- Tournament Starts Sunday on ESPN2, ESPN3
- Nine-time Champ Nadal Struggling; Sharapova, Clay Specialist?!; Possible True Grand Slams in ‘15?
ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert, Mary Joe Fernandez and Patrick McEnroe spoke with media today to preview the French Open, which starts Sunday on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
The struggles of nine-time champ Rafael Nadal, and his candid self-assessment, lacking confidence:
- “To follow up on the (lack of) confidence, you’re really seeing it on the breakpoints, on the big points. He used to be pretty successful right away. Especially on the clay, he’s not converting. The forehand is letting him down. That’s his big shot…Having said that, only one person has beat him at the French. Three-out-of-five is a different ballgame. If he starts to pick up in the first week, has some really good play, it’s still going to be tough to beat him. – Fernandez
- “I think we’re all talking about a guy who has won the French Open nine times. The thing is, he doesn’t look as sharp going into it this year, no doubt about it. But I agree with Mary Joe, you have to be stupid to count him out, especially if he starts to gain that confidence in the first week. He’s more vulnerable in two-out-of-three-set matches than he is in three-out-of-five-set matches. That’s his strength.” – Evert
- “I think this could be a real crossroads tournament for Nadal. I don’t see him sticking around if he drops out of the top 10, if he loses relatively early, which is actually possible…I think it would be a huge psychological blow to him. In addition to the fact that, you know, just the way he plays, there’s so much effort expended…Obviously his heart and his commitment will be there. I think it’s his body. If his body and his mind start to break down, and I think they sort of go hand-in-hand, I think that would be his downfall…I think he could be done pretty quickly.” – McEnroe
Can Maria Sharapova repeat?
- “She’s coming in on a high. She’s definitely built her game back up, had an injury after Miami, has played really well the last few weeks. I think winning in Rome is going to give her a huge confidence boost, going back to the place where she won last year. A surface that was so tough for her in the beginning, she’s really become so much more comfortable….She’s added shots to her game. She’s using the dropshot more effectively now. For someone who hasn’t been known for feel, she’s actually is having some good touch. She’s coming in, taking balls out of the air. She’s becoming more of a complete player. It’s doing great things for her on the clay.” – Fernandez
- “I think, though, this would be a better surface for her to play Serena. I think that it (the clay) defuses Serena’s power. I think she likes that few extra seconds that clay allows her to set up her shots. She’s setting up well. She’s learned the art of sliding into a ball pretty well. Shockingly, just the dropshots. We’ve never seen that. We’re seeing like 10 or 12 a match now, on her backhand mostly, sneaking in, hitting conventional volleys. I mean, good for her that she’s still trying to learn new shots. And I think she feels confident on the clay. She feels happy on the clay.” – Evert
If Djokovic and Serena win, who has the better chance at a true Grand Slam this year?
- “I would say that Serena would be a bigger favorite to win the Grand Slam. That’s a hard one because obviously Djokovic is younger, and Chrissie was spot on earlier with her comments that he’s a little more consistent. I think if Serena could somehow win the French, she’s a bigger favorite at Wimbledon than Djokovic is, to win Wimbledon.” – McEnroe
Q-What is wrong with Nadal? Can you weigh in on the seeding situation at the French Open and whether or not you think it should be altered? Finally, Serena has lost once all year. Why aren’t we talking about her in the same breath at Djokovic in terms of being a heavy favorite?
PATRICK McENROE: Obviously Nadal’s lost quite a bit of confidence. That’s number one. You can see by some of the sort of big misses that are coming into his game, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Obviously some of them at crucial times in a match. I believe that part of his problem at the moment is I don’t think he’s moving nearly as well when he’s on defense as he has in the past. When he gets out wide, into the corners, to me it looks like he’s a half a step slow. Some of that might be just his lack of confidence in his swings. You’d often hear Agassi talk about that, that he didn’t rely as much on his movement, but he would often say if he didn’t feel confident in his ball striking, that his movement would suffer. I think there’s a little bit of that with Nadal.
It’s almost impossible to know for sure if it’s the longevity factor, the miles, the wear and tear he’s put on his body. I don’t think any of us are really surprised that this would happen to him certainly earlier than Djokovic or obviously Roger. Now, that being said, I still think that he’s the second favorite at the French. I would have to put Djokovic as the favorite based on just how dominant he’s been this year. But I think confidence and movement are the two big issues for him right now.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I totally agree with Patrick. It’s all about the confidence. The thing is that he is admitting to the world, he’s very open about the fact, and he’s always been humble before, even when he’s won, he’s been saying, I’m not the greatest. But you really hear it now in his press conferences, you see the look in his face the way he shakes his head on the court that he has definitely lost more confidence. This is the least confident he’s ever been coming into the French Open. In saying that, I agree with the moving. That’s the one thing. I almost feel like, and don’t take this the wrong way, but because he’s leaner now, his legs, I mean, they were pumped up more. I don’t mean this to sound the way it probably is sounding. But I think he looks leaner and maybe isn’t as powerful as he used to be. I’m uncomfortable. I’m not implying anything, but at the same time he just doesn’t look as imposing as he used to. Every muscle in his body was pumped up. He used that for explosion. He doesn’t have that explosion anymore. I don’t know. The edge is off of his game.
Q- You bring up a good point. He’s oddly transparent about his confidence. Is that helpful or hurtful when that kind of stuff is going around the locker room?
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: That’s how he’s been, right? That’s the way he’s always gone about, I think, taking pressure off. He’s won the French Open nine times. I don’t think he’s ever said he’s been the favorite to win it.
To follow up on the confidence, you’re really seeing it on the breakpoints, on the big points. He used to be pretty successful right away. Especially on the clay, he’s not converting. The forehand is letting him down. That’s his big shot. A lot of it has to do with having confidence in your movement, getting to the shots when you want to get to them, how you want to get to them. Having said that, only one person has beat him at the French. Three-out-of-five is a different ballgame. If he starts to pick up in the first week, has some really good play, it’s still going to be tough to beat him.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think we’re all talking about a guy who has won the French Open nine times. The thing is, he doesn’t look as sharp going into it this year, no doubt about it. But I agree with Mary Joe, you have to be stupid to count him out, especially if he starts to gain that confidence in the first week. He’s more vulnerable in two-out-of-three-set matches than he is in three-out-of-five-set matches. That’s his strength.
Q- Is it a hardship for the tournament to have him seeded seventh?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it’s a mistake. I think he should be in the top four. That being said, I understand where they’re coming from, because they’ve never done that. I always used to think it was sort of silly that they seeded Sampras No. 1 every year at the French. I just thought that was silly. I don’t think anybody would have complained if they moved Sampras down a spot or two. I certainly can’t imagine people would complain by moving up Nadal. I mean, the guy has won it nine times.
As far as the Djokovic and Serena thing, it’s a good point. Obviously Serena has been more dominant over her career than Djokovic. But Djokovic has been so unbelievably dominant this year, I mean, he’s won every Masters event he’s played, he won Australia. Generally speaking, it’s a little more of a story on the men’s side than on the women’s side just because it’s so rare. I think the fact that Serena’s had some surprising losses in majors, like she did last year, would lead you to believe that maybe Djokovic has a better chance. Look, both of them are amazing stories. If either of them win the French, it’s a great story either way. I think it’s maybe a little more unusual to happen on the men’s side over the course of the last 30 years or so. You combine that with the fact of how darn good Novak has been this year. And Serena, she’s obviously been great, but she’s been a little bit up and down this year.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think Serena, when she has bad days, she’s very beatable. I think when Djokovic has bad days, he’s still good, he’s still great. You don’t see as many bad days with Djokovic. But with Serena, as we’ve seen in the past couple years, she’s lost to really low-ranked players. When she has bad days, she loses her timing, consistency, everything just goes. Djokovic doesn’t have bad days, period, so he’s been more consistent.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: She’s more vulnerable on clay than any other surfaces. The fact she only won the two French Opens. This year, she lost in Madrid, didn’t finish Rome. She’s not going into it having won on the clay like Djokovic. I think that’s why we’re seeing more attention on the Djokovic story. Like Patrick said, it’s a little bit more rare. We’ve seen Serena in the past go into majors so dominant a few times.
Q- Not that rare, because four years ago he was undefeated going into the French.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: We hear more about it with Serena.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think this year Djokovic, this is his goal. He hasn’t won this one yet. This would just be the whole Grand Slam. Also the fact the last two out of three years, he came so close to beating Nadal. Maybe that one year when he hit the net, that was his year. I don’t know. He seems to be really right there with Nadal.
But I keep going back to Serena at her age, it’s just so natural to have more off days, more days where you just can’t get things going. To me, it’s easier for Djokovic to play seven good matches than it is for Serena to play seven good matches.
Q- Nadal, if he doesn’t win in Paris, what kind of psychological effect that has on him for the rest of this year, maybe the rest of his career. He’s going to be 29. And as far as Sharapova, what about her chances this year? We’ve talked before about her becoming such a good clay court player. Can you talk about other players that have become so much better on different surfaces as they’ve gotten over.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I mean, for Nadal, to me, if he loses, it will be a shock to everybody just because it hasn’t happened in a very long time. It’s inevitable. He has to lose at the French at some point. I’m confident he’ll come back again. He’s an amazing champion. He works extremely hard. He still has a great amount of passion for the game. There’s no reason to write him off if he doesn’t win the French.
As for Maria, it’s amazing to see the transformation of her comfort level on the clay, particularly the movement. She was the first one to say a while back how she felt like a cow on ice when she played on clay. Now she’s learned how to slide to her left. She stays in many more points. But she still plays her aggressive game style, she still goes after it. She still treats it almost like it’s a hard court match. The ability to move better and feel comfortable the few times she needs to defend has really helped her. Serena goes into the French Open as a favorite. I’m trying to think of another player that’s made that transformation for the surface. I’m not thinking of anybody right now.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I can’t think of anybody.
PATRICK McENROE: Especially on the clay, as you get older, it seems pretty unusual to me.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: True. I mean, I guess the clay-courters going to hard court is more of what we’ve seen in the past.
CHRISSIE EVERT: She was so uncomfortable on the clay in the beginning, she even admitted she was embarrassed, sometimes humiliated when she couldn’t get to a ball, the sliding was awkward. I think she really put her mind to it. It was kind of like in the middle of her career that she did that, because that was a few years ago when she made the big jump. Now I even see another level this year. Mary Joe, I’m sure you’ve seen it, too, where all of a sudden she’s pulling out some dropshots, she’s coming in more, she’s hitting some technical volleys, not just out of the air. We’re seeing her come out of the box a little bit with some new shots, new variety that we never really expected that at this stage in her career. She has to be admired for that.
PATRICK McENROE: I think this could be a real crossroads tournament for Nadal. I don’t see him sticking around if he drops out of the top 10, if he loses relatively early, which is actually possible. He’s always been able to pick himself up and dust himself off. He’s had some really tough injuries, some big matches. You go back to the US Open when he lost to del Potro. He was struggling there. Obviously a couple times in the Australian against Ferrer, then against Wawrinka in the final. But he’s always managed to be ready to go and good to go at the French. Somehow he’s always found a way to get himself ready there. I think it would be a huge psychological blow to him. In addition to the fact that, you know, just the way he plays, there’s so much effort expended. He doesn’t have the same ease of just striking the ball as Djokovic and Federer obviously. So I hope it doesn’t happen, but I think it could be a very quick fall for him. As Mary Joe said, he is Nadal. I never underestimate the heart of a champion. I don’t think it’s his heart, though, that would do it. Obviously his heart and his commitment will be there. I think it’s his body. If his body and his mind start to break down, and I think they sort of go hand-in-hand, I think that would be his downfall. It’s not that he’s not going to want it. If reality sets in in a way that he doesn’t think he can do it anymore, I think he could be done pretty quickly.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I have to add, I kind of feel that way, too. In every other year where he’s had sort of a slow start, you’re right, he’s always depended on the clay court season to get that confidence back, then that set him up for the rest of the year where he’s ended up pretty well. I think if you take away the clay court season for him confidence-wise, I just think it’s going to be that much tougher for him to be grinding it out on the hard courts. I think it will affect him. I have to agree with Patrick. He said it very eloquently.
Q- How realistic are Andy Murray’s chances coming off the first two clay court wins of his entire career? In particular, how much credence do we give to this “marriage works” thing? Is there something in that, the psychology? He’s having a pretty good year anyway.
PATRICK McENROE: Maybe it’s a combination of getting married and the female coach. He has a lot of female influence around him. He’s always had his mom, who has been a strong figure in his entire tennis life.
It’s great to see Andy Murray playing this well. I mean, I really had my doubts, as you probably know, at the end of last year about where he was. He’s turned it around in a huge way. I mean, it’s been impressive what he’s been able to do. Obviously to win back-to-back clay court titles, you certainly wouldn’t have predicted that. I certainly don’t think he’s the favorite. But he certainly played himself into contention in a big way. We all know if he does get deep into the tournament, it’s not like he’s going to tighten up. He’s won majors before. He’s had unbelievable pressure on him at Wimbledon. So if he can get through relatively comfortably week one, there’s no reason that he can’t be a legitimate threat in the final weekend.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think the thing that prevented Andy, and he was brought up on clay, no reason he shouldn’t have a really good clay court game, but I think he’s always fought himself. What I saw the last few weeks is how well he managed his emotions out there, how patient he was. He just wasn’t getting flustered, he wasn’t getting frustrated, he wasn’t looking over to the player box as much. He was more serene for sure. Whether that’s also maturation, maybe it’s maturing, maybe it’s Mauresmo, maybe it’s getting married. For whatever reason, it seems like everything is coming together for him at this point in his career.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: It seems like he’s in a really good place just emotionally, physically, everything is coming together. To me on clay in the past, it always seemed like he didn’t have enough on his shots. He didn’t hit the ball heavy enough. The court didn’t help him enough. He moves great. But these last few weeks he really found the balance of offense and defense. He’s stepping up when he needs to. He’s trying to use his forehand now. He’s serving better. Everything is really sort of coming together right now for him. With the new team, he seems comfortable. Like Patrick and Chrissy said, if he gets into the second week, I think he becomes a big threat.
PATRICK McENROE: The biggest difference in his game to me is that he’s closer to the baseline more often and he’s hitting his backhand a lot bigger. He’s hitting his backhand with much more pace earlier in the rally and also from closer inside the court without really going for winners. I think you put those things together and that’s why he’s improved his game a lot on clay. By the way, it’s going to help him on other surfaces, as well
Q- Djokovic is the guy, can’t seem to beat him in finals. Maybe that’s the next psychological barrier for him, beating Djokovic.
PATRICK McENROE: He can join the club (laughter). But, yes, you’re right.
Q- Patrick, now that your run at player development is winding down, can you step back and say what do you think your best decision was and if you could change one move that you made, what would that be?
PATRICK McENROE: Could you girls go first, please (laughter).
I’ll try to be reasonably brief for the sake of this call. But I’ll say that what I’m most proud of is that I think we’ve set ourselves up. We’ve organized our coaching philosophy. We’ve organized I think our outreach with the private sector and the private coaches, that they’re a lot better by reaching out to them, reaching out to the sections and the people out there. I’m very happy with how that has gone. I think if there’s one thing I could have done differently, I think I would have done the second part I’m talking about, the reach out to the private coaches even more thoroughly and earlier than we did, which was about two years ago. We sort of did it, but we didn’t do it as systematically as we’ve been doing it the last couple years. That would be the one thing I would have done a little bit earlier. But I’m happy that we did it. I think we’re really headed in a very positive direction. We have been very successful as a country with our young women coming up, and I think we’re going to hit a stretch here pretty soon where we’re going to be as successful with our young men coming up
Q- Which guy do you have your eye on, Sock?
PATRICK McENROE: Sock has done well. Steve Johnson has done well. I think they’re going to continue to improve. But I think what I’m most excited about is not one player, but a group of five or six that are teenagers like Donaldson and Kozlov and Tiafoe and Mo and Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul. For the first time since I’ve been in this job, even going back before then, at least a decade or so, I think we’ve got a real strong group of teenagers. The nice thing is I don’t think we’re going to rely on just one. As we’ve seen historically, generally when you have a group of players, they can push each other, maybe take a little pressure off of each other as they develop from 16 until they make it to be fixtures on the tour.
Q- Everyone knows how hard it is to break through, to stay at the top. Genie Bouchard had her great run at the French Open and Wimbledon. Things became problematic with losses in Montréal, Nick Saviano stepping away. She recently was on a losing streak with an 0-6 losing streak, and then all this stuff with the handshake. What is your take on Genie and the situation with the handshake brouhaha?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Okay. Genie Bouchard, that is the big question. What happened to her? I think a lot of things happened to her. I think it was physical. I think after Wimbledon, she was injured. I think in the fall, she was injured. I think injuries prevented her from really preparing correctly the way she was used to with Nick Saviano.
The fact that Nick left, he was great for her, in my opinion. He brought out the best in her. She needed that extra push. And he gave it to here. So I think with the injuries, Nick leaving, the responsibility and pressure she has, every young woman, whether it’s Sloane or Madison or anyone who has really done well, the next year, which is the sophomore year, they felt the pressure and haven’t done as well. I’m sure it was the pressure. I think Genie, though, in her last tournament, she had match points against Suarez Navarro. I think she’s coming back. I don’t doubt her talent at all. I think it’s still there, but she’s got to find it within herself now. She’s got to find that commitment and discipline within herself because it’s not being handed to her.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Sometimes you have to even work harder the following year. It’s hard to have your breakthrough, but it’s even harder to maintain that level. Not everybody handles the pressure the same way. She’s a great competitor. She fights. But right now she has no confidence. She’s in a slump. She really needs to figure out a way to control the nerves. The matches that I’ve seen her, she gets leads and she just can’t finish the sets off. She needs those few wins, she needs those few matches in a row to keep building again. It hasn’t happened in a while. But, you know, you have to have the faith that it’s going to happen. I feel that she is going to turn the corner at some point, I think more on the faster courts. But it’s been tough because she did have such a stellar year last year. Again, she competes so well, you would figure she would find a way these last few months to get through it, but she hasn’t been able to get through it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: She played fearless tennis last year. We’re not seeing that any more. We’re seeing nervous tennis.
Q- The handshake, a gesture of civility….?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I don’t know how you feel. I can’t relate to it. It’s a team event. I can’t relate to it.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: No. It’s a silly thing. It’s tradition. It makes no sense for her to do that again this year.
Q- Can we talk about Maria Sharapova, how you feel about her coming in. Where do you see Maria coming into this French?
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: She’s coming in on a high. She’s definitely built her game back up, had an injury after Miami, has played really well the last few weeks. I think winning in Rome is going to give her a huge confidence boost, going back to the place where she won last year. A surface that was so tough for her in the beginning, she’s really become so much more comfortable. The last couple years, all her tournament wins have come on clay. She’s better. Chrissie mentioned it earlier. She’s added shots to her game. She’s using the dropshot more effectively now. For someone who hasn’t been known for feel, she’s actually is having some good touch. She’s coming in, taking balls out of the air. She’s becoming more of a complete player. It’s doing great things for her on the clay.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I mean, I look at Serena, Maria, even Simona as my top three. I think obviously that’s pretty creative thinking since they’re the top three players in the world. The one thing is she still hasn’t beaten Serena. The two titles that she won, not to take anything away from her, but she didn’t beat Serena. I think, though, this would be a better surface for her to play Serena. I think that it (the clay) defuses Serena’s power. I think she likes that few extra seconds that clay allows her to set up her shots. She’s setting up well. She’s learned the art of sliding into a ball pretty well. Shockingly, just the dropshots. We’ve never seen that. We’re seeing like 10 or 12 a match now, on her backhand mostly, sneaking in, hitting conventional volleys.
I mean, good for her that she’s still trying to learn new shots. And I think she feels confident on the clay. She feels happy on the clay. Serena has some bones to pick after last year’s loss. Serena wants to win this title. Halep came so close this year, she’s going to be a big contender. Mary Joe, there could be spoilers? Kvitova has been playing well. Suarez Navarro.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Kuznetsova. Maria will be happy she’s gotten back to No. 2 so she won’t run the risk of being in the same half at Serena.
Q- Genie, you touched on what was going on with her. There’s been a lot of talk about weight loss. Is that anything that concerns any of you, something that’s negatively affecting her game?
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I have heard that, too. I haven’t seen her. I haven’t noticed it because I haven’t seen her the last month. I have heard she lost some weight. I know she works really hard off the court, does a lot of gym work. It could be, but I haven’t seen her to be able to comment.
Q- Do you feel something that might be contributing to her recent negative play would be that she’s perhaps focusing a little bit too much on the marketing of her image and her brand? Milos is putting his head down and focusing on the task.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: It could be a little distracting. To me it’s more about the nerves. She’s not the best mover. She plays really close to the baseline. She doesn’t like to defend. If you’re not timing the ball perfectly, you’re going to see a lot of unforced errors. To me it’s more about controlling her nerves and getting her confidence back so she can dictate most of the time. The minute the ball gets too far away to the sides, she doesn’t really move back. She doesn’t have a lot of room for error. So I think it’s tough. She has to be confident to play well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think that’s an interesting question because there really is a fine line when you look at a player like Maria Sharapova, the way she’s handled her branding. It hasn’t affected her one iota at all. She’s very professional that way. I know, again, Genie was injured a lot in the fall. She had a lot of free time. Maybe that’s the time she felt like, I’ll jump in, get some of my endorsements done, get on some covers of magazines. When you have a lot of requests, it’s sort of hard to turn them down, being a young lady at that age.
But now I think if that was the case for a while, it’s more right between the ears, it’s in her head now. As I said, last year she was fearless and she was confident, confident to the point of almost being cocky out there. I don’t sense that attitude is there in her matches because she has had a few losses. It’s going to take this adversity she’s going through, it’s going to take a lot of soul-searching, and she has to tough it out.
Q- In regards to Milos, he had surgery on his foot. Do you feel his game is looking more well-rounded? He’s not just considered that big serve?
PATRICK McENROE: There’s no doubt that his game, it’s more well-rounded. Unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be more effective, because as good as he can hit the ball off the ground, there’s going to be a few guys that can always hit the ball better and move better than he can. I think he has to be careful. Obviously he wants to improve his return. His backhand still needs to get better. His forehand is excellent, really improved a lot. I think he’s also improved his net play. What I would do if I were him is continue to try to get my strength better, get his serve even better, hit his forehand bigger and get to net more. He’s not going to out-rally Djokovic, Federer, Murray, guys like that. He’s a hard worker. He’s trying to improve his game. He’s trying to assess what he needs to work on. Obviously he has a good team around him. But I think you just have to be careful. When you have the firepower that he has, to me that’s what’s going to win him a major title.
I’ll chime in very quickly on Bouchard because I think the situation she’s been dealing with is very similar to what’s happening with other athletes in other sports. Make a splash and do something pretty big. She got to the Wimbledon final and the French Open semis. She has an amazing first half of the year. The biggest challenge for these young athletes is to balance celebrity with accomplishment. Sharapova, who ChrissIE compared her to, she’s won a bunch of majors, she’s won a bunch of tournaments in her career. That’s when her marketing and her branding, this is the new word now for young athletes, is their brand. You just got to be careful. You got to be careful it doesn’t get out of control too early. Especially in tennis. It’s one thing to be a great basketball player and you can say, My team doesn’t win, if I’m Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, for example. But tennis players, when you talk about trying to transcend the sport as a brand, you better put up a lot of majors before you really start talking about that. I’m not blaming Genie. I would blame more the people around her. They got to keep this in check so she can focus on what she’s great at, which is trying to become a really, really great tennis player.
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s what Serena did a few years back. That’s when she made that big jump, three, four years ago. That’s what she did. I really feel like she scaled down and put more into her tennis. I think as a result, look at her results the last three, four years.
Q- What difference will the new three-week break between the French Open and Wimbledon make?
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s better for us (laughter). Makes our lives a lot easier.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: It should be better for everybody. There’s no question about it. It’s been the toughest challenge to go from the French to Wimbledon, with those two weeks in between, if you do well at the French, such a quick turnaround. Not time to get practice on the grass, play a lot the tournaments on the grass.
For those who love the grass, faster courts, will get an extra tournament if they wish. If you do well, if you’re Nadal, you get to rest, take a few days off. Nadal usually goes straight to one of the tournaments right away. So I think it will make a big difference. It will be a nice relief for those players who did well at the French Open.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it’s going to make a huge difference. I love that one extra week because, I mean, I remember as a player when I came off the French, I was usually in the final weekend, I’d have to take some time off, maybe start practicing. I’d have one tournament. I would really play that first week of Wimbledon like I played my way into the tournament. I was not at my best, no way. By the time I built on the matches, the latter part of the second week I really started to feel like I was playing my best. This way the players can start the tournament knowing they’re going to play that much better. They’re playing the second week of Wimbledon. I think that one extra week is going to be huge.
PATRICK McENROE: I’d like to respectfully disagree. Of course, the only time I was at the end of the French Open, Chrissie, was to watch. I understand where you’re coming from. If I look at your record at Wimbledon, I don’t remember too many early-round losses or many first-round losses.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Patrick, did you look at the depth in those days? C’mon.
PATRICK McENROE: I understand. But I don’t believe it’s affected the top players over the last decade or so, when I look at the players that did well. I think it’s great for tennis, don’t get me wrong. The reason I think it’s great for tennis is not because of the impact it will have on who does well at Wimbledon, because I don’t think it’s going to make a hill of beans of a difference, but I think what’s great about it is that it’s going to have another tournament that can be played on grass, which I think is great. I think grass court tennis has become much more interesting since they changed the surface at Wimbledon. It’s a lot more fun to watch. There’s a lot more skill involved and on display. I just think it’s great to have another week of tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. But I really don’t think it’s going to impact overall, you know, who does well at Wimbledon. We’re all going to talk about it, I know that. For the players that get to the final of the French, it gives them a little more breathing room.
The last time I checked, every time Federer made the semis or finals of the French Open, he did pretty darn well at Wimbledon, too.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I just have to interject here because you’re talking about Federer. He plays his best on grass courts. I feel like from my game, my perspective of going from clay to grass, the footwork and the moving, I felt much more at ease the second week of Wimbledon moving, just feeling comfortable on the court than I did the first week. I honestly was like running on eggshells at first for me. I don’t know, I felt like I only had a week and a half of preparation going from two surfaces that are polar opposites. That was my point.
MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I don’t think it’s going to change the outcome. I agree with Patrick on that. But I do think it’s going to be a big help to the players. If you don’t do well at the French, you can go home. Especially the Americans who don’t like to be over there forever, they have a chance to go back home, train, be fresh again.
It is nice to have the extra grass court tournaments. It gives the top players the break they need mentally.
Q- If Djokovic and Serena both win Roland Garros, who has the better chance for a calendar year Slam? Venus worked her way up to 15. Federer is second in the world. You guys have not even mentioned them. Are they that much of a non-factor at this point?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I wouldn’t put my money on those players. I would save my money for Wimbledon for them more so than the French Open, for obvious reasons. I love Roger. I’m his biggest fan. But I don’t think he can win a three-out-of-five-set match against Nadal or Djokovic at this point. And Venus, you know, again, I think she will have more success on the grass than the clay.
PATRICK McENROE: I would say that if they both won the French, I would say that Serena would be a bigger favorite to win the Grand Slam. That’s a hard one because obviously Djokovic is younger, and Chrissie was spot on earlier with her comments that he’s a little more consistent. I think if Serena could somehow win the French, she’s a bigger favorite at Wimbledon than Djokovic is, to win Wimbledon. Djokovic can still, as we saw last year, he played great and he barely beat Federer in the final. Then you have Murray and some of the younger guys.
If Serena has the chance, she’s motivated and focused and plays well, there’s really nobody that can beat her on grass. If she has a horrendous match, obviously anybody can beat her. I don’t see that happening if she has two in the bank. Whereas for Djokovic, he could have two and he still could play well and lose to three or four different guys at Wimbledon. I think you could make the same argument about the US Open, as well.
Q- Somebody like Nick Kyrgios, he did well last year at Wimbledon. Could he be a guy that could make a flash at this tournament?
PATRICK McENROE: I think he definitely could make some noise. I wasn’t surprised that he beat Federer because I think he’s a big-match player. Obviously I think he’s got the kind of game that can beat the big players, even on clay. Now, I don’t think he can last the entire two weeks. I think physically he’s still got a lot of work to go to get the physicality part of it down endurance-wise. I think there’s no doubt that he can get hot and pretty much play with anyone on any surface. I love his attitude. I love his gumption out there. He could absolutely make some serious noise there, for sure.
Q- Is there anyone else you think we should be looking out for?
PATRICK McENROE: I think there’s a couple of intriguing young teenagers. Coric is winning a lot of matches obviously. Zverev from Germany. Tiafoe from the U.S., winning the wild card to get in, he’s 17. I think it’s a real exciting time because I think we have some of these young teenagers that at the end of the day, a couple of these players may end up being better than the Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori that have been knocking on the door.
Your next great, great player could be coming from this group of teenagers that we’ll sort of see on full display for the first time in the majors, including Kyrgios, obviously he’s ahead of them at the moment, over the next couple months.