That was the bottom line. Doesn’t seem like she’s got another gear, another place to go. If she wants to get it back, in my opinion, she has to have a Plan B, possibly C. A doesn’t always work with certain people. You have to be able to be versatile. What I see is there’s no versatility right now. Obviously a lot of what Chrissie said about the mental part is absolutely right now. But she’s got to be become more well-rounded in her game.
Q- Chrissie, endorsement deals, do you think that’s had an impact on her also, things off the court?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, when I wrote that letter to Serena about distractions. It’s a sensitive area.
Again, I think if she has a desire to get her game back, she has to prioritize and set aside the covers of magazines right now. I think she’s got to prioritize and really hunker down and just work on her game with no distractions, just to get her game back, just to get it back. I agree with John as far as having a Plan B. A lot of players don’t have Plan B because it’s all about power now. But I think she’s got to get her strength back. The strengths in her game are moving and hitting out with confidence. She’s gone from a 10 to a 7 there. She’s not doing it as well as she did last year.
But again, remember, as John said, there’s an upside and then there’s a downside. It’s not consistent. It’s up and down. Even though she had a great year last year, broke into the top 10, she still lost nine first rounds. I don’t know if a lot of top-10 players lost nine first rounds. Everything has to be working perfectly for her to play her best tennis. Again, I would just probably go away, try to work on my game, try to get my focus back. I don’t know how her focus is. I’m not really privy to it.
Q- I think Chrissie alluded to Serena’s hiccups at the French. Can both of you address this unique ability she has, particularly lately, no matter how down she may look, lacking energy, she can almost flip a switch and turn a match. Have you ever seen anyone do it so consistently and successfully? Would you call it a weapon, a bad habit? Is it more mental, physical?
JOHN McENROE: I wish I knew the answer to that because I would have done that more. To me, she’s like the greatest. I’ve never seen someone come back from behind as much as she has. I can’t believe she’s got this will and belief at like really critical times. That tells you something about how incredible she is. To me, Chrissie won 18 slams in singles, and Serena’s unbelievable. We were at the French. I think it was 33 times she has come from a set down at majors. It’s got to be way ahead of the next closest person. She was close to losing, and she’s been down match points, come back from those. To maintain that belief is something that is like a gift. It’s like having a great serve. She’s got the greatest serve in the history of tennis. You can rely on certain things.
It seems like she can rely on that. It’s like that quality that Nadal has had for almost all of his career. It takes a lot to sort of knock out his will and his ability to give effort. I think one of the few times we’ve ever seen it happen was at the French this year in the third set against Djokovic. Djokovic was out-playing him so badly, got in his head, he broke his will in a way, which is incredibly hard to do. Serena has seemed late in her career gotten to be mentally tougher than she’s ever been. She’s been awfully tough at times. That’s very rare that you can be that consistently solid when it’s crunch time.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think in the French, you had two things going on. I think she was starting out slowly. In the beginning of the week she would go out and cruising along was good enough. She got herself into trouble. I think later on in the tournament, she was definitely ill. You could tell, with the coughs. She probably even had a fever. I don’t know. I think having the flu, I think that slowed her down a little bit.
But I still maintain that when you get into your 30s, and I know this from my own experience, my last US Open I played probably one of the best matches of my life by beating Monica Seles 1 and 1. The next round I lost to Zina Garrison who I owned, I never lost to Zina Garrison. I was flat. I think sometimes she comes out flat. Sometimes she comes out maybe not 100% fully engaged. She kind of cruises along. Then it hits her, like her pride, I don’t want to lose this match. I don’t want to lose this match. It’s not going the way I want it to go. For some reason she’ll start slapping some winners, she’ll give you that scream, then she’s won the match. How she digs herself out of holes, I think she gets mad at herself, and that is the motivation, that gets her going. She is the best with, by the way, Maria Sharapova close behind. Maria is also a champion at being down a set and break, being down in a match, and finding a way to win it.
JOHN McENROE: If getting mad would have been the criteria for coming back, I would have been the all-time leader in the men’s. Azarenka, that was the best I’ve seen her play since she got hurt by far at the French. 6-4, 4-2. It was looking dicey. Serena finds that extra gear. That’s not easy to do, especially when you’re not playing that well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: No.
JOHN McENROE: If it’s some unknown German player… But when you’re playing the former No. 1 player in the world who has won a couple of slams, who is hungry, and she still did it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: If you look at every game she came back, she switched to higher gear, she was screaming at herself. When she does, 90% of the time she’ll end up winning the match.
Q- We saw Rafael Nadal get a time violation in a crucial part of his match, losing to Dolgopolov. Is it harder for these guys to play against Rafa when he is sort of coming up against the clock so often, it seems like it might be hard for them to get a rhythm? Is this something that needs to be addressed more full on moving forward or it’s a non-controversy, but people like me are talking about it?
JOHN McENROE: To me, that’s what it is. To me, you’re not professional enough to know he’s going to take 24 seconds every point? You pretty much can look at his routine, what he does. He touches his ears, he bounces a certain amount of times. He does the same thing every time. The poor guy, he’s driving himself crazy. He’s won so much that he’s got caught up in this superstitions in a way. I’m sure deep down he wishes he wasn’t doing it.
It’s hard to break that habit. I think the times that they pick to do it… Put a clock on. If the players really like it, all these players, put a clock on. It would solve the problem. It’s like getting the challenge system. If this is what you want, you want a challenge system, why are there linesmen at all? Players could call 95% of the shots without even thinking. There would only be a handful of shots in the set, it would make it more interesting.
Then there’s this whole thing about Nadal. Why don’t you focus on the people calling trainers, abusing the rule? To me, that’s far worse. To me they walk off the court for a bathroom break after every set. It’s way worse than what he’s doing. That’s just my person opinion.
When I used to play some of these guys, Borg played pretty quick, Jimmy played very slowly, I played pretty slowly, Ivan did. The game’s changed. If people say people’s attention span isn’t what it was, let’s get it done quicker. It’s ultimately not for me to decide. I throw my two cents in. As a group, younger and older players, the people involved make a choice. If the players say, Let’s put on a clock, as soon as the point ends they start the clock, you get 20 seconds, whatever it is, 25, then there’s no issue. In the meantime keep the umpires out of it. The times they pick to do it….It’s like the thing about the NBA and other sports, the NHL I watched, the referees tell the players, Look, you’re going too far. Give the guy some notice this is what you’re going to have to do, which I don’t see them do very much (in tennis).
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m not a real sportsfan. I don’t watch a lot of sports. But I do see there are clocks on other sports. I think if there’s so many people complaining, they need to have a clock out there. Again, like John said, the players have to get together and all have a conversation about this together. Not just in a press conference, I think this, I think that. They should involve the players, to incorporate any rules, the ATP should get together, the WTA should get together.
I have more of a problem with ‘I call a trainer because my heart is beating fast, I’m having a panic attack.’ You know what?…You’re nervous or you’re out of shape. Sorry, but there’s such a fine line between getting injured or getting tired or getting panicky. We see this in the women’s game more than the men’s game. We see players sitting on the side waiting for 10 minutes. They come back and win the match. They have to be a little stricter with the timeouts, period.
JOHN McENROE: Also, while you’re at it, players play one game…this happens in the men’s and women’s…they go over to the sideline, they towel off, have a drink. Serena and Venus I think are the only two people that I can recall off the top of my head that go to the other side of the net, change sides the way the rules are stated, which is you don’t stop.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah.
JOHN McENROE: But they don’t do that. I mean, so why are you sitting there with the greatest player that ever lived, or the second greatest, hammering this guy because he takes two or three extra seconds? I mean, the fact that we’re focusing on that as opposed to like other issues that are way worse, I mean, get to that when you solve the other problems. Penalize the people. It’s 3-all in the tiebreaker. The whole point of the rule was to sort of keep things going. But if you don’t want the rule, okay, change the rule. We weren’t even allowed to take bathroom breaks in best-of-five-set matches when we played.
CHRISSIE EVERT: We didn’t even sit down. We didn’t even have chairs in the ’70s. We had to stand up.
JOHN McENROE: Back in Chrissie’s era, there weren’t even chairs (laughter). I managed to get in just in time, the first year they had chairs. I lucked out (laughter).
Q- More time between the French Open and Wimbledon this year. How is that going to affect the play? Can you take time to talk about the top American men and the top American women, how they’re going to fare.
JOHN McENROE: The idea behind the extra week, real quick, was to allow the players a chance, especially the ones that did well at the French, played a busy schedule in Europe, a chance to regroup, refresh. The belief was, and I believe this to be true, the quality will be higher, especially earlier. Isner, as far as I know, the guy never played a tune-up event before Wimbledon. Here is a guy that’s got one of the biggest serves in the history of tennis. You think, Why is this guy not there? Part of the reason was he was in Europe too long playing the clay court events, he was burned out. He felt like he would sort of roll the dice a little. I see he’s in Queen’s at least. I don’t know how he did today. But he’s playing and getting over there and increasing his chances.
So everyone that chooses to play a tune-up event knows they have at least a week. Some people played the week after the French, which gives them three full weeks, which I think is better. You’ll be more used to how to play on the grass. It’s not exactly the same as playing on the other surfaces. You wouldn’t know it the way a lot of the players play. Hopefully overall this will give the top players a little breather. Having to play the French and Wimbledon so close together, and the fans, it seems like a win-win ultimately.
I don’t know if it means anything as far as the grass, how it holds up a week later. Obviously some of that is the weather. I don’t think there’s a great deal of change if it’s a week later in England. Sometimes there can be heat waves. As far as the women, obviously with Serena, have a far better chance of going deep in the event. I look at a couple people like Sock is making some in-roads. He’s playing doubles and playing better. Happy to see his progress.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think the clay and the grass are polar opposites. I think in the past with the two weeks in between was not enough time to play your best tennis, when it came to the first week of Wimbledon especially.
I know from personal experience I felt playing the second week of Wimbledon, after getting more matches under my belt, getting more grass time, that I was instinctively much better on the grass. I was bending my knees more, I was preparing earlier, getting used to the movement on the grass. Even when I would finish Wimbledon, say I was in the second week, I always felt like if I had an extra week, I would have even been better. I think having that extra week, as John said, is going to be great for the quality of tennis. I know the first few rounds I played at Wimbledon, sometimes I was moving like I was moving on eggshells. I was tentative, I wasn’t fully secure with my footing. The bounces were a little erratic. I always felt better in the second week. I think that second week will be the player’s first week, will improve the quality for sure. I’m thrilled. We were talking about this 30 years ago and it never happened.
JOHN McENROE: The game is sort of homogenized, they play a similar style on all the surfaces. The grass is truer than it’s ever been. The change is not nearly as drastic as it used to be. I think what Borg did when he won the six Frenches, five Wimbledons was so difficult. Now it’s more similar. I think it’s still going to help ultimately the players to be able to play better, which is good.
CHRISSIE EVERT: The only thing I can say on the women’s side is look out for Venus because obviously she has won Wimbledon many times. You never can count her out on the grass. Also I’m still looking at Madison Keys to do some damage on the grass courts. I think if there’s any American player that can follow in Serena and Venus’ footsteps, at Wimbledon, it would favor Madison Keys with her power game. Sloane Stephens is playing better. McHale seems to be playing better. The American girls are really doing well. We have a lot in the top 50. But Madison Keys would be my bet to follow in the footsteps of the Williams sisters on the grass courts.
JOHN McENROE: Well, I would agree that Madison is going to make the most in-roads, and I think it’s going to be real soon. She’s got a huge serve. If she can figure out the movement on the court, she’s going to have a shot at going deep at an event like Wimbledon. I already mentioned the two guys I think have the best chance by far. After that it’s a crapshoot. We have some players that are top-50 players, but to make that deep run, it’s hard to imagine it would be someone besides the two I mentioned.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Can I just say one more thing? I feel like we covered Serena so much, sort of didn’t cover the other women as much. I do not want to have any disrespect for the other dangerous women. The other thing is these players now are coming along and challenging more, but also the intimidation and the players have more confidence. They’re upping their level. But just don’t forget Lisicki who always has a great Wimbledon. I think she served like 25 aces in her last match like yesterday. You can’t forget, again, Sharapova. I respect her as a champion. She has won Wimbledon. And Kvitova, who will be trying again to win Wimbledon for the third time. She’s got a dangerous game. And Azarenka, I’m so happy that she’s playing well. I’d leave to see her back up in the top. She’s playing top five right now. Just send out kudos to the other women players who are dangerous on the grass, too.