Today, ESPN’s John and Patrick McEnroe discussed the US Open which begins Monday, August 27, with extensive coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
Q. Doing a story on your brother, Mark. For both of you what does he bring to his job at the academy? And what part do you expect him to play in the debate about the future of American tennis and where the next great tennis start is going to come from?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, he can get in line to get into the debate. I mean, we are all enjoying that. Mark has been the big man until the middle for many years and I’m happy he’s in the game. I’m very happy that John got himself into the game. John put his money where his mouth is by doing his own thing and his own academy and that’s awesome for tennis and New York in general.
For Mark, he’s a pretty darned good tennis player, so the fact that he’s working alongside John is great for him and great for the family. And I know John feels pretty good having him alongside, and I know I feel pretty good when I take my little daughter up there for lessons and he takes care of it, so it’s all good.
JOHN McENROE: At my club over in Randall’s Island; it’s nice to have someone you trust who also loves the sport. As Patrick pointed out, being the middle brother, he can bridge the gap of Patrick and I on any issues that I think in the long run is going to help all of us. I’m looking forward to hopefully the situation where all of us work together, not just the two of us.
Q. Given his background, Wall Street lawyer and working in hedge funds and stuff like that ‑‑
PATRICK McENROE: I’m not going to hold that against him.
Q. Do you think that helps in bringing in a different perspective a little bit?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I think that strictly from the managerial standpoint, he’s a smart guy and being a lawyer, he can help me with things that other, quote, unquote, tennis guys wouldn’t be able to. As far as whether or not it helps in the sort of world of tennis, I honestly can’t say that you can make a determination that because he was around Wall Street or involved with hedge funds that that necessarily makes him better equipped to deal with the politics that goes along with tennis or the sport itself. I mean, I think that’s a bit of a stretch.
Q. I wanted to ask you for your thoughts on the men’s field, in particular, of the top three seeds, who do you see as the favorite, and who among them do you think has more at stake or maybe just a word about what each respectively kind of has at stake in the last slam of the year.
JOHN McENROE: Yeah, I was just going to say that to me, the three of them ‑‑ I almost think that you can make an argument for all three. I think it’s very close. They are sort of all ‑‑ it would be hard to pick one of them right now, because you can make an argument for any one of them. I can say that as far as what’s at stake, I think Murray has got the most at stake, because, yes, he’s won this Olympic thing, but I think it’s pretty universally understood that it’s not quite ‑‑ while it’s become more important obviously in the fact that it was at Wimbledon was helpful, it’s not thought of I think in the same way as the slams.
So I don’t think the burr is off him but I’m hoping that it can break the ice so to speak and he can win some slams. I think he has the most to loss and the most to gain at this point. Before the Olympics, it was between the three guys, you know, obviously Rafa is not here; who would win and then become No. 1.
But now the way it pans out, it’s conceivable that Murray could make an argument were he to win this, and then have a strong season, and, say, win the Masters, there’s a possibility that you could say he’s the best player in the world this year. To me that’s an unbelievable upside. In some ways Roger has accomplished ‑‑ I thought he would win another major and be back at No. 1. He’s proved a lot of people wrong there.
Djokovic obviously has this year, greatest year in 40 years, and he’s not been really at the same level. Yet, he’s still for a guy who has really had not as good a year as he had last year, is still in the mix; if he were to win this, he could be No. 1 again and will be No. 1. So that’s quite a nice thing for him, as well.
PATRICK McENROE: I think that obviously this year, in particular, I think it’s pretty cool that he’s got No. 1 really up for grabs in The Open at the first time in a while. As to John’s point, career‑wise, Murray has the most at stake because he just has not won one. But for a different year, they have all got a lot at stake because you can easily make the case that if any one of the three wins it, they will and should be No. 1 for the year. Obviously there’s still tennis to be played post the Open, but certainly either Roger or Djokovic win this, they are No. 1 this year because they have won two Majors.
I think Roger is probably a slight favorite, just because I think that having won Wimbledon again and gotten back to No. 1, I feel like watching him in Cincinnati, which I know is slightly different than a US Open, that he’s sort of playing with no pressure at all. He’s sort of playing with house money, because he has not won one for so long, and to keep ‑‑ for him, he kind of got the monkey off his back and then he had not won for three years.
So I think when he plays with that sort of freedom and abandon, he’s very, very dangerous. You know, he’s obviously the most talented player that I’ve ever seen, so I think when he can play with that kind of freedom, it makes him that much tougher to beat.
Now, that being said, I think the conditions here with the tournament being back‑loaded for the last couple of days, I think that makes it a little bit trickier for him with potentially to potentially beat Murray and then Novak back‑to‑back on hard courts with a lot of heat or maybe wind or rain delays, things like that. So I think that’s sort of the X‑factor for Federer. But from a pure tennis standpoint of what I’ve seen the last three months, I would call him the favorite.
Q. It seems like this year, Federer, there’s just been a little bit of a flip flop. Djokovic was obviously so dominant last year and Federer, we were talking about, will he ever win another one; and now it seems like he’s No. 1 again. Do you think that’s more that Federer is playing better or Djokovic is not playing as well? And the second question I wanted to ask is about Serena, and obviously once again, as we always say, when she feels like it and when she plays well, there’s nobody that can beat her and all this. What do you think of this Kerber, this German woman who has been playing well; do you think that she’s someone we should be watching or do you think Serena is just going to kind of roll over everybody again?
JOHN McENROE: I’ll go first. Federer is playing better, I believe, and Djokovic has dropped off a little bit. And I think Federer prefers a Djokovic match up to Nadal, and it’s the opposite, interestingly enough, with Djokovic. He seems to prefer to play Nadal right now than Roger. Some of it was timing, and obviously there’s always a little bit of luck that goes into it, such as the roof closing when they played at Wimbledon, things of that nature.
But the match‑up seems to suit Roger, and he seems to be more comfortable in that situation. And it was hard to keep up, for anyone to keep up that level, because Djokovic had pushed all year towards becoming the first guy since Laver to hold all four slams at the same time. When he lost that final where he almost had a chance to get back in and win, I think there was a letdown.
So, yeah, I think there’s been a shift, but Djokovic, as Patrick rightly pointed out, would still be No. 1 if he wins this. I think he’s really sort of had some time to sort of get over the frustration, not a lot of time obviously, because the Olympics definitely complicates things. But he had a couple tough losses there and lost to Roger at Wimbledon. He sucked it up and played a couple of the hard courts and he’s got a week here. I think he’s definitely feeling like he should win this thing.
As far as Kerber, I’ve watched Kerber play for the last couple years and she’s someone to me who is an extremely smart tennis player. She knows the game and she knows how to sort of ‑‑ she’s like sort of a natural tennis thinker.
However; if, Serena, to me, is mentally and physically ready to play and into it, I don’t think there’s a player alive that can beat her right now. Now, of course she’s only won one slam in the last few years, so it’s not as if she’s been ‑‑ I think there’s been seven straight different women winning slams, I believe, or something close to that. And Kerber is someone who is one of those that if she catches you on an off‑day can beat anyone, but I don’t see her with the type of firepower needed to go all the way.
PATRICK McENROE: I think Serena is obviously the favorite, but I think there’s more that can go wrong in the US Open for her than certainly at Wimbledon. And what I mean by that is she’s ‑‑ it’s interesting reading her article in the New York Times magazine that she’s got a little something in her head about things going wrong at the US Open, whether it’s the grunting or the line call or the point penalty, etc.
So that’s not a good thing for her. And I think probably more importantly even than that, even though she said she loves hard court and it’s her favorite surface, I think her weakness, obviously there are not many, but when she gets inconsistent can show up a little bit more on a hard court than playing on a grass court where her serve is that much more magnified. Wind can also hurt her a little bit.
As John said she’s the best out there but seven straight matches ‑‑ even the first week of Wimbledon, you know, she very nearly lost a couple of times. So if that kind of thing happens again at the US Open, she can be in trouble. But Kerber is certainly someone that I think can be around in the second week, but I’m amazed at her negative attitude out there that she gets so negative, and yet she’s still able to compete. I think if she could somehow get a little more positive, that might help her once she gets to the quarters and semis. And obviously there’s some other young players.
Q. A lot of people are talking about the change Andy Murray is going through under the guidance of Ivan Lendl. So my question is about coaching. What do you need for a player to find the right coach? Is it a connection that can change a player’s mentality, and can a coach have that much impact?
JOHN McENROE: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m not sure there is an answer, and it obviously depends on an individual and the timing of it. I mean, Murray has been through a number of coaches, and a number of world‑class coaches. So this could have ‑‑ it seems to have come at a time, a pretty critical point in his career, where perhaps Ivan had the credibility of someone who had been in a similar situation as Andy, having not won his first four Grand Slams, losing in the finals, and then being one of the great players of all time, Ivan Lendl.
So sometimes a player needs to sort of have someone who has been there, done that. And other times, you could look at other players in the Top‑10, where they have had the same coaches since they were teenagers or even before, and they feel a comfort level. So it’s wildly unpredictable; when Paul Annacone first started working with Roger, most people assumed he would try to get Roger become more aggressive, particularly against Nadal, maybe come in and take an earlier volley more.
Very, very subtle changes; it took years ‑‑ to me, it seems like the reason why Roger won Wimbledon this year was in the finals against Murray, it was one of the greatest volleying performances I’ve ever seen him have, considering he had not been volleying that well beforehand. So would you say that’s an influence of Paul Annacone finally, or not; it’s hard to say, is the bottom line.
But certainly there’s been occasions where a coach can have a fairly significant impact. There’s other times where you’ve seen some of the other players play without coaches. Tsonga is without a coach and he’s playing the best tennis of his career. Federer played for the better part of a few years winning Grand Slams without a coach. So this is something that is hard to say exactly, but certainly, there’s a handful of people out there that have made a difference with some of the top players.
PATRICK McENROE: Oh, there’s no doubt it (a new coach) can (help). I only heard the second half of John’s answer, and I certainly agree a hundred percent with what he said. Absolutely there’s cases where a coach can give you a burst of energy. Sometimes you just need to hear a different voice. Obviously players that are in the top ‑‑ winning tennis matches their entire life. So they are used to that. They are used to winning. But sometimes they just need a different push.
In the case of someone like a Murray, he’s someone that brought a little something to the table. Lendl has experience. Really, as John said, it depends on the individual and it depends on the relationship between the coach and the player. I mean, you spend so much time with that person that it’s not necessarily always about X’s and O’s. It’s about the relationship and the trust that you have and where you are at this stage of your career that you’re willing to say, okay, I’m going to listen to somebody like that.
Q. Wondering about Andy Murray, do you see anyone early in his run in the draw who could cause a problem? I know he’s kind of got that out of his system and is going deep in most Majors recently. Are there any dangers for him early in the draw that you see, any other big guns, any dangerous for them early in the draw?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I don’t have the draw in front of me but I believe he’s slated to play Raonic in the 16s. So that would be an example of someone that potentially, I think, could be a problem for any top player. Just like a guy like John Isner could be if he’s on his game. These guys that have huge firepower and get you out of your comfort zone. So that’s the type of a person on a hot day or an off‑day where he’s serving big could provide problems for him or any player. I look at a player like that and I think to myself, that could be a future top‑five player. Patrick, do you know who his quarter is?
PATRICK McENROE: I don’t have that in front of me either.
JOHN McENROE: I believe it’s Tsonga, if I’m not mistaken. Those are obviously matches in his record, I’m pretty sure it’s Tsonga, and I believe if that is the case, that that would be someone who he has a good record against. Yeah, of course, he’s the type of player that could obviously beat anyone on a given day, but I think he’s only one in six events against Andy.
But more than who he’s playing, it’s actually how ‑‑ I don’t know if there’s anything to what’s happened since the Olympics. I mean, there’s obviously a big letdown coming straight from there and having to go play. He was supposed to play Raonic and he pulled out with the knee. I saw the first match he played in Cincy and I thought he looked good. He looked like he was moving well and then he lost the next round. That surprised me.
Having said that, he’s much tougher to beat in a longer match, if he’s healthy. So I still would suspect that if he’s playing as well as ‑‑ because the way he played at the Olympics, I don’t see him not making a serious run and not winning the whole thing.
PATRICK McENROE: I agree, I think he’s probably the most vulnerable of the top three, but that’s not saying a lot because the other guys are pretty much not vulnerable at all, Djokovic and Federer. Murray still does have those matches where his energy is sort of low and he can be very defensive. I don’t think he has them as often as he did. Certainly Lendl has helped him a lot there. I think he’s a little more vulnerable to a solid guy who is ranked between 15 and 30 upsetting him than Federer and Djokovic are.
Q. How important is the Olympic title compared to Grand Slam title? And how are Nadal’s injury problems?
JOHN McENROE: Those are both good questions. With Nadal, we are all worried, and we are all hopeful he will make the type of comeback that he made when he injured his knee like three years ago. When you are talking about one of the greatest to ever play the game, you don’t want to see him have to go out with physical problems before he wants to. So that goes without saying that everyone is concerned, including myself, that we want to see him back in the mix as soon as possible, because he’s huge for our sport. And the first part of the question was, what was it again? I’m sorry.
Q. How important is the Olympic title compared to a Grand Slam title?
JOHN McENROE: The Olympics started to get some recognition, this is just my opinion, when Agassi won in ’96, he had not really done a whole lot that year for his standards. He showed that it meant a lot to him, and I think that raised some eyebrows with players that up to that time, and following it even, a lot of the top players, maybe half the top players, if not more, didn’t play.
So each Olympics that’s gone by, I think you’ve seen more top players play, perhaps at the expense of Davis Cup, for example. They picked and choose, and realize it’s only one week or ten days and now it’s one week and they have cut it to two‑out‑of‑three, and there’s something beautiful about the Olympics.
I think in the future, there to be a decision made, in my opinion, they should elevate it; if we are going to play it, we should elevate it to something that’s as big as the Grand Slams, which I don’t think it is. I mean, I know points‑wise, it’s considered to be behind 14 other tournaments, the four Majors and the ten Masters Series. I find that ludicrous. But I don’t think that at this point, even though it was nice for Murray and it was a boost at Wimbledon that it’s at the level of the four slams.
And it would have to be determined by the powers that be or the players, whether it’s 2016 or 2020, that this will count as a fifth Grand Slam, as an example. So that in the history books, when you count how many Grand Slams people have won, it would include the Olympics. Well, maybe you can’t do that. But to me, that’s the only way it would truly be at the same level as the other slams.
Q. John, are you looking forward to the exhibition game with Adam Sandler, and how much practice is involved with you and Adam with that? Will you and Adam be practicing?
JOHN McENROE: Hopefully. He may need a little more practice than I do, I’m just guessing. But yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. It’s Thursday night, Wednesday or Thursday, that’s right before men’s quarters and that’s a big time for our men as it winds down to the top couple players.
PATRICK McENROE: Let me just say, John, since he won’t be able to be in the broadcast booth for that match, I’m hoping Will Ferrell will come up and join me.
JOHN McENROE: Well, you know, you may know this, Pat, Will was originally involved but I guess he decided he would rather broadcast a match with you. They have got Kevin James, who obviously he’s got a sense of humor, too, and Adam. So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. If I don’t break too much of a sweat, I’ll try to get up there for that match with you.
Q. Have you ever played with him before? Are you friends?
JOHN McENROE: I would like to consider myself a friend. He’s been nice enough to put me in for his movies, not regularly by any means. I would like to consider myself as a friend to some degree. Think he’s a great guy. But I have not been on a tennis court with him, never.
Q. That is exciting and we are looking forward to that.
JOHN McENROE: I’ll be nervous but I’ll be less nervous than him in this case, because there will probably be 10,000 or 15,000, and I’m a little more used to it on a tennis court than he is. Hopefully I won’t be the one to lay an egg but I’m confident that we’re going to get it done.
THE MODERATOR: For folks who are not familiar with what they are talking about, the second Thursday of the tournament, 7:00 on ESPN2, Adam Sandler and John will team against Kevin James and Jim Courier in an exhibition doubles match for charity, and comedian Colin Quinn will be the chair umpire and will no doubt have his hands full.
Q. A lot of players are doing better these days it seems, after the age of 30. How does a pro train, eat and compete differently when you get to that point of your career and draw back on your own histories, if you could.
JOHN McENROE: Well, I’ll start. I wasn’t one of those guys that got better with age, so I do sort of look at what’s happening today and sort of feel like, wow, it would be good to be sort of around a time where you have more knowledge about the training, the best training to do on and off the court, what to eat, how to recover, etc.
And so you see basically players with teams around him now. And so that every little detail is executed to the highest possible degree; and it sort of would be nice to feel like at a later age ‑‑ I think that in a nutshell, is because of the knowledge and the ability to sort of make decisions pretty quickly that will help the player, a, improve, or b, recover, is why you saw more 30‑year‑olds and older than ever playing at Wimbledon this year.
I think that’s good because you are able to appreciate even more what you’ve accomplished and better able to handle what goes along with it. So I’m actually happy to see that this is becoming more of a trend than ever.
PATRICK McENROE: I would just add to that that I think it’s not only the top, top players; that obviously can afford to have a coach and trainer and hitting partner, but it’s players that are not even necessarily at the top, top of the game. Tommy Haas obviously was a Top‑5 player, but even guys below him, you know, are still playing into their early 30s that don’t have a full‑time.
I think that’s just realizing the off‑court training is more important as you get older, taking care of your body, doing the off‑court fitness, stretching. So get to the point where the tennis side of it isn’t as important as the hours that you spend on the court. But I think a lot of these players spend as much time, if not more, sort of preparing to play, preparing to practice, and doing off‑court work to keep their bodies as fit as possible. I think it’s great for tennis but it’s not great for the young guys trying to break in. It used to be that 17, 18, 19 years old, you were breaking through and winning Majors. Now, you can barely get a teenager in the top hundred in the men’s game.
Q. Specifically to Roger, what has he done both on the court and from what you may know off the court, his training, to maintain this level?
JOHN McENROE: I don’t know the specifics of that, but I do know that Roger was someone who trained a lot harder than people realise. He had a place in the Far East, the Middle East, excuse me, in Dubai, and trained in extreme conditions, hot conditions. And I’m going under the assumption to some degree, but I don’t know this for sure, exactly what Patrick said is what he’s doing. He’s maximizing sort of his off‑court training to subsidize what he does on the court, because his body ‑‑ he would be a perfect example to test out, because he’s 31 and he’s now participating, I believe, in his 52nd consecutive major. So if there’s ever a guy to look at and see what he’s doing, that should be studied for sure.
PATRICK McENROE: Obviously what makes Federer so great, obviously his ability, his talent, but his work ethic and his ability to brush off both the wins and the losses. That’s what’s been to me the most amazing thing that he’s had these sort of crushing losses in big matches, whether it was Djokovic last year in the Open where he could easily look back and say, man, a couple of swings here or there, and I would have 21 majors.
But he somehow managed to just let it happen, no big deal, I’m moving on, I’ll playing well; he never dwells on either the negative or the positive. I think he certainly uses the positive when he gets on a roll and gets the confidence going. That’s why I think coming into this year’s Open, he’s going to be very, very tough to beat, because I feel like he’s playing with more confidence than he’s had in a couple of years. Obviously when he didn’t have the utmost of confidence, you could still play him as the No. 2 or No. 3 player in the world.