Monday, April 04, 2016

ESPN' Chris McKendry talks tennis and Roger Federer

TN: Which is the most challenging Grand Slam to cover and which is the most fun to cover? 

Chris McKendry: The Slams all have their own individual personalities. I enjoy them all. I think the most fun we have as a team and as a crew—and I think the players agree—is in Australia. There is something about the Australian Open that is light, fun, the location is amazing. We get up and walk from our hotel to the venue. The weather is so great when quite a few of us are coming from the cold, so there's something about Australia that's really fun. I think being away, we're all away from our families, we really bond as a broadcast team. I absolutely love it. Wimbledon is amazing. We all stay in the village, to walk to the venue, and the great respect everyone has for Wimbledon and the venue is just unbelievable. I enjoy them all. 

The US Open is classic New York. It's a bit more challenging because of shuttling out to the venue and back. So logistically, that's a little more challenging. But as far as the challenges of the broadcast for me it's getting myself in the mindset of how many hours I'm out there, sometimes 12 or 13 hours since we go first ball to last. The US Open and Australian can go late so it's kind of getting yourself prepared for the marathon. It's keeping your eyes on the monitors because we have every single match on every single court and knowing what's going on in each match. The first couple of days you're following storylines for half the field because you don't know necessarily who is going to emerge. 

Wimbledon's Manic Monday is like a tennis tournament version of election day coverage. So the challenge when I went from SportsCenter to covering Grand Slams is that it pushed me out of my comfort zone. SportsCenter is very heavily scripted. There's not a ton of change, results are known. Do a tournament and it's happening while we're there. The results aren't known. The stories are happening in real time. So I enjoy that. The same is true of the player interviews. When they come by our set, I'll have 5 or 10 minutes to prepare for it whereas on SportsCenter I would sit and review my questions with our producer, sit and go over it with my co-anchor. So it's been professionally challenging, too.

TN: Given your experience covering other sports, what does tennis do well as a television sport? What can tennis learn from other sports to become an even better television sport? 

Chris McKendry: As far as our broadcast, the analysts are fantastic. You like tennis. I like tennis. We know the sport and we love to talk about the sport. When you hear Mary Joe or Darren it's like getting your PhD in tennis. Our analysts do an incredible job of breaking down strokes, strategy, styles. Our analysts are top-notch and they aren't afraid to say things. Having covered other sports, there are a lot of analysts who don't want to say anything too critical. Our tennis analysts have done a great job of being critical in a constructive sense. 

They're critical, but it's never nasty or personal. So I appreciate that they say something. There's nothing more frustrating than working with an analyst who never says anything or is just right down the middle every time and does not want to offend. It's funny you ask because there's been a big discussion within our ESPN tennis crew: How can we evolve in our tennis broadcasts? I do believe there are areas we are behind other sports. The biggest, to me, is access during a match. How can we get more of a feel for what players are thinking and feeling in the moment? We tried something very daring—apparently the way everybody's head nearly exploded over it—at last year's US Open when Pam (Shriver) went on court with CoCo (Vandeweghe). 

There was a time when those pre-match interviews seemed crazy, you know, "Why would you talk to a player as they're walking on court?" And now, players all do those. Some say more than others and it depends on what the player wants to share. I would love to see the on-court interview during matches as more of a regularity. I think it would be amazing. Imagine Roger Federer telling you what he likes about his first set? I think that would be fascinating to have more access to players during competition. Look at other sports: We have players who wear mikes for us during competition. If we put a mike on Andy Murray could we air anything anyway? I don't know, but these elements I think would bring the viewer closer and feel more attached to the player. I always say to the athletes: If you want us to promote your sport, give us more access to you. Find time for long-form interviews, take us through where did you grow up. Allow us to know you more.

TN: Of all the champions you've interviewed, who really stands out as a great, enjoyable interview, fun personality or someone you just learned from? 

Chris McKendry: Roger Federer is always an incredible interview. When he commits to doing press, Roger is all in. My favorite moments when Roger comes to set is how often after the interview when there's a match on our monitors, which there always is, he'll sit and watch tennis and chat with you about the tennis. It's priceless. It is absolutely priceless. He loves the game.

We had a moment last year at Wimbledon where he came up and did his interview. A couple of days earlier, he had sent out an emoji-filled tweet detailing his off day. He said he played some darts, then had some strawberries, then went for a run. He took us through his whole day it was just hilarious to listen to him detail his day. He's so regal and yet he was being so goofy. So that was a great moment. 

After the interview ended, Roger was with us in the studio watching Ivo Karlovic and Ivo hit a let serve and Roger said the hardest thing is when you play a big server like Ivo the hardest thing is a let because now you have to go back and figure out his serving pattern again. So Roger said "Now, you've got to go back, think about his prior service patterns, take a few guess and try to figure out again." It made total sense after he said it. That was such a great lesson for me and Roger actually sat and watched to see what the pattern was and he also gave us a great interview a few years ago in Australia. Right after he made the switch to the new racquet and had Stefan on court nearly a full year. He was really great and forthcoming with a lot of information. He told me that at the US Open he had still carried his old racquets in his bag, like a security blanket, but that year in Australia he told us he no longer traveled with the old racquet and how nervous he was with Stefan sitting in his box. 

The other player I always enjoy talking to, and I wish more people could see this side of him, is Andy Murray and how different Andy Murray is off the court than he is on the court. On the court, I mean the first time I had to interview him I thought "Oh my gosh, this might be terrible." Because on the court he looked so unhappy. I thought he might have a short fuse with me, but he's so nice and so funny and incredibly thoughtful. I love a lot of stands Andy takes for women so he just could not be more different in person than what people see on court. He's a great and funny interview.

No comments: