Tennis Forum banner
1 - 11 of 11 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
44,018 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Tennis Week Interview: Cliff Drysdale

By Brad Falkner
07/16/2003

Longtime friend and opponent Rod Laver once described him as "a smoothy; tall and slim, a good-looking South African who could talk a lion into becoming a vegetarian." ESPN's veteran tennis announcer Cliff Drysdale is still a smoothy and much like a favorite uncle at family gatherings, his presence typically prompts smiles.

While many tennis fans today know Drysdale through his work as a tennis commentator, he was an accomplished pro, who finished the season ranked inside the top 10 five times in a seven-year span from 1965-71. The holder of five singles titles, Drysdale's two-handed backhand was one of the most distinctive shots of his era.

In his Tennis Encyclopedia, Tennis Week senior feature writer Bud Collins identifies Drysdale as the first man to use a two-handed stroke in the U.S. Nationals (now the U.S. Open) final as Drysdale reached the Forest Hills final in 1965 before bowing to Manolo Santana, 6-2, 7-9, 7-5, 6-1.

In a career that crossed over from the amateur to the open era, Drysdale reached the Roland Garros semifinals in 1965-66, beat Grand Slam champion Rod Laver to advance to the U.S. quarterfinal in 1968 and was an Australian Open quarterfinalist in 1971, falling to Arthur Ashe, 7-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2.

In 1974, Drysdale helped lead South Africa to the Davis Cup championship and concluded his Davis Cup career with a 32-12 singles record and a 3-2 doubles mark.

The soothing South African baritone has been the voice of ESPN tennis for over 20 years. All the while, Drysdale has kept his pulse on the game and continues to a leading authority on the current state of tennis.

Equally adroit in either role of the commentator or analyst Drysdale always infuses each broadcast with his endless charm and wit. His colleagues can attest to Drysdale's appeal outside of the booth.

"The ladies love Cliff — all ages," ESPN tennis analyst and former pro Mary Joe Fernandez said with a smile. "My daughter, who is only year-and-half old, loves Cliff. At that age when they don't see a face that often so when they do see somebody, and their face lights up, you know that there is something special about that person. Cliff very good with kids."

Perhaps his greatest strength in the booth is that he has the effortless ability to make those around him better. Like a doubles player setting up his partner for an easy overhead, Drysdale often poses timely questions to his partners to elicit illuminating responses.

ESPN analyst Pam Shiver says, "Cliff has been very supportive to me. He makes you feel very relaxed when you work with him. He is unselfish and able to pull back and let those around him shine."

The affable Drysdale's ease in the broadcast booth is legendary — he can be engaged in a casual conversation or be busy devouring a piece of partner Patrick's McEnroe's chocolate cake — seconds before going on-air live and still appear completely comfortable on camera.

"Cliff is so laid back and calm all the time," Fernandez said. "We'll be getting ready to go live on the air and they will be counting down 15, 14, 13, and he'll be finishing his popsicle or whatever and he just goes with the flow. It really has become so automatic for him. He likes jokes and can be a little sarcastic at times. He's always on the talk-back joking around with the producers and directors. He is a very funny man, it's nice."

From the early days of ESPN's tennis coverage where Drysdale, Australian standout Fred Stolle and Mary Carillo formed a legendary broadcast team to his current partnership with Patrick McEnroe, Drysdale has always developed a comedic chemistry with his partners in the broadcast booth. His verbal volleys and occasional sarcastic sparring with McEnroe can often bring out the best in both men.

"I think Patrick's been great for Cliff," Fernandez said. "I think that Patrick keeps him on his toes and hip. That combination has been fabulous. They feed really well off each other. They are not afraid to take punches at each other. To me that makes for interesting commentary."

Born in Nelspruit, Transvaal in the Republic of South Africa in 1941, Drysdale later became a U.S. citizen and lives in South Florida where he oversees the tennis program and conducts tennis fantasy camps at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Florida, not far from the site of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

Tennis Week.com contributing writer Brad Falkner sat down with Drysdale to discuss some of the issues in tennis today. Falkner reports Drysdale looks "much younger" than his 62 years and is engaging, enlightening and humorous conversationalist.

Tennis Week: Pete Sampras probably played his last professional match in the 2002 U.S. Open. If Sampras did come back to play a tournament or exhibition would he be playing with a different racquet?

Cliff Drysdale: I've felt his racquet before and it's heavy.That, in and of itself, is not a problem. But it does not have a big sweet spot and he acknowledges that. I think it is silly for a player, any player no matter what caliber you are, not to use something that gives you the most help. Jimmy Connors did the same thing with the T-2000, which was a terrible racquet in my opinion.

Tennis Week: Not the most user-friendly racquet?

Cliff Drysdale: Exactly. It had a small head and a small sweet spot. He was stubborn just like Pete is, on this subject anyway, and stayed with it for years. Jimmy eventually changed and said: 'Gee, why didn't I change a long time before that.' So yes, to get back to that part of the question, yes I think he should change racquets.

Tennis Week: Cliff, lets talk about the epic El Aynaoui-Roddick Australian Open quarterfinal. Now that you have had time to reflect on the match, do you still feel that it was the greatest match that you have ever seen?

Cliff Drysdale: It's growing in stature with me. I saw it (live) and when you're watching it and you're not quite sure and then you look at the statistics afterward, then you become more and more convinced. That for pure excellence, genius, and excitement, it was probably the highest-quality match that I have seen, including some Agassi-Sampras matches.

Tennis Week: Even better than matches that were happening during your professional career?

Cliff Drysdale: I am saying ever. There is no question in my mind that the tennis today is a lot better than it was in the days that I played, so there's no comparing it with that. The only thing that you can compare it with is some of the classics like Borg vs. McEnroe at Wimbledon. It's so tough to compare because the surface is so different. Some of the Agassi-Sampras matches to me were instant classics. This one (El Aynaoui-Roddick) for so many reasons — the on-court genius, the excitement and thrills, the spectator involvement, the number of hours the match lasted, how close it was... It also, to me, emphasizes the fact that Roddick is no flash in the pan. He is a genuine world-class top five player and that match illustrated that fact for me.

Tennis Week: For a while there it was quite fashionable to slag off men's tennis as being boring and people were saying that the WTA Tour was more interesting. The other day, I overheard a reporter saying that now men's tennis is more interesting than the women's tennis. Do you agree with that assertion?

Cliff Drysdale: Well, I never signed off on the fact that women's tennis was more interesting than men's tennis. I will only say that more people spoke to me about women's tennis over the last, let's say four years, than would speak to me about men's tennis. For me women's tennis became interesting when we got the quarterfinal stages. But until then it has been very predictable, and to some extent, still is predictable. You know that the Williams sisters, Henin-Hardenne, Capriati, Davenport and Clijsters, if they are playing well, are going to be in the latter stages and that very seldom varies. Which is a huge plus when you get to the final three days, which is what most people are interested in. But for the first nine or 10 days of a Slam, there's just no contest and then by the time you get to the final three or four days of a Slam, the men have beaten each other's brains out. So you get Nalbandian, Costa, Johansson, Schuettler and Verkerk — all great players — in the finals. That's just the way it goes. The comparison means so little to me anyway; we're all in this thing together. If women's tennis is successful it's fabulous for tennis, period. It's time that people realize that it's not a matter of which is more successful. The much better questions is: How do we compare to other sports and are we on the right track in that regard? The whole 'Which one is more successful?', to me is really a small-minded argument. People come up to me and ask me this question often. I'd much rather have them say: 'Gee, tennis is really looking good, we're on the rise.'
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,406 Posts
Which, the article or the interview? Because that was one of the shortest interviews I've read in a long while. All of four questions asked? Wow, they're really taxing him.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
639 Posts
Thanks for posting this article/interview, tennisIlove09. I liked reading the details of Cliff's playing career. His accent is easy on my ears. With the exception of his Roddick obsession, I think he blends in with the other commentators while still having his own distinct views.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,729 Posts
Cliffy is so droll. He finally stood up to PMac at the Masters' Cup last year and that little incident made the men's commentary team much more bearable.

Very diplomatic answer to the last question ;) I guess he isn't always as absent-minded as he appears.
 

·
R.I.P. Thank you!
Joined
·
25,876 Posts
Cliffie is married to Jean Forbes, a tennis prodigy who was denied entry in 1955 to Wimbledon because she was too young! She had beaten the world #1 Louise Brough days before Wimbledon. Jean's father died soon after and she was never the same tennis-wise.

They had at least one child. In his prime Drysdale was a male sex symbol of sorts-he was part of a group known as "the Handsone 8".
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
20,085 Posts
The question should be:

Why should they allow non-slam winners to become horrible commentators? :rolleyes:
 

·
Plainclothes Division
Joined
·
6,350 Posts
He has to check the stats afterward to verify if a match was exciting or high quality? Stats are useless in that regard. I've seen many a match between a serve/volleyer and a baseliner where the S/V player played terribly, but wound up with only a few UE's. That's because tactical errors, and execution errors (hitting approach shots too short, etc.) don't show up in the stats.

Pretty vague on that "a reporter" stuff. If it was a regular tennis reporter, you can be almost 100% certain they'll say the men are more exciting, regardless of what's happening on court.

And sorry, Cliff, but you're not slick enough. After painstakingly rehashing the (inaccurate) cliché about the women's game only being interesting from the quarters onward, and trying to portray them as less interesting, then he tries to feign diplomacy.

You're not fooling anyone Cliffy. We can hear you on air, where you try to hype up any men's match. (Remember that one blowout from a litte ways back, where the losing player had won only about 2 or 3 games in the match, and was one game from defeat? And Cliff starts spouting something on the order of "This, for me, is the most exciting time of the match. Can he turn it around, will he turn it around..." etc.) We can also hear you on air when you comment on women's matches, with all of the conviction of a kid being forced to practice his piano lessons. We can hear the disdain in your voice, and can almost picture you looking at your watch in the booth, wondering how much longer you'll be "stuck" with this match. When a lower-ranked woman takes a high seed to a final set, instead of excitement, we hear, largely, annoyance, as if to say "oh, great, now I'll be stuck here another half hour".

If Williams, Clijsters, etc. play well, they'll be in the quarters. No shit, Sherlock! When top players play well, they *gasp* beat lower-ranked players. When Agassi, Hewitt, Federer, Sampras, Safin, etc. play well, they reach the quarters too. The difference is that the top women play well more consistently. They should be applauded for that, not dismissed as "predictable". Anyone can proclaim "predictability" afterwards. The fact is that no matter who the top players are, or how dominant they have been, no one knows what is going to happen ahead of time. That's what makes sports so exciting. No scripts, no plans, no preset determination of what's going to happen. You can expect certain things to happen, and if your elite group is truly great, they will happen more often than not. But you can't know what's going to happen. Otherwise, we'd still be handing Wimbledon plates to Martina Navratilova.

And I wonder how many of the tennis writers who take potshots at the women for "predictability" are watching the Tour de France? Or should I say, the Tour de Lance?

(But I'm not foolish enough to say that I know what's going to happen there, even if Armstrong wins as expected. Because no one knows until it happens.)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,406 Posts
Actually, the difference is that the top women have much weaker opposition to face compared to the men. And it's quite true that barring a few remarkable marathons, mostly involving Hantuchova these days, the first week of a Grand Slam in the women's events is basically a time-filler.
 
1 - 11 of 11 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top