I asked ESPN2 commentator and former pro, Cliff Drysdale, via conference call today about the popular notion that Roger Federer and Serena Williams only care about the Majors and can somehow turn their games up a gear at the big ones. (An ESPN exec quipped: “Maybe they have the same approach as we do at ESPN.”)
Cliff concurs that the World No. 1 players care more about the Majors than any other tournaments. “That goes without saying” he said. But he bristles at the idea that the champions lose early in the smaller tournaments because they don’t care. He feels that Roger Federer and Serena Williams aren’t winning the small tournaments because, well, sometimes the small tournaments are hard to win:
“What I think everybody need to understand about the modern game of tennis is that whether they play in a Grand Slam tournament or a Masters 1000 or a WTA top tier event, the best players now in this era – which was not true in my era – are playing in each one of these smaller tournaments. Which makes them much more difficult to play. . .Bear in mind that in a grand slam tournament there are 128 players – not 32 or 64 – and that there are opportunities in the Grand Slam with the draw to open up that there are not in the smaller draw events.”
Drysdale adds that it’s nearly impossible for players like Serena and Roger to not care on the court:
“No one can tell me that any of those players who were playing in Madrid, with the field that they had, that they were any less excited about beating their opposition in Madrid than they will be in Paris. It’s just not part of the psyche of a tennis player – of a tennis professional – to go out there and not care.”
Focusing on the men’s game, Drysdale thinks the tour is experiencing “deja vu” with the return of the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry (much to the relief of the ESPN exec, who added: “I think their rivalry will continue to raise the level of the competition – and the ratings.”) Cliff also had a few interesting comments about the rise and fall of the young guns, or, as he likes to call Murray, Djokovic, Del Potro et. al, the “pretenders to the throne.”
“I’m not giving Andy Murray a prayer to get into the final.” Drysdale told a reporter from Scotland’s The Sunday Post. He tried to temper his harsh prediction by saying that Murray – more than Major champions Djokovic or Del Potro – still has an upside.
“It’s all a matter of confidence for (Murray). . .It’s not a physical thing, and I think that when he starts to win again, he’ll get back to where he was. I think Djokovic is going down the list. He has some more serious mental problems than Andy Murray. I do think potentially for Djokovic it’s a more permanent issue and for Del Potro it’s a big question about his wrist and his mental ability to come back.”
Drysdale’s comments made me realize that this is the first Major in about two years where Murray isn’t a popular titlist pick by the tennis media. Is this just the low-pressure, low-expectation situation that Murray needs? The Scot’s worked his plan to perfection. . .
ESPN2 will be starting up their considerable Roland Garros coverage on Sunday. Click here for the 2010 French Open TV Schedule.