Patrick McEnroe has seen it all during his life in tennis, from his career on the ATP Tour to analysing the sport from a commentator’s perspective for more than two decades. Although this week’s return to tennis at the Western & Southern Open is unprecedented after more than five months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American believes there is one thing fans can be confident in.
“The best players are going to be the best players,” McEnroe told ATPTour.com. “The cream will rise to the top.”
McEnroe believes it was important for players to arrive early at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, where Cincinnati’s ATP Masters 1000 event and the US Open are both being held this year, in order to get as much rhythm as possible.
“Get there as early as you can and obviously the people who play ‘Cincinnati’, you’ve got to think that’s smart. I would get out there and play as many sets as you can,” McEnroe said. “Play as many real practice sets and matches with other players as you can to try to get sharp. I’m sure all these guys have been training and hitting a bunch of balls, but it’s always different when you go out for match play.”
A former No. 3 player in the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings who also cracked the Top 30 in singles, McEnroe thinks the mental approach players take will also be vital.
“You have to realise that the other players are in the same boat. It’s one thing when you’ve been out for five months with an injury and you come back and the other players are still match-tough and that’s frustrating for a player,” McEnroe said. “But in this case, you’ve got to try to put your own expectations aside and say, ‘I’ve just got to play well enough to try to beat the guy who is in front of you.’”
Although players haven’t been competing since March, when the Tour was suspended ahead of the BNP Paribas Open, McEnroe believes the athletes will come out sharper than some might expect. He doesn’t expect many crazy upsets, especially of the top players.
“People say, ‘Oh, maybe someone’s going to come through and win the US Open. Maybe someone who is like Thiem or Tsitsipas who’s already there. I don’t see someone coming out of nowhere. That just doesn’t happen. I don’t see that happening,” McEnroe said. “That’s not saying it’s a lock that Djokovic is going to win. You can certainly make the argument that he might be more susceptible. But I don’t see someone coming out of nowhere and winning the Open.”
McEnroe says that it is less likely a top player will throw in a clunker at the US Open with its best-of-five set format. They have more time to find their game and recover if struggling early. The ESPN analyst doesn’t see that happening too often at the Western & Southern Open, either.
“It’s more likely you’ll see that in two out of three,” McEnroe said. “But even then, I think these players are so well-conditioned and they’re hitting the ball so well, so I don’t think that’s going to be as big of a factor as people think.
“It’s not like the top players are losing in the second round. I don’t see that happening.”