McEnroe Analyzes Masters Cup
McEnroe Analyzes Masters Cup
McEnroe, Drysdale,Carillo By Richard Pagliaro
The Tennis Masters Cup's $3.7 million prize purse makes it one of the most lucrative tournaments on the ATP Tour, but ESPN2 analyst Patrick McEnroe believes the currency carried on court by top-ranked Roger Federer may be even more valuable in determining who cashes the champion's check at the conclusion of the season-ending championships.
Federer delivers a reality check that puts many opponents in deep psychological debt to the nine-time Grand Slam champion before he even strikes a shot and Federer's ability to reel off winners faster than an ATM machine spits out $20 bills makes him the favorite to regain the Tennis Masters Cup crown he held in 2004-2005.
"I think (opponents) go in facing the reality, which is the guy has been utterly dominant for three years and clearly the guy is up a break before he comes out of the locker room against most players and the guy he doesn't have that edge against is Nadal and even at Wimbledon Nadal got down after that first set and still fought back," McEnroe told Tennis Week. "Yes, I think Federer has the intimidation factor, but I think he's earned it. But guys know if they can't throw something very different at Federer at times, then there's the feeling that they have to play the perfect match against him. I think you have to go in saying "I have to play a great match and I have to hope that Roger is a little bit off" and if you get a break point or 30-all point then you've got to step in and take your best shot and just go for it."
The Tennis Masters Cup starts in style on Sunday in Shanghai as Federer faces defending champion David Nalbandian in a rematch of the 2005 final, which Nalbandian won 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3).
ESPN2 is planning 29 total hours of coverage from Shanghai, starting on Sunday, November 12 at 11 p.m. Eastern time. Monday, November 13 through Friday, November 17, ESPN2 will offer live daily coverage from 6-8 a.m. and again 3-5 p.m. on tape delay.
ESPN2 Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai
Sunday, November 12: 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Monday, November 13: 6–8 a.m. round robin play (live); 3-5 p.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Tuesday, November 14: 6–8 a.m. round robin play (live); 3-5 p.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Wednesday, November 15: 6–8 a.m. round robin play (live); 3-5 p.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Thursday, November 16: 6–8 a.m. round robin play (live); 3-5 p.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Friday, November 17: 6–8 a.m. round robin play (live); 3-5 p.m. round robin play (tape delay)
Saturday, November 18: 10 p.m. –2 a.m. semifinals (tape delay)
Sunday, November 19: 12:30–3:30 p.m. (tape delay)
McEnroe, who became a first-time father in April when wife Melissa Errico gave birth to the couple's daughter, flies to Shanghai today, the day after his long-time ESPN2 broadcast partner Cliff Drysdale departed.
Tennis Week caught up with the U.S. Davis Cup captain on Wednesday afternoon shortly after his daughter's afternoon feeding and before he settled in to watch former ESPN2 colleague Martina Hingis take the court against Nadia Petrova in Madrid. In this interview, McEnroe dissects the Shanghai draw, discusses the need to revise the Davis Cup format and offers his view of the current state of tennis on television.
Tennis Week: The Federer-Nalbandian match that opens the Tennis Masters Cup on Sunday is a rematch of the 2005 final. The Red Group featuring Federer, Nalbandian, Ljubicic and Roddick is the tougher group because you've got three guys playing off for one spot assuming Federer plays to the level he has all year. How do you assess this group and what do you expect from the Federer-Nalbandian match?
Patrick McEnroe: I think that Federer will be pretty locked in from the start. He's had a week off, he hasn't lost a match since he lost to Murray in Cincinnati last summer. He got to Shanghai early to practice and I've read his comments where he says he feels healthy and fit and usually when he says that the rest of the field is in trouble. He's had such a phenomenal year he would look at (winning the Tennis Masters Cup) as a nice way to finish this off. Clearly, he is a massive favorite. I'm interested to see how the court is playing and if it's similar to last year then it will be slow and kind of low bouncing. Nalbandian comes in with a few more question marks than Federer and he's not playing with the confidence he had last year. I would say that Federer is the heavy favorite, but that's definitely the tougher of the two round-robin groups with Federer, Roddick, Nalbandian and Ljubicic.
Tennis Week: I realize Roddick had the ankle issue in Madrid, but it was surprising he didn't play more indoor tournaments with his serve. Are you surprised Roddick didn't play Paris and will Connors accompany Roddick to Shanghai?
Patrick McEnroe: Indoors is not really his favorite surface, he actually prefers outdoors. I wasn't that surprised to see him pull out of Paris. I don't think he likes that long trip in the fall. I think he's going in there relatively fresh; Andy hasn't played that much in the fall. He's been working with Connors. I am assuming Connors is going, but I don't know that for a fact. I spoke to Andy briefly and he said he was leaving for Shanghai yesterday and Blake was leaving today. I think Connors will be there and that would be good. Roddick's definitely in the tougher group and Ljubicic certainly has better results indoors and all those guys in that group are capable. That's clearly the tougher group. That first match is key for both Roddick and Ljubicic — it will be asking a lot for both guys to come off a loss in that match and then go 2-0 against Federer and Nalbandian. Obviously, you have to look at Federer making it through that group so then the battle for second is pretty tight between Roddick, Ljubicic and Nalbandian.
Tennis Week: When people in tennis analyze the Federer-Nadal match, the conventional wisdom is that Nadal's ability to hit the heavy topspin, particularly off his forehand, to Federer's one-handed backhand, as well as his great court coverage, creates problems Federer has struggled to solve. What do you think about Nadal's mentality against Federer — the fact that he steps on court believing he can win and is not intimidated? How important is that and additionally, do you think the guys in Federer's group really go into these matches believing they can win or if they get down early is it "Oh, no Federer's going to take over again" sort of thinking? My question is: how do these guys approach playing Federer and how should they approach playing Federer?
Patrick McEnroe: I think they go in facing the reality, which is the guy has been utterly dominant for three years and clearly the guy is up a break before he comes out of the locker room against most players and the guy he doesn't have that edge against is Nadal and even at Wimbledon Nadal got down after that first set and still fought back. Yes, I think Federer has the intimidation factor, but I think he's earned it. But guys know if they can't throw something very different at Federer at times, then there's the feeling that they have to play the perfect match against him. I think you have to go in saying "I have to play a great match and I have to hope that Roger is a little bit off" and if you get a break point or 30-all point then you've got to step in and take your best shot and just go for it.
Tennis Week: Isn't there a tendency among some players to overplay against Federer? Because he covers the court so quickly, he can defend so well when he has to that sometimes it looks like he almost prods guys into going for too much because it's so tough to get a ball by him on a hard court.
Patrick McEnroe: Yes, and obviously to some extent that's playing into Federer's hands. Federer has become the ultimate match player. He's always had the shots and he's always had the ability, but years back he liked to try to hit the spectacular winner. Now, if it takes waiting for the other guy to miss, he's perfectly happy to do that. What he's most concerned with is winning and he's perfectly happy to take it if it means him running down balls and playing longer rallies or hitting winners if the opportunity is there. The Federer of four years ago was always looking to hit the great shot. Now, he'll take the style points when he can get them, but if he's not feeling it in a given match, then he's perfectly happy to do whatever it takes to win. His defensive skills have gotten so much better so even when he's not feeling it offensively he's able to use his defensive skills very effectively.
Tennis Week: Speaking of defensive skills, the Gold Group, you've got three very effective counter punchers and skilled defensive players in Nadal, Davydenko, who comes in as one of the hottest players on tour, and Robredo. To me, Blake is the best offensive player, on hard court, of that group and for that reason I think Blake has a good shot to advance to the semis. I realize it's his first time playing the Masters Cup and he didn't perform particularly well in Madrid or Paris, but how do you view Blake's chances of making the final four.
Patrick McEnroe: I think he could part of it, but the big question is how the courts are playing. If it's a very slow hard court, then he's playing three guys who are sort of counter punchers and very effective playing that style. So if James is feeling he's got to press a little bit and he starts to try to hit bigger shots then the court will allow him to do consistently, it could be a concern. You'd have to put Davydenko as the favorite to advance from that group. Davydenko has earned everything he's gotten and after last year, I think some people may have thought "This guy Davydenko had a fluke of a year or maybe he's another Rainer Schuettler", but Davydenko has truly earned his way back to Shanghai.
Tennis Week: Sure, he's second to Federer for most wins on the season. I think the fact that he plays so many tournaments, he's not a big guy and his legs are so important to his success that perhaps some questioned if his stamina would hold up?
Patrick McEnroe: I think at Davis Cup was where he got a little burned out and he didn't play there, but then he sort of re found his energy and he looked very good in winning Paris. Look, this guy plays well indoors he probably has some of the best footwork in the world. Davydenko's not exactly the flashiest guy in the world to watch, but if you're someone who appreciates technique, footwork, balance and seeing a guy who sets up so well then he's guy you can learn a lot from.
Tennis Week: Getting back to your prior point that if the court is playing slow, Blake has to show some restraint in shot selection. Agreed, but don't you think Blake's best shot of getting through round-robin is to take it to all three of those guys and because he has such explosive offensive skills on hard court couldn't you argue that at least he will have the say in how those round-robin matches are played out? Blake plays Nadal in his first match, how does he need to play that match?
Patrick McEnroe: If you're James Blake, you have to take it to and yet not go for too much. James has had a very good year and it would be a big accomplishment for James to have a big tournament. What's he's lacked is making a huge run at a big tournament so for him to get to the semis would be a break through. He's got a good shot — all those round-robin matches are matches he'll have more say. I'm interested to see how he'll do and it's been a long road for James to reach Shanghai. He sort of snuck in through the back door to get in and I'm really excited to see how he's going to handle it and if he really believes he can take the next step then this is a good opportunity to do it.
Tennis Week: When do you actually leave for Shanghai and a question I've often wanted to ask you and Cliff is: how does consideration for the viewing audience impact the way you call a match? For instance, if you're calling the U.S. Open on a network like CBS I would think you've got to be a bit more broad because the audience for the Open is going to include casual tennis fans who don't watch the sport regularly, whereas viewers who get up at 6 a.m. next week to watch Shanghai are almost surely going to be a die-hard fan. So do you consider your audience when you analyze a match and how does that consideration affect your commentary?
Patrick McEnroe: Cliff is leaving for Shanghai today (Wednesday) and I'm leaving Thursday. I think in general, I would say in a big U.S. Open match or a big Wimbledon match or an Australian Open final there are going to be people watching who are not gung-ho tennis fans, so yes you take that into account. I take it for granted, you take it for granted and your readers may take it for granted that we know everything about Tommy Robredo because we follow the sport closely, but people flicking around the channels who come across the Tennis Masters Cup next week maybe don't know anything about Tommy Robredo so you have to consider that. I think that annoys some die-hard tennis fans because they feel like we sometimes state the obvious, but some of that is due to the fact that when you draw people who are flicking through the channels, they might be new to the tennis audience and they might know an Andy Roddick or a James Blake, but they may not know anything about Tommy Robredo. So in those cases you might state things some diehard fans view as obvious, but once the match gets going, you get into the nuts and bolts of the match and you call it just like you call any match.
Tennis Week: Hawk-Eye has been a great innovation for both players and viewers, we have one of the most gifted players in the history of the game in Federer, a real rivalry with Federer-Nadal and Sharapova has stepped up on the women's side. These are all great signs for the game, yet at the same time, ESPN2 did not renew its Roland Garros rights, Agassi has retired, American success, outside of Roddick and Blake, is waning, a few television executives tell us the tennis industry itself does not step up and support televised tournament tennis adequately enough and we're again plagued with the problem of player pull outs at the end of the season. My question is: how do you view the state of tennis on television right now and looking ahead to the short-term future?
Patrick McEnroe: I'm encouraged. I was very much in favor of the instant reply, I thought that was great for tennis and I think that proved to be the case for the U.S. Open and I think both the casual fans and die-hard fans have really responded to it. I think continuing to tinker with things like that is important for tennis, but it is still a challenge because tennis is very traditional and because you're dealing with just two players. Think about it: in every other sport, except boxing, you have more than two players. So in baseball, for instance, you can cut to the manager or the guy warming up in the bullpen or the outfielders, you can do a lot in those sports because there are more people involved. You may have a phenomenal tennis match, but if people don't really recognize the players then it's hard to get the viewers. I think we're trying to do more with the instant replay rule, with on-court interviews that can be heard in the stadium, interviewing coaches and I think there's a lot more we can be doing and there's a lot more the players can be doing out there. We've talked about this for years and the stuff they do at the U.S. Open with the on-court interviews and pre-match interviews is positive for tennis and has helped TV sell the sport, but at the end of the day it's about having superstars and marketable personalities and, at least in this country, we need some Americans to play well. You need characters in the game and obviously we have some great characters in Marat Safin, Nadal, Andy Murray, Baghdatis, who is so much fun to watch and there are talented young players like Gasquet and Djokovic. These are all interesting young guys who are talents, but the challenge always for us in America is being able to sell them to audiences particularly if they're not American. You can do everything you can to make the game more attractive on television and you can do it incredibly well and it still comes down to the sport needs superstars and personalities and rivalries and in this country Americans do want to see American players.
Tennis Week: Over the years, we've talked about the Davis Cup format and you've always been very vocal about the need to modify it. Last year, you told me you felt the only way the ITF would consider changing the format would be for an entire nation to pull out of Davis Cup. Yet, the other day Federer, who is traditionally a loyal Davis Cup player, announced he will not play Switzerland's home tie in February against Spain and Nadal may not play as well. We've seen dedicated Davis Cup players like Agassi and Henman simply not able to continue to play as they got older because of schedule demands. ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers has been adamant in saying the schedule must be revised and now we're hearing the ITF may finally be willing to at least consider revising the Davis Cup format? What are you hearing about this? And do you think the ITF, which has been so stubborn in its refusal to modify the Davis Cup schedule will finally seriously consider it, particularly with the top two players in the world probably not playing the first round?
Patrick McEnroe: Let me answer that question this way: During the course of the last month I was following all the events and I remember reading online about Federer playing in his hometown tournament in Basel. Federer played against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round and there were 9,200 people there to watch a second-round match in Basel. A few weeks earlier, Serbia and Montenegro played Switzerland in Davis Cup in Switzerland and they had trouble filling a 4,000-seat stadium. And that was not only with Federer playing three matches, but with Djokovic, who is a talented young player also playing. So you look at that and you tell me there's not a problem with the Davis Cup format. I'm so sick and tired of hearing the ITF say "It's an American problem" when it comes to the Davis Cup schedule; they (the ITF) say "Only in America is it an issue." To me, it's a much bigger issue. I would love to see the format tinkered with and (Tennis Week writer) Richard Evans (in his Roving Eye column) and others have made some good proposals of how to improve the format. Whether it is going to happen, I don't know. My job is to field our best team and try to win the Cup. I still love Davis Cup, but I'm sick of hearing them say it's an American problem. It's not. Federer is not going to play the first round and Nadal is probably not going to play and that's the reality of it. The world we live in, sports needs major media coverage and when the Davis Cup happens so frequently and is spread out so much (at different sites) it's hard for people to grasp this is a major event. I think there's an opportunity there to make changes and improve the format and attract more exposure, but obviously the ITF is control of it. Davis Cup is a great competition and has a great tradition in tennis, but at the same time it could be so much greater and make such a larger impact on our sport, but that's not going to happen unless they make changes.
Tennis Week: Would you agree that with both the ATP and WTA publicly promising to make scheduling changes that this is the ideal time for the ITF to get on board with the concept of improving the Davis Cup format? I mean, now is the time to do it?
Patrick McEnroe: It is an ideal time because the Chairman of the ATP and CEO of the WTA realize it and the ITF should realize it is an ideal time to change Davis Cup and make it even bigger and better than it is, but tennis is often slow to change. My point is just because it's always been one way doesn't mean you should always keep it that way. It is the ideal time to make a change, whether the ITF will make a change, I don't know.
Tennis Week: How do you feel about on-court coaching and the ATP's experimenting with round-robin play at tournaments next season?
Patrick McEnroe: I'm sort of down on on-court coaching. I think the round-robin format is a worthwhile exercise. I think we should take chances for certain events. I think it's a good idea because they can experiment with it at smaller events that maybe don't have as many top players in the field so the fans are assured of seeing those players. Isn't this about serving the customers and the tennis fans? At the end of the day, we sometimes forget that. That's the business we're in and we need to consider our fans who buy tickets and sponsors who pay to advertise. And when it's hard to sell sponsors to tennis events on television, which it is hard to do, and maybe a sponsor knows we're going to get Andy Roddick for a few matches then maybe that's one way to give back to the fans and the sponsors. At least it's worth trying.
Tennis Week: What's the story with the new Patrick McEnroe Tennis Center in Miami? It's your new home court, will you be moving to Miami as well?
Patrick McEnroe: I am definitely not moving. It's a luxury boutique hotel, the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa, it's a great facility and I'm excited about it. I'll be there a few times a year and we'll have a very good staff there running the programs. My input is in what types of programs, tournament and clinics are conducted and things like that. These guys have a very good track record and it's a great facility.
Tennis Week: Is this something you want to pursue in the future as Cliff Drysdale has done?
Patrick McEnroe: Definitely. I figure I've learned so much from Cliff about television I can learn a lot from him here too.
Tennis Week: I know from watching him for years Cliff has a real fondness and fascination with Mallorca so perhaps the two of you could partner and pursue creating your own tennis facility in Mallorca.
Patrick McEnroe: (laughs). There's a good idea. The "men from Mallorca" — that's who we'll be.