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May 20, 2013

John McEnroe

ERIC ABNER:  Thanks, everybody, for joining today.  This is Eric Abner, Tennis Channel public relations.  We have John for about 45 minutes.
I don't have time to list all the contributions John has made to tennis, but he's been a key part of our Roland Garros team in Paris since our first year, which was 2007.  Thanks a lot.
DOUG DROTMAN:  We'll open it up for questions for John McEnroe.

Q.  John, I just wanted to ask you, can anybody beat Serena?  Seems like I should get a recording of all the other times.  It seems odd once again we're talking about Serena even though obviously last year the French Open wasn't good for her.  She's on an amazing roll at 31 years old.  We thought Maria, the rivalry, but nobody seems to be stepping up against her.  Any way she is losing this?
JOHN McENROE:  I mean it's been done before.  I've done it myself, but you sort of have to beat yourself.  The level she's at when she's playing well, I don't think anybody can beat her.  Anybody, no matter great they are, everybody has bad days.
On clay, it's her worst surface.  The odds would increase.  The pressure is greater obviously at the French because she's only won it once.  I would say at some stage in the event, it would be likely that she won't have one of her best days.  Depending on her opponent that day, someone might have a shot at her.

Q.  John, about Roland Garros, the clay, what is your favorite part of playing on clay, meaning a player's favorite part, and what are the most difficult aspects playing on clay?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I think the most difficult aspect is the footing, the inability to make that quick first step that you're able to do on a surface where you can stop and start on a dime.  You can't do that on clay.
You have to give yourself that perhaps extra bit of time when you don't have that.¬† Especially for an aggressive player like myself, it became difficult to defend well‑struck passing shots.¬† That's why you see less players moving forward on clay.
To be honest, you see less players moving forward, period.  So in a way the game has become more homogenized in the sense that the courts play more similarly than they ever have.  If you look at Wimbledon, it's clearly slowed down.  The bounce is truer.
At the French, they seemed to try to do the opposite, which is try to speed it up.  The balls have seemed generally to fly more than they have in the past.  The court is not watered as often.  Obviously conditions dictate to some extent what they do, the grounds people.
In my day they were watering the courts virtually after every set, and they don't do that now.  May go through a whole match or two or three sets.  Generally the rallies are shorter, more similar to what you see at other surfaces.
I suppose the advantage of it, what's good about it, there's a beauty to the sliding that you see more often on clay, although as I've witnessed somewhat astonishingly over the course the last 20 years, people are even sliding on hard courts.  Traditionally that was reserved for clay.  There's something beautiful about that type of movement and the ability to recover.
Obviously for a player who wants to get a little bit more time, the ball gets a little bit heavier from the clay, slows things down, so a counter‑puncher has a better shot there.
In some ways it depends what you like.¬† Fans are content to wait and see how things develop; things don't have to happen as fast.¬† Here in America, maybe more fast‑paced like the Open where people expect more aggressiveness.¬† So it's really a matter of taste in a way.
In the other major sports, like basketball, I always make the comparison that the game would be far different if they were to play on clay, as well.  They would be unable to make the type of quick moves that you see them do so easily on a wood surface.
So it's a give‑and‑take.¬† I think in some way tennis players are underappreciated because they play on three different surfaces which can be rather difficult.
It has been helped by the fact that they've seemed to be more similar than they've ever been.  The difference isn't as drastic as it's been in the past.
I think it's something that for Americans, it's a little bit harder to relate to, and it's more of a tradition in Europe.

Q.  What about your favorites on the men's and women's side?
JOHN McENROE:  I think it's pretty obvious who the favorite is.

Q.  Beyond Rafa.
JOHN McENROE:  I mean, I'm really happy for him and impressed that he's come back.  It seems like he's barely lost anything, if at all.  Right now he seems to be finally, he says, playing the best he's been playing the whole year, which is sort of frightening for the other players.
Unless something happens that's unforeseen, it would be pretty hard‑pressed to make an argument for anyone other than Djokovic to beat him.¬† It would have to be one of those swing‑for‑the‑fences type players like Soderling was that one year, and the conditions would have to be extremely heavy so his ball wouldn't have the type of jump it normally does.
Again, it's similar to Serena.  It's possible because maybe mentally he'll have a slight letdown because he's won it so many times, and maybe there will be that day where he has that off day.
He has played a lot recently, which he traditionally does because he's winning almost everything on clay before he plays.¬† It's possible he might be caught off guard in a match, but it's unlikely that someone can still beat him in a best‑of‑five.
The big hitters that presumably would try to swing for the fences would have the best shot I would think of possibly upsetting him.¬† When it gets down to the later parts of the tournament, even though guys like Berdych, Del Potro, the big hitters, it would be hard‑pressed to see them certainly going all the way and having the wherewithal to beat Rafa three sets.¬† Maybe one, possibly two, but to beat him three is unbelievably hard.

Q.  A quick question about the Knicks and Federer's 15th French Open, what you expect from him.
JOHN McENROE:  The Knicks first.  I would have thought it would have been a success had they gotten to the Heat.  I think most people felt that was going to be a tall order.  It's disappointing that they weren't able to sort of figure out a way to beat a solid, young, athletic team obviously, but not have the ability to sort of realize maybe obviously that first game, they were flat.  Turns out they couldn't step it up and win a game in Indianapolis.
I think a lot of things that people were worried about the whole season came to fruition.  It's like any sport, you have a lot of older guys, they can really do some good things, but it's hard for them to stay healthy the entire time.  It bit us in the you know what at the end.  We were sort of somewhat thin in a way.
Then you had guys that you sort of had career years, but when push comes to shove, the playoffs, like in tennis terms it would be doing well in the events leading up to the French but not doing as well in the French.  The pressure is intensified at the major events.
So guys that you weren't quite sure about, perhaps you realize that it's hard to totally depend on certain guys when it gets really tight.
All in all, I think it was a big step in the right direction.  Me personally, I was thinking they were going to beat Indianapolis, Indiana, and get to the Heat.
I think Federer, it depends to some extent.  I believe, what I read in the paper, if Rafa won, he's four.  If that's the case, that means that guys like Federer or Djokovic don't have to contend with Nadal in the quarters possibly, which could have been the case.  I'm not 100% sure of Murray's status.
So some of it did depend on the draw itself.  Roger is working harder than ever, I'm sure, physically to maintain the type of fitness level he needs to be able to go the distance at least against guys that he's better than.
I would think at some stage for anybody, even Roger, the motivation of playing in the smaller events becomes an issue.  Then if you string a couple of mediocre results it gets frustrating.  Then it's difficult for him at his age that he could go past like a Djokovic and Nadal to win something on a clay court.
I think his best bet, as I've said for years, is Wimbledon.  I would be amazed if he would be able to beat both those guys at the French.
I saw him beat Djokovic a couple years ago.  He's had incredibly solid results.  I think at this stage for him, if he got to the semis, it would be a solid result.  You never know, maybe he wouldn't have to play one of those guys.  That would be his best bet.
Djokovic, I'm not quite sure what his ankle situation is.¬† So it's a little bit up in the air.¬† That keeps things a little bit more open maybe than they've been.¬† He's still very tough to beat best‑of‑five because he's got so much overall ability that he can figure out ways to get by guys that he's more talented than.
Obviously at this point in time it's going to be catching up to them.

Q.¬† John, you were talking about Nadal a little bit, his comeback.¬† Can you talk about from a first‑person specific mentally what he's been through the last few months, coming back, being alone on the court, trying to get to his status again.¬† He's come back all the way to the top.
JOHN McENROE:¬† I was a little bit older, but I took about five, six months off for different reasons.¬† My exwife was having a baby.¬† I felt a little bit in need mentally, more than physically, though I needed a break.¬† But I'm really impressed.¬† He has a great team around him.¬† It seems like he keeps it close‑knit, doesn't make many changes.¬† He has a team that's worked for a long time.¬† He's close to his family.
I think there's people able to talk to him, his uncle, parents, to keep him on track.  Doesn't allow him to sort of even for a moment realize in certain ways what's out there.  I don't know what he does on a daily basis.  When you live in your own bubble, it could get boring.  You just sort of might get a little tired of it.
I think the fact that he seems like he's able to keep on track and get back...  Obviously, when you have an injury, you want to prove to yourself and others you can come back.  When people start doubting you can come back, it's the type of motivation that can help.
I'm very impressed he's able to come back as strong as he has.  It's like he never missed a beat, which is amazing.  When he left, we didn't know he was hurt.  I didn't see it.  I was doing the match when he lost in the second round of Wimbledon.  I didn't see an indication that his knee was as bad, that he wouldn't play for seven months.
Suddenly when he does come back, it doesn't look like his knee bothers him at all.  It's hard to believe.  I didn't understand when he left for that length of time.  Now when it comes back, it seems like as if he came back and only stayed out for a couple weeks.
It's rather remarkable in a number of ways.¬† He is the overwhelming favorite despite the fact he didn't play for seven months.¬† I didn't play for that period of time ‑ not that we necessarily compare ‑ but I never felt like I was the same player again for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with.¬† I went out with the intention of being better when I came back, and I wasn't.
He seems like he's just as good.  That's good for tennis because clearly we need Nadal because he's one of the greatest players that ever lived, no doubt about it.  You could make the argument that he is the greatest player that ever lived.

Q.¬† I know it's early in the season.¬† Seen any young up‑and‑comers that might make their mark or is it too early to tell?
JOHN McENROE:¬† I'm always looking around for those guys.¬† Obviously there was that group of four or five guys.¬† Dimitrov has finally taken a step in the right direction, I think he was certainly top‑five material.¬† I think Raonic has the ability to break easily into the top 10, top five potentially.
The other guys, it's a little bit more clear.¬† Tomic has issues with his father.¬† Certainly we want and need desperately for Americans.¬† Ryan Harrison I always felt was a solid player, top‑20 potential.¬† I didn't see that individual sort of trait that would separate him with some of these other guys.¬† There's something about some of these guys that they have that extra potential gear.
I like Jack Sock quite a bit, but I don't know exactly what's happening as far as his commitment, training.  I think at times he's made some positive steps.  But I'm clearly hopeful that someone comes along that will shake things up, particularly if he's American and sort of brings some juice back to what's going on in America, bring some more interest.  Obviously right now you're just talking about sort of the other four guys, who if anyone can possibly win a major.
I think it's pretty clear to see when you watch the sport that it appears to be more difficult than ever for a teenager, even someone in their early 20s, to break through the way Becker did, Wilander at the French, Sampras.¬† Nadal may be the last guy that as a teenager‑‑ I shouldn't really say that.
You always say it's impossible.¬† It does seem because of the physicality of the game, it's difficult to see those 18, 19, 20‑year‑olds be able to jump and win majors.
At the same time something is going to change.  I keep saying this.  In the next year or two, someone is going to make that breakthrough.  I wish I knew who it was.  I don't know yet.  I would still go with the first two I mentioned.

Q.  John, you have the luxury of working with a number of networks.  Tell me what you enjoy about working with the Tennis Channel and doing the French.
JOHN McENROE:  Well, the French brings back some great memories and some painful ones for me personally, just the playing part.  It's an incredibly beautiful city.  Sometimes I imagine my losses, particularly the one to Lendl.
Having said that, Tennis Channel is important for our sport, something that I've been happy and proud to be a part of because they've really made a push to sort of make our sport relevant and exciting, not only to the hardcore fan but more of an everyday sportsfans.
The commitment to an all‑tennis network to me is something that people should be rallying behind.¬† That's why I have been doing the French Open since they first started covering it.¬† They've been around 10 years now.¬† I think it's important for our sport that the Tennis Channel is successful.
As far as being able to have access to a lot of tennis, if you're a tennis junky, it's amazing.  You can watch events that we could never possibly see before.  You can turn it on, watch Barcelona, Rome, Madrid.  It's like being able to do your homework while watching tennis tournaments all over the world.
I think it's unbelievable there's that type of ability to do that.  For me, it's great.  Hopefully we'll be able to use that to our advantage as we move forward, 'we' the sport.

Q.  Could I get your point on Melanie Oudin.  Was her performance a few years ago a flash in the pan or do you see her being able to come back and match those results at some point?
JOHN McENROE:  I think she started to turn things around.  She had a lot of emotional things going on I believe right around that time that she had that success.  It sort of blindsided her.
Physically obviously she's a small girl.  If you look at the average height of a female player on the tour, it's about eight or nine inches taller than she is.  That makes things pretty difficult.
If you're not in incredible shape, for little people, boy or girl, you're asking for some major trouble.  What she relied on to a large degree to me, from what I saw, was foot speed, a big forehand and a lot of enthusiasm.  She seemed to lose some of that, and foot speed also.
I know my brother has been working with her for quite a while, along with some of the other USTA pros.¬† Seems like she's making some headway.¬† I don't know what people are expecting as far as how far back.¬† I think certainly she could make some more in‑roads.¬† I don't think you're going to see her winning major events or being at the end of those tournaments.¬† In my opinion, she could be a solid pro and have success.
When you're 5'3", I don't know what she is, 5'4", you're not going to get a lot of free points on your serve.  She's going to have to win it on effort, fitness, court intelligence, picking her spots, all those things that come with winning, confidence, a lot of preparation and hard work.
What I hear, she's been doing more of that recently.  I'm not that sure where she's actually at.  I think she broke back into the top 100.

Q.  What have you heard from the players about the vibe of the men's event in Atlanta being held in a downtown business complex, if you heard they liked it or didn't like it?
JOHN McENROE:  I can't answer that because I've not heard.  I know Isner played there.  I don't remember.  I believe mainly the American guys, maybe some other guys.  No one came up to me and said, It was amazing that it was like right downtown.  I'm not even sure where it took place.  I've been to Atlanta a bunch of times.
Where did it take place?

Q.  Over at Atlanta Station, on the other side of downtown, Midtown area.
JOHN McENROE:  I can't give you an answer.  No one came up to me and said, That's great.  Or, on the other side of that, they didn't say, That's bad.

Q.  I want to ask you about Maria.  She pulled out ill in Italy.  What do you think of her chances, obviously coming off a good year.
JOHN McENROE:  I'm amazed how well she's doing on clay.  It's amazing she won the French.  She's always been one of the best competitors I've ever seen on a tennis court.  It's really impressive.
As far as her pulling out, that's nothing real new.  I think she's done that in other events, other times, other years.  Her goal is to be ready for the French, I assume.  She wouldn't have pulled out if she wasn't feeling right.  That's a guess.  She has had some excellent results.
She's got plenty of matches in.  If she felt the need to sort of regroup, it's a bummer for that event.  There's no question about it.  You got to think sort of the big picture.  If you're her, you're trying to defend your title, figure out a way how she can deal with Serena and a couple of the other people.
At this time I would presume that people are going to be a little bit more ready for her on the clay.  I would think the girls would have some more motivation to try to beat her.  Now that she's won this, there's more to gain by beating her.

Q.  She's said she looks like a cow running around on clay.  She's never been comfortable on clay before.  What do you think changed?  How was she able to compensate for the movement issues?
JOHN McENROE: ¬†By controlling the point.¬† She's 6'2", 6'3".¬† She's tried to get ahead in the point.¬† If you're ahead in the point, the other person is running more than you are.¬† If it's a running contest, it's a problem.¬† If it's a hitting‑the‑ball contest, she's going to win every time.
Her goal is to take charge from the return and hopefully not get into too much trouble on her serve with the double‑faults, try to just inch a little bit ahead, then she's in the driver's seat on any surface.
I think she realized that eventually on clay, if she controlled the point, she didn't have to sort of learn how to slide the way some of the other players do, look as pretty, that she could get the job done.
I think her will is as good as anyone's, her competitiveness.  That's what was able to win it.  She could have easily not won it last year.  There's matches she could have lost there.  The fact she did it was incredible.
DOUG DROTMAN:  Eric, any final thoughts you wanted to pass along?
ERIC ABNER:  Just wanted to thank everyone for calling in.  Thank you, John.  Let's have a great French Open.
DOUG DROTMAN:  John, thank you.
JOHN McENROE:  Thank you.  Take care.

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