On Wednesday, May 23, ESPN tennis analysts Chris Evert and Patrick McEnroe, spoke with the media about the French Open and other tennis topics – notably, the Olympics at Wimbledon. ESPN2 and ESPN3 will have extensive live coverage of the French Open starting Sunday, May 27. It will be the first French Open that Evert – who holds a record seven titles in Paris – will work for ESPN. They were joined by Jason Bernstein, senior director, programming and acquisitions, and Jamie Reynolds, vice president, event production, who each made an opening statement.
JASON BERNSTEIN: For ESPN at the point, I think this has been a special year already for us. After a record‑setting Australian Open men’s final, quality matches at Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome, many on ESPN3, now leading to our new all‑live schedule in Paris, tennis has never been as important to ESPN as it is today. And in just a few short weeks we have the privilege to showcase the championship at Wimbledon in a way fans have never seen before. So we are really thrilled to be part of this sport and with an industry‑leading production team lead by Jamie Reynolds and the folks on the phone, our tennis fans are in for a treat for the rest of 2012.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: Good afternoon, everybody. Greetings from Paris. It is 82 degrees, a beautiful springtime day and there’s a great deal of activity going on at Roland Garros, so those who will have the opportunity to come across later this week, we look forward to seeing you here.
This event, our second major of the season, is very exciting as Jason alluded and David mentioned in that we are live, live with the first ball now versus the strategy that we had run with for the last couple of years where ESPN would join the daily schedule in progress, and then backfill the rest of the day with taped programming, taped matches from earlier in the day once the live coverage concluded. What’s exciting for us now is that with our 11:00 AM local time, 5:00 AM Eastern time, it’s our opportunity to adjust to this sport to this event and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Tennis Channel and NBC, as well as Watch ESPN will continue with their quest of televising and carrying this event in addition to what we do to start the day. We are very happy to be the first voice, if you will, out of the box. The personalities joining ESPN this year for this event are Chris Fowler and Chris McKendry, both coming from Australia, will be hosting the event joined by Patrick McEnroe, Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert on the men’s side. And Chris Evert, this will be her ESPN French Open debut, and we are proud of that. And she will be joined by Mary Joe Fernandez and Pam Shriver. So we are looking forward to it, and with that, Chrissie and Patrick McEnroe.
Q. Two for Chris. I guess the question we all want to ask is, how do you see Serena’s chances of pulling out another French, and also, can you just talk about there’s a large number of American women in the qualifying draw which seems to bode well for the future of American women’s tennis would look like.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, okay. First, Serena. Serena, well, she’s undefeated so far as far as match play. She did pull out of a tournament. But as far as her current form, she has beaten the top two women in the world with the same for, 6‑1, 6‑3 and has a ranking on Sharapova. And even back in the States, as far as her win in Charleston, she just blew everybody off the court in this tournament. So I think Serena is looking pretty good right now. And I think she very carefully has withdrawn ‑‑ she withdrew ‑‑ she pulled out of Rome; a few twinges, wants to protect herself and really is gearing up for the French.
I just have never seen Serena play this well on clay before, and she has never really come back with as much aggressiveness, and I think her fitness level is higher than we have seen it. She’s moving better and she wants the French Open really badly. She’s talked about it all year because it is the one surface that alludes her at times, the clay. She’s brilliant on the hard court and the grass, but has not had as much success on the clay.
So I think you’re going to see a triangle effect here with Sharapova who has also played some great clay court tennis, and Azarenka. And the big question is, can she continue her dominance on the slower surface versus the hard court which she excelled on the last few months. It’s really interesting and it’s a tough one to call now.
As far as the Americans, I was looking at how many we have in the main draw with obviously McHale leading the pack and we do have a lot in qualifying. This is what Patrick has been saying all along. There’s nobody that’s going to blow your socks off; maybe in the last couple of years, there’s been nobody coming up. But if you look at the names and the ages, and we have a lot of young girls from 16 to 21 who are up‑and‑coming and are really proving to be solid players right now, and I think American tennis is looking great, in the women’s as well as the men’s.
Q. If I could ask Chris and Patrick, if you don’t mind, two questions. One is a follow‑up on Serena. What is it exactly that she’s doing better on clay? Is it just the fitness? Is it just her hunger? What do you think it is, why she’s having so much success? And then I’m just wondering about the American men. I don’t know if you know what’s going on with Mardy Fish, but is Isner really the only hope at this point for the American men, or what do you see in that regard?
PATRICK McENROE: First of all, I think Serena is moving better. I think some of my spies who were there at the Fed Cup when the U.S. played about a month ago, maybe a little more than a month ago, said that she seemed to be very, very determined to get herself in tiptop condition and that maybe she wasn’t quite where she needed to be fitness‑wise in Australia, and that she was determined to not let that happen again.
So obviously she’s playing great. I think the difficulty for her at this point being a little bit older is that I think there’s more of a chance, as we saw in Australia, and you see at times with her, that she can have an off day.
And because there’s a lot more depth in the women’s game, yeah, I think the only really fear for her is that she has an off day, or it’s a heavy condition kind of day in Paris where it can get rainy and a little bit windy and cold; so that could be tough for her. I don’t see her ‑‑ she’s got to find a way to win those matches when she’s not going to be at her best. Obviously when she’s at her best, she’s the best player in women’s tennis. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But what’s lacking is the consistency day‑in, day‑out. So if she can somehow get through that maybe one or two matches that she may have, she’s certainly got a great chance to win it.
The other question was about the men, obviously Isner, his season got off to a roaring start with his performances in Davis Cup beating Federer and then winning two matches against the French, which was huge. He took a little bit of a step back in the last month with some early losses in Madrid and Rome and that’s not that unusual for John to put a couple of great weeks together and then sort of tail off a little bit. So I saw that he did win a match today in Nice. I think he needs to get a couple of wins there this week. But certainly if he can get his game going and get his return game going, he’s got the best chance to make a deep run. Fish is not playing. Fish is out of the French. Still trying to get his health back to 100 percent.
Q. What is it that he has? I’ve just seen fatigue. Is there anything beyond that?
PATRICK McENROE: I’m really not aware of exactly what it is. I know he has been doing some training at the USTA facility out in California, but he has had a lot of tests done, like some blood tests, so sort of overall fatigue. So I think it’s more precautionary to make sure that he gets himself back 100 percent physically and health‑wise, and obviously be able to make a run on the grass and obviously in the summer. So the latest word I’m hearing is that he will be ready to go for the grass.
Q. What about Andy? What’s going on with him?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, what’s going on doesn’t seem to be going very well. He’s played two matches in Düsseldorf and he’s won seven games. I’m a little surprised that he’s gone there. Obviously he’s had a hamstring injury which has been nagging him. And you know, that’s a tough place to start; Düsseldorf, even when he was 100 percent healthy, was always a tough place for him to play with pretty heavy conditions there. I’m just hoping that he’s healthy and obviously he’s looking at the French to just try to get himself some matches and make a run at Wimbledon, because certainly his chances of doing well at the French are pretty slim.
CHRIS EVERT: Serena, my observation about her, there’s no doubt we all feel that Serena’s fit and when she’s really engaged in what she’s doing out there on the court, and mentally tough; she’s the best player in the world. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. But I think what she’s ‑‑ I have to really echo Patrick’s thoughts. I think her mobility and her court coverage has been better. She’s sliding more natural, and I think you can’t teach anybody how to slide on clay. It’s very instinctive. She just seems to be very comfortable mobility‑wise as far as the sliding and she’s attacking the ball, mind you, the clay court tournaments she’s won have been faster clay.
And again, Patrick nailed it on the head when he said the conditions, depending on the conditions, it could be ‑‑ the clay courts could be the slowest court in the world, or it could be faster than a hard court, depending on the weather conditions.
If, again, Serena, she has to hope for the sun to shine and for the court to be faster, because that’s when she’s going to ‑‑ obviously her weapons are going to come through and her speed on the ball and her power on the ball won’t be diffused. If it’s a heavy day, it will be diffused and somebody like a Azarenka or even a Wozniacki or somebody like that can give her problems.
I think I agree 100 percent with Patrick. Her movement on the court and it’s her eagerness to win the French. I think all of a sudden, she’s had this tournament set high as far as her goals for this year. She’s mentioned it more than any other Grand Slam. And so I have to think that she’s been thinking about it for a long time.
Q. I guess we’ll start with Chris, and Patrick if you want to weigh in, but I was interested in the issue of movement at the French Open. Chris, particularly with your record there, could you sort of flesh out why movement is so crucial to doing well on the clay at the French? And as part of that, also, address Sharapova’s ability or lack of ability in that regard; how does she overcome what’s not necessarily natural movement or athleticism that others have?
CHRIS EVERT: That’s a good question. I think that the reason I said that, it’s hard to teach how to move. I think it’s instinctual, and I grew up, since I was six years old, I learned how to play tennis on a clay court. So I adapted pretty easily. You can say the same thing about a grass court; you’re going to see a Tim Henman or you’re going to see the grass court, Virginia Wade, or players like that who excel on the grass and maybe struggle with other surfaces because they were brought up on the grass and they instinctively know how to move.
I just see Serena sliding, and before, when I saw it, it was awkward for her and she was off‑balance. And also, maybe wasn’t as light on her feet as she is now. That has a lot to do with it, too. Sharapova still takes small ‑‑ Sharapova to me doesn’t have that natural slide. When I watched her play a few clay court tournaments, she’s still taking small steps to the ball and not really getting into that slide. So basically, the movement is important and I think why I was successful, I certainly wasn’t the best mover of any of the girls. I wasn’t even the top five.
But clay gave me a little more time, because it was a little slower in that day. Obviously the courts or the balls or whatever were slower. Women weren’t hitting the ball as hard obviously but I had that extra few seconds to get to the ball. So movement is important, and also, another thing that’s very important is your ‑‑ how can I put it. You’re taught like how many balls you can keep in the court, and you’re tolerant. I think in the past, Serena has had a low tolerance as far as she wants to end the point in five or six shots, and I think she’s giving it a few more shots. Her tolerance is a little bit better now as far as now she’s hitting ten or 12, and I think you can say the same thing with Sharapova. Both of them seem to have that tolerance and seem to have that much more patience.
Q. Patrick, anything to add?
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, sure. To me, it’s not so much ‑‑ it’s how you move to the ball, and the great clay court players sort of understand how to cut the court off and understand how to not slide after the shot. But a lot of it is balance. And Chris is 100 percent right. The more you grow up on it and just are accustomed to it; you know, Roger Federer who is arguably the greatest, certainly if not the greatest player of all time, the greatest grass court player of all time, slides beautifully, because he grew up playing a lot of tennis on clay, he adapts pretty quickly.
So for an attacking player, my brother used to love to talk about the fact that it was his ability to cover the net, because he couldn’t plant; he was always sliding around, slip sliding around up at the net. So I think for Serena, she obviously ‑‑ she reminds me a little bit of the way Agassi played on clay, which was Andre wasn’t a great slider, but he could play tremendous offense and when he did that with a lot of control, he could beat better movers because he had such good control of the ball and didn’t have to rely on it. So even though Serena is maybe moving a little bit better, she’s never going to move on a clay court like a Schiavone or even like an Azarenka. But if she can move, for her, a little bit better and Chris’s point about the shot tolerance is a great one. She has to just be able to play four or five, six shots cross court until she wants to go for the winner down the line. And if she can do that, she has more firepower than any other players, but she’s also got to have a little more patience than she does certainly on a grass or on a fast hard court.
CHRIS EVERT: Also, Patrick brought up the point of, it’s really hard to slide into a shot and then to get back and recover. It’s very hard to change direction on clay, and that’s why the volleyers have not been as successful. I used to love it when Martina came to the net on clay, because No. 1, I felt like I had that one extra second to pass her; but two, if she went to a volley and had to turn around and recover, it’s more awkward, it just takes a lot more work. It’s a different kind of moving on clay. I’m going to be watching the sliding and seeing how fast and how quickly they recover after the slide.
Q. John Isner, he has the huge serve which is obvious, but his movement is sometimes questionable on hard courts. Looks like he’s done pretty good on clay, and what does he need to do?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, obviously he has a little more time on clay which helps him a lot. He’s got ‑‑ people obviously talk about his serve which is arguably the best in tennis and his kicks are just phenomenal. But he’s got one of the biggest forehands in the men’s game, and if he has a little time to set it up, it’s a pretty devastating shot.
So that combination of that one‑, two‑punch is huge. He’s improved his back hand and his back hand return. I love what he was able to do in Davis Cup with his coach, Craig Boynton, and Jim Courier in his ear about being more offensive on second serve returns. He’s got to do that. He’s not going to out‑run Nadal or Djokovic and Murray, or any of these guys on clay or a Federer. But he can out‑hit them and his movement has gotten better and his fitness is obviously better. And I really think that last year when he took Nadal to five was sort of the start of his reemergence and now become a Top‑10 player. Once he saw that he could win two sets off Nadal at Center Court at the French Open, he realized that if he could get himself in tiptop shape and get that belief that he can get these guys ‑‑ so he’s had some huge wins this year, beating Djokovic on hard court was a monster one.
Now, as dangerous as he is against the top players, he’s also vulnerable to losing to pretty much anyone; meaning someone that can hit a lot of balls and make a lot of shots. So that would be the one concerning thing for Isner. If he plays a reasonable clay court player in the first or second round, that could be a dangerous match for him, because based on the way he’s played the last month, it seems like he’s lost a little bit of his confidence in his return game, and that can make it difficult for him. He beat Malisse 6‑6.
You get into a match like that at the French against someone that’s even more comfortable than Malisse on a clay court ‑‑ so to me, he has a huge upside. I said earlier this year that I believe he could be playing in the final weekend at the French, and a men’s final four. I think he’s got the game to go that far. But if he’s not careful, he could also go out in the first round.
CHRIS EVERT: Also, his serve is so dominant, but his Achilles heel has been his return serve and perhaps if it’s a slow clay court, he can get that extra split second to take the time to make a good return. Maybe that might help his return game.
Q. Jamie, wonder how would you evaluate the reporting in journalism that you guys have done during coverage of your tennis majors?
JAMIE REYNOLDS: Well, I think actually we are pretty solid and pretty strong at being in the moment and trying to extend the stories to be as judicious in the way that we are conveying any reports. I suppose we ought to clarify an example if you have one or a thought, whether it’s breaking news on injuries or perhaps something a little bit deeper regarding the overall arch of the sport.
Q. Essentially asking an open‑ended question.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: From our standpoint, we have a very deep roster of 11 to 12 talent that are well‑versed in both the athleticism and personalities and dynamic nature of the sport and for many of them who have come through our ranks over the last ten plus years, they have a very solid barometer on journalistic integrity and content. So I think accentuating an event over a 14‑day stand, I think they are well‑versed in that ability. The thing to keep in mind is when you look at the balance of whether it’s a Chris Fowler or Chris McKendry or Mike Tirico who joins us, as well as the personalities ranging from Chris Drysdale to Chrissie to Patrick to Mary Joe that we have got a lot of folks that have disparate opinion and the ability to speak on a number of issues.
Q. Nadal seems to have solved Djokovic in 2012, is the men’s title between these two and is the winner a favorite to pull off the French/Wimbledon double?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, clearly Djokovic has not been as dominant as he was in 2011. I don’t think anybody thought that he could do that. That being said, he’s won the Australian Open. He’s won a Masters event down in Miami, and he’s played pretty well on the clay but he’s lost to Nadal twice. He’s obviously been gunning for the French. If he can win this, you know, that would be four in a row, which would obviously be pretty remarkable when you consider who he’s up against and the fact that he’s been competing against two of the greatest players of all time, and so he would be quickly inserting himself into that conversation if he could somehow pull off the French.
That being said, I think based on what’s happened in the last month, that Nadal is certainly proving that he’s still the man to beat at the French; or he’s got his confidence back and the fact that he’s been able to beat Novak twice in a row, certainly bodes well for him if they play in the final. I would not necessarily say that if Nadal wins the French, he’s the favorite at Wimbledon. I think I would say that about Djokovic; that if he were able to ‑‑ I think he’s a little more comfortable making that quick switch but obviously Nadal has been amazing the last couple of years. He’s been almost as effective on grass as he’s been on clay, at least getting to the Wimbledon final numerous times and winning a couple. ‘
So it’s a great question. I mean, I think don’t underestimate Roger, because I think he’s played awfully well this year, too. I think if anyone had told you at the beginning of the year that he would win two Masters events and be as consistent as he’s been, I think he would maybe have taken that bet against it happening. So clearly he’s not the favorite at the French, but I think he’s played well enough and played enough matches to where he’s got to be there in there ‑‑ he’s got to be as confidence as he’s been going into the French in the last couple of years.
Q. I wanted to ask your thoughts on players like Berdych, Del Potro, Almagro, or guys that maybe could go deep. And for Chris, if you could just maybe reflect a little on your ’85 final, the win over Martina, because that was a classic match, and I wondered if you can talk about you doing the little things like getting fitter and using your variety after 30, how that helped you, and how that could help Serena in terms of the fitness and playing maybe more angles, mixing up the pace, stuff like that.
CHRIS EVERT: When people ask me what my favorite Grand Slam win was, I always say the ’85 French, because at that point, I don’t remember if I was 30 or 31, but I was in my early 30s. Basically everybody had counted me out as far as winning anymore Grand Slams. At that point Martina and Steffi and Sabatini and Seles; everybody was focusing on them.
You’re right, the match was a very seesaw, up and down match. At one point I was serving at 5‑All in the third, Love‑40 knowing that one point away ‑‑ all she had to do was hold her serve and for some reason I pulled it out and I was up 6‑5 with Martina serving and then I broke.
Before that match, I had lost to her 13 times in a row over 2 1/2 years, and I beat her one time at Key Biscayne and then the French. So that was my second win after 13 times in a row. And I did change my game. I did start coming in to the net a little bit more. I did develop a little bit, I would say a bigger serve but for me it was a bigger serve, and I just had to go into the gym more, and if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I tried to get into better shape. So that was the beauty of Martina and our rivalry was we both kept pushing each other.
As far as Serena, I have to agree with Patrick once again, when you think of Serena and you think of Roger and the biggest fear that I have for them is, can they keep it up in a two‑week period, because I very well remember at the end of my career, prime example at the U.S. Open, I beat Monica Seles two‑love and then the next rounds I lost to Zina Garrison who I had never lost to; I just couldn’t get psyched up for it.
The problem when you’ve played for so many years, and you start to get a little bit mentally burned out, it’s hard to keep up that standard mentally as well as physically for two weeks. So I don’t really think ‑‑ I think that Serena, the only thing she’s had to add to her game right now is just to be fitter. And I think that’s translating into, she’s moving better, and mentally maybe to stay in the point a little bit longer. But other than that, I can’t ‑‑ you really can’t pick at her game too much right now.
Q. Patrick, can you talk about those players, the second tier guys that might go deep?
PATRICK McENROE: I think that the guy with the best shot is Berdych. He has a lot of confidence and some of what he does also depends a little bit on the conditions. Probably the quicker, the better; if he’s playing against certain guys, but he’s also improved and beat Murray a couple of years ago on a very, damp date day and has a lot of five firepower. To me he has the best shot, and you have some that are ranked just above him but I don’t see him being able to go the distance over five sets on the clay. You know, he’s obviously going to have the home support there and to me he’s a better two‑out‑of‑three‑set player because he’s a high‑energy kind of guy and his body I think doesn’t recover as well. So I think that’s a factor for him. Berdych is a better hitter of the ball and he has more natural firepower.
Del Potro has been solid, but quite frankly, he’s been maybe just a little disappointing. It’s hard to say that, because he’s worked his way back and he’s in the Top‑10. But I think a lot of us were expecting him to be right back in contention at the majors on a regular basis. Whether that’s just a testament to how good the top three are, is probably more the case. But you know, I expected him to be right there knocking on the door of the top five. Even though he’s in the Top‑10, he’s a long way from being in the top four, if you look at the point differential, he’s way back in the pack. So I don’t see him being a threat to go all the way. Otherwise, he’s got the firepower to do some damage.
The other guys you look for, I think Almagro, he’s certainly got a great clay court game. If he can avoid Nadal, you’ve got to like his chances. Ferrer is always around in the fourth round of the quarters. I would look at Berdych and I would probably look at Almagro, the other outsider there, outside the top big three. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Murray has had a pretty miserable clay court season. I think after a great performance at the Australian where he very nearly beat Djokovic and played a great match, I think he’s taken a step back on the clay.
Q. Question about Rafa and the question of the greatest male clay courter of all time, do you think that the seventh French Open is necessary for Rafa to make that claim, and do you think that he’s neck and neck with Borg and that makes this year’s French Open a little extra special?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, for the sake of creating some buzz, I would say yes. But to be perfectly honest, no. I don’t think it’s necessary. I think he’s already proven his record, not only at the French Open, which he’s obviously No. 1, but I think his record in the big other clay court events, you have to take into account. Now, you could argue that, well, Borg didn’t have as many of them at that time, which is true, but you also have to take his record in Davis Cup on clay, which is ridiculous, the number of matches he’s won, best‑of‑five on clay in Davis Cup is through the roof. So to me, he’s the greatest clay courter ever, already. To me, what he’s chasing is trying to chase down Roger, and get into the conversation of being the greatest of all time, and the greatest of this era; and if it wasn’t for a guy named Djokovic, he might be knocking on the door of doing that.
It’s funny the way it’s turned out, when Roger was preventing him from winning a lot of majors and all of a sudden he gets over the Roger hump and he gets to No. 1; and then all of a sudden Djokovic does what he does last year, and takes a couple away from Rafa. So to me if Nadal can figure out a way to get close to Federer in the all‑time, if he ends up with just for the sake of argument, 14 or 15 and Federer ends up with either where he’s at or maybe wins one more; but Nadal beats him a couple more times in big matches head‑to‑head, I think you would have to put his record up there against Federer’s; and obviously taking into account their head‑to‑head, and also their record in Davis Cup and also the fact that Nadal has won the Olympics and we’ll see what happens this summer.
So I think that this next few months for tennis is going to be pretty unreal, with the French, Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Open. Imagine how different things are going to be at the end of the U.S. Open, and I think that’s what makes this time of year always so exciting. But when you fill the Olympics into it ‑‑ and these guys and girls, women, I should say, they are gunning for the Olympics in a big way. I think it’s been great for tennis how the Olympics has grown in stature every Olympic Games. These players, now they are really pointing to the Olympics as much, if not more, as they are pointing to these next three majors that are coming up.
CHRIS EVERT: If I can mention that with these three men you’ve just mentioned, I’ve never seen an era like this before. I don’t think you can compare it to any other era, because of Davis Cup and because of the Olympics, and because of the Grand Slams and because they compete pretty much week‑in and week‑out and they compete with each other. Nobody is dodging each other. I have never ‑‑ this could play out in the next five years that these players, I don’t know about Federer, but the other two, this could play out that these three players are the greatest of all time.
Q. And you’re of the belief that Nadal has already superseded Borg as the best male clay courter?
CHRIS EVERT: I am not a fan of comparisons of different eras. Never have been. I just ‑‑ because you’re as good as your competition, and Björn, quite frankly, there wasn’t the depth there is now, but he was winning pretty easily on the clay. I’m just ‑‑ I don’t like to compare. I think Nadal, his record speaks for itself.
Q. Getting back to del Potro, Patrick mentioned that people are disappointed that he has not been able to break back into the top 5. Curious your thoughts as to why he has not been able to do that and what he might need to do to get back to the Top‑5? And your quick thoughts on what Venus has done to get back into contention for the Olympics.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, the del Potro question is a good one. There’s no easy answer other than as I said earlier, the top guys are just so darned good now, that it’s ‑‑ I think look at Andy Murray. This guy has won the almost as many Masters as the top three but he cannot break through at a major, that’s how good of a player Murray is, and he still can’t do it. Del Potro, he’s a big guy and all things being equal, I will still take a guy who is 6‑2, 6‑3 on a tennis court over a guy who is 6‑9, 6‑10 just based on pure mobility, because tennis is running sport and tennis is a game of changing direction, etc. So like on a basketball court, if you take a guy who is 6‑8 or 6‑3 and they have similar skills, you’ll take the guy who is 6‑8 because he can shoot over; in tennis, it’s the opposite.
So I think that works against him to some extent. I think the fact that he’s won the U.S. Open, he’s a huge star and celebrity in Argentina for the rest of his life. And he’s kind of a big Teddy bear. And I say that; does he have the desire, the absolute intense focus that it takes? Imagine to beat to have to beat two of those guys, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic to win a major. Nobody has been able to do it, other than him, at least back when he won The Open. So just it’s a couple of different things and I think there’s just maybe that X‑factor has been lacking in addition to the fact that just mobility‑wise, he’s already playing at a disadvantage to the same way that Isner is.
CHRIS EVERT: As far as Venus, she looked good back in Miami. That was her first tournament back where she beat Kvitova and Ivanovic; and she reached the quarters and everybody was surprised at how well she did and she reached the quarters in both Charleston and Rome. You know, I don’t think that ‑‑ I don’t put any money on her as far as doing well on the clay. I think that if she’s going to do it well at any Grand Slam, it’s going to be Wimbledon, where again, she moves very nicely on the grass. She’s very comfortable, she’s won there so many times, and the points are shorter. I think Venus, I don’t know, she’s one of the older players again and you just have to wonder if there’s motivation every single day. I think at this point, she should be ‑‑ she’s so happy to be back playing and feeling better and feeling healthier, and knowing that she’s got a another shot at her tennis, but I just don’t see the burning desire to win, and the confidence to go along with it right now. What do you think, Patrick?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, Venus, she’s had to overcome so much with her health and injuries. I’ve always thought that Venus technically is not as sound of a player as her sister is. So I think because of all that, it’s tougher for her to come back. She’s a great athlete, obviously, and she’s a phenomenal competitor. But she has some real holes in her game, on the second serve, on the forehand. There are some things that can really break down technically. Where it’s harder for her, I believe, therefore, to come back from the various injuries, etc., and to not play that much; Serena is just a better natural tennis player. She has better technique on her shots. So for her, I think it’s a little bit easier to come in and out the way she has. But I’m just happy to see Venus back. She’s got a great outlook. She’s definitely capable of getting hot and stringing together some wins, certainly on the grass she’s going to be very dangerous and you would hope at the U.S. Open. But obviously the French is going to be even on her best of days, is tricky for her.
Q. Last year we asked early and often whether Roger had it in him to win another slam and you both thought he could and now a year later, he hasn’t. What are your feelings on whether you expect to see Roger holding up another slam this year, or the Olympics?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I’m actually a little more optimistic now than I’ve been in, say, the last year and a half. I think he’s playing better. Now again, it goes back, same old, same old. I mean, the two other guys ahead of him are so darned good. And I think for him, it was a little bit of a tease that he got to No. 2 for a week, because I thought, boy, if he can be a second seed, going into the French and Wimbledon as opposed to being a 3‑seed, that would make to me his chances quite a bit better, because then he wouldn’t have to necessarily go through both guys. Now he’s got to beat ‑‑ as the seedings go, he’s got to beat both Rafa and Novak back‑to‑back, which he obviously can do, but is tough to do. If you put a gun to my head, I would say that he will win another major. Obviously Wimbledon you would think is his best chance, even though he’s been picked off the last two years there. But he’s been picked off by big hitters and by guys that got very hot on the day. That’s still the surface, where there are far fewer guys that can pick him off. He’s most comfortable. Certainly he can do it at the Open. You know, I wonder if you said to him, would he rather win Wimbledon or win the Olympics, I wonder what he would say. I’m not sure at this point. But the answer is, I absolutely think he can.
CHRIS EVERT: I think that’s a good question about the Olympics. I think about that often, what would the players, if they were to pick, a Grand Slam or the Olympics. That’s a good question. I think ‑‑ I have a feeling Roger might pick Wimbledon, and I don’t know why, just kind of feel that way. The thing with Roger is ‑‑ and the Olympics is two‑out‑of‑three sets; correct?
PATRICK McENROE: Yes.
(Note, he later amended that: And I just have to make one qualification. That is that the men’s competition is best‑of‑three up until the final. The finals of the Olympics, just for the men’s singles final, is best‑of‑five sets. Otherwise it’s best‑of‑three.)
CHRIS EVERT: Well, Roger has a better chance in a two‑out‑of‑three set match, I feel, against either one of those other players than three‑out‑of‑five. I don’t think the French is going to be the title he’s going to win, because ‑‑ I just look at them physically, and you look at Djokovic and you look at Nadal physically, and they are animals and they can stay out there all day. Roger is a shot‑maker. Roger, I don’t think he could stay out there for five sets with both of those players and beat them. I doubt that he’s going to win the French. Wimbledon, the points are shorter. He gets a little more excited. If that forehand is working and he’s slapping it and it’s going in on return serves and he can come into the net and he can sneak into the net, that’s very possible, and the U.S. Open is possible. I still think between Wimbledon and U.S. Open and the Olympics, I think that he will win one of those; or maybe I’m just hoping.
Q. An Olympic question for both of you. Can you talk about how usually tennis is not that big of a deal, not that high profile of an event at the Olympics but this year because it’s at Wimbledon and such a storied location, do you think that will raise the profile of the sport as an Olympic sport?
PATRICK McENROE: I absolutely do. I think the buzz is going to be phenomenal. Wimbledon, the All England Club has been preparing for this for a long time as far as getting the grass ready and the changeover that has to be done and players will be able to wear the colors of their countries. So there’s a lot of differences that will be happening. So I think it will be amazing. I think it will be awesome to see, and you know, tennis, obviously, has some of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. You know, particularly on the women’s side. I think that certainly raises the profile, but I think having it at Wimbledon is a huge boost to the event. I was lucky enough to be the Olympic coach for the U.S. when the Games were in Athens, and you know, it was obviously an amazing experience. But the venue and being where it was, once you got on the grounds of the venue, it felt like a Tour event, a regular Tour event. I think having it at Wimbledon will obviously boost what it’s about in a big way. So I think it will be incredible.
Q. Do you think that it will ‑‑ can it boost the sport just internationally? Do you see it as a boost for the sport that it’s going to be played at Wimbledon and will probably get some nice TV coverage from Wimbledon, for people who don’t necessarily watch tennis?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, there’s no doubt, because I get asked this question a lot, so one of my answers is tied into this; the Olympics have popularized tennis in a lot more places around the globe already. I mean, without tennis being in the Olympics, there will probably not be a Li and other players that have come out of China and there may not be a Marco Baghdatis, or there may be.
You’re seeing a lot more countries, certainly the Eastern European countries; the profile of the Olympics has been raised considerably since tennis came back into the Olympics in the mid 80s. In my mind, that will just continue. That’s why the ITF is so behind it and why they have gotten even tougher about the rules about the players having to represent their country to play the Olympics.
When we were playing, even the last 15, 20 years, when tennis first came in, it was, well, nice to have tennis back in the Olympics but won’t it be great if it were a team sport. I used to say that all the time. And part of me would still like to see that but there’s no chance that’s going to happen. The fact is, when you’ve got these players, which is great, for Djokovic and Davis Cup, the Olympics, in his country, it’s massive.
To Chris’s previous point about Roger comes from the old school tennis, but I think if you were to ask a lot of the younger players that are coming up, particularly from the international countries, they might say they would rather win the Olympics. If you ask the players from China, I think they won the doubles in the last Olympics and that was just monumental for them to win for China. So that’s the long answer to the question and the short answer is absolutely it will raise tennis’s quotient around the world. There’s no doubt about it.
CHRIS EVERT: Two things. First of all, I think that I’ve never heard the players talk about the Olympics so much as long as the Olympics have been going on, and I think that’s giving it tremendous press and coverage around the world, because they never would talk about Greece or Korea or when the Olympics were there as much as they are giving it such great publicity and such great press. It’s on everybody’s mind.
Second of all, I think tennis is getting bigger in the Olympics as time goes on. I was in the first Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Unfortunately for me it didn’t turn out that well, and actually, I would like to say that I was the only American to go home without a medal in Seoul, Korea. So I was a little disappointed about that.
But the day before I played my match, I was walking around the village and going to watch Flo‑Jo and Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson and going to watch gymnasts. I was a fan. I felt like I was a kid in a candy store. I was so excited about seeing all of these athletes that I had grown up watching on TV.
And in the opening ceremonies even, I felt very uncomfortable and I almost felt like an imposter, because the other athletes were looking at us tennis players as if they were saying, what are you doing here, because we have our Wimbledon and U.S. Open and French and Australian, and we had our million dollars. These were supposedly amateur athletes who only had one chance every four years.
So consequently, I never really felt ‑‑ I was really excited to be there. But when I went to play my match the next day against Raffaella Reggi at nine o’clock in the morning, and 50 people showed up in the stands, I lost my match and it was really kind of the low part of my whole experience in Korea. But the point I’m trying to make is, every two or four years, when tennis has been in the Olympics, it’s gotten a little bit bigger and it’s gotten a little bit more exposure and it’s belonged a little bit more. And now, I think it’s like night and day as far as where tennis is in the Olympics compared to in ’89 when I went.