Evert breaksdown the 2014 Aussie Open

Can Serena Williams keep playing as well in 2014 as she did last year?
Can Serena Williams keep playing as well in 2014 as she did last year?

Chris Evert will once again be part of ESPN’s extensive Australian Open coverage that stated early this morning and will go all the way through the finals two weeks from today. Among the 18 major singles titles that Evert won during her career, she was a two time Aussie Open winner back in 1982 and again in 1984.

I spoke to Evert about the 2014 Women’s side of the draw and Serena Williams.  We covered a number of other topics in the conversation with the pride of Ft. Lauderdale, and one of the greatest people to ever pick up a tennis raquet.

What are the  biggest challenges facing  Serena Williams?

Evert:  As far as Serena is concerned, I’ll be curious to see if she can maintain that passion.  She was like on a mission last year.  She had so much enthusiasm after every single match that she played, was so high on talking about what she needed to improve, her passion for the game, her place in history.

My question is, you know, can she conjure up the same enthusiasm this year as she did last year.  If she does, watch out everybody because she is the type of player that needs that motivation.  She’s the type of player that really needs to be pumped up for these matches.  We’ve seen her in a couple of matches during the year where she hasn’t been able to get psyched up, she’s been a little injured, and she’s had a couple of losses.  I mean, I think she just needs to keep up the mental and emotional part of her game and stay healthy.

Where are the American women in tennis?

Evert:  Talking about the women, two or three years ago, there was nobody except for Serena and Venus.  There’s a lot of criticism.  Over the last two years a lot have emerged.

This year when you look at how Madison Keys played, Sloane Stephens, Jamie Hampton, I mean, I think we could have five or six in the top 20 by the end of the year.  Then you look at Duval, Davis, McHale, Alison Riske, we have a whole stable of young women now.  They are pushing each other.

I’m down in Boca Raton where the USTA is situated, it’s on the same property as my tennis academy.  I’m walking over and watching these girls battle it out.  McHale is playing Madison Keys.  They’re all playing matches, grinding it out, working hard, but they’re competing against each other.  I think that’s what we didn’t have.  I’m seeing the men, too.  I’m seeing that Ryan Harrison is down there.  The men are also grinding it out, playing matches.

I think the men are two years behind.  I think it will happen.  I think this year you’re going to see some good matches.  Already in the last two tournaments some of the American men have done pretty well.

So who wins the Aussie Open 2014?

Evert:  I think Serena, if she can play with the same passion and the same enthusiasm she did in 2013, stay healthy, I think she still obviously is the one to beat.  I think because of her sense of history now, that is another motivating force, she’s thinking about her place in history.  The fact she has won 17 Grand Slams, she could beat Martina’s and mine.  She could equal Steffi Graf’s.  I think she’s excited about her place in history.  The other thing is she’s always willing to improve.  She’s never patting herself on the back.  What you hear is, I’m happy I won, I’m looking to improve.  My big question is, who is going to be her contender.  Is it going to be Maria Sharapova?  Is she going to be refreshed after these last few months?  Is her shoulder better?  Is she going to be serving better?  Can she get it together?  She has a new coach.  Is it going to be Victoria Azarenka? Those three girls will battle it out for the title and it should be fun tennis.