ESPN / Wimbledon Conference Call with Chrissie Evert, Brad Gilbert
ESPN’s Exclusive Coverage Begins Monday; All Day Every Day
(June 27, 2017) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Brad Gilbert spoke with media Tuesday, previewing Wimbledon. ESPN’s exclusive coverage – from first ball to last ball – begins Monday, July 3, with 140 hours on TV and 1,500 on ESPN3 and streaming live on the ESPN App with action from all 15 televised courts. The action will climax with the Ladies’ Championship and the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Doubles Championships on ESPN on Saturday, July 15, and the Gentlemen’s Championship on Sunday, July 16, followed by the Mixed Doubles Championship. Highlights of the call, followed by the full transcript:
On: Two-Time Champ Kvitova’s Recovery from Playing Hand Stabbing in December
- “I’m very surprised…For her to win the tournament in Birmingham was awesome. To me, she is the best grass court player that is playing at Wimbledon…she is the one that I think everybody has to look out for…If she can get through the first couple of rounds, which are always a little bit dangerous for any top player…she’s my favorite.” – Evert
On: The Really, Really Wide Open Women’s Field
- “I said that at least 30 women could win the French, and I wouldn’t even have put Ostapenko’s name on the 30 because she hadn’t won a WTA tournament. I will double down and say that 40 women — 40 women — could win Wimbledon. The field, without a doubt, is the clear favorite on the women’s side.” – Gilbert
On: The 15-Year Stranglehold “The Big Four” Have on the Gentlemen’s Championship
- “I cannot see anybody outside (The Big Four) beating three of those guys to win it…I just think that’s the most difficult thing. If there is some help in the draw, a couple guys happen to lose, there’s an opening in the draw, maybe there’s a possibility. But you’re probably in the 90 percentile minimum of one of those four guys winning.” – Gilbert
- “You got some dangerous players that could upset one of those top four. I just don’t know if they can do it consistently. It’s like a brick wall, I think, to get through those four players.” – Evert
- What you make of Petra Kvitova’s return from what happened to her in December? Are you surprised how quickly she’s been able to find a top level of play? Do you consider her a serious title contender at Wimbledon, given her past success there?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m very surprised. I’m very surprised only because when you take that much time off, you have to anticipate some rustiness. I was very surprised even with Sharapova when she came back. That was a much longer time. For her to come back, and I thought it was a wise choice for her to play the French, get that match or those matches out of the way, get the rustiness out of the way, get all the press out of the way, and sort of make the road clear for her to play on her best surface, which is grass. For her to win the tournament in Birmingham was awesome. To me, she is the best grass court player that is playing at Wimbledon. Seeing that there are not too many, if any, grass court specialists in the tournament, she is the one that I think everybody has to look out for.
If she can get through the first couple of rounds, which are always a little bit dangerous for any top player, because you don’t know the conditions of the court, your opponent might be hot. If she can get a few matches in the first week of the tournament, she’s my favorite. She’s definitely up there. So happy for her. I think that was such a scare that she went through, it’s made her just appreciate the game a lot more. She’s certainly more relaxed. You can tell by her press conferences, the way she speaks, she’s just happy to be out there. That’s just freeing her up to play her best tennis. Fortunately for her, she’s coming back at a time when she’s playing on her favorite surface, the two Grand Slams she’s won. It’s looking good for her right now.
BRAD GILBERT: In her second tournament back, I think it was a great effort. I think I read she still doesn’t have full use of a couple of her fingers on her hand. Obviously she’s made the adjustments to figuring out what she needs to do holding the racquet. I mean, two favorites I’ll put out are her and Venus. Very much like I said in the French on the conference call, I think Chrissie remembers it, I said that at least 30 women could win the French, and I wouldn’t even have put Ostapenko’s name on the 30 because she hadn’t won a WTA tournament. I will double down and say that 40 women – 40 women – could win Wimbledon. The field, without a doubt, is the clear favorite on the women’s side.
Q. What type of women’s player would be successful on today’s tour? You have someone like Ostapenko who hits the ball big, Kerber is a little more defensive. Brad said 40 women could win. What type of player do you see winning the title at Wimbledon? On the men’s side, we’ve written about Frances Tiafoe. Is he on track, based on the hype and expectation? He hasn’t broken through. What does he need to do to really get to that next level?
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll start with Frances. Frances has made really good progress athletically, movement-wise, and on challengers. He’s had zero success so far on the tour level. I believe he’s won two matches on the tour level this year. So that’s where it starts. Obviously other young players like Zverev, Khachanov, Coric, have won a lot of matches tour level. So that’s where it’s got to start for him, start winning a couple matches at tour events, a couple matches in a slam, then he can start making progress. I think he at this point is the most far along of the young Americans. Like I said, he’s only won a few tour matches this year. He’s got to have a little more success at that level. But I like the progress he’s made.
What type of player on the women’s side? Obviously in general there’s more successful players that play hard and flat. Still a lot more women play hard and flat than with a lot more spin. But I do think a lot of times it depends a little bit on the court at Wimbledon. If you have hot and warm conditions, you get a higher bounce, the courts play a little quicker. It’s a little easier to play all-around tennis and defend. If it’s cool and damp, the ball bounces a lot lower, so it’s a lot tougher to defend. I think it does depend on the surface a little bit. But in general I do think that the bolder players stand a better chance on grass than players that defend.
CHRISSIE EVERT: If the power of Ostapenko won on red clay, certainly (she has) the power has to win on grass. That’s even more magnified. Before you could have a counter-puncher winning the French Open. Nowadays, if you look at the past few years, it’s the power that’s winning the French Open, which is the slowest surface. Certainly Wimbledon, it’s that many times over that it’s got to be, to me, a power player. Pliskova, we’re not really even talking about her, but look how well she did at the French with a big serve and those big groundies, and that’s her worst surface. You got to give her a shot really with winning a lot of free points off her serve, if her serve’s on.
We talked about Venus. We talked about Kvitova. We talked about Ostapenko. They’re all power players. The one outsider that I wouldn’t count out is Halep. I feel like Halep is still sort of on the verge and on the cusp of winning a Grand Slam. Maybe that loss at the French will tilt her enough to know she can’t be passive when she’s winning. She’s got to be able to play more aggressively on the big points to close the matches. Hopefully that’s a big, big lesson. She let that match slip through her fingers because she wasn’t aggressive enough. Maybe she’ll have a second life, come back. She’s a beautiful ball-striker. She does have a big first serve when she uses it and she has confidence. She’s the only outsider I think as far as being a counter-puncher that I would think has a chance to win.
When I look at Pliskova, Venus, Petra, and Ostapenko, the jury is out. How is that French Open win going to affect her? How many times have we seen this before? A first-time Grand Slam winner, then they fizzle. Will she be able? Is she so young, sort of free and easy and aggressive, that she’s just not even going to think about it, she’s going to go on to that next level and keep hitting out with that freedom. That remains to be seen how she’s going to react from winning the French Open. But she certainly has the power. That’s my answer.
Q. Do either of you see anybody outside of the group that’s won every Wimbledon title for the past 14 years – Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray – who outside of them would you give a chance of winning the title, or will one of them win it yet again?
BRAD GILBERT: Considering all of them have won multiple times since 2003, Hewitt would be the last person outside of that to win. I think obviously a lot depends on the draw. Until we see the draw, would they bump up Roger from 5, how far they bump him up. I think realistically somebody outside of that, obviously Stan has never made it past the quarters. I would think for that to happen, you know, a couple guys have to lose. I cannot see anybody outside beating three of those guys to win it. Somebody having an amazing run, beating three of those guys. Let’s say Cilic has to beat three guys. Somebody ranked 15. I just think that’s the most difficult thing. If there is some help in the draw, a couple guys happen to lose, there’s an opening in the draw, maybe there’s a possibility. But you’re probably in the 90 percentile minimum of one of those four guys winning.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I agree. I think there’s, like, a 90% chance to me one of those four guys will win. My outside danger players would be Stan. He has Paul Annacone now in his corner. It’s not a lot of time to sort of tweak your game that much. But Stan’s got to be more aggressive. If he gets into an aggressive frame of mind, there’s a possibility. He’s an outsider. Kyrgios is always dangerous, but mentally I don’t know if he can put together a lot of wins in a row yet, seven. Raonic is a question mark. Zverev. I mean, you got some dangerous players that could upset one of those top four. I just don’t know if they can do it consistently. It’s like a brick wall, I think, to get through those four players.
BRAD GILBERT: You talked about Zverev there. To me the potential is there. I need to see his draw first. The big thing is, you know, he’s never made a quarters yet of a slam. Physically and mentally, until you’ve put yourself in the position to be able to win a slam, it’s hard to just say, Oh, okay, that’s going to happen. I probably didn’t see him winning his first 1000 like he did. But on the men’s side, it’s not like the women’s side. You have Serena who massively changes things if she’s in the draw. The men’s side is a lot thinner to the outside winning these things. Look at the percentage over the last 13, 14 years of outside guys to win a slam.
Q. What did you see at the French regarding Djokovic? Do you think the addition of Andre has changed anything for him? Roger coming in after the big break, focusing on grass. Do you see him as the favorite or a favorite?
BRAD GILBERT: I mean, Djokovic obviously had a disappointing French Open, losing the way he did in the quarters to Thiem. He had never lost to him. That was a disappointing ending to it. I expect that he’ll play better on the grass. He took a wild card this week in Eastbourne. Unfortunately having some weather issues. I think Andre will help him a lot. I spoke to Andre. He will be there for the whole duration of the tournament. He had some commitments, he was not able to stay for the rest of the French, had to leave early. So he will be there.
The biggest thing about tennis, when you win all the matches, you start to win a lot of them in the locker room, you start to get the lead. All of a sudden after six or seven years of invincibility, you have a little dropoff, all of a sudden guys to have a little different belief going out on the court. Djokovic has got to get back to that place where he was before. The only way you can do that is winning matches. I think at 30, the hourglass has clicked away. I expect him to make a comeback.
Then Federer, at 35, almost 36, if you had to tell me who the favorite is, you know, without seeing the draw, I would say him. The fact he’s in this position where he’s at, only lost twice this year, seems to know how to listen to himself with rest and peaking at the right times. I think it all looks good at the moment for Roger.
CHRISSIE EVERT: The Djokovic situation is hard to really predict what’s going to happen. I mean, everyone speculates. We don’t know what’s going on in his life, with him emotionally, as far as mentally is he distracted with his focus, physically. Everybody’s speculating. The truth of the matter is only he knows and only he knows where he is in his tennis and how much he wants it. I admire him. He’s trying so hard to get it back, to get his mojo back. You can sense he’s trying so hard. But it’s been a struggle for him because life has intervened with his robotic-like focus. That’s what he’s been known for, is just to have that tunnel vision. Life has intervened right now. Only he knows. Only he knows where he’s at. I always believed once a champion, always a champion. I think he’ll get it back eventually.
As far as Federer, the thing is that once you get to his age, he’s still in the game because, number one, he’s never really taken his losses that badly, he’s let them roll off his back. Number two, he hasn’t trained like, say, Rafa. He’s trained in a different way according to his style. I think right now all he needs is really to stay in great shape and to be fresh. He doesn’t need to play a ton of matches.
What’s happened the last 15 years does affect you in the present today. That’s just like Serena. Serena and Rog are really in the same boat in that respect. They don’t need to play week in, week out. They just need to be fresh and to be fit.
Q. Rafa looked about as good as he ever has winning the French. This will be his first Wimbledon in two years. What do you see for him? And Andy Murray, after the early loss at Queen’s, he had a great Roland Garros, but also had early losses in Madrid and Rome, what needs to go right for him to sort of get it back?
BRAD GILBERT: For Rafa, I mean, the last few years, I saw him play last year, the biggest thing is getting through the first week. You’re right, I’ve never seen him look better personally than at the French and this entire clay court season. I think his serve is as good as it looked, the forehand back to being devastating. I said it in December, I’ll say it again. I think the best thing that happened to him was bringing Carlos Moya onboard. I think that’s totally reinvigorated him, given him a different perspective. He looked a lot happier on the court.
The way he plays, he won’t have any matches coming in on the grass. It’s all about getting through the first week. If he can get through that first week, then I think he can get a lot of confidence going into the second week. I think his game plays a lot better when the conditions are warmer and the ball bounces higher for him. I think his game is more effective. I think the way he’s serving should bode well for his game. Like I said, it’s all about getting through that first week to put yourself in position for the second week.
Murray, it’s definitely been a confusing year. Obviously, you know, didn’t realize obviously what the physical toll took on him last year, having to deal some this year with shingles. More than anything, like I said about Djokovic, what’s happened to Federer three, four years ago, he’s got it back now: you start to lose a little bit, guys start to come on the court with different belief. I think game-wise, you know, he struggled a little bit on offense and defense. Does he want to play more defense, or most of? I do think that grass, without a doubt, is his best surface. He still moves brilliantly on this surface. He can defend and return as well as anybody. He didn’t have any real run or results coming into the French, and he got to the semis. I still think on this surface, he could easily make a deep run because of how comfortable he is on this surface. But guys are playing with renewed confidence now against him.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think with Rafa, the big difference is the confidence. He’s stepping in, moving in. When he wasn’t confident, he was six to ten feet behind the baseline on every surface, just counterpunching, just retrieving. He’s so confident now, I think that is reflected in the way he’s playing, coming into the baseline. He’s coming to the net a lot more, even on the clay. It was as natural as anything for him to hit a ball, come in, volley away a winner. We haven’t seen that in Rafa. That to me shows confidence, when a baseliner starts coming in, in a free way, looks so natural up there. As Brad said also, the serve. But he’s moving in, he’s volleying. He’s a lot more confident. He’s going to be really psyched, I think, to play at Wimbledon. If it’s a good grass court, if it’s playing like a good grass court does, I think he’s going to feel very comfortable.
Murray, you know, Andy had a setback at Queen’s. I think he would have liked to have had a few matches under his belt. And I agree with Brad. Don’t mean to be repetitious. But last year, 2016, took so much out of him. It was a rigorous and demanding year. He came up No. 1 in the world, played more tournaments than he had recently. I just think it’s still taking its toll a little bit on him. If he’s going to resurrect his A game anywhere it’s going to be at Wimbledon in front of his crowd. But he’s got to be in an aggressive mode. He’s got to feel that that first strike of the ball is his.
Q. The state of No. 1 right now in both the men’s and women’s game. As much as we talked about everybody being more aggressive and hitting the ball hard, you may have two very defensive players at the top. What do you think about that? And Coco Vandeweghe. I look at her as having everything it takes to win Wimbledon. She just fired her coach, everything is changing. What do you think the state of her career is because she’s not a kid anymore.
CHRISSIE EVERT: First of all, she didn’t fire her coach. Don’t say that.
Q. She parted ways with her coach.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think he left her, let’s put it that way. Just wanted to get the facts right.
I think at the top of the game, it’s very chaotic right now. I think there’s a lot of fragility. I think the players that have been at the top have not lived up to their billing. That’s a constructive criticism. I feel terrible saying that, but everyone who’s reached No. 1, they haven’t carried on the momentum, and they haven’t stepped up and really embraced that position of leadership on and off the court. So in saying that, you know, you really can’t count on any one player right now like you could count on Serena in the past. But I also, in defense of that, say there’s a lot of depth. That is obvious. More depth than I’ve ever seen. You can look at the top 20, 30 players, like Brad said, to win a major. That’s a lot of depth. To me it’s a big transition time now in the women’s game. We have to think that’s kind of exciting in a sense. Not one player is dominating, but on the other hand it’s time for these players to come through. Who is going to be the next one that we’re going to get really excited about who is going to come along.
About Coco, oh boy. Coco was very impressive last year. Wasn’t it last year she had a good Wimbledon? She’s shown she can play on the grass. I think with Craig Kardon, I loved his temperament for her. I loved that he had coached Martina and some other top players. He had that experience of knowing how to deal with an aggressive player, maybe a little high strung. He was a very calming, I think, influence on Coco. I think he will be missed. I think he was a great addition to her team. It’s hard to tell where Coco is now. She’s like a yo-yo. She’s been so up and down. She will play a great match. You think, She can really win, win Wimbledon. Then she’ll play a match you think she could lose first round. I think she’s up and down. The fact that Craig, she’s changing the team now, Craig is no longer with her, you kind of wonder if that might have an effect on her tennis and on the stability of her game right now. But certainly a very dangerous player, especially on the grass. You’d have to say she and even Madison Keys, no one has talked about Madison, because she unfortunately has been injured, but she and Madison to me are the two dark horses that could do some damage at this year’s Wimbledon.
BRAD GILBERT: On the first question, you were asking about at the top of the game in the men’s and women’s?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Kerber and Murray when they were No. 1, is that what you meant, defensive?
BRAD GILBERT: First on the women’s side, I mean, right now look at the race, from Halep to Svitolina, Pliskova. Obviously there’s two slams left. There’s a lot that can happen. I have no clue on who is going to take the mantle to being No. 1. The one that surprised me the most was Muguruza. I thought after she won the French last year she would step up and be a solid top-three player. She’s completely fallen off the rails. I never expected Kerber to have the year she had in the history of the world last year. All of a sudden she had an outrageous 2016, she’ll have at least half as good in 2017. Now she’s nowhere to be found. The women’s game right now with Serena out, there’s opportunity for a lot of them. It’s how you manage that opportunity, how you manage yourself week in and week out with the opportunity.
With Coco, her biggest problem by far, I’ll just use one word, consistency. She has no consistency in her game. She played great in Australia, gets to the semis. Coming into Australia, last year, she went from the grass to the end of the year winning one or two matches, then struggled after that. She struggles to put together week in and week out, like, two, three quarters in a row, two, three semis, consistent results. Obviously for her and her team, it’s for them to figure out why she can’t get consistent results. She has a big serve, big game, moves well. You feel like it’s all there ready for her to make a run to the top 10, especially after Australia, but for some reason that first round is an Achilles for her a lot. I feel like she should be ranked higher. I can’t give you the reason why she’s not more consistent week in and week out.
In the men’s game, obviously at this point, unless something massively changes, it’s a two-horse race for 1, with Rafa having the biggest lead over Fed. Those two are incredible all-arounders, who are not defensive minded, they are amazingly offensive minded. The biggest misconception about Rafa in the history of the world…He has never been a defensive player. He is an offensive machine who is willing to play defense. But the basis of his game is relentless offense. Even if he’s eight feed behind the baseline, he is relentless on offense, but willing to play defense. Unbelievable all-arounder. On the men’s side, it’s a two-horse race unless something dramatically changes at Wimbledon.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I just want to throw in one thing about Coco. I think fitness is crucial for her. I think her fitness level determines where she wins or loses matches. Brad, when you said you don’t know why she’s not more consistent. I think, listen, this is a woman who relies on power. She relies on hitting winners. She does not want to run down balls. If she’s one second slow, the margin for error is huge. She’s going to make more errors. She’s going to try to go for winners when she’s out of position. I think the women nowadays are hitting with such placement and pinpoint accuracy, opening up the court so well with movement, that is one area that Coco has really worked on, by the way, in the last few years and has gotten so much fitter. But, again, she doesn’t want to run down balls. The beauty of a player like Halep who can run down balls is she’s a more consistent player, she plays the percentages, she can wait for the right shot to go for a winner. Coco, very often, if she can’t get to a ball, she’s going to take more risks. That’s why she’s not as consistent as she could be. I tried to say that with some grace there. But you get it, though.
Q. Chrissie, how good can CiCi Bellis be? Brad, considering he was in the final last year, he lost in the first round of Queen’s, I’m shocked at how little Milos is mentioned as a possible winner this year.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I mentioned him. I mentioned him as a danger out of the top four.
Q. I did notice that. But everybody else, it’s unbelievable.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I mean, let’s go to CiCi first. I don’t know what she was ranked this time last year, but she’s made a jump in the rankings. Very impressive wins she’s had in the last few months. Especially on the grass. I think CiCi could be a solid top-20 player. I think she’s still developing her game, so it’s hard to tell. The limitations she has height-wise she makes up for, as best as she can, with her —
BRAD GILBERT: I’m looking at her bio. She’s ranked 40. She’s listing herself at 5’7″. Do you think that’s an incredibly generous 5’7″?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’m 5’6″. When I stand up next to her, she might be 5’6″, 5’6″ and a half. But let’s not talk about the height and weight of the women, you know, because they’re not always accurate.
I just want to finish saying that what she lacks maybe in height she does maybe make up for in her movement. She’s getting more power on the ball. Her serve was always her weakest point. I think they’re really working on getting some more speed on that serve. I love her hunger. She’s hungry. You talk about the top players, you know, who is going to make the difference? We talk about the fitness, talk about power. But who is hungrier? Who really wants to be No. 1? That I think CiCi Bellis has that ability to want a match so badly. She has very, you know, very few highs and lows. She’s always concentrating, focused, doesn’t get down on herself, has a good competitive attitude. I see her as a solid top 20 I think in the next year.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll say CiCi, I’m rooting for her, she’s a Bay Area native. Let’s start with top-10 potential. I think one thing on the lady’s side that’s a rarity, she has a much better forehand. Usually it’s the backhand. She moves tremendously well, plays with a lot of guile. Serve by far is the weakest part of her game. I think she’s a great competitor. She’d be in my 40 that’s got a shot to win the tournament, I’ll say that. But let’s start with top 10. When she gets there, we can reevaluate.
On Milos, he had an amazing 2016, finished the year 3 in the world. The last match of 2016, maybe the best match I’ve ever seen Milos play and compete in, three and a half hours against Murray. 2017, if you want to say one word that comes to mind for Milos, an unfortunate word, is injury. He can’t stay healthy. He’s had numerous different injuries. He’s a big guy, 6’5″, 218 pounds. That’s the thing unfortunately that you’re thinking about more than can he make a deep run, is can he stay healthy. But I think if he can stay healthy, he just parted ways with Krajicek, so he’s had a few different changes of coaches in the last year. But I think now, you got to see where he lands in the draw. Will come into this Wimbledon with a little different mindset than last year where he got to the finals of Queen’s, had a great run, had McEnroe on his team. This year comes in losing first round, how will his mindset be? I need to see his draw. He would be in the second group of guys that could make a deep run. But I don’t have as much, you know, belief where he’s at this year to where he was last year. I still think that I can see him making the quarters, but I’ve got to see his draw first.
Q. If you could step back and change one thing in our sport, what would that be? Why the heck do you think the big five players had that dominance that’s pretty incredible, and the others can’t break through?
BRAD GILBERT: I could change about 50 things, but let’s start with getting a shot clock on the court so that everybody knows exactly how long it takes in between points. Boom, we can see it. On red clay, we don’t have Shot Spot there. I can’t stand seeing umpires check marks. A lot of times they check the marks wrong. I want to see Shot Spot on clay.
If I’m commissioner for the day, you cannot catch your ball toss. You throw your ball toss up, I’ll give you one Mulligan to get in the match, that’s it. You cannot catch your toss 30 times in the match because of something you did to yourself. I see that far too often. One thing that drives me crazy.
The great thing about men’s tennis, women’s tennis, and sports in general now, is that it used to be you turned 30, you were on the other side of your career, you were on the downside. Now, I’m really starting to believe age is just a number. Look at Ronaldo at 32. The best soccer player in the world. Tom Brady playing football at a level where he’s going to be 40 soon, he’s the best quarterback ever. Look at his age. Roger is almost 36. Guys are starting to believe, and athletes, that you can do things longer, you can continue to improve. I think actually mentally maybe they’re more relaxed. Maybe they’re more easygoing about how this whole journey and process goes. I think it’s a lot tougher now for younger players. When you used to see so many younger players break in at 17, 18, do amazing things, I think it’s harder now to do these things physically at a younger age. I think that’s lent itself to the success of older players doing well. I think it all starts back, to me, to 2005, Andre getting to the finals of US Open at 35. I think it immediately changed how guys view things. Wow, Andre could make the finals at 35 after being on the tour for 20 years? I really think that probably changed Roger a lot, too, because he played him. I do think that’s changed.
The season doesn’t stop. As soon as the season stops, you’re training, from diet to full teams, everybody is doing what they can to push the envelope. It’s amazing to see.
CHRISSIE EVERT: If I may add one thing to what Brad said about now players are playing longer and longer, well into their 30s. I love that because I think it takes the emphasis and the pressure off of junior tennis. There’s not a rush. Okay, you don’t have to win the 14 Nationals or 16 Nationals. These agents are coming to junior tournaments. There’s so much pressure, like Brad said, to be looked at as a potential pro when you’re 15, 16. Are you going to make it? Who cares? Just develop your game, make it more fun. I think right now everyone is looking towards, again, middle 20s to middle 30s as the peaking time. I think that will take the pressure off being a great junior player, just training too hard, having too much pressure.
What about the bathroom breaks, Brad? In my 18 years of playing, I don’t ever remember leaving the court to go to the bathroom.
BRAD GILBERT: I never left once ever. They basically didn’t allow you to do it.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I never left once. A woman could leave for a specific reason, but I never left once. When I see a Venus or a Konta leave for 10 minutes, I’m like, What are they doing? How unfair is that for the player that’s waiting? We talked about it for two years, the WTA and the ATP. Everyone says, We’re going to make that change. Nothing’s changed. That’s my two cents worth.
Q. Chrissie, you talked about Petra, after she was stabbed, comes back, has this appreciation, gratitude for the game. If you could step back and look at the big picture, having such a great lifetime in this sport, try and capture your appreciation or what you loved the most, are most grateful for in this sport.
CHRISSIE EVERT: What I was more grateful for, my appreciation? You know, I think I appreciate the fact that I came up in the ’70s when it was all starting. The whole attitude of equality and of women versus the men, the unfairness that we were experiencing. I feel so lucky that I came right after Billie Jean King. I saw her with my own eyes, what she did, and how she promoted the game, how she fought for women’s rights. For me, the camaraderie of the ’70s with Billie Jean and Rosie and Virginia Wade and Martina. Still to this day, they are my greatest friends. I think it’s the camaraderie. I think it’s the people I met.
Life just opened up in the ’70s for women tennis players. We got to travel the world. We got to play tennis for money. We earned a great living. We got to compete and be respected. I mean, women athletes at that time were just starting to be respected and looked up to. I appreciate it.
I appreciate the opportunities my father gave me, because he started me. At six years old I never would have looked at a tennis court and said, That’s what I want to do. I probably would have been a school teacher. Not that that’s bad. I probably would have decided on another job. So I appreciate him guiding or pushing me into a sport that I eventually fell in love with.
Q. I’d like your opinion on John McEnroe’s verdict on Serena? Would she be hypothetically ranked 700? McEnroe this morning suggested that men and women play together. What is your opinion on that, as well?
CHRISSIE EVERT: My answer is short, so I’m going to go first. I feel like it’s irrelevant. I feel like we’ve been through this story before with Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. They were questioned, too, where would they be in the men’s ranking. I feel like it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything. I also feel if, and I hate to say it, but if Serena Williams played the No. 200 male player, she might beat him. If she played the No. 500 man, she might lose to him. It depends on their styles, how the games match up. So that’s my answer. My first answer is, who cares, it’s irrelevant, we’ve been through it before.
BRAD GILBERT: Good word choice, Chrissie. First of all, I don’t know what the context of why he said it, why he double downed on it. I will tell you (Serena) is the greatest female athlete in any sport ever, and maybe Steffi Graf is the second best athlete. Let’s say a 130-pound boxer might be the best ever. You don’t ask if he could beat, like, a heavyweight. He might be a better boxer than the heavyweight, but obviously he wouldn’t beat him. It’s totally ridiculous to ask or think about it. They don’t compete against each other. I thought Serena had a 6-1, 6-1 beat down on her tweet to John. I thought it was tremendous. I thought that said everything, and nothing else needs to be said after what she said on Twitter. It was perfect.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I have to put Martina Navratilova in this group, too. She could have been an Olympic skier. She could have been an Olympic ice hockey player. She could have been an Olympic basketball player. She’s tremendous in every sport. Along with Steffi, I would have to put her. You have to put her in that group, too.
Q. Regarding Jo Konta, would you name her amongst the possible winners? Also, it’s 40 years since we’ve had a female winner at Wimbledon, Virginia Wade, your particular memories of that.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yes, I would count her in as a potential winner, absolutely. I didn’t even talk about Muguruza. Muguruza would have to be dangerous, as well as Jo Konta. I all depends on Jo Konta’s nerves, how she’s going to play. I think she’s a good grass court player. Her weapons are her serve and her forehand. She’s very good at moving forward, coming into the net. She has a good volley. There is no reason why she can’t be a top contender. It’s going to come down to her nerves, if she believes it, how she handles the pressure of playing in front of Brits.
Q. Touch on 1977, as well.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, I certainly don’t have fond memories of my match with Virginia, to tell you the truth (laughter). That wasn’t one of my finer moments. I kind of let the crowd get to me. At the same time over the years I was really happy that she ended up winning that year. I think it changed her life. It just put a stamp on her career. She was a Wimbledon champion. I think that carries on throughout your whole life. It’s such a wonderful privilege. Any time a Brit wins, I mean, I was happy that she won Wimbledon after she beat me in the semis, let’s put it that way. I said, She better win after she beat me. Also thrilled when Andy Murray won. There’s just something so special about a player winning their own country’s championships. I think if anybody can do it, the way they’ve been playing on the women’s side, it’s Jo Konta, for sure. Boy, she’s just going to have to show us some guts, but she can do it, yes.
BRAD GILBERT: I’ll put Jo Konta in my 40 that can win it. I think it all starts, she never made it past the first week at Wimbledon. I would think clay is her weakest surface, and by far her best surface is hard courts. She’s never done well at Wimbledon. For her, it’s two tournaments. The first tournament is to get through the first week, manage yourself and get through the first week, put yourself in position to where things can happen. Without seeing the draw, I expect, just like at the French, a lot of the slams now for the women, I expect half the seeds to be blown up before the first week. It’s the way these tournaments have gone. Since Indian Wells, every single tournament, there’s been a different winner every week.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s unbelievable.
BRAD GILBERT: Every single week since Indian Wells there’s been a different winner. I just think for Jo Konta, and obviously a lot of expectations and pressure, the one thing that you can control more than anything is what happens on the tennis court. Get through that first week and put yourself in position.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah.
BRAD GILBERT: If you see the way she plays, moves well, got a good serve, hits the ball big. She kind of plays like Azarenka a bit. I think her game should translate well to grass. But you have to make the result. They don’t give you the result.
My memory of ’77, I think I was 16 years old. I remember her winning it. I remember the whole Our Ginny thing. I was only 16. I think it was probably more in the headlines here in California, Can you believe that Chrissie lost?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I couldn’t believe it!
Listen, I got to say one thing about Jo. The good news is she’s been in big-match situations and come through. She’s beaten some big names. She’s done well. She deserves to be listed. Is she 7 or 8? What is her ranking?
Q. It’s 8, I think.
CHRISSIE EVERT: So she’s in the circle of champions, okay? I would love to see her be so inspired out there on the grass in front of her people, playing her game the way she knows how to play. She knows how to play aggressive tennis. She knows how to do that. She knows how to play bold. She’s good with the first strike of the ball. She knows how to volley. Everything’s there. All the parts are there. It’s going to be up to her. It’s going to be in her head. How is she going to view this experience, negatively or positively?