Today, ESPN tennis analysts Brad Gilbert and Chris Evert – who will make her ESPN debut at Wimbledon – were joined by Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president & executive producer; Jamie Reynolds, vice president, remote production; and Jason Bernstein, senior director, programming & acquisitions, in a media conference call to discuss ESPN’s multiplatform coverage of The Championships, Wimbledon 2011. The tournament begins on Monday, June 20, with 100 hours of high definition telecasts planned for ESPN2, nearly 650 on ESPN3.com and coverage across ESPN platforms, including the first tennis on ESPN 3D. This press release has all the details.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
JED DRAKE: First of all, I’d note for everybody that when we look at our wide array of great events, it’s always heartening, I think, to everybody on this project to say the Championships of Wimbledon has a very special place for all of us. It’s something that we treat with great care and pride in terms of our coverage.
This year, as Dave mentioned, at the tail end of the fortnight, we are now going to take this event and utilize 3D technology and pleased to bring that to our fans. We also are thrilled to have Chris Evert joining us on our announce team for this great event.
Also on the calendar, it’s an interesting time for us because as we always do, we have Wimbledon at this time of the year and then shortly thereafter, of course, we have the British Open with all four rounds on ESPN. Bridging those two events this year will be also another major event in Europe for us, and coming off our success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we’ll also have the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. So the middle Sunday is the opener of that event in Berlin, and the last day of the Women’s World Cup coincides with the final round of the British Open. So needless to say, three major events all working together, and that will be a benefit to all of us.
But back to Wimbledon where we are already on the ground working very, very aggressively to make sure we are in place, and for more on our specific plans, I’d like to ask Jamie to make some comments if he would.
JAMIE REYNOLDS: As you know we are doing over 100 hours of programming beginning on Monday. Through the first week we’ll have 10 hours of coverage each day and taper down as the second week of the tournament progresses. With the addition of Chrissy to our team, this is a terrific add to our talent roster. For many of you, as you know, carrying that volume of programming that we run with we’ve got a deep and diverse roster of talent that includes Chris Fowler and Hannah Storm in the hosting roles. Chris Fowler will also carry play‑by‑play duties.
We’re happy to have Dick Enberg come back with us in that play‑by‑play role again this year for the 125th Championship. We also have Cliff Drysdale that many of you know. On the analyst front we’ve got Patrick McEnroe, Darren Cahill, and Brad Gilbert, also on this call, and joining Chris will be Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez. So when you look at the depth, the experience and the chemistry of that roster, we look forward to this third major on our calendar this year.
As Jed alluded, we do carry final weekend in 3D, so that will be an exciting new foray for us into that production distribution. And finally on the story line and player front, I don’t know that we could ask for a better convergence right now of stories coming out, particularly out of the French with Li Na and Serena’s return, Kim Clistjers, Wozniacki, it’s a terrific run on the ladies side. On the men’s side when you look at Rafa and Federer and Novak and Andy Murray, then the story of the American men, we’ve got some terrific, terrific opportunities to begin on Monday.
Q. Who do you think is favorite to win in the men’s at Wimbledon this year and why?
BRAD GILBERT: That’s the first segment of the show. I mean, you’ve got to start with the top four. They kind of separated themselves especially the way ‑‑ I mean, Rafa’s played tremendous, Fed’s got a track record, Djokovic has been on fire this year, and Murray just won Queens. So I think one of those four. I would be very surprised if it was anything further than that. I mean, some guys could make some runs, but winning this tournament will be one of those four guys for sure.
CHRIS EVERT: I really think it’s interesting because I don’t think ever before we’ve had four guys in contention. It’s always been two. And I agree with Brad. I cannot even give anybody the edge. I think it’s a total toss‑up between the four of them. Andy Murray being the fourth because he’s going to have that extra motivation playing at Wimbledon and because he seems to be the sharpest current player on the grass right now. It’s tremendous the way that any one of those four could win it.
Q. What is your take on the Williams sisters? They’ve just come back, they’ve just posted pretty decent wins and obviously everybody’s going to be focusing in on them at Wimbledon. For Brad, what is your take on Djokovic on grass? Obviously it’s his least successful major. He’s been a semifinalist, but I want your thoughts on the prospects on grass, and if you feel like the French Open loss might have derailed him at all?
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll go with Serena and Venus. Whenever they enter a grand slam tournament it’s double the excitement and double the intrigue, I think, that they bring to the sport. They just bring a different level of tennis also, as far as the power and the emotional content.
It would be monumental in my mind if Serena pulled off a win. You can never, ever count her out. But I personally don’t ‑‑ I don’t know how it’s humanly possible for someone to take a year off like that and have gone through what she’s been through physically with her ailments and really hasn’t had a tremendous amount of practice, really a one‑tournament warm‑up. It would just ‑‑ it would almost shock me if she did, but knowing Serena and the way she’s come back before, you can never count her out.
Venus is sort of a dark horse because really she kind of ‑‑ Serena gets all the press. But Venus will sort of come into the tournament, I think, very quietly. She does the job and she still has the best ‑‑ I think of the two, she has the better Wimbledon record. And she loves grass and she plays great on it. Yeah, she’s definitely in contention also. I think that all eyes will be on the big story which is more Serena than anybody. I think hoping that she health‑wise and physically‑wise can hold up under the stress of the tournament. It will be interesting to see how she plays.
Q. Could you put a percentage on either one of them?
BRAD GILBERT: I think that the $64,000 question is what is the club going to do? Venus is ranked 33; Serena is, I believe, ranked 25. The men have a formula on the seedings. The women don’t have a seedings formula. So they potentially, if everybody in the top 32 played, then maybe Venus would be unseeded and Serena would be seeded 25 if they don’t change it. So obviously that could dramatically change the draw. I’d like to see them at least put them both in the Top 15, maybe even Top 10, so that will be the big question on the draw what will the committee do.
On Djokovic, last year when Novak wasn’t nearly the player that he is today, he was struggling with his serve and still had a lot of situations with his game that he doesn’t have now, he got to the semifinals and lost a match you probably thought he might win in the semifinals. I think at 24 years old he’s become a total, complete player. I think that was a little bit of a ‑‑ like every once in a while in a football game or basketball game you have a trap game. That was just a trap game that he lost to Fed. He hadn’t played a match in four and a half days. They were a little unlucky with Fognini pulling out. And he still almost turned that thing around, served for the fourth and lost in the dark. I expect that he’ll be looking like he’s been all year. The guy is playing tremendous tennis. He’s earned the right to be one of the guys to beat for this tournament. There is no doubt.
Q. On the seedings, Wimbledon has a formula for the men, but they still have discretion to move the women around if they want to.
BRAD GILBERT: Yeah, they have discretion to. One thing, the men don’t have any discretion to move somebody out of the seedings into the seedings. That was one of the things in it. So I believe a couple years ago Sharapova was ranked something like close to 50, and they moved her into the seedings. So they do have that discretion that they can move ‑‑ I guess in theory they could move Serena from 25 to 3 or 4 based on their discretion. In the men’s, with their formula, you can’t go from like 25 to 4. You couldn’t go from 5 to 15. There are always formulas. So that is the wildcard on what they will do. I would think that it would be great at least If they bumped them up significantly, or they’re not in the same third round or something like that. Because they always seem to play ten times better when they’re in different sections anyways.
CHRIS EVERT: I think it’s got to be a given that they’re both seeded the top 16. Venus has the best record of anybody if in the whole draw as far as winning Wimbledon. I don’t foresee them seeding her ‑‑ I would even say the Top 10. They really have to, wouldn’t you think?
BRAD GILBERT: I would think you could put them at like 7 and 8 or 6 and 7. I guess it would be historical for the club to do it, but it adds intrigue. One lady that hasn’t played in five months and one that hasn’t played in 11 and a half. I guess some of the other ladies would be pretty bummed that they were being passed over. But last I checked they’ve won 9 of the last 11 Wimbledons.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, exactly. And these other women have done nothing at Wimbledon, really, except for Sharapova. So I would think ‑‑ you’d hope they understand. My heavens, these two women have dominated Wimbledon the last ten years. So it would be the right thing to do for the All England Club to do that.
Q. Chris, my question is about Serena who I am just so intrigued by at this moment in her career. I’m wondering, could you remind us the longest layoff you had during your career, presumably related to injury? And explain the value of consistent match play and when you’re lacking that, how do you compensate for it? When you look specifically at Serena, how is it that she has more than once had a long time away and either played her way into form or found this unbelievable form seemingly out of the gate?
CHRIS EVERT: My longest layover was four months in my whole career, and that was right at, I think I was 24 years old. I had been playing a solid seven years on the Tour and I was not a happy camper when I was going out on the court. I had just gotten married and I was like can I just take a break? That was looked upon like sort of a self‑imposed break, like looked upon with the eyebrows were up. Nobody really had done that before. It was always imposed by injuries and stuff. But I had never been injured. I think when I came back I lost the first tournament of the semis to Evonne Goolagong. I don’t think I won a tournament ‑‑ it took me like three tournaments to get back. But four months is a lot different than a year. And a year with the medical problems that Serena had, I mean, that’s got to be a little bit praying on her mind too.
Serena, she powers through it. When I think of Serena, I think of power. She’s a level above. She and Venus, really, when it comes to power. She always has been the best come‑from‑behind player that we’ve seen. She can be down match point in the second set, win that set and win the third 6‑Love. I mean, we’ve seen the comeback so many times in matches.
That is the big question mark in my mind though. Rusty, she’s got to be rusty. And mentally, I don’t know how she could be in every point without player her way into ‑‑ she’ll basically have two weeks. She’s playing Eastbourne, and hopefully if she gets through the first week of Wimbledon, she’ll have that two weeks behind her. But is that enough? I don’t think it is. I really don’t think it is.
Q. This is a question about John Isner. Last time we saw him at Wimbledon it was nothing like anything we’d ever seen, 70‑68 in the fifth set. Your impressions of that match and how crazy it was. And what does John have to do to become a consistent factor for American tennis in these grand slam tournaments?
BRAD GILBERT: Amazingly I saw every point of that match. I don’t even know how it’s possible. But I saw the first four sets up on the roof and the entire fifth. That match was epic to say the least. You saw some of the closest match you’ll ever see and a lot of serving. And John is, frankly, since then he’s kind of struggled. He hasn’t ‑‑ I’m not going to say that match took an amazing amount out of him. But he’s certainly struggled quite a bit this year. He played a great match against Rafael Nadal in the first round and extended him to five sets. But for John, the big thing is his return. 6’9″, 255 pounds, he’s got a monster serve. He just doesn’t return well enough yet. If he can add that or improve that part of his game, I mean, there is no reason why he should be ranked 50 in the world. I mean his serve is outrageous. To me he should be a Top 20 player. But if you look at his stats, sometimes stats don’t lie. And he’s really struggled with the return game.
CHRIS EVERT: I still think about that match and I can’t believe it happened. The two most unbelievable things would be that match and if Serena won Wimbledon. It’s like how is that humanly possible to hold serve for that long for that many games and somebody not break down or choke or whatever. It’s an historical match that I don’t think that streak will ever be broken. I think John, I don’t know, his game seems to be pretty suited to the grass. He’s had his letdown after that match, like months after. You know, maybe he will get recharged. Maybe the memories of that match last year will give him a little more zest in his game and his attitude. He certainly has a big enough serve if he holds serve to beat almost anyone out there.
BRAD GILBERT: I think when he comes back this year, he’ll be a real fan favorite. I think lost in that match, amazingly, when I was watching that entire match is how spry Mahut was. He was diving around, and he still has spiked gel in his hair. I couldn’t believe how fresh he was after that entire match. You just got the feeling you were sitting there off like a high dive the entire match. It was like, oh, my God. But I couldn’t believe it was going on after 30, 40, 50, 60 points. It was comical. 0
CHRIS EVERT: It was; it was unbelievable.
BRAD GILBERT: I think the thing that I’ll take from it most was actually the spirit from the crowd and the two guys. The spirit of fair play in that match was off the charts.
CHRIS EVERT: Can you imagine if that was on center court?
BRAD GILBERT: The committee might have said maybe it’s time to move this somewhere else.
CHRIS EVERT: Wow, that would have been ‑‑ that would have been totally televised on center court would have been ‑‑ that’s history right there. You don’t see that every year. You don’t see it once every ten years. It just happens so infrequently, and I think that left an indelible mark on everyone’s mind.
Q. Chris, could you compare what it would be for Serena to win this with what it was when Clistjers came back after having a baby and her long layoff winning the US Open? And for Brad, Andy Roddick has had a lot of good Wimbledons, but you didn’t mention him as a guy that’s definitely among the winners. Do you think his window for winning majors is closed?
CHRIS EVERT: Okay, Serena versus Kim. To me it would be a bigger deal if Serena won. I mean, Kim had a baby and, correct me if I’m wrong, that first US Open she won didn’t seem to have ‑‑ I mean, the second one was unbelievable because she beat Serena and Venus, correct?
Q. I’m talking about the one right after ‑‑
CHRIS EVERT: Right, but I’m kind of thinking about the players that she beat. I don’t think that she ‑‑ with what Serena’s gone through ‑‑ again, I keep going back to the physical. It’s one thing to have knee surgery, but it’s another thing to have a really serious physical medical condition with just the emotional ups and downs that she’s gone through this year. She talked about depression. She talked about she didn’t know if she could take what was going through with her body and her mind and her spirit. With everything that she’s gone through and out for a year, I think it would be more monumental if she pulled it out. Kim, if you remember, I think Kim had a few warm‑up tournaments. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think she had two or three warm‑up tournaments.
BRAD GILBERT: She didn’t win one, but she had a few matches. I think she played three tournaments before that and she won.
CHRIS EVERT: So those two or three tournaments plus the first week of the US Open, so she might have had four weeks going into it. But Serena’s definitely not had that preparation.
BRAD GILBERT: You want to know about Andy Roddick. He’s 28, almost 29. I’m not going to say his window’s closed, but it’s just becoming so much more difficult when you’re outside the Top 4. Look at Monfils in the quarters. Monfils potentially to win the tournament, he’s ranked 8th in the world, at the French, he would have had to beat Federer in the quarters, Djokovic in the semis, Nadal in the final. That’s sometimes what somebody’s looking at at running the table and winning one of these is potentially beating three of those four guys in three consecutive matches. The prospects of those are not easy at the moment. Obviously, Andy has played great at Wimbledon. He’s probably got a much better chance of doing it there than maybe anywhere else. But as long as the top guys are winning, I just think it’s that much more difficult for anybody outside of them at the moment to run the table. I mean, guys have had good runs, but to see anybody beat three of those guys in three consecutive matches is a rough ask at the moment.
CHRIS EVERT: That goes the same for Serena. If you put Serena and pit her against let’s say Azarenka for one match right now on grass, she might be able to win it. But you pit her against two weeks and seven matches of good, solid players, and that’s where the rustiness comes in. You’re not going to be 100% all seven matches. If she has one off day with being rusty, that will be the end.
Q. I’m curious for your thoughts on the lack of a compelling rivalry on the women’s side and how you think that impacts the sport in general and how it’s perceived?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, let’s put it this way: Besides Serena and Venus who are in and out of the game consistently, after them there are no Americans at the top, and there won’t be for a couple of years. You have Bethanie Mattek‑Sands and you have Christina McHale are the next two, and then you have Melanie and so forth. But there is a lot of depth. Nobody’s dominating. There are no rivalries. There are a lot of young, exciting players. I kind of get a little impatient with this bashing American tennis, because let’s just realize that there are no other Americans at the top right now and it will take a couple of years. But we’ve embraced Roger Federer, Nadal, we’ve embraced all these other non‑American players and non‑American rivalries. So let’s give these women a chance. Let’s give the Wozniacki’s, the Clistjers, Azarenka, Petrovic, Sharapova, Schiavone, there is a lot of depth there. It will be interesting to see from that crop who steps up to the plate and takes advantage of the state of women’s tennis and emerges from this crop. But, again, in women’s tennis, the only rivalry would be Serena and Venus, quite frankly.
BRAD GILBERT: I think since I’ve been a young kid, kind of what we’re seeing in the men’s is what we’ve always seen in the women’s. For the last few years this has probably been the most open that women’s tennis has ever been. We’re so used to seeing a couple women dominate for long periods of time. At least from a fan standpoint or the fun factor, you have 15, 20 women that can win majors. And it’s so hard to prognosticate on who is going to win. I tell you, I thought 15, 20 women could win the French, and I didn’t even have Li Na as one of them because her track record was never any good on clay. So I think for the next couple of years ‑‑ at some point, I’m sure someone’s going to dominate. It might not be now, but in the next two to four years, I would not be surprised if we get somebody like a Nadal or Federer. Somebody that on the women’s side that’s going to be winning 10 of the next 20 majors. But right now to me there is nobody that is that person. I think between 1 and 15 in the women’s, they’ve never been closer in their play. I mean there is not a massive difference between 1 and 15. There is a lot of depth in the men’s, but there is a lot bigger gap between 15 and 1 than there is right now between the women’s to men’s.
CHRIS EVERT: I also think again instead of bashing the Americans or American tennis, I know because my academy’s down with the USTA, it’s not their fault. They’re doing the best job they can. But why don’t we look at Li Na and what she’s done for China, and Petkovic has come up and is an exciting player to watch. Maria Sharapova, I think has one of the most consistent years of her career, and she is one of my top three picks also for winning Wimbledon. Azarenka, Clistjers, there are just so many that have their own story, but they just don’t happen to be American, but we can still embrace that. It’s exciting for tennis. It’s not only about American tennis. Tennis is worldwide now. I don’t know, it’s just a bigger sport now, so it’s not always going to be dominated by Americans.
Q. The French Open had livelier balls and it really seemed to bother some people earlier in the tournament. I’ve heard Wimbledon’s going to heavier balls likely trying to slow things down. They’ve been trying to slow Wimbledon down a little bit for quite a while. Can you tell me what you’ve heard about what’s going to be going on this year and how it’s changed since you guys played some?
CHRIS EVERT: I have to say one thing. I wish it was slower. Maybe I could have had more success against Martina in this day. Because in our day ‑‑ and I’m older than you, Brad, by the way ‑‑ in this day it seems like more of a hard court, and it has slowed down. Like the men, in my era, almost all the men were serving and volleying. It was the thing to do. The first serve, you serve and volley. Nowadays, even Federer doesn’t serve and volley, you know? So I think it’s ‑‑ they’re just making it more, I think equal for everybody. Just like the French, it was always a big complaint that the clay was so slow. So it’s giving the more aggressive players more of an opportunity, and I think it gives maybe the baseliners, Wimbledon, by being a harder court and the balls being heavier gives the baseliners a little more of an equal sort of thing. I think it’s great. What do you think, Brad?
BRAD GILBERT: One thing’s for sure, grass tennis 20 years ago was boring. It was like three shots and fans were on their feet. But the grass is about the same now like the last half a dozen years. It’s been playing slower and the balls have been heavier. So they didn’t change anything the last few years. I really think that’s a good thing because it’s given a lot of players a lot of confidence that they can play their game.
The big thing too at Wimbledon is the weather. If you get cold and damp, the courts even play slower. If it is warmer, you get some heat, the courts can play a little quicker. The only thing still that’s difficult even when the court is slower, guys can still serve into the court on the grass, so returns can be a little bit of a problem if it bounces high. And I think the clay has been the greatest improvement in my lifetime. Chris was talking about how the courts were slow, long rallies. If you were watching this year, you’re seeing people play through the court like it’s a quick hard court. I think both surfaces have made dramatic improvements for the fans for watching better tennis.
CHRIS EVERT: Right. It’s more interesting on the women’s side now because like you said, it’s a faster game on the clay. At Wimbledon it’s more interesting on the men’s side, because women still had rallies in our day, but the men, like you said, it was serve, volley when Pete Sampras was playing. Actually, talking about serve and volley, Federer ‑‑ it makes me think about the French and Federer. That final match he surprised a lot of people in the way that he, on clay, came very close to winning the French Open. I think he’s got one more in him. Brad, correct me if I’m wrong, but his serve, especially in the first set if he serves as great as he did and he keeps hitting that forehand the way he did, he still has the best ‑‑
BRAD GILBERT: He makes that drop shot at 2‑5, the match is different. He played great. He played great.
CHRIS EVERT: You’re right. You’re right. And he’s the only true volleyer of the four guys. Plus he’s got that ‑‑ yes, he can play from the back court, but he can also slide a slice in there, come in and hit the volley better than the other ones.
BRAD GILBERT: His game is playing from the baseline. I think a lot of people want him to be more of a forward court player and play up at the net. But he really is ‑‑ I mean, playing on on clay, he is a baseliner that can move forward. All four of them are baseliners. He’s just the most all arounder. But he’s not comfortable serve and volleying like traditional style. That’s not his style.
Q. You’ve been on the sidelines a little while from broadcasting and as you come back in, I’m interested in finding out if there are certain analysts that you like when you’re watching a match that you say is a good analyst, certain types of analysis that might not match your style?
CHRIS EVERT: You’re going to get me in trouble here. Gosh, that’s a tough question. I mean, there is not anybody that I don’t think is good. I think everybody does a great job. I think John is good. I think McEnroe’s good because he seems to have, again, he’s been a champion. He knows what’s going on in the court. What are the big points, what are the pressure points and he sort of has a great history of the game. He also has little tidbits about the players. I think he’s a good all around analyst. I think everybody. I think everybody’s good. I think Brad, you know, when that book that you read is phenomenal. I think that you really watch a match, and I think where you’re really good at is analyzing what’s going on the court at that moment.
I think the thing that annoys me, and I said this to another reporter, is when I’m watching TV and someone’s going on and on about this person at 8 years old was doing this and the father was this. Then all of a sudden it’s 3‑1, deuce and a big point slides by that we all know as champions or players that that was a huge point. I’m just more interested in what’s going on in the match rather than if somebody’s father was a soccer champion. I think that the players like that we’re in the heat of battle like Brad and like myself and like John McEnroe and Mary Joe, I think that’s what we pick up maybe a little bit better than analysts or commentators that really didn’t feel that intense pressure.
Q. Where are you as far as being critical? Can you be critical of players if it warrants it?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I hope so. I think I’m a little different person than I was ten years ago. After I retired from tennis I went the next year to NBC, and basically that was the thing to do after you retired. Now I’m going back because I want to. I want to. I have my own tennis academy. I’ve been involved in coaching now. I have a different perspective of the game. I have a player perspective but I also see what the training is, the current training, how intense, how committed players have to be. I think I will be critical when it’s due to be critical, yes.
Q. You were the oldest player to win the French when you were about 31 and a half years old. Now Serena is 29, Venus is about to turn 31. I’d like to get both of your opinions on how much you think each of the Williams sisters might have left in the tank?
CHRIS EVERT: I think that I sort of ‑‑ well, because Serena and Venus, again, yeah, 29, but she’s just had a year off. I mean, they’ve had so much time off. So much time off. In the course of their 15‑year career, they’ve taken a lot of time off. I think they get away from the game, and then when they come back in the game after a long layoff, I think they’re really excited and rejuvenated and refreshed. That’s why I think they’ve had so much success. If they had played without injuries and they had played a full commitment of whatever, 21 tournaments a year, like everybody else is playing and supported the Tour that way for 15 years, I think they’d be out of the game by now. Because there’s so much competition and it’s a lot more intense than my day. I think the only thing helping them by playing at an older age is the fact that they’ve had so many breaks.
BRAD GILBERT: I think we appreciate what they’ve done as opposed to what they haven’t done. It’s pretty remarkable still at almost 30 and 31 that they’re still so relevant. On this surface, especially, the way that Serena’s come back, I think if it was any other surface you’d be thinking she needs a little more time ‑‑ actually both of them. But on this surface too they have the rare ability to be able to hold serve and dominate their serve. The last few years if you look at their stats heading towards the end of the tournament, almost like a guys, where Serena had been broken a couple times during the tournament. So I think they’ve picked their tournament for their comeback sensational. They’ve done a remarkable job of navigating their career through some downtime and doing other things. They’ve been a little more well‑rounded than some of the other players doing some of the things they’ve done, and they’re still playing. I think Venus turned pro when she was 14, so she’s been around for 17 years. That’s pretty incredible.
Q. Do you think that the physical nature of their game will perhaps prolong their career even further?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I think it shortens the rallies for them. Let’s put it that way. If they were baseliners, like Brad said, coming back at Wimbledon where the grass is soft and they don’t have to hit that many shots and they can win a point right away from their serve, it’s going to be less taxing on their bodies, certainly, than any other grand slam. No way Serena would have come back at the French as her first major tournament. It’s pretty smart. They’re coming back at Wimbledon. It’s easier on their body. They’re just going to play their power game. Then they’ll have three or four tournaments before the US Open, and maybe they’ll be thinking in the back of their minds they might want to peak for the US Open. But, yeah, I think their games because they’re so powerful, they don’t have to have long rallies, and I think that helps them as far as their longevity.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Serena again and what specifically you’ll be looking for this week and next week when she gets going at Wimbledon as far as signs that she’s playing well and she’s able to come back and possibly win this? What kind of things in her game will you be looking for to say she’s back and capable of winning seven matches?
CHRIS EVERT: I’ll be looking for her mobility around the court and her court coverage. It’s a given she’s going to hit some big first serves. But I think mobility and also the mental side. How intense she is at putting and concentrating points together instead of just being in and out of the match because that is going to be the toughest for her is being in and out of the match. That’s what match play does. It really gets you mentally tough. So you can stream together points and concentrate. So the mental side and the court coverage are the two things I’m going to be looking for.
BRAD GILBERT: I think it’s going to be huge for both Serena and Venus how much matches they get in this week. And then it will be for me how she’s going to get through that first week. If she gets through that first week, then all of a sudden her third week of play and once they kind of get a little confidence in their game, they become completely different players. I think they really like to prove everybody wrong like, wow, how could they do this? Well, every time people think they can’t do something is when they step up. The first big thing will be the draw, where they’re seeded, where they land in the draw. It’s just basically getting through that first week. I think she could be more vulnerable in the first week than the second week because of match play or confidence. You just never know. But if they do get through that first week, watch out.
CHRIS EVERT: Also, Brad, if they get through the first week, they may be facing Wozniacki, or Azarenka or Li Na or Petkovic, and these are players that that they’ve owned and players that will be intimidated by them. So I think you’re right.
Q. I’m wondering are there any story lines out there that you think haven’t been covered as you sort of step back into the television and see overall on a broad scope? And also maybe for both of you, as we’ve talked about for a while now, American tennis has struggled especially on the women’s side. But how can the American public be more familiarized with this international game that tennis seems to be growing to?
CHRIS EVERT: As far as story lines, everything is just going to get pushed in the background, I think with Serena and the Venus. The big story line leading up to the French was Wozniacki. She’s been ranked No. 1 in the world without a grand slam. I was very disappointed at the French. I really thought she would take that opportunity and win the French and silence her critics because she certainly has the game to win on clay. But she played too many tournaments leading up to it. Actually, she’s played too many tournaments all year. I think piling up those tournaments and being ranked No. 1 is good to a certain point, but then you’ve got to pace yourself if you want to win the Grand Slams. And she was absolutely flat out there at the French when she lost her match. So I think the story that will be in the background will be when is she going to win her first grand slam title? I don’t think it’s going to be Wimbledon. I just don’t think ‑‑ you need a little power in your game at Wimbledon, and I think that’s what’s been lacking in her. So that could be one story. Li Na, the continuation of her emergence and winning the grand slam, being runner‑up in the Australian, the excitement in China, just the impact she’s had on the Chinese and on tennis in China will be another one. Sharapova has been lacking a grand slam in a long time. She’s gone through a lot of injuries and a lot of problems with her serve. Can she get it together? Can she get that serve together? She could have won the French. She was so close. Then it got windy, and her serve got thrown off completely. But she could come back and win Wimbledon also. But I think that’s going to be another story.
BRAD GILBERT: Talking about American tennis, we’ve had great times. I’m hopeful at some point we will again. But the biggest thing is the game is so global. It’s not our birth right as American that we are going to have great players. In some of these other countries, a lot of the European countries, tennis is the second and third most popular sport. They’re getting some phenomenal athletes. That’s not to say we don’t have phenomenal athletes, but it’s just I think a lot of times things are reciprocal. Who knows, maybe China will have a run now. They don’t have any men yet, but who knows. When I turned pro in like ’81, there were like 42 Americans in the Top 100, so the game has dramatically changed. And players are coming from everywhere. Spain maybe has the most guts, France has a lot of players. But right now on the men’s side Europe has completely dominated the game. Hat’s off to them at the moment. Hopefully that will change. I believe one thing about the American audience, we love stars. We love people that we know that we can count on to be there. You’re seeing that consistently with Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, fans count on a lot of these players and they deliver. The great thing about tennis is Federer and Nadal have galvanized American fans. They don’t have to be American. People route for them because of their greatness. That is the sheer greatness of tennis is that you can have players like that go beyond being where they’re from because you like watching them play.
CHRIS EVERT. Hopefully there will be a rivalry in the future that we can embrace like we have embraced Federer and Nadal. And I agree with Brad. I think that the world has caught up. When I started on the Tour, it was America and Australia. Why was that? Maybe the weather. In Florida or California you could play every day. There weren’t indoor courts. Now in Europe, they have all of these great national tennis centers and organizations and academies. Like Brad said, our best athletes maybe aren’t going to tennis. Tennis isn’t the number one or number two or number three sport in America. So I think a lot of the national training centers, and I think it started like Sweden had them, and Croatia, Serbia, Croatia, China. There were never women players from those countries when I was playing. So it is worldwide, and let’s get used to it.
BRAD GILBERT: On the women’s side, tennis is the biggest female sport in the world. You’re getting so many players from ‑‑ I mean, look at a country like Russia or China. They want to be the next from their country. They’ve had good success that leads to more success. I just think that tennis is a now thing. When a country gets hot, it tends to move forward. Look at a little country like Serbia producing players. It’s just phenomenal. It’s their athleticism in some of their players. The Russians had a quick unbelievable run in the 2000s till now. Who knows, maybe there will be another half a dozen Chinese coming in. I think it will change in time. There is no question for me.
CHRIS EVERT: And these countries, the incentive is to leave their country and to travel the world and to come to America. It’s an interesting note that we give China a lot of credit. But Li Na and the top Chinese women have had success but they all left their national team. They were free to select their own coach and travel the world. And previously the government was getting 65% of their prize money. Now they’re getting 8 to 12% of their prize money. So, again, the real success came after they left their national team. But at least they were playing well enough to make the national team.
Q. We’ve been talking an awful lot about women’s tennis, and I think that’s great. We’ve talked about Venus and Serena extensively. But if you could pick out a couple of the other players who you think have a real shot at winning Wimbledon, and maybe tell us what you think they need to do to get over that final hurdle?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, on the women’s side, I brought up Sharapova, and I did talk a little bit about her. She’s done really well this year, and she’s been consistently a semifinalist or finalist. I think if she can get her serve together, she’s won Wimbledon before. She’s mentally really a tough player. I think she can do some damage and maybe even win Wimbledon. And you’ve got to look at ‑‑ you can’t count out Li Na. You can’t count her out. And Kim Clistjers, again, she surprised us a few times. She’s got a nice, powerful, solid game, an all‑court game. She’s tough. She can volley well. If she’s healthy, she’s a contender. I would put those Clistjers, Sharapova and Li Na, I would put them as the next three.
BRAD GILBERT: For me, if the Williams sisters weren’t in it, because that was the big mystery, I was going to say this tournament just like the French Open, man, I could see 15, 20 different women winning. But obviously now with the Williams sisters that changes the equation. We obviously need to see the draw. One gal that I think has a nice game moving forward in the next few years with the grass, she had her breakout last year, I don’t know how she’ll perform this year with the semifinals coming off. But Petra Kvitova, the 6‑foot lefty has a nice game. She could be somebody that is a dark horse because her game seemingly would be suited for the grass. A big power hitter, one of the best on the Women’s Tour, so she would definitely be a dark horse for me.
CHRIS EVERT: The other thing is one of the reporters brought up Serena and Venus might be thinking well, we’ll prove them wrong because no one’s picking us. But I think the reaction to them coming back, I think they’re going to get so much support and I think that people want to see success, and people want to Serena and Venus do well. i kind of think they might have felt that way in the past. When they played, they were so dominant that maybe the crowds didn’t favor them because they were so strong. But I think now the public will really embrace them and really support them in coming back. Again, I think that’s going to be a different attitude that the crowd has towards them.
Q. is there any technical reason why Djokovic shouldn’t be considered right up there as a favorite on grass despite how he is on some of the other slower surfaces in theory?
BRAD GILBERT: Absolutely not. Last year at this time, when he got to the semis, he wasn’t nearly the player that he is now. He was really struggling with his serve and his forehand wasn’t as dominant. The guy moves outrageous, like a gazelle. He’s serving so much better this year. It’s incredible. I mean, his stats, if you look at his serving stats in 2011 compared to 2010, it’s incredible the difference. His return is off the charts. His game, like I said, last year I was surprised that he didn’t beat Berdych in the semis last year. And he wasn’t playing, like I said, anywhere near the way he is now. I would think that getting to the is semifinals last year will give him the confidence that I can win this event. Yeah, he’s definitely one of the four favorites to win it. There’s no question.
CHRIS EVERT: Probably by losing the French, that is going to give him more incentive. I always remember whenever I lost a match going into a major, I mean, I was pissed. It made me so much more determined than having that monkey on my back. Having all that pressure of being undefeated for the whole year and is he going to continue it at Wimbledon? Now the pressure’s off. I think that will be a positive for him.
Q. I wonder if I could ask you about Andy Murray. When you look at the five biggest matches of Murray’s life, three grand slam finals, two Wimbledon semifinals. He lost all of them. I think he’s won one set along the way. I wonder if you feel is there any one missing ingredient that is there? What do you think he’s got to do to clear that final hurdle?
BRAD GILBERT: Well, the key is if you’re in his camp, (you emphasize) short‑term memory loss. You don’t bring up those or worry about those. You’ve got to get back in the same situation and come good. I think that at 24 years old, he’s much more mature now. He, to me, if you keep giving yourself a look, he’s going to come through. It’s just a matter of time. One thing good about Andy from my short time with him ‑‑ I didn’t coach him while he played in the grass season because in 2007 he was injured ‑‑ I think he embraces the entire month. I don’t think that he is afraid of it. In some of those five matches you talked about, he lost to some pretty darn good players. Lost to Fed a few times, lost to Nadal, lost to Djokovic. The one match he definitely wishes he had back, he was in with the chance where he lost that tiebreaker in the fourth to Roddick and had a good look to go up 2 sets to 1. And you’ve just got to forget about that. He comes in having his best clay court season ever. Made three semifinals with the semifinal at the French, just won Queens. So his preparation is outstanding. Now it’s a matter of he’s got to run the table. He’s not coming there hoping to make a quarters or semis, he’s coming there to win it. He’s going to have to beat some of his main co‑stars to do it. But he’s come in with great preparation, and he can’t ask for any better, and now it’s just a matter of getting it done.
CHRIS EVERT: Also, if I can add something, this is where that term you learn from your losses comes in. You don’t want to repeat. He’s been close so many times in major tournaments, so he’s got to figure out what went wrong in those major tournaments. Did he get too passive on the big points? Did he overhit? This is when a player has to think in their mind what happened. They need to go back and reflect on what happened on the big points, why did I lose that match, and maybe make some changes.
BRAD GILBERT: That’s a great point. We all love to win, but learn from losing in some of these matches and then try to figure out what I can implement if the same situation comes up again.
CHRIS EVERT: And that’s where a player, Brad and I, that’s what we can bring because I know in personal experience with my big matches with Martina, I’d be 4‑All in the third, and I stayed the same level or got a little bit passive, and that was my nature. But when I started beating her, I took my chances. You’ve got to think about these losses and what went wrong. You change your losing game, and you stick with your winning game.
Q. A follow‑up on Andy Murray. Do you see Darren Cahill, is he having a big role from what we’re seeing maybe Andy’s matured himself, but do you see something specific that Cahill is bringing to the table?
BRAD GILBERT: I think Darren is working with him part‑time during the tournament. I think during the tournament he’ll be working with Tim (Indiscernible). Because once the tournament starts, Darren switches over and works with us. Andy’s got a very good supporting cast. He’s got his buddy, Dani Vallverdu, his hitting partner. I believe his mom helps out a little bit. He’ll use the adidas team, he uses Darren a little bit. So he’s getting a lot of input. He’s not hurting for any input. Like I said, I think he comes into this tournament with everything the way he could ask for it. Now it’s a matter of making that final hurdle. But once the tournament starts, it’s with his team he’s got already. He’s got a nice team. I’m sure he’s the kind of guy that’s taken a little bit of information from everybody.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, but you know what the interesting thing is that’s really a great situation to be in to have a good positive, informative team around you. But nobody can help you out there on the big points. When you look at Serena or Roger Federer or Nadal, you know, they figure it out themselves. He’s got to figure it out. He’s got to feel it instinctively, and he’s got to think about it too.
Q. In the beginning of the conversation you talked about the big 4, and as a Swede I’m obviously interested in what you see in Robin Soderling, and what is missing right now to make that group of five players instead of four?
BRAD GILBERT: That’s a good question. Clearly over the last two years he’s been the fifth best player in the world. He got off to an amazing start this year after switching coaches and he played well. I think he won 18 of the first 19 matches. Then he struggled a little bit. I think he made a nice change right before he switched coaches again, going back to Swedish coach Fredrik Rosengren, I think will be a good move for him. I mean, I would say kind like I said about Monfils, you know, when he was in the quarters. If you’re in the quarters now ‑‑ let’s say he’s seeded fifth, you know, where he lies in the draw. And can he beat three guys to potentially win a major? I think that some of the lower guys between five and 10 dramatically helps their chances of winning a tournament if one or two of those guys happen to lose. But it’s still just, for me, that is the only thing that I bring up is it’s really tough for somebody potentially to beat three of those top four guys in consecutive matches. Soderling has the most fire power of anybody outside of the top four. There is absolutely no question about it. He has a monster game. He’s never made a deep run at Wimbledon. But with his serve and how big he hits the ball, I mean, he’s definitely somebody that ‑‑ from outside the top four it’s not like, wow, he’s 20 in the world. He’s 5 in the world. But he’s a dangerous player, lot of fire power, and I like the coaching change he made a couple weeks ago.
Q. If you had to pick one, Murray or Robin to win a grand slam, both of them have never won a grand slam, who is your pick?
BRAD GILBERT: If I had to pick one between them, Murray’s a little bit younger. The movement factor is a big thing on his side. I would think that Murray ‑‑ I put Murray’s chances better. Soderling, you know, has definitely done well, but he’s a couple years older. But he’s clearly the fifth best player in the world. I’m just going to say right now, this is the stingiest time of men’s tennis I’ve ever seen. It’s not like a lot of different guys are able to grab major titles in the last seven years. Fed and Nadal have been incredibly stingy, now Djokovic, so it’s not like ‑‑ we had a time, I believe, in 2002, 2003, we had eight majors and eight different winners. That is clearly not the case at the moment.
CHRIS EVERT: Also, I think like you’re talking about somebody like Soderling, he’s got to plow two or three huge wins of his life to win Wimbledon. I remember one year I beat Martina in the semifinals and she’s seeded 1. So much mental energy I used up. I was so excited afterwards and went out to dinner, and I was still thinking about her match because the next day I had to play Evonne Goolagong who I hadn’t lost to in like three years. And the next day I lost to Evonne Goolagong because I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t have as much mental energy. I think when you look at the top four players, it’s going to come down to the mental energy. It’s going to come down to the mental more than the physical. I think they’re all in great shape. I think they’re all going to be in great shape by the time they get to even the quarterfinals. But it’s going to be the one who mentally is the sharpest and who wants it the most.
BRAD GILBERT: I just think if there’s any chance of somebody, an outsider like what’s happening in the women’s, I think that they need some help. Like somehow Fed almost lost last year or something crazy happens where one or two of them happen to lose in the first week, then you could see some possibilities. But as long as one of those guys doesn’t lose before the quarterfinals, those guys are so out there at the moment. Somebody’s got to play the tournament of their life and then some to run the table to have me believe that somebody from outside is going to beat three of those guys.
CHRIS EVERT: They all have real incentive. They’re all going to have a record of their own if they win, so that’s incentive for all of them. When have we had that where four players have had sort of one person can break a record. Murray could be his first grand slam. Federer, with his grand slams. You know, Nadal could be considered the greatest player ever. Djokovic, you know, again, everybody has a reason and an incentive to win which will make it even more competitive.
BRAD GILBERT: Djokovic has to make the final again to be No. 1 again. He’s right there. I mean all of these guys have so much to play for. Big story line on ESPN. We’ll be all over it.
Q. I had a question regarding Daniela Hantuchova. She’s had good results lately especially making the final at Birmingham. I was curious what your thoughts are if she has the potential to become the latest player to blossom towards the end of her career?
CHRIS EVERT: Oh, my gosh. How old is she now?
Q. I think she’s about 29.
CHRIS EVERT: She’s been around a long time and she still looks like a little girl out there. I’m happy to see her doing well. I always thought she had a lot of potential. She’s always had that coolness out there and handled pressure and points very, very well. I just don’t think ‑‑ I just think that she doesn’t have that ‑‑ doesn’t have that richness of the experience of being in a big match situation as much as these other players that I mentioned. I don’t know her personally. But as nice a game as she has, she just doesn’t have that one, I think, punch shot. You have to have one thing. Whether it is mentally or physically, you’ve got to have that one punch thing, and I don’t see her having it.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll just add one thing, at 28 years old, I think she’s close to 29, if you’re on her coaching team look to somebody like Schiavone and say, man, she had never had one deep run ever in a major and she makes a run and Li Na. So some of these women are peaking later, so that’s the one thing that you could say, okay, it’s not an improbability or impossibility that it could happen to me. But you’re right, she doesn’t have that one killer shot. No massive serve, no huge forehand, no huge backhand. She’s very solid on all of her shots.
CHRIS EVERT: Very. And I don’t think Wimbledon is the showcase. I don’t think that’s going to happen at Wimbledon. I would think it would have happened more at the US Open or the French where she’s on solid ground. Because I don’t think her mobility ‑‑ you have to move beautifully on the grass. You’ve got to know how to move on grass, and that’s what’s inhibiting a lot of these players from doing as well as they can because the foot something difficult.