The following are portions of a conference call interview conducted with Martina Navratilova, analyst for the Tennis Channel, held Monday, May 17th.
You have established yourself as one of the top tennis analyst on television. Very entertaining and very insightful. From your stand point...sitting in the booth...what is the most fun and what is the toughest part of your job as an analyst?
Navratilova: Thank you for saying that I am one of the top analysts. That is a very good group to be in. I think the toughest job for me is putting make up on. And I don't really like to be on camera. I like to just talk about the game, you know, once the match gets started. But also of course, we have different formats which involve a lot of interviews which I also enjoy. The tough part is asking the questions. It is much easier answering questions than figure out what you are going to ask, but I enjoy that challenging aspect of it. The most fun part is just really when the matches are good and you just get involved in it. You don't have to think about what you are going to say...you just...you know, you just go with the flow. When the matches are exciting and the players are playing very good ball. You know, when sorta of they play the game the way it should be played or the way that I think it can be played.Let them just get taken along from the ride. So, that is the fun part of it.
One of the fun things about watching both you and John on Tennis Channel is that you feel free to speak your mind. Is that in anyway shape or form come back in any way to have any of the players responded to that either to the good or to the bad from that standpoint?
Navratilova: Well, not that I know of. I mean, I have always spoken my mind. Obviously, that has never been a problem for me. But you know, what I like to offer is constructive criticism. I don't criticize. I sort of try to analyze and say: This is what should be done or could be done differently, not necessarily better, but different is sometimes better. Um... I sort of look at it more as a coach rather than an you know, it is not...I don't think the players would be upset about what I said because I would be saying pretty much the same thing if I was coaching them. You know, this is what you have been wrong and this is what you can do better, or you can do differently, or you can do it the right way. If this situation happens again, this is what you should be doing. This is what you should be looking for. So, it is more like a coaching thing. I haven't heard of any player being upset with what I said. You know, some people have a very thin skin. Some people have a thick skin, but I am not worried about that. Again, I try to educate the viewer most of all. You know, you can't please everybody. But, I just try to make people enjoy the game. The ones that don't know about it at all, I try to explain in a nice way you know, what is going on. And, people that do know the game, give them some insights detailed information that they probably, perhaps, didn't now. So, you know, I try to sort of cover all of the basis with my stuff, but I haven't heard any negative comments on the players or actually the other way around. They are appreciative of what I am saying. So, so far, so good.
I wanted to ask your thoughts on Justin Henin who last time she played in this tournament, won it. The last three times she played, won it. Can she return to being as good as she was at this event before leaving the game?
Navratilova: Well, of course...I mean, it has been a pretty interesting clay court seasonI mean, we have had so many different winners on clay. And now Rezi comes through and is an unseeded player, and wins Madrid. I mean, it’s a pretty wide open field. But, you have still even though Justine has been away for a couple of years from the French, uh she has played enough matches now this year and has proven herself where she has to be one of the favorites for the title. There is no doubt about that. Nobody has really come through in a dominating fashion of leading up to the tournament. Andso you know, she must like her chances pretty well on this stuff. I mean, it is like coming home for her. She knows exactly how to play on it. There is no doubt with her movement. Of course she...you know, she grew up on this stuff. So, she is right at home sliding and getting back into position to play the next jog. So she has got to like her chances.
I wanted to ask you about Raphael Nadal and his health and the idea of him trying to grind out maybe five or six, three out of five set matches? He hasn't done that in a slam in a while to win it. Do you think he has the confidence now and his body will hold up for two weeks in the French? And, from what you have seen of him physically?
Navratilova: Absolutely. You know, absolutely. I think that if he is going in healthy, he is not going to get injured...I don't think...playing the French. Even though it is three out of five, it is seven matches over two weeks. This last week, he played what? Four matches in five days? I mean, that is much tougher in a way, mentally and physically, than ...uh... than the three out of five because you get a day off. Most of his matches he is going to win in three straight probably. Maybe four sets. So, you know, I think, physically, he is looking to be as fresh at the end of the tournament as he started out with. If he is good now, he will be fine. I think last year at the French, he had problems going into the tournament. Now, he is good. If the knee is not hurting...usually it doesn't...the clay is more forgiving, I found for my joints. The clay was more forgiving than hard courts. Clay was good and grass was good. It was when I got on the hard courts that the knees started kicking in. So you know, you would have to ask him. But, I would surmise that last year, his knees were battered after the hard court season. He went into the clay already hurt. Now, he seems to be peppy you know, and his body language is amazing. Which, to me, tells me he is completely healthy. He has got no issues. He is not worried about anything. Last year, he was grumpy because he knew that his knees weren't holding up. So if he goes into the French healthy, I don't see him breaking down.And the other guy has to run so much more than Rafa actually, in a way, because the top spin he puts on the ball. People find themselves on parts of the court they didn't know existed because they are running so far behind the baseline heading for his balls from where you don't practice hitting balls from 20 feet behind the baseline, you know. And, so I think after a match...if you ask the players...after a match, who is more beat up. It will be the opponents of Nada rather than Nadal himself. After any particular match, you will find the other guy is going to be more beat up than Nadal because they have to run more than he does. Even though he is doing the retrieving. They are father behind the baseline most of the time.
For those who don't know what is entailed in preparation for TV match coverage like the French coming up, can you shed some light on the hours you work and the responsibilities during the coverage? I can remember, over the last four years, there was one year in particular it must have been due to rain delays or something, it looked as though you were working around the clock and really sleep deprived. And so I am just wondering if it might be harder than people think. There may be more preparation and more fatigue involved than what we know.
Navratilova: Uh... not really. I mean ...um... let's put it this way, I worked a lot harder getting ready for the slam when I was playing it than ...um... commentating it. I mean, you go over some papers and ...uh... articles and what have you, but most of all, I just try to watch as much tennis as I can on TV leading up to the tournament so I can stay current and know what the players have been doing recently. But, then, You know, you have all that knowledge before hand, but really as the match unfolds, that is really where the story really begins. Uh... that is what I am ...you know, I just sort of go into the match with an open mind and then see what you know, try to figure out what the strategies will be, but then who knows what is going to happen once the match starts. So, the preparation is much less than it was when I was playing. Most of all, I tell the players, now it is easy. I just come to the booth ten minutes before the match and start talking you know. When I was playing, you have to warm up for the warm up. You know, then you do the warm up, then you warm down. Then you eat, and you warm up again. So, the preparation is much easier when you are just talking behind a microphone. But, I think the preparation has come along over the last 30 years of playing the game.
We have often heard that the great players in team sports to go into coaching, managing, or even calling games on TV because it is difficult for them to separate their ability from what they see on the court of on the field. I was wondering if that was true.
Navratilova: I think you have to do that. Again, as a coach, you can't be telling people to play the way you played the game or hit the ball the way you hit the ball because everybody is built differently. Everybody is built differently physically. Everybody is built differently mentally. So, I say: Okay. You should be hitting a slice backhand, but you don' have one. Okay. So, you do something else. But, again, as a coach, I would make sure they could hit a back slice hand. But, if you are 5'4 not 6'4 you can just you know, reach and hit a winner because you don't get there with your short body. So, you have to adapt your analysis to the player's ability. I think you find that is what I try to do. You know, you can't tell a player to hit shots that they don't have in their rapture. So yeah. I hope I can separate the two. I think that is what makes people good analysts. I think I have been able to do that and hopefully will continue to do that. If I don't, then call me on it. But I try to do that.