Anyone familiar with tennis legend John McEnroe knows that he is not afraid to speak his mind. And even though he has been retired as a professional tennis player for several years, the sport is still a big part of his life, since he has been a lending his talents as a tennis expert on TV. For the 2011 U.S. Open Tennis Championships (held in New York Cty), McEnroe will once again be a CBS Sports analyst for the event.
CBS will televise the event in the U.S. from September 3 to September 5 and September 9 to September 11. The Tennis Channel and ESPN2 will have U.S. telecasts from August 29 to September 11. There will also be a 3-D telecast, in association with Panasonic, on DirecTV’s n/3D channel and on Comcast’s Xfinity 3D channel. There will also be a 3-D webcast at the official U.S. Open website (www.usopen.org). During an August 25 telephone conference call with journalists, McEnroe sounded off on 3-D technology for tennis games and what he thinks about some of the players (the champs and up-and-comers) in today’s professional tennis.
Do you think there’s any value added to showing tennis in 3-D?
I only saw it once at the French [Open], and it was a little difficult to see how much of an advantage it would be. I’d certainly like another look at it, but I didn’t get as much of a kick out of it as much as the high-definition when I saw it for the first time. It really felt like you got a better look at the ball. I’m not sure where they are with 3-D, but it’s certainly worth a try. The one time I saw it, the crowd looked very close, but I didn’t feel like it necessarily helped the tennis as much as I thought.
What did you think of Rafael Nadal losing to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2011?
What surprised me was that Nadal didn’t seem to know what to do against Novak … I do think if he had won that first set at Wimbledon, he would’ve pulled that match out in five. I felt like that the longer the match went, the better chance that he would have a better chance of rising to the occasion. He just served off an edge at the wrong time and he did look like Novak had gotten into his head, like Rafael had gotten into Roger [Federer’s] head, that had taken place right at that four set.
What do you think Rafael Nadal’s strategy will be in Wimbledon 2012?
I think [Rafael Nadal] will try to figure out ways next time. He thought he was going to win that Wimbledon title, even though he lost four times [before]. I think it was shocking to him when he didn’t win it …
But of course you want to pay respect to the rest of the players in the field. So if you admit that you’re thinking of ways to beat Djokovic, you’re sort of dismissing the other players. He’s too humble, I think, to say that in front of the other players.
Novak Djokovic is having an incredible season in 2011. How do you think it ranks in the history of tennis?
I don’t know how far back we could go. I can’t go further back myself with recollection, but he won two [Grand] Slams, so obviously, you have to compare it to 1962, when Rod Laver lost two matches, and in ’62 and ’69 won the Grand Slams, so obviously everything’s measured when you win all the big ones.
But certainly, the fact is that there is more depth in the game than ever. The game has become more physical. They switched. The year I had my best year, in Australia, was at the end of the year. So the fact that he started out winning one of the majors before the top players played — unlike in my day, when they’d spread us out a little bit to increase the popularity of the sport, so it wasn’t as often that that the top three or four guys would be playing at the same event — certainly, if he’s able to run the table here [at the U.S. Open], it would be probably be the greatest year ever.
Were you surprised by Serena Williams coming back so strong after she took nearly a year off from tennis?
I’m not surprised by Serena’s comeback. I was surprised she was out of [tennis] for as long as she was, but I’m thankful that she has come back. To me, a year ago at Wimbledon, she was on her way to becoming the best female player ever.
I think she’s won 13 Slams, and I think she’s in reach of [Martina] Navratilova or [Steffi] Graf. So it would be a shame if she didn’t stay healthy enough for a couple of years and really just let it go. I think certainly, she’s got some majors inside her.
What do you think of Caroline Wozniacki?
Wozniacki is an example of someone who played too much and stretched herself too thin, particularly before big events. And now suddenly, the pressure of becoming No. 1, and everyone mentioning to her every week that she was one of the only No. 1s who’d never won a Slam started putting more and more pressure on her — and she didn’t deserve it.
She’s starting to feel that. It’s gotten to her, obviously. Maybe her father can go start being just a father and not turn everything to her, including her coach, and perhaps that will help her. But she plays the game as sort of a counter-puncher. She doesn’t have the firepower that some of the other top players have.
How big of a gap do you think exists between the top three men in tennis and Mardy Fish?
I think there’s a pretty big gap, but Mardy plays great tennis. The problem with anyone in the Top 4, and I would put [Andy] Murray into that, is that you have to beat three of the four guys — and that is really a tall order. In a way, Mardy, in his section, and Sean [Thornley] is a guy who could be dangerous and unpredictable.
It’s not an easy 16 when you get to [Roger] Federer. That almost would have to be where perhaps he would have to beat all three. I’m not sure there’s anyone in the field, whether it’s [Juan Martin] del Potro and Mardy, would be the guys who would have the best chance of beating three of the four. Mardy’s never been past the quarters of any major.
When push comes to shove, he’s built up a lot of confidence. And a lot of that hard work has paid off, obviously, because he’s had a career. I think he was No. 7 for a week or two, but he’s No. 8 in the world. I’m sure there was a lot of people — perhaps even Mardy himself — who even wondered if he would get to that point.
So in a way, I hope he views it as an opportunity instead of feeling too much pressure to be “the guy.” He’s never been “the guy.” There’s always been someone ranked higher than him, and he’s been in all the Grand Slam finals. So this is completely new territory for Mardy. To secure a real place in discussion with American players, he’s got to make a big run.
Stress can do bad things. Stress can take you, so it’ll be interesting to see what he’s going to be like. He’s got the best shot of how he deals with it.
Where do you see Ryan Harrison? Do you see him as a threat to any of the top players in the U.S. Open?
I think he’s made some good progress. I don’t think he’s ready to take a giant step forward to come out of the box and get deep into the second week. He’ll be a challenge in the first round … but that’s not an easy match. I think he’s got to find his own identity.
He’s a good kid. He works hard. He seems to be groomed for this type of situation to become a professional player, but he doesn’t quite have his own signature style or mojo. That doesn’t mean he won’t reach the Top 20. I think he will, and maybe even a little higher, but in order to move past that, he’s got to find something that’s uniquely him. And I think he’s still searching for that.
Should the U.S. Open have done anything about Serena Williams’ seating or did they do the right thing?
For me personally, I would’ve put her in the Top 8, without a doubt. I think it’s absurd. Maybe “absurd” is too strong a word. I don’t know why they didn’t do it. It’s not as if she hadn’t played a single match. She played one or two matches before Wimbledon, but she asserted herself and won a couple of events.
And clearly, she’s playing as one of the top players in the world. And I think it did a disservice as a ranker to have to play her in the third round, after the effort you put forth to get a No. 4 seed, and then to look up in the draw and see that you’ve got Serena in the third round. I think in the tournament, any female player who was playing an event with her would not have complained one bit if she was in the Top 8, minimum.
John, you said in 2010 that Andy Roddick has a puncher’s chance of winning a Grand Slam. Do you still feel that way?
Andy’s draw is about as good as he could’ve hoped for. Certainly, he’s like a puncher’s chance of someone who hasn’t even been fighting. So that makes it even less of a chance because he’s not even sure himself if that punch that he had will knock someone out. In a boxing analogy, he’s at that point now — I don’t know what his health situation is exactly — but assuming he’s healthy, he doesn’t have the confidence …
He would’ve liked to have come in with some more matches under his belt. That’s why he’s playing this week. So perhaps of he had won the tournament in Winston-Salem, that would give him some sort of a boost that he could make some sort of a move. And how hard was he able to work out this summer? Because clearly the game is more physical than ever.
When you start playing guys that are “match tough” and are fit, how can he last? That’s not going to serve him. He hasn’t demonstrated the confidence to step closer in, at least when he did in the past when that was a weapon. I think he’s got a chance of beating a lot of people in the draw. He’s got a chance to make a run. He couldn’t have gotten a whole lot better than what he’s gotten.
Rafael Nadal is not very talkative in interviews. Are you surprised that he came out with a memoir (“Rafa”)?
Did he tell all? I haven’t read it. I would be surprised if he talked a whole lot about anything. I know what distracted him and upset him was his parents’ breakup. I don’t know to what extent he talked about that and the things he chooses to keep private. I’d be surprised if he revealed a whole lot. To me, this is a nice thing for him that he would do for the American public to know him a little better
Do you think the code of conduct is too restrictive in how tennis players express themselves during matches? What did you think about Andy Roddick’s history of losing his temper on the court?
This is a set up, right? I think you know my answer. It goes without saying … Well, I’ll answer that very briefly. Everyone wants to see emotion, I believe. I don’t think there’s a person, a fan out there who doesn’t want to see that, to see the players give their ultimate effort and feel what it means for that person to be out there on the court and how lucky they are and how much they want it. That’s what makes the sport to great. As they used to say in “The Wide World of Sports”: “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
And the Roddick one: that’s where things get tight. That was a tight call. I was watching the match, and obviously he was upset, and he rolled the dice that the guy wouldn’t call it. They gave the other guy the break in the third set. I believe he was already down a break; that made it a double break. Clearly, if it wasn’t a break, it was a big time to do it.
But he was sort of, “Well, that’s what happens.” I can tell you from experience, when you push the envelope … you’re taking that chance. I think ultimately he realized in that case, that wasn’t an easy black-and-white [decision]. That’s where it gets to a gray area. But I think what we all want is the best to decide who played better, not the umpire getting in the way.
Roger Federer turned 30 years old in 2011. Andre Agassi in 2003 (when he won the Australian Open) was the last person to win a men’s singles Grand Slam title in his 30s. And Pete Sampras in 2002 was the last one in his 30s to win the men’s singles at the U.S. Open. Do you think Roger Federer will have a year without a Grand Slam title or do you think he still has a chance to win one in 2011?
I think he’ll win another one. I don’t necessarily think it’ll be [the 2011 U.S. Open]. I think he will go a year without winning. Could he do it? Of course. Anyone that great can win. To me, he just might still win another major …
I think at Wimbledon he’s still going to be a major threat in a couple of years. In the right set of circumstances, he could absolutely win another major. There’s no doubt about it. It’s getting increasingly difficult as you get older to be able to rebound, particularly here at [the U.S. Open], where the semis are played. [These days], you’ve got to play back-to-back — and that clearly favors younger players where their bodies recuperate more quickly.
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