2014/04/20

“On the Call” With US Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier

Jim Courier

(March 13, 2013) United States Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier held a media conference call to discuss the United States next tie which will be played in Bosie, Idaho April 5-7. Here is the transcript of the call from ASAPSports.

Thanks, everyone, for joining us today.  The U.S. Davis Cup team will face Serbia and world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the Davis Cup quarterfinal by BNP Paribas April 5, 6 and 7 at the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho.  To date we have sold about 7,000 tickets to the event.  Sales continue to be good and we look forward to having a full house supporting Team USA.
This is not the official team announcement.  That will be done in two weeks.  We wanted to make Jim available to the media to talk about the tie and about being in Boise.
We’ll open it up to questions for Jim.

Q.  Jim, altitude was part of the decision to play in Boise.  Can you expound what the benefits are to your team playing in altitude.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Sure.  When we were looking at this tie, we sat down, Jay Berger, who is the coach of the Davis Cup team beside me, we all sat down with the players and looked at what we thought could give us the best possible advantage playing against a really difficult team in Serbia, looking at what we do well, which primarily our team is an aggressive team.  We like to serve well.  The players that we’ve had playing singles and doubles for our team all are big servers, tend to be tall players in general.
Altitude, if you’re not familiar with what it does to a tennis ball, the ball travels through the air a lot faster.  This is mid‑level altitude.  This isn’t super high altitude, say like a Denver.  It’s controllable altitude.  But the ball will move through the court, bounce higher, get onto the players quicker.  It’s typically pretty good for an offensive player.
The ball, it takes time to get adjusted and control in these conditions, as well.  Our team will try to get out there fairly early to adjust to the Boise altitude.

Q.  Any thought of playing at 5,000 feet or something like that or is that too much?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  5,000 feet is pretty challenging for everyone involved.  Our team has played higher than that, in Bogota, which is north of 8,000 feet.  That becomes really not even tennis.  You can’t spin the ball.  Challenging.
We’re looking for an advantage while still keeping it social.

Q.  You’ve been here before and played an exhibition out here.  Was there anything else about Boise that was attractive to you?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I like Boise in general.  It’s not a widely known city certainly for the international community, but it’s a beautiful neighborhood, area.  A lot of great amenities there.  I think everyone will have a great time out there.

Q.  Another sort of condition question that has to do with the surface.  I’m hearing that some of the guys like a slightly higher bounce, some like a quicker ball, even with the Bryan brothers there’s some discrepancy.  Where are you in that process and what kind of surface are you going to come up with?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I was down in Baltimore yesterday testing a couple of different court speeds on behalf of the team actually.  We’re trying to find something that works for everybody.
I don’t think it’s any mystery to you or anyone on this call that was following us in Jacksonville that our team is likely to be a similar team to that one as far as the four players.
Faster courts are not great for a lot of our guys.  So this court I would anticipate it being not quite as speedy as we’ve had at Jacksonville.  But we’re still working through that process.  We’ll get it right.

Q.  Is there a tournament currently on the tour which is pretty similar to that?  The San Jose tournament or something like that?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I wasn’t in San Jose, so I couldn’t exactly tell you.  I think it would probably fall within a pretty standard range of what you see on tour these days.  There’s a lot of similarity to surfaces, as everyone talks about.  I don’t anticipate it’s going to be an extreme surface from that standpoint.

Q.  Could you paint a word picture for us as far as what a Davis Cup environment is like, especially on home turf.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Sure.
I think the best way to describe it, it’s more like going to a college sporting event where there’s a very partisan crowd.  Tennis is typically known to be a pretty quiet sport as far as crowd participation goes.  While we don’t encourage our fans at a U.S. Davis Cup match to cheer during play, nor should they at any time at any tennis event, but once the point is over, we do expect and encourage a very partisan crowd.
It’s one of the things that makes Davis Cup unique.  They don’t call ‘game Bob Bryan,’ they call ‘game United States,’ as an example.  You’re playing for the colors on your back, your tennis fans and your country.  We hope for them and expect them to help us get through the weekend.

Q.  How much preparation is needed on‑site?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  We’ll be showing up the weekend prior.  I would anticipate the Serbian squad would do the same.  They’ll be practicing all week long leading into the Friday matches.

Q.  Maybe we can start with the Serbians.  Obviously Djokovic has been playing at a 2011 level or maybe better.  Troicki hasn’t been good on tour but good in Davis Cup.  Talk about confronting that team a little bit.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  They’re one of the best squads out there clearly.  When you have the No.1 player in the world, that’s a nice place to start.
But they’re thick, even without Tipsarevic, who has ruled himself out from what I’ve gathered.  When you have Troicki, a former top 20 player, you have Zimonjic playing doubles, you have five difficult matches in front of you.  That’s what we expect to see.  Not too dissimilar from when we played in Switzerland going up against Federer and Wawrinka, having five tough matches there.
We know it can be done.  We know it’s going to be difficult with Novak.  He’s setting the standard right now.
But Davis Cup is Davis Cup, and hopefully our guys will be able to step up.  They’ll certainly be underdogs on paper and be ready to let it fly.
Troicki hasn’t come out of the blocks particularly hot on tour, but he played a clutch match to help them get through in singles and doubles in Belgium.  We expect him to be ready to go and we’ll certainly be hoping to get some success in the singles on Friday and roll the dice with the Bryan brothers hoping they’re healthy on Saturday and see where we stand.

Q.  Can you talk about Isner.  You had him in Jacksonville.  He took a tough loss the other day.  Not a great start of the year.  Confidence level isn’t there.  He’s key to your team.  Break down what you think is going on with him.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Well, I think that the season is really just getting started now for him coming off of the uncertainty with the knee.  John certainly was not prepared to play in Jacksonville, although he did bravely go out there and give it his best.  His knee held, which is great news.
He’s won some matches since then, but certainly he’s not satisfied with where he is.  He and his coach are en route to Florida to get some work in together going into Key Biscayne.
If you follow John’s pattern, he’s a momentum player.  Seems like when he gets one good week under his belt, he just runs for four or five months.  Hopefully Miami can get that started.  If it’s not Miami, then hopefully it will be Boise that gets him started.
Again, we’re not naming the team today, as you know.  Assuming everyone’s healthy, I think we’ll field the same squad as we did in Jacksonville.

Q.  Talk a little bit about Sam.  Obviously next week he’ll be the top American player in the rankings.  He seems to be somebody who needs that kind of confidence.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Well, Sam had I think a pretty significant win in Jacksonville in the fifth match under a lot of pressure, playing against a player substantially lower in the rankings than him.  He had a lot to lose and came up good in the end, which I think will carry him in good stead for moments like that going forward.
Sam has a big game, big serve, big forehand.  He moves pretty well.  He’s going to take on Novak tonight.  Hopefully he’ll do well.  Beat him last time in Paris.
I think it will be an exciting time for Sam.  Being the No.1 American is a great achievement.  He should feel very proud of that.  Hopefully that can propel him to greater things.
How was that for a generic answer (laughter)?

Q.  Both Sam and John have had issues and have admitted about showing their feelings, when they feel like they’re down and everything, the hang dog and everything.  I know they both have said you’ve talked to them about it.  Seeing any progress?  What are you telling them?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I don’t love that in any player, let alone players that play for the United States.  I’m more of a believer of faking it if you’re not feeling good than showing someone that you’re down.
I know everyone’s different.  You can’t expect everyone to just immediately snap‑to when you ask them to put up a little bit more of a street‑fighter front.
But I’d like our guys to be more street fighters on our team.  I like them to walk around with their chests out.  Sam and John can absolutely bulldoze almost any player on tour if they’re playing well.  With the serves and forehands they possess, they have the ability to take the racquets out of their hands.  It’s hard for me to understand when you don’t show your power.
Everyone is built a little bit differently, that’s for sure.  That’s a little bit of a work in progress, I think.

Q.  It’s not easy to get to Boise from South Florida.  I assume all you guys are going to be coming from South Florida.  Are you flying commercial?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Flying commercial.  We’ll make it.  You can make it, too.  It’s a one‑stopper.  It’s not that hard.  Miami to Salt Lake.

Q.  If you were hired tomorrow as Sam’s new personal coach, what’s the first thing you would work on with him?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Well, it’s not really much different than what I work on with him when we’re at Davis Cup, which is we try to get him to be more aggressive on the return of serves, particularly the second serves, just to be a little bit more organized with his game.
I think he’s doing quite well at that.  I think Sam is at a pretty good place right now.
They’re small adjustments for him.  I think if he’s looking to do the right things on the return of serve, he can put a lot of pressure on people, particularly if he’s having a good serving day.
We’ve talked about it before on this call, a little bit of the body language, which Sam is a tall guy who, when he walks around, he looks like he tries to shrink himself to not be seen.
His instinct isn’t to stick his chest out; his instinct is to fit in.  He’s a happy‑go‑lucky kid.  That’s great off the court.  But on the court this game is combat and you have to be ready for it and show it.

Q.  He said recently that the new crop of American guys, the ones that he’s hanging around with, in some ways have an advantage to the guys you were playing with in that they’re all friends, they all get along.  In life that may be more important.  Is it?  Or in life is tennis more important?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think life is life and tennis is tennis.  I think you really have to separate, like the way people separate business and life.  Tennis is a business.  The things that people do in business they couldn’t get away in life.  It’s cut‑throat.  You guys know it when you’re doing your work.  It’s rough out there.  Everyone is after your lunch.  And that’s no different in the tennis world.
Look, my best friends by and large come from the tennis world because they’re the people I’ve spent the most time with.  That’s my personal experience.  I’ve been able to carry relationships that have improved since we’ve stopped competing against each other naturally.
I think if you took this generation of players that Sam is involved in, and you put them at the very top of the game, they were winning slams against each other, I think that would alter things, because I experienced that.  Pete Sampras and I played doubles together and ate every meal together, then things changed as we got better, got a little bit more competitive.
It’s pretty simple from my point of view.  Business is business; life is life.  While you don’t have to be a jerk about it while you’re on the court, in between the lines, you play to win, you play for keeps.

Q.  Is Sam too nice to be a No.1?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I don’t think that he’s too nice to be a No.1.  I think he would just need to be a little bit more consistently hard‑edged on the court to be No.1.  Trying to push him in that direction.

Q.  I wanted to talk to you about your role.  Can you talk about how you became being captain in the Davis Cup, what your role is there.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  The United States Tennis Association organizes the United States Davis Cup team.  There was a process when the prior captain, Patrick McEnroe, went through the process and then I was asked to accept the job, which I accepted by going into the process anyway.  I already indicated I would.  That’s how I got to be the captain.
The job of the captain, did you want to know more about that?

Q.  Yes.  What kind of imprint can you put on this team and the matches?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  So the captain’s job, starting with picking the four players on the squad, working with those players to select what type of surface we want to play on, what type of conditions we want to play on, which led us to Boise for this quarterfinal round.  Through the course of the year I work with the players and their coaches just from a communication standpoint.
All of these players have there day‑to‑day full‑time head coaches, and I play a supporting role during the Davis Cup weeks when those coaches typically don’t come.  They’re allowed to come, but they typically don’t.  I basically become the players’ surrogate coach, along with our Davis Cup coach, who I guess you could say is the assistant to the captain, long time USTA coach Jay Berger, former top 10 player.
Jay and I really run practices during the course of the week.  We organize who is going to play with who.  We try to help these guys play their best tennis.
Then during the course of the matches over the three days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I get to sit on the court with the players, get to help them with tactics, adjustments, any questions or concerns they may have in real‑time, which is slightly different, very different, from any other tennis match that the players will play all season long when they’re out there on their own and have to make adjustments by themselves.

Q.  Did you make a long‑term commitment to this?  Is it a year‑to‑year thing?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I have a two‑year agreement that started this year.  I’ve done two years and extended for another two in 2013.

Q.  What do you like about being the captain?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I really like getting to spend time with the guys, getting to know them, hopefully being able to help them in some small way become better tennis players, being a resource for them for any kinds of questions that they may have about their careers, whether it’s scheduling, agents, paying taxes.  Anything they’re going to go through I probably will have gone through for the most part.  I like being able to help them from that standpoint.
I really enjoy the weeks we’re all together as a team.  I enjoyed those as a player.  I enjoy them very much as a captain, being able to be there for the guys, trying to help them get the most out of themselves.  Win or lose, we hold our heads up.

Q.  What stood out being a player in Davis Cup?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think it’s a unique time to be on a team.  Where tennis is a very individual sport, this is that rare time of the year where you get to come together with a group of guys and make a collective effort towards victory.  You get to share those good and bad moments as opposed to just having them in your own mind.
So I think the team aspect is the real special side for everyone who gets a chance to be involved in Davis Cup or Fed Cup on the female side.

Q.  I think you’ve hit on a couple things you want to see out of your guys.  What do you want from your team on a Davis Cup week?  What kind of mentality or attitude are you looking for?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Quite simply it’s to be prepared and go out there and lay it on the line.  We don’t get to control the results, we just get to control the preparation and effort.  As long as we’re prepared, ready to play, we lay it out there when the red light comes on, I’m going to be a happy captain.

Q.  The other 48 weeks of the year, are you coaching?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  No, I just kind of sit around and wait for you guys to call me (laughter).

Q.  Do you expect a sold‑out crowd in Boise?  Talk about the job that long time Boise State coach Greg Patton has done bringing this event to Boise.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I do expect we’ll have a full house.  As Tim indicated early on, already sold 21,000 tickets, so 7,000 per day so far.  I believe it’s about an 11,000‑seat capacity stadium.  We’re closing in on it here with under a month to go.  We expect a great crowd in Boise.
Coach Patton is someone I’ve known since I was 15 years old.  He was my junior Davis Cup team captain for a couple of years.  He’s an absolute ‑ what’s the word ‑ Pied Piper for tennis.  Coach is incredible.  He’s got so much energy and enthusiasm, such a passion for life and for the game, there’s no doubt that he’s instrumental in bringing this to Boise, and he’ll be instrumental in having the great crowd there, for sure, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Q.  The big four attract big support wherever they go.  Do you expect if Djokovic starts working his magic, the crowd will appreciate his effort and continue to root for the USA or the crowd may be swayed?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I’ve never seen a U.S. Davis Cup crowd switch sides.  But our crowds tend to be very respectful and appreciative of the opposition.  If a good shot is hit, we certainly don’t mind if our fans cheer for the other side.  A good shot deserves applause, but certainly we do expect them to be partisan for us.
So we’d like our crowd to be partisan but fair.

Q.  Do you expect the Bryan brothers to bounce back strongly?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Typically Zimonjic plays with Troicki for the doubles.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  We won’t know until about an hour before match time who will be on the other side of the net.
You can rest assured if Bob and Mike are healthy and in Boise, they’ll be eager to get a win for the team.  They’re as good as it gets in Davis Cup.

Q.  Question about the Bryan brothers.  They’re familiar with Boise, having played World TeamTennis.  Did you get any input from them as choosing Boise for the finals?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  We absolutely talked to the guys about the type of scenario that we thought might be ideal, then within those confines Boise was really the top spot as far as what we were looking for.
They certainly had great things to say about Boise.  I was able to play a match out in Boise a little over a decade ago.  I’m familiar with it.  Certainly thought it would be ideal for us.

Q.  The week leading up to the matches, you’ll be out here probably a week before.  Will there be any sort of community events with the tennis players at all?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Yes, there will be.  We’re planning those right now.  I’m not exactly sure what the scenario is.  I believe there will be something on Tuesday evening.  Typically we also hold an open practice at some stage during the week.
I’m sure the USTA will get you all that information in due time.

Q.  You mentioned a few moments ago about being the over‑dog in Jacksonville.  Most of the ties you played last year you were the underdogs.  As you prepare for this tie, is there a different way that you approach it with the players when you’re favored on paper or not favored on paper?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  We really just approach it match by match as far as in the practice weeks.  We approach it based on the matchups.  Certainly there’s psychology to being an underdog versus a favorite.  We might employ some of that with the players.
But these guys, this is not their first rodeo.  You can’t fool them with sort of standard fair.  I think it will be basically just we’ll know at the end who is going to be the No.1 and No. 2 players, we’ll know what the matchups are going to be, we’ll get the guys ready for that and see what happens.

Q.  As a former No.1, you’ve seen Novak play a ton.  How would you approach attacking him on hard courts?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Can’t tell you.  Can’t tell you.  That’s kind of the stuff that we have to share with the team.

Q.  You yourself.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Me myself?

Q.  Jim Courier 2013, with new technology.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I’m not sure I’d want to go out there with him.  Novak, he’s so sound.  He’s shored up so many of the things that were holding him slightly back, the second serve, the forehand, those things have become so solid.
It’s hard for a player with my weaponry to look at that matchup and be happy, let’s put it that way.  You wonder where to go with him.  I’m not sure there’s a good answer.

Q.  Off Davis Cup.  If Nadal manages to get to Federer, what do you expect from Rafa?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Don’t you expect the same from Rafa every time he goes to play?

Q.  Effort‑wise, yeah, but I’m talking more about form, coming back after seven months.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Well, I haven’t seen him play out in Indian Wells yet.  Maybe you can tell me.  How is he moving?  Is he moving aggressively, sliding into his backhand, screeching to stops, or is he moving old school and taking that extra step?

Q.  I thought against Ryan he doesn’t trust the hard courts as much.  Maybe it will be a bigger occasion against Gulbis today.  Did you see Acapulco and were you impressed by that?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I didn’t see Acapulco.  I saw Chile.  He looked tentative there.  He didn’t look quick off the step.  He was getting beaten by dropshots, which I thought is totally normal.
He should be different by now.  But, yeah, today will be a good indication.  If he’s moving aggressively, expect a rough match.  If he’s playing two competitors, his body and Roger Federer, that’s going to be tough.
TIM CURRY:  I want to thank everybody for joining us.  Jim, thank you for your time.  Official team announcement will be 10 days prior to the start of play.  We will talk to you from Miami.  Thank you.

Tennis Panorama News participates in many tennis media conference calls. “On The Call” serves to give readers an inside view of tennis news.

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