2014/04/16

“On The Call” with Andy Murray and the BNP Paribas Showdown at MSG

Murray BNP paribas

(January 29, 2014) Andy Murray discussed his upcoming match against Novak Djokovic in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden scheduled for Monday, March 3 on a media conference call. The event which is part of World Tennis Day also features a doubles match featuring John and Patrick McEnroe as they take on the best doubles team of all-time and current World No. 1 Bob and Mike Bryan.

Here is a rough transcript of the conference call:

Q: Andy, there is another big event happening here in New York – do you have any predictions on the Superbowl?

 

Andy Murray (AM): I don’t follow American football hugely, but if I get the chance to I will try and watch the game.   I think I read on Twitter that Floyd Mayweather had bet $10 million dollars on the Denver Broncos to win, which is quite amazing.  I’ll go with them as maybe he knows something we all don’t.

 

Q: Are you looking forward to the event at Madison Square Garden?

 

AM: Yeah, it should be a great event. I’ve heard from the guys that played there before that it is an amazing atmosphere. When I went to look around they were in the middle of refurbishments but it looked liked it was going to be unbelievable so it should be a fun place to play!

 

Q: Andy, you had a very memorable 2012 U.S. Open against Novak (Djokovic). Would you characterize that as your greatest match with him ever?

 

AM: I guess from my side, yeah I would say that. I mean we’ve played in quite a few big ones over the past few years, we’ve played a couple of great matches in Australia as well, but I mean from my side that was my first grand slam for me, and the way that the match went as well where I was up two sets-to-love and then he came back and then to come through winning that, it was probably my best one against him.

 

Q: Can you just talk about the benefit for players at your level and Novak for playing an exhibition like this?

 

AM: It depends how you use them and what time of year they come at. I mean obviously in preparation for Indian Wells and Miami which are the two biggest events coming up, I mean to play a match in that atmosphere with that many people, you know is perfect preparation for those events coming up. I haven’t played in loads of exhibition matches over the last few years but it’s not often a chance comes around to play at a venue like that, Madison Square Garden. I am a huge, huge boxing fan and they have had a load of great fights over the years. I love my basketball as well so to play in a place like that where you might not be able to get that chance to do that ever again, where you know most tournaments we will get that opportunity. You know the exhibitions kind of will be great for us as players to play in different arenas and parts of the world, we don’t usually get to.

 

Q: Coming back from back surgery and playing the Australian Open, you are playing really well and then of course you play Roger. How do you feel about your expectations, did you feel you can play that well for a few rounds at the Australian Open?

 

AM: To be honest, I didn’t know, I didn’t really know. I think having not played at that level hurt me a little bit at the beginning of the match with Roger because he was obviously playing some really good tennis over in Australia. And, he started the match very well and at a very high pace. It was something that I almost wasn’t ready for and in a way I started to build into the match as it went on and to feel a little bit better as the match went on. I don’t know how I was going to play. I never had a surgery before. I didn’t know how my body was going to respond exactly. But, for the second tournament back it was good. I wasn’t expecting to play my best tennis but it was a good start. The positive is that my back is feeling good and hopefully that continues throughout the rest of the year.

 

Q: I saw on Twitter today you were tweeting your score evolution soccer match. Are you in San Diego right now? And, how are the preparations for the Davis Cup?

 

AM: Yeah, I got in on Sunday from Melbourne. It’s weird; I’ve never flown back to the States this way from Australia which was quiet strange. It was like an 19 hour time change for a 14 hour flight. So we left 11:00 on Sunday morning and we got back around 6:00 in the morning here, it was weird. I have kind of been struggling a bit with the jetlag. But they have set up a great stadium and stuff over here. I’ve never been to San Diego before. It’s a great city, everything is beautiful, and it’s so nice. The court’s a bit challenging as it’s very slippery and tricky to move on. The venue’s, I mean it’s incredible. It’s a great venue.

 

Q:  Did Ivan (Lendl) ever talk to you about some of the extraordinary matches he has played at Madison Square Garden and second to that, what is the greatest venue you have ever played in?

 

AM: I mean outside of the Slams I would say the Alter finals, I always find the atmosphere of playing indoors it seems like you are able to create … an extra buzz and a little bit more of excitement atmosphere. Like none of the noise kind of gets lost in the open. It all kind of stays inside of the arena. I think when Ivan was playing I mean he obviously played his last year with McEnroe you know they had the tour finals when he was playing and I hadn’t exactly spoken with him at that specific time matches. But I spoke with him about playing there he said it was amazing. Like the atmosphere was great and the event was unbelievable. I spoke to a couple of people about if it will ever go back there and it doesn’t look like it will work financially now-a-days. Ivan said it was a pretty cool place to play.

 

Q: Can you tell us how you feel when you are in New York City?

 

AM: There is so much energy in the city that’s for sure.  It’s a very busy place, there is a lot happening.  There is loads of stuff to do there.   When I was growing up it was my favorite place to play and favorite place to visit.  I love the event, I love the US Open, and I love the night matches and the atmosphere there.  It’s a fun place to go to because there is just so much to do.  As a player, all the big places we play in all across the world it’s a pretty unique atmosphere that you get at the US Open playing in New York.  It should be fun to go back and play at Madison Square Garden.  It’s a cool city and I’ve always enjoyed going there.  The first time I went I was fifteen years old and I’ve enjoyed it all the time.

 

Q: Did you get a chance to watch the final between Stan (Wawrinka) and Rafa (Nadal)?

 

AM: No, I was flying and I didn’t see any of it.

 

Q: What were your impressions in general on Stan’s performance in Melbourne and do you think it’s good for the game for someone like him to break through?

 

AM: I saw some of his match with Djokovic but I didn’t see too much of his matches during the first week.  He had a couple of walk-over’s in the first week and he played a great match with Novak.  I didn’t see the final and I saw a little bit of the semi-final with Berdych (Tomas) which was an unbelievable tight match.  I only heard what happened in the final from people who watched it.   I heard it was quite a tough watch just with everything that was going on.  Weather its good for the game or not that’s up for everyone else to decide.  As a player, when I’m playing I’m trying to win myself and when it’s done I try not to worry too much about it.  I think over the last, however long it’s been, there’s been so few different major winners.  I think, for fans it’s probably a bit more enjoyable to see the events a little bit more open than they have been in the past.  Different faces in the last stages of those events.

 

Q: Do you have any plans for an exhibition in Scotland this year?

 

AM: Yeah, we are looking to try and do one this year at some stage.  I’m not 100% sure it’s going to happen or not.  It’s something we definitely looked in to; I think it would be a good thing for me to do.  There’s no tennis competitions in Scotland, there is a few sort of Futures events.  There are no challengers or ATP events there.  It would be a good thing to try and set up an event or match there later on in the year if we can.  It’s not always easy to get the right venue to make everything work with timing with obviously with the way our tour works.   There aren’t loads of periods in the year where we can do it.  I’m hoping something will get started.

 

Q: Were you surprised when the US Team chose clay as the surface in Davis Cup and what are your thoughts on playing John Isner?

 

AM: I was a little bit surprised with the surface, to be honest.  By having played on the surface I see what they have tried to do.  It’s not like a traditional European clay court that is quite slow and heavy.  The sliding and stuff is different … I move okay on the clay. It’s not something I feel unbelievably uncomfortable on.  It’s not like a traditional clay court – it’s much faster, the balls are quick … there’s not a whole lot of top surface, it’s quite tough to move.  I can see what they were obviously trying to do with the surface.

 

In terms of playing Isner – I haven’t played him for a while. I think the last time I played him it was the US Open a few years ago.  He’s obviously always a tough guy to play just because of the way he plays and they way he serves and holds serve.  It’s always going to be a tough matchup.

 

The annual BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden is scheduled for Monday, March 3, 2014.  The McEnroe vs. Bryan doubles match will be followed by Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic. For more information: www.thegarden.com.

The BNP Paribas Showdown is part of the second annual World Tennis Day, a global celebration of tennis that includes Showdown events in Hong Kong and London in addition to New York City. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and its member nations will host participation events such as clinics and open houses at clubs around the world as part of this day. In 2013, 58 nations held World Tennis Day participation events.

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Andy Roddick Talks to Media Before PowerShares Series Tennis Circuit Debut

AndyRoddick

(January 15, 2014) With the  2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit to begin next months, Andy Roddick spoke to the media via conference call on Wednesday. Here is a full conference call transcript of Roddick’s conference call:

 

RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th.  The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City.  For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself.  I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.

 

Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.

ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences.  So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun.  It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.

 

Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?

ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.

 

Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.

 

Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?

ANDY RODDICK:  It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.

 

Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.

 

Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?

ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat?  I don’t know.  Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.

 

Q.  Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?

ANDY RODDICK:  I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue.  They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.

 

Q.  And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing?  Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.

 

Q.  Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again.  He played he actually beat me the first two times.  I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports.  So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.

 

Q.  There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?

ANDY RODDICK:  No, I don’t.  The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.

 

Q.  Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?

ANDY RODDICK:  Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night.  Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.

 

Q.  Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script.  We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it.  We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.

 

Q.  No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade.  How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to.              But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it.  You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q.  Any good one liners you’re working on these days?

ANDY RODDICK:  You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?

 

Q.  You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?

ANDY RODDICK:  Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job.  All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.

 

Q.  I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more.  He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.

 

Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned?  I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path.  I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.

 

Q.  As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.

 

Q.  What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis.  It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier.  Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.

 

Q.  For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?

ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really.  The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.

RANDY WALKER:  We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.

The full 2014 PowerShares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:

Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint Centre – Ivan Lendl, John
McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan
Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick,
Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Indiana, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John
McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James
Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Thursday, February 20, Houston, Texas, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim
Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake

Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete
Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, California, Sleep Train Arena – Pete
Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John
McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe,
Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, North Carolina, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe,
Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Friday, March 21, Surprise, Arizona, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim
Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang

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Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier Talk to Media About 2014 Powershares Tennis Circuit

2014 PowerShares QQQ Tennis Tour Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell

2014 PowerShares QQQ Tennis Tour Rings The NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell

 

(October 24, 2013) Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier spoke to the media on Thursday and discussed the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit, the 12-city tour featuring legendary tennis champions also including Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

Agassi will be competing in the Camden Wealth Advisors Cup in Houston on Feb. 20 and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Championships in Portland, Oregon on Feb. 27.

Blake, who will make his PowerShares Series debut in 2014, will be competing in events in Denver (Feb. 19), Houston (Feb. 20), Salt Lake City (Feb. 25), Sacramento (Feb. 26) and Portland, Oregon (Feb. 27)

Courier will be competing in events in Kansas City (Feb. 5), Oklahoma City (Feb. 6), Birmingham (Feb. 13), Indianapolis, (Feb. 14), Denver (Feb. 19), Houston (Feb. 20), Salt Lake City (Feb. 25), Sacramento (Feb. 26), Portland, Oregon (Feb. 27) and Surprise, Ariz. (March 21).

The following is the ASAPSports transcript of Thursday’s media conference call to promote the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis tour:
POWERSHARES SERIES MEDIA CONFERENCE

October 24, 2013

Andre Agassi

James Blake

Jim Courier
RANDY WALKER:  Thanks, everybody, for joining us today on our PowerShares Series conference call.  We’re excited to have Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier on the call today.
Last week we announced the full schedule for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit featuring legendary tennis players over the age of 30.  The series kicks off February 5th in Kansas City and runs through March 21st in Surprise, Arizona.  All event dates, venues, players fields and ticket information is available at PowerSharesSeries.com.
General public ticket sales kicked off on Tuesday of this week, and we can report some brisk early sales.
Before we open it up to questions, I’m going to start off with a question for each of our participants.  We’ll start with Andre.
Andre, you’re scheduled to play in Houston and Portland this year.  You, James and Jim are in those fields.  Can you talk a little bit about those venues and potentially playing against Jim and James.  You and Jim have been battling it out since the Bollettieri days.  You and James had that epic US Open quarterfinal from a few years ago where you won 7‑6 in the fifth.  Talk a little bit about that.
ANDRE AGASSI:  Absolutely.  First of all, this has been a great platform for me to stay engaged with the game of tennis.  It’s been a very high priority in my life, tennis has given me a platform to do so many things.  I’ve struggled to find ways to stay involved that don’t take too much time away from my family and the balance of life.
What Jim has created with this PowerShares Series, he’s created an opportunity for guys like me and James and others to be able to get out on the road for a night and prepare for this, have an excuse to stay in shape, have an excuse to stay involved in the game, and go to these places and enjoy that level of engagement.
I can’t say I’m looking terribly forward to James with this because he still moves like the wind.  Nevertheless, the memories will come flooding back for me.  I love the feeling of engaging with people that have been a huge part of my life.  James and Jim have certainly been two of them.  Going to places where tennis really should be and isn’t.
RANDY WALKER:  James, you played your last ATP career match at the US Open this year.  Who are you most looking forward to playing and what are your expectations on this PowerShares Series this year?
JAMES BLAKE:  Well, after Andre’s comment, I don’t know if I should be offended or complimented (laughter).  I totally understand.
It’s funny because I was just thinking about it the other day.  My whole life on tour seemed to go by so fast.  I was the young guy on tour.  Before I knew it, I was the grizzled veteran.  Now I’m off tour and I get to be the young guy again on this PowerShares Series again.  That’s exciting for me to be the young guy in any situation.
It should be a lot of fun.  I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life that doesn’t have tennis be the first, second and third priority, as I’m sure the other guys understand.  When you are on tour, it’s a bit selfish.  We have other things involved in our lives.  I know Andre has his family and foundation.  Jim has so many business ventures and a family as well.
It’s going to be a little less stressful than that match I played with Andre at the Open, but maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight if I can get a little revenge on the PowerShares Series.
ANDRE AGASSI:  Let the record show that it was a compliment.
RANDY WALKER:  Now we’ll turn it over to Jim.  Jim is playing in the kickoff event in Kansas City on February 5th, returning to where he and Andre had an important Davis Cup win in 1991, 22 years ago, over Germany.
Jim, talk about the PowerShares Series this year, 10 new cities, including a lot of cities that don’t have ATP or WTA events.
JIM COURIER:  Sure.  It’s going to be great to be going back to a city like Kansas City that I haven’t played in since ’91, since Andre saved my bacon when I lost the fourth singles match.  Who did you come out and beat?  Was it Steeb?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Steeb, yeah.  You took care of him the first day, I had to take care of him the last day.
JIM COURIER:  It’s going to be fun to go back to Kansas City and be out on tour with James and Andy Roddick, who are two newcomers this year.  A little bit like Andre said, be careful what you wish for.  It’s great to have these guys out with us, but it’s going to make it that much tougher to win.
But I love the challenge.  Obviously it’s great to have those guys out joining me and Andre and some of the other great champions that are a part of the circuit.
There’s going to be a lot to look forward to as we get going in February and March.  I think January is going to be a pretty hectic time trying to get ready for these guys, too, trying to build up the body to take on these young bucks.
It’s going to be a good circuit.  A lot of great cities that I’m looking forward to playing in for the first time.  I haven’t played in Salt Lake, Sacramento, among many others.  It’s going to be definitely a good challenge and some new travel for me, which will be great.
RANDY WALKER:  Now we’ll turn it over to the media for questions.

 

Q.  A quick Rafa/Federer question.  Rafa is at 13 majors now.  If he wins the Australian and/or the French, he’s at 14, 15, tying or passing Pete.  Do you think it’s inevitable that he’s going to pass Roger?  If so, does that make him the greatest?  With regard to Roger, do you think he can win another major?
ANDRE AGASSI:  As far as titles go, I don’t think that’s inevitable.  I do think he’s capable of it.  I would make argument he doesn’t need to pass Roger in quantity to have him be arguably one of the best of all times.
I also think getting to 14 slams and tying Pete doesn’t suggest that Pete is in his category.  I think Pete dominated his generation and won 14 slams but was never a factor during the clay court season.
You have to put in a bit of variety as part of that analysis, see what Rafa has done on every surface that he’s won at least a couple times, and in some cases eight times, then see what Federer has done winning multiple times, not winning the French many times because of Rafa.  I think these two guys are in a class of their own.
I do think without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time.  He does have a winning record over Fed, although a lot of those wins come on clay.  He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
You can also make the argument this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world, and once Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world.
If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit.
It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title.  That’s also forgetting about the fact that Djokovic is one win away from entering not necessarily this all‑time conversation, but certainly accomplishing a win at every slam.  So now you got three guys potentially in one generation who have done something that only five guys have done over five decades.
I think it’s a golden age in our sport for sure.  I think we’re better off for it.  I hope everybody appreciates what it is we’re watching.
JIM COURIER:  I think Andre covered it pretty well.  Obviously, the biggest question mark for Rafa at the moment is his ongoing health.  Those of us that care about the sport want to see him stay healthy and challenge the numbers.
It’s a fun dinner conversation.  I’m not sure you can convincingly say that one guy is the greatest right now.  I certainly wouldn’t want to omit somebody like Rod Laver who did so much and missed so many opportunities because he turned professional.
It’s a fun party discussion, for sure.  I just hope that in 10 years’ time we’re able to look back and see what Rafa and Novak and the current guys did in the rearview, put it in proper perspective.
Lastly, with Federer, I would not be surprised whatsoever if he were to win another major.  I think anybody that counts him out right now does it at their own peril.

 

Q.  Andre, you and Steffi are arguably the couple who have been the most involved in charity matters.  You’ve spoken at great length about your education work.  Could you take a moment and talk about what you’ve seen through Steffi’s work with Children for Tomorrow.
ANDRE AGASSI:  What she’s chosen to take on is nothing short of Herculean and quite honestly heroic in my mind because I do believe that it takes a unique strength to deal with the trials and tribulations of the wounds that exist in children that you can’t tangible‑ize.  That’s the reality of her work.
For me, it’s about providing a high standard of education for kids that society has failed or society has written off.  For her it’s about somehow solving something that you have to first prove really exists.
It’s remarkable the stuff that she’s made, remarkable what she’s done.  She’s built kindergartens and counseling centers all across the world, from Kosovo, to Eritrea, to Hamburg, Germany, and other places.
I see how it affects her.  I see how committed she is.  There’s not one time that she does anything tennis related that she doesn’t give literally 100% of it to her foundation.
She makes me feel like the devil with her generosity.  I look at her and I think, Why are you putting yourself through this?  She puts herself through it and then comes home and writes the check to her foundation.
She doesn’t need fanfare with it.  She doesn’t advertise it.  Most of the time she’s not that thrilled to talk about it publicly because it brings her to tears in a hurry.  She just chooses to live it.
I’m amazed at what she does.  I get to watch her live her values every day.  I try to do the same.  I pale in comparison.  She beats me at everything.  At the end of the day, I still get to learn so much how she chooses to live.  Her foundation is right up there with the highest of what there is to respect about her.

 

Q.  You three guys have dedicated your lives to the game.  Aside from changing the schedule, if you could change just one thing, what would that be?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I would change our narrator calling you Mr. Simons instead of Simmons.
JAMES BLAKE:  You hit the nail on the head with the first one, the schedule.  If I had to go to a second one, I actually think I would like to go sort of back to the way it was when Andre and Jim were playing in terms of the surfaces.
I feel like the surfaces have become a little homogenized.  It’s a surface that lends itself, in my opinion, to the domination you’re seeing with Roger, at times with Novak and Rafa.  Like Andre said about Pete, he didn’t really factor in in the clay because I think the clay was so different from the grass back then.  The grass was strictly a serve‑and‑volley game until Andre showed his returns were better than anybody else’s volleys.  It was a time when you had to change your game a little bit to be effective on each surface.  I think that added a little bit more variety to the styles of play, to the tournaments themselves.
I would like to see that change a little bit.  It may change the rivalries, the Roger/Rafa dynamic for years where they were clear‑cut the two best players in the world.  You could talk about who is better on what surface, a fast court, a slower court like we used to have in Hamburg, Germany.  I think that would help the game, in my mind, to have variety.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I don’t know what I would change.  It’s been a while.  I think James is probably your best look at clarity on the subject.  He’s the most recently removed from the game, sort of has lived the realities of it in a very intimate and specific way.
When I look from the outside, I remember playing Wimbledon towards the end, and there’s no question, I agree with James, it is not the same kind of court that it once was.  I can also speak to the fact additionally guys are stronger and moving faster and so forth.  But the spin that’s in the game today, even if the court was faster, the spin generated off those racquets doesn’t serve anybody to move forward in the court, at least not without being 100% sure.
I love watching it.  I didn’t have to live it.  I wasn’t terrorized by it, except for once last year that I had to go through it.  James has come off some fresh runs of having to face what the game has become.  I think as a result, he can probably speak to it more comprehensively.
I don’t know what I would change except to make a general statement.  That is the Association of Tennis Professionals by definition is designed to look out for the interest of all players.  I don’t think any bureaucracy can move the game forward effectively if you’re trying to go all directions at once.  You turn into a swamp.  The game needs to be a river.  It needs to be moving in one direction, which means a price needs to be paid by someone somewhere for the betterment of the game.  This isn’t politics.  This is about what a sport needs to do.
Generally speaking, I would love to see somebody have a position that at least allows them the responsibility and accountability of making decisions on behalf of the game.  That’s what I would like to see.

 

Q.  Andre, why did you decide to play the Portland tour stop?  Did the cancer treatment center sponsorship or Nike have anything to do with that?  Secondly, McEnroe is your foe that night.  How much game does John have left?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Well, I wanted to play in Portland first of all, yeah, because of what cancer research does.  I’ll always support that.  That factors into it to some degree.  Personally I’ve grown really attached to Portland.  It’s a way for me to make most use of a very delicately balanced life.
Again, the tour has been designed to facilitate this opportunity for us and for tennis fans in a way that allows it to be successful, enjoyable, and achievable.
My relationship with Nike has a lot to do with that, no question.  But, again, everybody really looks for multiple overlaps, your time away, business or foundational, you have to make the most of that time when you’re away from the family.
John is remarkable.  I think all of us on the phone would sign up to be in his shape, and certainly his talent.  Given his age, I’d sign up for it right now, to be doing what he’s doing.
I know just being the age that I am, every year brings additional challenges.  It’s not going to be as easy for him every year moving forward, just like it won’t be for us.  What he’s done up to now is pretty darn impressive.  He can neutralize a lot of power.  He can make someone very uncomfortable, especially in conditions.  For example, in Salt Lake, if he plays James, James will be surprised he can make the match play awkward.
He has a passion for the game that’s almost unparalleled.  He brings that intensity to the court, sometimes against my wishes.  I wish he could enjoy it more.  But maybe that is his way of enjoying it.  But he still has more tennis in him, for sure.
RANDY WALKER:  James, any comment on going to Portland?  You had a big win there in 2007.
JAMES BLAKE:  Yes, 2007 we won the Davis Cup.  One of my fondest memories to be a part of that team, guys I had a ton of respect for, still do, still am friends with.  That was extremely special to me.
The support we got in the Portland community was really second to none, as well, the excitement we felt in that stadium.
The biggest part for me in Portland was the fact that it was really a team effort.  Andy got it started.  I got the second win.  Then the Bryans clinched it on Saturday.  We all contributed to winning in the finals.  That’s to me the perfect ending to the journey we started in 2001 with Patrick.
I’m really looking forward to going back there.  I had a great time there.  Can’t wait to have some more memories there.

 

Q.  Andre, I want to know what you think about whether you can compare players of back‑to‑back eras?  If so, how would you compare the era you played in with Sampras and Courier and Rios, Kuerten, compared to the era that Federer played in which was probably Hewitt, Safin, Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I think some generations back‑to‑back are more realistic to compare.  It’s when the game takes a leap forward that you are no longer talking about the same equation.
What Roddick brought to the table was obviously the dominance of his ability to hold serve and to make life really uncomfortable all day long because you felt like every time you were playing on your own serve, you felt like you’re serving to stay in the set.
Others had that.  Pete had that, gave you that feeling.  Hewitt, his movement and his defensive skills, were like many that I’ve played before.  Lightning fast, redirect the ball.  He did four or five things that I found in a lot of players throughout my career.
But when you start talking about guys like Djokovic, Rafa, Fed, possibly Murray, you’re talking about guys who have literally changed the rules of engagement.  Whenever you’re talking about that, you cannot, in my opinion, compare generations.
Somebody who played in an era where there wasn’t that kind of spin, there wasn’t that kind of ‑ I don’t know how you want to put it ‑ but where the rules of engagement change that dramatically, impossible to do.
There’s no way a serve‑volleyer, a Rafter, can come forward on every point and get to your ball early.  Covering the line at the net is fine, but you can’t reach the ball because it’s 15 feet over your head, coming down with margin, it’s like a drive forehand topspin lob winner.  Certain things are just above and beyond.  And I would say in this generation, that’s changed the game.

Q.  Jim, as a person who has put this tour together, you have a couple guys in his early 30s, a guy in his mid 50s, somebody in their early 60s.  How do we view these matches, more as competition or exhibitions?
JIM COURIER:  I think if you look at each of the individual tournament draws, as far as the generations that are playing, you’ll see some logic to them.  We’re not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn’t going to be that competitive.  Not that Jimmy isn’t a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment.
You’ll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour.  We’ll have some cross‑generational matches for sure.  But Johnny Mack, as Andre pointed out, is going to make things difficult for anybody he plays, no matter what generation, because of how he’s able to play.
I think we have a terrific lineup all across the board when I look at all 12 of these events.  I see nothing but great matches and great competition.

 

Q.  Andre and James, you both played Nadal in 2005.  He was a teenager.  What was your first impression of him then?  When you look at his evolution, the revisions he’s made to his game, what have been most important to his evolution?
JAMES BLAKE:  2005 was the first time I got to play him.  I actually had the benefit of getting a great scouting report from Andre who played him a couple weeks earlier in Canada.
My impression of him then was he was a clay courter playing on hard courts.  He was playing with a lot of topspin, hitting the ball heavy, but not attacking the ball, not moving forward at all.  He sort of counted on his defense and his movement to win a lot of matches.  He did it exceptionally well, obviously.  He had already won the French Open at that point.  He was the best clay courter in the world at that point.  He hadn’t translated that into his best hard court game yet at that point, I don’t think.
Andre gave me a great scouting report that I needed to attack him, make him feel uncomfortable.  I was able to do that that way.  Since then, he’s become much more aggressive.  He worked on his serve.  When I played him in ’05, he served over 90% to my backhand.  He was looking to hit that clay court serve where he hits it to the player’s weakest side instead of using it as a weapon.
We saw this year at the US Open how easily he held serve.  His serve is much more of a weapon than it was.
I also remember specifically, I had never even hit with him before I played him, the first couple balls in warmup, he hit the ball so heavy, I actually thought I was in trouble from the start.  Once the match started, he was hitting the ball shorter and playing with a lot of margin and not being as aggressive.  That to me gave me the opportunity to play my game.
As I’ve seen him now and practiced with him much more recently, that guy is gone.  He’s so much more effective with being aggressive, with taking his game and imposing it on me, like I said, being more effective with his serve.  He’s still one of the best movers, moves so well side to side.
He actually has improved his volleys.  He used to be pretty, in my mind, uncomfortable at the net.  Now he looks comfortable.  He’s not going to be Patrick Rafter at any time.  He gets up there, looks comfortable, feels okay up there, can finish points at the net.
I think he’s improved everything he needs to to be aggressive and still keep the game that got him to be the best clay courter in the world, too.
ANDRE AGASSI:  That was a hell of a breakdown of his game.  The only thing I could add to it is my impression of him the first time I played him, I didn’t have the luxury of James’ speed.  The one thing I knew I had to do, I just didn’t have it.  James had the option.
I used to play lefty clay‑courters and pound the backhand cross‑court.  They would try to fight it off deep.  I would step inside the baseline and just control the point.  I did it in the Canadian Open final the first point we played.  Everything went according to my game plan.  The next time I came from backhand cross‑court to his forehand, he went so high and so short, in order for me to do anything, I had to commit so far in the court, I was exposed on the next shot.  I hit that shot.  He came in, made an adjustment, hit it at my feet, laughed at me when I tried to make the volley.  The next thing I knew, there’s no chance against this guy unless you have the ability to move exceptionally well, get up in the court, get back, or like James does so well, which is get around that short ball no matter where it’s bouncing and jump on the forehand knowing he has all that real estate he can cover if he doesn’t hit the forehand exactly the way he wants.
Nadal went from a guy that maybe I had a chance against that year, right surface, right circumstance, to a guy I see from my couch that I’m pleased to be watching from my couch.

 

Q.  If you look at the guys under 24, Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Janowicz, who do you think has the hugest upside?
ANDRE AGASSI:  James has played them.
JAMES BLAKE:  I played all those guys.  I didn’t play Dimitrov.  I practiced with him plenty, though.
I would say Dimitrov has a ton of talent.  Raonic, that serve, that’s the most uncomfortable to play.  Out of those four guys, I’d least like to play Raonic because of that serve.  It takes you out of your rhythm, which I know it sounds weird for me to say, because I do that with my forehand, try to get them out of their rhythm.  He definitely makes it so you don’t feel comfortable.  It could be a set and 3‑all in the second set, you don’t feel you’re into the match because he’s won so many free points off his serve, he’s missed a lot of balls on the return game, and he hasn’t given you anything to really feel like you’re into the match.  That to me makes it uncomfortable.
Janowicz is a little bit the same.  He really hits the ball hard and flat.  He can make a lot of balls in a row, which can give you some rhythm.  I had success against him.  I feel like he kind of sticks to patterns a little bit.  I just happened to be playing well that day.
Nishikori I think is continuing to improve.  It’s a tougher battle for him because he’s not a big guy.  That’s another thing that’s changed about the tour, is guys have gotten so much bigger.  I think it’s tough for him to compete against really big guys, even though he hits the ball better than a lot of them, moves better than a lot of them.  It’s tougher for him to stay healthy and compete with the big boys.
Dimitrov, practiced with him a lot.  I think he has a huge upside.  If he stays healthy, he has a live arm, huge serve, even though he’s not one of the huge guys, 6’6″, 6’7″.  He moves well.  Looks like he’s comfortable hitting any shot.  Just a matter for him of putting it all together.
If I had to say one guy that the game actually excites me, it’s did Dimitrov.  Raonic is the most uncomfortable to play, but I don’t get quite excited watching a guy serve 25 aces and win a match 6‑6.
ANDRE AGASSI:  It’s funny you say that because when I watched Federer play Pete for the first time at Wimbledon, I said, There’s no way he’s going to beat Pete.  You can’t play like Pete and beat Pete.  He was too similar to Pete to beat him.  Obviously as I was wrong with Pete.  He’s gone down as one of the greats ever.
I look at Dimitrov, and I think, You can’t play like Federer and be better than him.  I’ve seen it before.  He excites me, as well.
JAMES BLAKE:  Exactly.
RANDY WALKER:  Andre, you’re playing on Thursday, February 20th in Houston.  Can you talk about your past experiences in Houston.  You played at the clay courts many years, also the year‑end championships.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I really enjoy Houston for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the relationships I had there.  The McIngvales were not just big supporters of my foundation, they were a huge asset to the sport of tennis.  I think it’s one of the great crimes that we haven’t nurtured them more profoundly in our sport because they were really making a difference with our game.
There’s so many tennis enthusiasts in Houston.  The standard of club players there, it’s very high.  The education in the sport is very high.  You felt it from a fans’ perspective with them watching you.
Clay was never something I looked forward to playing on at that stage in my life.  Going there and playing on clay wasn’t ideal for me.  But when I played the World Championships there on the hard courts, it was one of the great experiences in the World Championships that I’d ever been through.
Three‑set matches to make it to the semis, having two match points on Federer in the third‑set breaker, beating Ferrer in three, beating Nalbandian in three, coming back and beating Schuettler in three on Saturday, only to have to face Federer again in the final.
It was a great week of tennis.  It will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of reasons heading back there.

 

Q.  Could you share with me who your tennis heroes were when you were kids.
JIM COURIER:  My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport.  I wasn’t allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior in my house.  I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero.  That was my guy.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well.  He was easy to like, easy to root for.  I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody’s game.  I did that with Bjorn.  I did that with John.  I did that with Jimmy.  But Bjorn, when it was head‑to‑head, it was easy for me to root for him.
I didn’t like Mack and Connors because of certain behavioral things.  As I got older, I learned to like Mack.
JAMES BLAKE:  I actually had a few.  I kind of picked out different reasons for them.  Arthur Ashe I learned about as I got older.  He wasn’t in the generation I was growing up watching.  Everything I learned about him made me respect him so much more and idolize him for his education, values, his humanitarian efforts inside and outside of the game.
I would say the two guys I grew up watching and finding certain things I enjoyed were actually ones on this call, Jim Courier for the work ethic.  When I was a kid, everybody talked about his work ethic.  You could see when he stepped on the court he felt like he out‑worked his opponent.  That was something I looked up to and tried to emulate.
The other was Mats Wilander, a guy who in my opinion showed a ton of restraint.  I know obviously to get to the level you’re at, the competitive fires are always going, and I was a bit of a brat as a kid.  I watched Mats competing in the highest of highs of the competition, keeping his cool in every situation.  To me that was the most impressive thing I could see because I had no idea how to do that at 14 years old.  I’m still trying to learn how he was that cool under pressure at all times.
I got little things from each person and tried to emulate all of them.  Failed miserably at all of them, but did my best.

 

Q.  Jim, the day before the ’91 French Open final, you said of Andre, We don’t spend any time together and in the past we didn’t even speak to each other.  Could you and Andre tell us what your rivalry and your relationship was like in the early ’90s.  Did you want to beat each other more than anyone else?
ANDRE AGASSI:  Our relationship was strictly platonic.
JIM COURIER:  Andre and I grew up playing together and against each other at Bollettieri’s.  From my perspective, I was fighting for attention down at Bollettieri’s.  I took exception to Nick prioritizing Andre, as he should have done.  In my adult years now looking back on it, I totally understand it.  Obviously I get it at a new dimension now than when I was in the heat of battle back then.
I used what I thought was a slight from Nick Bollettieri to fuel my fire in whatever circumstances I needed to be in.  Andre and I, he was the guy in our generation that got up to the top first, and Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and myself were all trying to keep up.  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in competition with him for major titles in my 20s.
At that time in my perspective I drifted further away from

all of those Americans that I was competing against almost out of necessity to be able to hold down the emotions of the moment.  We’re all trying to take each other’s lunch money at that point in time.  The thing we care about most is what we were fighting for.
It’s hard to separate what you know to be true, which is these are good guys you’ve known since you were a kid playing tennis.  There was nothing caustic necessarily about it.  It’s more a function of what you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve obviously gone on and become full‑fledged adults, are not in as serious of competition, I think we’ve been able to put it in proper perspective.  I certainly have.  I’m closer to Andre than I am to anyone else in my generation.  We probably spend more time together as a result of that on and off the court.
There were certainly times when I looked across the net and I wanted to beat him as badly as I wanted to do anything in my life.  I’m guessing, and he’s about to tell me, that was the way he felt, too.  Andre, too, was also always the better player as we were growing up.
Andre, you’re surprised that I was even on the other side of the net in the big moments.
ANDRE AGASSI:  I remember we grew up competing against each other, 11, 12 years old, Jim was always a good draw in about the second round.  It wasn’t until three years later that I realized, because he played a bunch of different sports, and tennis is just a quarter of his season.  When he put his full attention to tennis, his rate of improvement spoke to his talent and athleticism.
I simply was a guy that wasn’t easy to like if you were around me in the teenage years, nor did I feel Jim liked me, and I didn’t like anybody that didn’t like me, I didn’t like them.  I feel my own sensibilities were skewed during those years.
When you step onto the world stage, you’re playing against somebody for titles and dreams, it doesn’t serve you to expose yourself to a friendship, let somebody understand what makes you tick, what’s really going on inside.  I certainly had a lot of weaknesses that I felt the need to hide, even from myself.
But going through all that, I think we found ourselves with a deep respect of both our work ethics and our abilities and the way we handled our own survival.  Today I think we respect one another for not just those things but also for a real deep sense of loyalty, not just to one another, but also to the people in our lives.
It’s been a full‑circle relationship, one I think that speaks most comprehensively, at least in the hub of my life, to how far somebody can travel in any given journey.
RANDY WALKER:  Jim, we had some folks on the phone from Alabama.  If you could talk about the field that’s going to be there.  Andy will be making his debut there, played a big Davis Cup match against Switzerland.  John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis are in that field.
JIM COURIER:  I attended the Davis Cup match that James played as well with Andy and with the Bryan brothers against the Swiss a few years back.  It was an absolutely packed crowd, completely enthusiastic.  I’ve never had a chance to play in Birmingham.  For me, this is going to be very exciting to get to go down there and be on the court instead of in the stands which I was for the entire weekend when I proudly watched our American team take the Swiss out.
Welcoming Andy onto the tour, a place that he obviously is going to carry fond memories into the battle there, I think it’s going to be a great way for him to get started.  That’s going to be a pretty fiery night.  Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick would most likely play there, and I will play John McEnroe.  You can look for some fiery matches on all levels there.

Q.  A question about the ATP World Tour Finals.  Who do you think will be the final three to qualify?  Regarding the event itself, do you think it should go back to a rotating locations like it did with the Masters Cup or do you think London is a great spot for it?
ANDRE AGASSI:  I have no idea who is in contention for the spots.  I can’t help you there.
Do I think it should rotate?  It seems to me from a distance, maybe James could tell you the turnout is remarkable.  I think the top eight deserve that kind of platform.  I love what I’ve seen there.  I think this event would be big in any part of the world, but they’ve certainly earned the right to at least keep it in the short‑term.
It reminds me of the days it was at the Garden, a remarkable venue that always turned out a full stadium.  It felt like you were in a prime‑time fight.  That’s the way it appears to me in London.
I haven’t seen anything close to Madison Square Garden since we left there.
JAMES BLAKE:  I agree with Andre about it.  They’ve earned the right to keep it in the short‑term.  I didn’t get to play in London, but I’ve seen the crowds.  I’ve heard from the guys that it’s an amazing venue.  As long as the guys are happy and the fans are happy, they’ve definitely earned the right to keep it in the short‑term.
As far as the five through eight, six through eight, the last three guys, I don’t know exactly who has qualified already, but I’m guessing Berdych, Wawrinka will probably qualify.  As I said earlier, Raonic was always uncomfortable for me to play.  I think he’s got a good chance to qualify.  I’m not sure the other guys in contention, probably Tsonga, Gasquet.
JIM COURIER:  Federer.
JAMES BLAKE:  Federer hasn’t qualified yet?
JIM COURIER:  No.
JAMES BLAKE:  Then I’ll take him.  Just about any time, I’ll take him.
JIM COURIER:  The top three guys right now that look like they’re going to qualify are Federer, Wawrinka and Gasquet.  They’re the next three guys in.  But I think Tsonga playing at home also in Paris next week, I think he has a really good chance to qualify.  It’s going to take a lot for Raonic to get in.  But one good week is worth 1000 points.  A lot can change.  Certainly indoors looks pretty good for somebody like that.  Even Tommy Haas, if he were to sprint out in Paris, he could make it.  It will be an interesting week next week for sure.
RANDY WALKER:  Everybody, thank you for participating in our call today.  I want to thank Andre, James and Jim for their time and great answers today.  Appreciate all the media for calling in.  We appreciate the attention to the PowerShares Series.  We invite you to go to PowerSharesSeries.com for all the venue, player fields, ticket information.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

 

The PowerShares Series will kick off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Kansas City and will conclude March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. General public ticket sales began Tuesday. Tickets prices start at $25 and can be purchased at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.

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“On The Call” with ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale and Chris Evert

(August 20, 2013) ESPN tennis analysts and Hall of Famers Cliff Drysdale and Chris Evert spoke with media about the US Open, which starts Monday, August 26, with extensive coverage from ESPN

 

Although the obvious topics were discussed (who are the top contenders at the US Open…Serena, Azarenka; Nadal, Djokovic, Murray), much of the conversation centered  on wider issues in the sport:

  • The historical significance of the adoption of equal prize money, and its current distribution with recent emphasis on increasing paydays for players in the early rounds
  • The serve-and-volley game and its future
  • The growing internationalization of the sport and what that means for U.S. players and tournaments
  • The state of doubles in the tennis world
  • The wide-ranging  role of coaches and the precarious nature of the player-coach relationship.

 

Q. Chris, as you’re aware, the US Open is celebrating and honoring the 40th anniversary of equal prize money.  You played in the ’73 Open.  Did you appreciate back then what an achievement equal prize money was? 

CHRIS EVERT:  ’73.  Gosh, I have to think back.  I was 18.

 

You know, I had to admit, when I was a teenager, I don’t think I fully understood the whole scene of women’s liberation, equality, what impact that really would have on women and on the future of women’s tennis.    At 18, I was a little too wrapped up in maybe what makeup I’m going to wear on the court and how my two-handed backhand was going to work that day.  As an 18-year-old, I wasn’t conscious of the enormity of it.

Later on, absolutely.  But I was pretty much a protected teenager from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Until I went out into the world for a few years, I probably didn’t understand what was happening in the world, culture and society.

Had the blinders on a little bit at that point.

 

Q. Was there a point where you could appreciate what Billie Jean had been doing?

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I was president of the WTA for nine years.  I think that speaks for itself.  Billie Jean took me under her wing, said, I’m retiring, we need a leader for the game.  Educated Martina and myself, cajoled and threatened us, too.

 

In my early 20s I had a better comprehension, understanding of women in society, also women in sports, equality.  She really spent a lot of time with me explaining everything.  In my early 20s, yes, I did appreciate.  Again, I was like 18 even during the Bobby Riggs match.  I just thought it was a woman playing a man.  I didn’t understand the implications of what it really was.  That was the beauty of Billie Jean.  She had a vision.  She could see 10 years down the road.  At 18, I didn’t.

 

Even now when I look at the players, I think Serena passed the $50 million mark in prize money.  Are you kidding me?  I think I made $9 million in my 18-year career.  Thank God for Billie Jean and that she was in our sport, not another sport, because it might have taken longer.

 

Q.  What has happened to the serve-and-volley game?  Do you see it coming back at all?  I found it interesting the other night when Li Na told Pam she was going to try to volley more against Serena.  Is this game ever going to come back or are guys like Pete and Edberg and Roger the last we’ll really see of it? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  They’re the last that you will see of the traditional serve-and-volley game.  You will get some players who will be able to use the serve to be able to get in and use the serve and volley as a change-up play.  But the serve and volley as those players that you talked about, as they used to play, as people from my era used to play, those days are history.

 

The answer to your ‘why’ question is basically equipment and surface, but mainly equipment.  It’s racquets and it’s strings.  When you can play the kind of game that all the women play now, which is unbelievably strong serve returns, and guys like Rafael Nadal and the best players on the men’s tour, the way they return the serve, there is no prospect of your being able to serve and volley.

 

You may see a time, I think there are three categories of men players in the Open that I’m interested in, one of them are the big servers, tall guys, Isner, Anderson, Janowicz.  The answer is, in my view, you will never see the return of the Edberg serve-and-volley player.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I agree with Cliff.  We’ll see the surprise tactics every once in a while to throw off the opponent.  It’s not going to be a consistent Martina Navratilova serve and volley.  Like Cliff said, the returns are so strong now.  Looking at the women’s game, variety in the women’s game a little bit more.

 

For Li Na to throw in a serve and volley once in a while was fine, but it becomes target practice for Serena Williams.  I don’t even know stat-wise if she won or lost more points doing it.

 

I think we’re going to see a little bit more of it as a surprise tactic, especially against players like Sharapova and Serena because now the players I think are thinking more about strategy, how can they break up Serena and Sharapova’s game.  We’re going to see more volleys taken out of the area, serve and volley as a surprise, a little more dropshots.  We’re going to see more variety and strategy.  The last 10 years it was all about baseline power.

 

Q. There seems to be a lot of good young American women in the pipeline.  We don’t seem to see a lot of good young men, other than maybe Jack Sock.  Why? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Ryan Harrison, maybe Jack Sock.  I had high hopes for Jack Sock two years ago particularly.  I’m surprised that he hasn’t done better.  Ryan Harrison is a feisty young player.  But I don’t see either one of them progressing to where we would like to see them go.

 

The ‘why ‘is, it’s cyclical.  Two years ago you were asking the same question about the women.  It was Serena and her sister, and that was it.  Now suddenly we do have a whole slew.  Stephens, Hampton, Keys, Mattek-Sands.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You have 10 or 11 in the top hundred.  I think your point is two years ago we had none of these young women.  All of a sudden they were asking, What’s happening to U.S. tennis?  Now we have more women in the top 10 than any other country.

 

The men, it’s just taking a little bit longer.  What is the reason?  I don’t know.  That old saying that there’s so many more choices in sports in America, we have so many choices, our boy athletes or men athletes are going to those other sports.  I don’t know.

 

Tennis is number one in these smaller countries.  It’s more intense.  But that’s a good question.  I think maybe you have to ask Patrick about that since he’s head of the USTA.

 

Q. You watch Dimitrov and think how can Bulgaria produce a player like that, Raonic, a couple others.  You don’t see that American coming up. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think there’s something in that.  I agree with the idea that men in this country have got more options.  They’re steered in different directions away from tennis.

 

Getting back to the first question on this conference, which was about women in sports.  For women in sports, where do you as a young woman go if you don’t go to tennis, because it’s by far the most successful women’s sport, period, in any athletic endeavor for women.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Right.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  That might be part of the answer to it.  That may be why we have so many young women playing well.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Look at all the sports we have in America, individual, basketball, baseball, team sports.  Then the X Game sports are coming out of the woodwork for that.  We have so many options.  Money-wise, you’re right, there’s a lot of money in these other sports also.  It’s a tough question.  It’s tough to answer.

 

Q. Is it going to change? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Yes.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  It changed for the women.  I guess we’ve got to go out and find these athletes.  We’ve got to do a better job at the grassroots level and finding these athletes.  They’re not finding tennis.  They’re not finding us.  What do you think, Cliff?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think it’s going to change.  It’s really cyclical.  What I’ve learnt in all of my years, there’s been too many of them already, is that things change so quickly from one generation to the next.

 

For a generation of tennis players, there’s always another tennis player around the next corner.  It’s like a bus:  you miss one, there’s a bus around the corner ready to take the place of the one you just missed.

 

Life is short.  Tennis life is even shorter.  It’s not like men’s tennis is going away.  It’s in bad shape right now, but it’s cyclical, it’s going to come back.

 

Q. Chris, I heard you wrote something about Serena for the US Open program.  Do you consider Azarenka a legit rival to Serena with two wins on hard court this year?  What is at stake for Serena going into the US Open? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yes, I consider Azarenka legitimate, especially since she had her 5-3 in the third last year in the US Open.  I think with Serena, it’s got to make her more eager after a loss like (Cincinnati), more determined.  As she said herself, she’s a better player when she gets mad at herself.  When she gets too calm, she gets a little complacent.  If she’s winning too easily, she gets complacent.

 

I think more doubts are in her subconscious now.  Every time you lose to a player, you do have a doubt.  Even if it’s not conscious, it could be subconscious and affect her play.

 

I think Victoria Azarenka is the one player that doesn’t fear Serena.  Victoria is like a street fighter out there.  She’s hungry.  Hard courts are her best surface.  It’s a good matchup.  Azarenka, it’s a good matchup for her playing Serena.  What she does better than anybody else against Serena is the moving and court coverage.  She can run down Serena’s power and defuse it with her own power.

 

I love the fearlessness of Azarenka.  I think rivalry, it’s too soon to tell, but I think it’s going to make for a more interesting US Open, as she is challenging Serena.

 

Q. Do you feel like Serena has a lot of lose and not so much to gain? 

CHRIS EVERT:  At the US Open or just in general?

Q. Just going into the tournament. 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think there’s a little pressure on her.  She talked about winning Grand Slam titles.  You kind of wonder with a player as great and dominant as Serena, would it be a good year just to win one Grand Slam for her.  She has high expectations of herself.  It’s the last Grand Slam.  I know she’d like to get that number 17 under her belt.

 

But, yeah, there is pressure.  I think even the fact that Li Na took her to a close match, could have had that first set against her a couple weeks ago, Stosur, Kuznetsova having close matches with her, the field is stepping up, the field is playing with a little more strategy against Serena, being more thoughtful when they play her, getting used to the power with the baseline.

 

In saying that, I still would favor Serena to win the Open, a slight favorite.  I think if she needs any sort of motivation, I think losing last week is going to get her charged up.

 

Q. Cliff, could you break down the men’s draw, focusing on Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I’m looking at it as like a three-tier tournament.  It’s those three that you mentioned, to start with, and then I’m putting Federer now, since he’s going to be seeded outside the top four, I’m putting him alongside Ferrer, Berdych, Del Potro.  It’s sad to say.  But I see the four or five of them together.  Then I see the big servers, whether this is a phenomenal that has any legs.

 

The three you mentioned, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray.  Then the next tier, with Del Potro, Ferrer, Berdych and Fed.

Anderson, I like him.  Janowicz, I like him, too.  They both have the attitude that they have to give it everything they’ve got and add to their big-serve games.  If one of the three of them can develop more than just a big serve, they’re to be watched.  That’s how I see the men’s draw.

 

Q. What about Murray coming in as a first-time defending champion of a major?  This summer he hasn’t played that much. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Murray is an interesting character, interesting game.  Not only psychologically, because I think he’s taken care of some of those psychological devils that used to be so much a part of his makeup.

His game, I would not put on the same level with Djokovic and Nadal.  In the real big picture, I see Murray as vulnerable in the earlier rounds or in the smaller tournaments.

 

But that said, when he puts his game together, as he did last year, as he did at Wimbledon, as he did at the Olympics, then you put him eyeball to eyeball with even Djokovic and Nadal, he is 50/50 with them.

 

Two slightly different thoughts on Murray.  I’ve learned to respect his game tremendously in the last 18 months.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think it’s been hard for Murray to get psyched up since Wimbledon.  He really hasn’t done anything since Wimbledon.  But I think last year the same thing happened, and look what happened at the US Open.

 

I think he feels good about his game.  He can get that A game going.  It’s just like any other player that wins Wimbledon, it’s kind of rare that you win Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back.

 

Think of anybody who has won Wimbledon.  It’s got to be 10 times more of a feeling for him to get psyched up again to play another Grand Slam.  And saying that, I think Nadal has dominated this whole season.  He’s got to be feeling really confident at this point.

 

And Djokovic, he’s had a disappointing series of losses.  I sense he has been getting a little down on himself.  We’ll see if he can get inspired.

 

Q. I’m wondering if you would talk a little bit about coaching changes that happened with some of these top players mid to late career.  I’m thinking a little bit of Sharapova, but of course Murray did it.  Serena has done it.  What are they looking for at that point?  These are accomplished players.  It seems to me it might not be that much about tennis and technical stuff but more of a sport role. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Chrissy, I want to hear what you say (laughter).

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think it’s a great idea, especially if you’ve had four or five years, you start to feel a little stale.  Maybe your coach is telling you the same thing, you’re losing to the same people.  You maybe don’t feel like you’ve gotten to the next level.  Sometimes you need some new inspiration, you need a new point of view, you need some new blood.  I can understand 100%.  I had a couple of coaching changes.  Actually, I had Dennis Ralston, then I had Bob Brett, I beat Martina on grass at Wimbledon all of a sudden, which I hadn’t done before.  Sometimes you need that inspiration.  Players can get stale in their game and in their relationship with their coaches.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I agree with that.  It’s like getting a new racquet.  I think it’s good.  It’s sort of inspiring.  You get a different view.  I think a coaching change, probably sometimes even for the sake of the change itself, is a good thing for players.  You do get a different perspective, not only about your own mechanics, which sometimes need to be looked at, but more as Chrissy is saying on the inspirational side and strategic side as well.

 

Some coaches are strategic, some of mechanical, some are overall.  I think everybody is pretty much onboard now with being superbly fine-tuned athletes.  There are these other aspects.  There are some coaches, like Ivan Lendl, I doubt that his input for Andy Murray has been as much technical and changing any stroke as it has been a strategic change and a mental change.  I think he’s been very successful at that.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Cliff is right.  If you have a coach that is all about technique, but really what you need is mentally to get tougher, then you need a new coach.  Again, coaches have a different point of view.

 

Also I’ve learned, since I’ve owned an academy, you can say the same thing but in different words and it will work with the player.  Oh, that’s what you mean.  Maybe an old coach had been saying that all along, but saying it differently.

 

I think it’s a good idea.  That’s not to say that everyone is going to succeed, as we’ve seen.  Like Sharapova didn’t succeed.  But with Lendl and Murray.  Stosur.  That’s an example, I don’t think she’s had a great two years since winning the open.  She hasn’t played with that form, she’s been flat.  Maybe it’s time for a change, so I think it’s great.

 

Q. As a newspaper person, I’m as guilty as anyone about not doing enough about doubles.  But the Bryan twins are about to get a big one here.  A couple thoughts on doubles, where it stands, what these guys have done for doubles.  If they go away, is that the end of doubles?  

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  No.  Tennis is bigger than any one player.  Some of the players forget that.  The game is bigger than any one team, as well, which is not to minimize what the Bryan brothers have done.  Not only are they great players, they’re great promoters of doubles and tennis in general.  They’re great individuals.  I can’t say enough about them.

 

Doubles generally, they’ve clearly helped.  The Jensens, they helped tremendously when they were at the top.  Tennis needs those guys.  They’re electrifying.  They’re probably the best doubles team that ever played.  That said, the singles players are not playing doubles anymore.  So there’s always an asterisk.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think doubles is at a disadvantage right away because the competition is so tough, the Masters are so grueling in singles, and the Grand Slams, it’s physically and mentally impossible for a top player to play doubles, I feel.

 

The players can complain about playing too much even during the year, so how are they going to add doubles onto their routine?  It’s unfortunate.  The years that Martina and Pam Shriver dominated, McEnroe and Peter Fleming dominated, they were having really easy singles matches until the quarters or semis.  They used that as practice.

 

But it’s just really tough for the big names, the top players, to play doubles or mixed.  It’s a shame because doubles is very, very entertaining.  The Bryan brothers, oh, my God, they’ve carried the torch for doubles for so long and I worry about what happens after they go away because doubles won’t be the same without their personalities and their style.

 

Q. Chris, looking at Sloane Stephens, how do you think she’s dealt with the spotlight as she’s risen?  She had the spat with Serena.  In Cincinnati, she admitted she’s struggled with the crush of the fans, it’s grown frustrating for her, people asking for autographs.  How do you think she’s dealing with that spotlight? 

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You know, it’s not easy for anybody.  For Sloane, who is a very out there kind of girl, wears her emotions on her sleeve, it’s even more difficult.  It’s like the way Martina had a tough time because she was always so honest and open about everything.

 

If you’re that way, you’re open to more criticism, there’s more of a downside to it.  And I think she’s on the pages of Vogue magazine.  Her emergence has been very dramatic and very quick.  Her life has changed so quickly.

I would like to do a book later on about achieving fame at a young age because there are so many more pitfalls.  As far as her tennis is concerned, she’s got all the talent in the world.  She has an all-court game.  She’s a work in progress right now.

 

The next step for her is really to put together two or three big matches instead of one big match and losing the next round.  That’s the next step for her in her development.

 

Q. Cliff, Andy Murray, seems like off the court from a business perspective, he had the world at his fingertips at winning Wimbledon.  Are you surprised we haven’t seen more of Andy Murray from a marketing perspective? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think that’s going to come.  I wouldn’t worry about that.  In England, he’s a major star.  He’s going to have his face on a stamp coming up soon in England.  He’s pervasive in that country.  I’m not sure there’s an athlete better known, even in soccer, than Andy Murray is now.

 

It’s a matter of the agents getting their act in gear and you’ll see those things coming.  He’s not the kind of personality that Roger Federer is.  He’s not outgoing.  Doesn’t look as he enjoys the game as much as others.  That’s a slight negative.  But he’s a very admirable athlete.  He’s got himself into unbelievably good shape.  I guess they all have.  I’m a huge admirer of his.

 

As I said, the only downside for Andy is the fact that in the smaller tournaments and in the earlier rounds, he’s more vulnerable than the other two guys with the best chance to win the US Open.

 

Q. Lower-ranked players are doing better in terms of money at the slams this year.  From a developmental perspective, would you say it’s equally important that we see increased prize money on the challenger and future tours for our young players to invest in their games? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I’m going to say one thing about this.  This is not a quote from me.  This is Brad Gilbert.  The beauty about the first-round prize money in the Grand Slams, whether it’s 25,000 or 30,000, you lose in the first round, you make a hundred grand, that enables you to have a full-time coach.  If you’re that good that you’re in a Grand Slam tournament, you should have a full-time coach.

 

Sure, it helps with expenses.  Tennis players have a lot of expenses.  Nowadays, when you look at the way they travel with their team, it’s not about a team.  All the top players, they have their fitness trainer, they have the practice partner, their coach, their masseuse, whatever.  They have four or five people on their team.  It gets to be expensive.

 

In answer to your question, I really appreciate the fact that the prize money went to the lower rounds because that’s where the players can really use that money to further their tennis career.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  It’s a really interesting question, and it has a lot of facets to it that catch my imagination.

For one thing, the slams are paying the players according to what their income is, or at least closer to what their income is.  But that has another side to it, and that is that the slams are becoming even more important because of the prize money they’re offering.  This question then becomes how this affects the other tournaments.

 

If they become lesser, I don’t think that in the long run helps.  There’s no question in my mind it helps to have greater amount of prize money.  So I have some thoughts about that.

 

If I had to redo the whole thing with the ATP and their conversations with the slams to up the prize money, I might have done it differently and looked at different ways to distribute this money, rather than distribute all of it at four tournaments.

 

Q. There’s been some talk about funneling money down to the challengers and futures, which is where the development of young players happens. 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah.  At our academy, we’ve had some $10,000 challenger tournaments, and I’ve been to some 25s and 50s.  I can’t believe the quality of play and how good these players are.  The depth is unbelievable.

I agree, that’s where the development comes from.  We’ve got to put some prize money into them so they can continue to travel and continue to have some coaching and develop their game.  I like to see that.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  You’re taking it even one step further down to the challenger level.  I’m even talking about the 250s.  The 250s are dying on the vine, the 500s.  Look at how many tournaments are leaving the U.S. for example.  That’s a real problem.  I think that’s something that U.S. tennis should address.  Look at what we had a decade ago, and look at what we have now.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  There’s more tournaments in Asia now than any other country or continent.  America, 10 years ago, we had more tournaments than anyone.  Now it’s more international.  I don’t know what the answer is.  The thing is, the game is more international.  The game is growing so much.  We have to kind of look beyond our country, too.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I agree with that.  But I hate that the U.S. is losing so many tournaments.  I think the USTA has to get into the middle of that, too.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think maybe you should have a meeting with them.

 

THE MODERATOR:  If only Cliff ran the sport, right?

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Thank heavens we have Indian Wells and Miami.  Right after the Grand Slams we still have some big ones here, which is good.  Keep those.

 

Q. Cliff, I know back in ’72 when you won the US Open doubles, it had to be a big deal for you.  Was it a big deal for the world in the ’70s when the Aussies were playing, top players were playing?  Why do you think it’s lost that luster when a team like the Bryan brothers are underappreciated? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  That’s a question that I’ve heard a hundred times.  It’s still a really good question.

Look, the truth of the matter is, Chrissie was right on the money earlier when she said the top singles players in today’s world are just never going to become doubles players because there’s too much at stake in the singles.  You cannot change that.  The gladiator complex here that we have in the sports world, you want to see one-on-one fighting each other for the big prize.  But until the top singles players play doubles, it’s going to keep losing its panache.

 

It’s fun to watch the crowds that will watch four players they’ve never heard of before, they’re impressed with the outstanding athleticism, how quickly they are at the net.  All of us in tennis know about that.  But it’s not going to change until you see Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic out there.  I talk a lot about the fact that tennis tournaments are not just tennis tournaments, they’re sporting occasions.  No matter how much we talk about that, still the people who come to watch tennis want to know who’s playing.  If it’s a recognizable name, they will come and watch.

 

I’m not giving you a good answer, but it’s a tough one because I don’t think the singles players are going to play doubles, and until they do, doubles is always going to be the stepchild.

 

Q. It can be TV’s fault as well. 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  It’s the chicken or the egg, which comes first.  The television stations are not going to pick up doubles until the people want to see it.

 

Q. Martina Navratilova won her first two Grand Slam titles with you. 

CHRIS EVERT:  Why are you laughing at that?!

 

First of all, I’d like to say that Martina Navratilova could have won about 50 different players.  Wasn’t I happy when we got together for that one.  That was a treat.

 

But, you know what, it was so different in those days.  The way we answered the last question about doubles, we didn’t have a tough match until the quarterfinals or semifinals.  The depth wasn’t there.  It wasn’t that we were that good, there just weren’t that many good tennis players.  John McEnroe played a full season of doubles.

 

It was practice.  I got to practice my volleys and my serve.  I used that as practice.  Nowadays, you can’t do it.  Men are playing five-hour, five-set matches.  How do you expect them to go back after an hour and play a doubles match?

 

It’s so different.  There is so much emphasis, as Cliff said, the gladiator aspect of one-on-one.  But in the ’70s and ’80s, I played mixed doubles with Eric, Jimmy one year.  To play singles, doubled, mixed my early years at Wimbledon in one tournament was not a big deal because the matches were shorter.  It didn’t take as much out of us.  Now you’re never going to see it.  It’s sad.

 

Q. The top women are playing, like Venus and Serena, Azarenka, Errani. 

CHRIS EVERT:  They’re not playing every tournament.  Azarenka doesn’t play every tournament.  Serena doesn’t play at all unless it’s a Grand Slam, and won’t play with anybody but her sister.  Maria Sharapova isn’t playing.  The top players aren’t playing.

 

They play more in the men.  But Serena is the only one, if she’s playing with Venus.  The other ones don’t play, the top two or three.  I think the other thing is, again, these matches, right from the first round, players are splitting sets, you’re having tough matches.  The top players think they play too many tournaments a year.  You think they’re going to want to play doubles and add that to their schedule?  I don’t think so.

 

Q.  I was especially sorry about Marion Bartoli’s retirement.  She was criticized for not being a tall, rail-thin blonde.  I don’t hear anyone talking this way about any of the men.  What are your thoughts about that? 

CHRIS EVERT:  That was the only time there’s ever been a comment publicly about a woman.  The guy that made it apologized.  He was trying to be funny, but he was kind of an idiot.  That was uncalled for.  He obviously has his issues.  I mean, that was the first time.  Unfortunately it came at the biggest tournament in the world and got worldwide press.

 

I think that women athletes, the stronger they are, the more muscular they are, the more powerful they are, are just getting more and more respect.  Acceptance first, but now respect, admiration.  Little girls want to become tennis players, play like Serena, play like Sam Stosur, Victoria Azarenka.  Women athletes come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re all mentally strong and physically strong.  There is no downside to that.  It’s a win-win situation.  I think that’s the way women tennis players and athletes are viewed.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I really don’t think what anybody said about her influenced her decision.  I think this was something she decided to do on her own.

 

Secondly, I’ll put with Chrissy a little $5 bet that we may see her back.  We may see her come back.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I don’t think we’re going to see her back.  I just want to say one thing.  The thing about Marion, I agree, had nothing to do with the retirement.  But you just don’t know about the last 10 years.  She’s had a grueling last 10 years.  Because she’s not the best, most natural athlete out there, I think she’s had to work harder than a lot of the players.  I think her body is breaking down.  If your body starts to break down, that’s a good sign.

 

Q. For every success with like Murray and Lendl, you have Sharapova and Connors.  What would make things only last one match?  Also, with someone like Madison Keys who went to your academy, do you ever see yourself getting into the coaching game? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think only Jimmy and Maria know what happened, what went down.  I think we could speculate all we want, but only they know what went down.  So I have nothing more to say about that.

 

As far as full-time coaching, it’s like a 35-week job.  I love coaching the kids at my academy.  I’m very lucky to have brought up women that are now playing in Grand Slams, the US Open, have been a mentor to them.

But I have three sons and they’re my first priority.  I need to be at home with them.  That’s why I can’t go on the road for 35 weeks.  Cliff, what do you think about the coaching?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I wonder what Maria thought that she needed Jimmy for is what I wonder.  I’m actually quoting Chrissie from a conversation we had before we got on with you guys.  It’s a good question.

 

Jimmy is not a coach.  He’s had one stint with Andy Roddick.  That didn’t last long.  My guess is, and this is purely a guess, pure speculation, that Maria realized quickly he didn’t have much to bring to the party, and I think that’s why they split.

 

Q. Do you think he will get another chance to coach anyone else?

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think he has a really good chance to get somebody else to coach.  One of the questions just from a personal standpoint is why he’d want to.  You get on the tour, the job of a coach is so wide-ranging.  You have to arrange for massages, you have to get on the court, arrange for ball people.  There’s so many things you have to do as a coach.  It’s not as simple as being in the stands as shaking your head or nodding your head.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  You’re like a therapist, a baby-sitter.  It’s an emotional as well as a physical job.  It’s a tougher job than it looks.

 

Q. Do you think it’s harder for Jimmy to put his ego aside or below the player itself, as a coach should? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Jimmy is a loner.  Coaching by its definition, there’s somebody else at stake.  I don’t think he’s cut out to be a coach, bottom line.

 

Q. Could you have imagined the year Rafa would have had after his injury, do you think so well particularly on the hard courts?  How do you see the matchup between him and Andy Murray, particularly on the hard courts? 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  First of all, a huge surprise that Rafa was able to do so well.  If you go back to his record this year, the few matches he’s lost, including hard courts, is a huge surprise.  He comes back, gets on the clay, misses the first portion, loses one match in his first tournament back, then loses so few matches for the rest of the year that is extraordinary.

 

I think, notwithstanding the great play of Andy Murray and the fact he won Wimbledon, that he would have to in my book be No. 2 behind Rafa in the stakes for the US Open this year just based on his outstanding hard court record and the fact that he seems to be physically fit and physically able to perform.

 

I think at this point he’s the best player in the world.  I think Andy Murray is very close behind him, alongside Novak Djokovic.  That’s my feeling.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think that Andy matches up better against Djokovic psychologically and game-wise.  Novak hits a flatter ball.  The ball is not as high, the spins…

 

I think if Nadal plays Andy Murray, mentally and psychologically Nadal has the edge.  I think he knows it.  He feels that he can outlast him mentally out there.  And Nadal, I don’t think he’s lost a match on hard court all year.  If he rests this week, he’s got to be the favorite and really confident.

 

I think that’s what he didn’t have coming into this year being out so long, but now I think he’s got the confidence back.

 

Q. What do you think has made the difference on the hard courts?  It wasn’t so long ago we thought he could only win on clay. 

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I don’t think we ever really went that far.  I think what everybody said was that he was obviously the best on clay courts.  He didn’t have any opposition in that regard.  I don’t think any of us felt that he wasn’t going to be a contender on anything but clay because he won Wimbledon, et cetera.

 

He’s become more aggressive.  Look, Nadal’s vulnerability was with so much topspin, eventually he would hit a short ball.  He would be slightly behind the baseline and he was hitting with that much spin.  He’s corrected a couple of those things on the hard court.  He’s not as far back as he used to be and he’s flattened his shots out, albeit not by much, but some.  That puts more pressure on his opponent and that’s why he’s a better hard court player than he used to be.

 

Q. You touched on how much money a women’s tennis player can make now.  Chris, you were WTA president.  Billie Jean was running tournaments.  With women players today making so much money, would you like to see them invest back in the sport, what would you like to see them do after their careers that might grow the sport? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, I think while they’re in the sport, as I said before, in our day, I was president, Martina was president, Pam.  Nowadays the players are not as involved.  I would still like to see them involved in the decision making of the tour, voice their opinions, be involved in the tour.

 

I think giving back to the press, to the community.  I love it that when they go to a particular city, they’re visiting the hospitals, doing clinics for underprivileged kids.  Those are ways to give back while they’re currently playing.

As far as afterwards, a lot of us have remained in tennis, whether it’s commentating, coaching, academies, whatever.  I think when you look at Billie Jean, you look at McEnroe’s academy, I have an academy, I’m doing TV, all the players that are doing TV.  I feel like I’m still on the tour when you look around and see Martina, Mary Carillo, Patrick McEnroe.  I think the players of our generation are still very much involved.  It would be great for the players of this generation to be very much involved, too.  There’s a number of ways through coaching, the academies, through leadership, that the players can be involved.

 

Q. Is the game as much fun to watch without the contrast of the serve and volleyer versus the baseliner?  We remember Pete, Andre, McEnroe, Borg, Chrissie, Martina.  There isn’t that right now.  Do we regular people miss watching that kind of contrast? 

CHRIS EVERT:  I think that it is more interesting to watch contrast.  That’s why Martina and myself, whether it was McEnroe and Borg, you should bring your own set of fans to the table.  It just gets to be very personal, more intimate that way.  That’s why when Venus played Serena, aside from the fact that they were sisters, it was very uncomfortable to watch because they were sisters, but it was just a belting game, who is going to blow the other one off the court.

 

But I think now, and I touched upon this before, I think now watching, especially this summer, watching Victoria Azarenka come in more, taking the ball out of the air, approaching after a great groundstroke.  Serena is coming in more.  We saw some unbelievable dropshots.  The last two points in the match with Serena, wasn’t it a volley and dropshot?

 

I think the strategy is changing the game.  The game is changing.  I think we’re going to see more of an all-court game.  I think that’s why Maria Sharapova is having trouble.  She’s got to really open up her game a little bit more, come in more, take balls out of the air, volley more, use some touch shots.  I think we’ve seen that this year, seen variety creep back into the women’s game.

 

It’s been tougher because of the equipment.  These racquets are more about power than touch.  But I think we’re going to see that more and more.  In answer to your question, you’re going to see more interesting matches.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a serve-and-volleyer against a baseliner.  I think you’re going to see more variety now.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  Be careful what you wish for.  If you want to go back to the serve-and-volley days, you change the conditions back to how they used to be, which is grass courts where the balls were terrible, old-style racquets where you were forced to serve and volley at Forest Hills, that’s all you could do, because you couldn’t rely on two bounces being the same.  Ivanisevic vs. Sampras… there was nothing to me that was more boring than watching the big servers.  If the serve didn’t go in, that’s all she wrote.

 

It’s always a balance.  I think Wimbledon – and I never thought I’d say this –, Wimbledon probably has the most interesting now because they’ve hardened the tennis court, the ball bounces, so you can get some serve and volley, as well.  The US Open is relatively fast, so you will get some more variety.

 

I would much rather watch a tennis match in this generation of players than I would in the last generation of big servers and that’s all.  Frankly, I think going all the way back to my era, not many people can remember, but that’s all there was.  The only question during a point in my day was how quickly you could get to the net and who could get there first.

 

I don’t think it was as much fun as it is now.  I think the athletes are better, the equipment is better.  The product, sometimes it can get a little boring, ping-pong, no way to end the rally.  For the most part I think the balance is about right.  I agree with Chris that I think there’s always got to be a solution to everybody’s game.  You have to find a solution to Serena Williams’ game.  You’re going to need variety.  I thought that was a good comment from her.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Absolutely.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I think we’re on a good path.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Did you serve and volley?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  You’re not old enough to remember my outstanding game.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  I thought you had great groundies.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE:  I had good groundstrokes, but let’s not go there.  If we went back to my era, we’d have to talk about all my greatness and how many slams I won.

 

THE MODERATOR:  I think we’re all a little smarter thanks to our two friends here.

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“On The Call” – Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale Discuss French Open

Evert_ChrisCliff Drysdale

(May 21, 2013) ESPN held a media conference call with Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale to discuss the upcoming French Open, which will be broadcast on ESPN.  Here are a few questions and answers from the conference call which included discussions about Roland Garros favorites – Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, Serena’s maturation as a player and her chance of breaking Evert’s mark of 18 major titles (or even Graf’s 22), plus the state of Roger Federer’s career and the diminished difference between clay courts and grass courts compared to years ago:

 

Q. I want to ask you, Chris, whether you think Serena Williams might finally add a second French Open title given the way she’s playing in general and particularly on clay these days. I’m wondering, given all of her talent, are you surprised that she hasn’t already won several?

CHRIS EVERT: That’s a good question. I think it’s long overdue, her second French Open win. It’s mind-boggling to me that she hasn’t been in the final since 2002. To me, that’s mind-boggling. So she hasn’t had her best results at the French. She has improved tremendously on the clay. We talk about how she’s improved her game. But in my mind I’m impressed with how consistent she’s become and how patient she’s become and how she’s harnessing that power to be not only an effective clay court player but a tremendous clay court player. I think she had a quote, I can’t remember the newspaper, about, When I look in the mirror, that’s my chief competition. The thing is, if Serena Williams doesn’t have a bad day like she did last year against Razzano, she just manages to play her normal game, I think she will win her second French Open, yes.

 

Q. I wanted to ask about Nadal, another person who’s just been dominant this year. In January everybody was wondering, oh, my God, is he ever going to come back, will he ever be the same. Can you talk about what he’s done so far and is he invincible on clay.

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Yeah, I think he is invincible on clay. The way that he’s played so far, just two matches all year. To be honest, it’s not just a clay court comeback. He’s only lost a couple of matches. I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt from taking a lot of time off when you’re injured. He’s clearly by most definitions a clear favorite to win the French. That said, I’ve picked Djokovic to win it because I’m a big believer in Novak’s game and I believe he’s going to be able to take him down.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Wow, Cliff. If I can say one thing about Djokovic. I was so impressed with the way he played Nadal last year at the French Open, especially when Nadal kind of cruised through the first two sets, then Djokovic went on a tear and won the third set, was up a break in the fourth. That made me realize then that Djokovic was a definite contender for the French Open. I think Nadal looks like the favorite, but I think Djokovic can threaten him definitely. I wonder if Nadal is a little fearful of playing Djokovic. I think that’s going to be the intriguing matchup.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: 2011, he took Rafa down a few times on the clay, which was really I think when the whole thing changed for Djokovic. I think he’s a different player now. He doesn’t have the same record that Nadal has at this point. If I had to bet my house on it, I guess I’d have to go with Rafa for sure based on his record and the way he’s playing now. But there are some questions about the fact he hasn’t played that much, he took all that time off, and his knees obviously.

 

Q. Chris, this is sort of geared toward Nadal. Could you speak to the main challenge of a top player returning to the game after an extended break, in his case seven months. Is it confidence, ball striking, timing? What all goes into regaining that form after an extended break?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, my God. All of the above. That’s a great question. Maybe Cliff can answer this, too, because maybe he’s taken time off. I took a period of three or four months off, and I came back. Definitely confidence, no doubt about it. Your confidence is waning a little bit. Definitely the timing, the striking of the ball, the reaction time. Definitely the concentration. You’re going to get more winded because you haven’t done tennis cardiovascular. You maybe trained hard off the court, but a match cardiovascular is a lot different.

I just think every element is affected both physically, mentally and emotionally, psychologically. Everything is affected when you first come back. For these champions, it only takes about two or three tournaments to get back, for me. Once you have those two or three tournaments under your belt, I think you’re fresher and your mind is more clear and you’re better off than when you left for seven months.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I totally agree with the last thing you said. There are two sides to that coin. You take time off, it might hurt you, but it also gives you, as you said, a new enthusiasm quotient, liveliness quotient. You really want to be on the court. You’re not tired out. It’s like picking up a new tennis racquet sometimes. A new piece of equipment gives you a new lease on life. History is dotted with people who have come back. We talk about Serena. How many times has she come back and shows no signs of a negative result because of it.

 

Q. Chris, with clay, the surface from your standpoint, what are some of the things you love about it as a player, what are some of the things that you hate about it as a player?

CHRIS EVERT: First of all, I think the clay is fast. I think the balls are faster, the clay is faster. The conditions are faster than when I was playing. Plus the fact that players are obviously hitting the ball harder. I guess the point I’m trying to make, you have to have patience up to a certain point, but you don’t have to have as much patience as my days, when you played moon ballers, you had rallies of 20 shots.

 

The tough thing is sliding. If you haven’t grown up on clay, it’s hard to learn that instinctive sliding technique. So if you’re not used to sliding, if you don’t like it, you’re going to have trouble. That’s one tough thing.

Again, you’re going to have to hit three or four more balls to win a point. Kind of backtracking, contradicting myself. Patience is a factor. If you’re not patient, you’re not going to win on clay. So the patience, the sliding is tough.

 

I like the fact that you have a little more time to think of a strategy, a little more time to work the ball around the court, to sort of work the point. I like that. You’re not as rushed as on other surfaces. You feel if you’re a defensive player, you’ve got at least a shot. It’s important to be defensive and offensive on the clay. But it’s better to be defensive on the clay. It gives you more benefits than being defensive on any other surface.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I think Chris made the best point when she said the surfaces have become more universal. The balls are much more lively now than they used to be. The court is playing much quicker than it used to. You’ve got the options on clay now, as well.

 

To me the biggest thing about clay is it’s so much easier on the body. I think Rafael Nadal might get his wish one of these days, there may be more tournaments played on clay. There’s discussions about even turning Miami into a clay court tournament. It’s easier on the body and I think it would help the longevity of the players.

 

From a technical standpoint, as Chris was saying, it’s a different kind of game. The transition from the French to Wimbledon used to be really dramatic, and it’s not as dramatic now as it was, because Wimbledon is much slower and the French is much quicker.

 

Q. Chris, do you think any of the women on the tour are mentally in position to be able to beat Serena? And to both of you, the status of Federer’s game, in particular his movement?

CHRIS EVERT: That’s a good question. I just think when I look at someone like Azarenka, she actually played a good second set against Serena. She didn’t play a bad match against Serena, yet she won four games. When I look at that stat, then I look at Maria, she handled Maria so easily on the clay.

 

I don’t think it’s going to take a player to overpower her. First of all, I don’t think anybody out there can overpower her. The thing that we have to remember is this is still Serena’s weakest surface. Let’s not lose sight of that. She has to, as she said in her own press conferences, she has to remain really consistent, cut down on the errors. She likes to go for her shots. This is where she’s transformed herself into a better clay court player.

 

If there was a player that came out of the blue that was crafty, had a great dropshot, had some great short angling to get her off the baseline, bring her up to the net, I think that’s the only chance that anybody has. The day of the Martina Hingis type players, I don’t see those players as much anymore. I just see players that just like to bash the ball from the baseline and use their power more. I think it would take a versatile player like that to carve shots, dropshots, slice, get Serena off her rhythm, bring her up to the net. If there’s a player out there like that, maybe we’ll see her in the next couple weeks.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: You’ve got to remember that her serve is so dominant now. The court is playing a little faster at the French, so that’s helping her. Number two, she’s not squawking and squealing like she used to on the court. She’s much calmer. I think that’s made a huge difference to her as well.

 

You talked about patience earlier. She’s much more patient. She doesn’t take things as seriously as she used to. She’s in a much better place mentally. She cannot be beaten by anybody but herself.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think you’re absolutely right. If you look at her on TV, she’s managing her emotions in between points so much better and she’s managing her energy. She’s conserving her energy. She’s like in her own little zone, own little world. She’s going to need that for the French.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: All that said, I want to emphasize what you said, don’t forget this is her weakest surface. If there’s a chance to beat her, this is it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: And the first week. Because once she gets grooved, going into the second week, she’s going to be tougher.

 

Q. Cliff, your feelings on Federer, the status of his game, particularly his movement?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Don’t write him off. We’ve written him off a few times in the past. My sense always with him is he’s also mentally in a really good place. He doesn’t mind losing matches. Just from a technical, mechanical standpoint now, he may be, all things being equal, I think Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, would be at least 50, maybe a little above 50 on the head-to-head with him, 50/50, but he is still a contender. I just caution you, if you check his record, he’s never anywhere other than at the end of the a tournament. If you get to the semifinals, anything can happen in these events. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m cautioning everyone that we’ve written him off before. Suddenly two years ago he wins the French championships and he’s No. 1 in the world.

I think his movement has always been his strong point. I think it still is one of his strongest points. If there’s an issue with Fed, sometimes his confidence during a match, he starts to spray balls. He used to be able to get away with it, but he doesn’t anymore. Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray don’t allow you to get away with it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The thing with Roger, two things have to be working for him to win a Grand Slam again: his serve, his forehand. Like Cliffy said, when he slaps that forehand around, he can slap it for winners or he can slap it for errors. But that forehand has to be a weapon. He’s got to be making those slaps. His first serve, he’s got to win some free points. It’s a lot of work for him on the clay. That’s why for me, Wimbledon is the one tournament where he can get away with a big serve and a big forehand a little bit easier. Anyway, I put him like fourth or fifth as a favorite.

 

Q. Sorry to dwell on Serena, but do you feel like she needs that second French to secure her place to the upper echelon, if you will?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Not in my book.

 

CHRIS EVERT: No, no.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: She’s secured it already. The fact that she hasn’t won the French twice, she’s won it once. You know, I look at it sort of from a historical standpoint and wonder who would you put up against Serena. Chris can answer this question a lot better. Try to put herself up or Martina or even Steffi. It’s hard for me to imagine, day in, day out, if Serena is playing like she’s playing now, that you can’t count her already as one of the all-time greats even if she doesn’t win the French.

 

CHRIS EVERT: It’s not going to put a blemish on her record at all, especially if she continues to win Wimbledon and the US Open and the Australian. I think with her serve and her athleticism, her power, her court mobility, I just think when she’s on, she’s the greatest player we’ve ever seen, ever. Now, whether her record is the greatest remains to be seen because she hasn’t retired yet. But I think she is really the greatest player. I have seen Martina and Steffi at their best. There are little chinks in those players’ armor, but it was a different era, where you didn’t need to be the perfect player.

 

On the one hand I hate comparing generations because I feel the current generation is going to be better, but on the other hand it’s hard to imagine a better player than Serena when she’s playing well. I don’t even know if that was the question, but I just had to answer it that way. If you talk about Grand Slams, you know, to me she’s going to pass Martina and I. It’s still a reachable goal for her to win 22 and match Steffi. If she plays another two, three, four years healthy, she can break all those records.

 

Q. Do you think there’s any concern for Djokovic considering he lost in the first round to Dimitrov and then lost the match to Berdych where he was 5-2 up? Do you think he’s placing too much pressure on himself for the French Open? And then there’s 12 American women in the top 100 of the WTA. Do you see any of those women besides Serena making noise in the second week of the French Open?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: On Novak, no, I don’t think that he came that close. I think mentally he’s very strong. He’s the kind of player who does not get down on himself because of a loss. The things that he says, his thought processes are kind of like Andre Agassi who talked about enjoying the journey, the process, of getting to places on a tennis court. I just think that, no, it doesn’t hurt him. If anything, losing early gives him a little more rest. I watch him play. I wonder how the heck these top players can play week in, week out at that intensity and level.

I don’t think it hurts Djokovic. If it would have hurt him any way, it would have been mentally for him to say, Oh, gee, I’m not playing as well. I don’t think he’s susceptible to that kind of thinking.

 

As for the ladies, the 12 in the top 100 in the U.S. I’m very excited by that. I think Madison Keys has got a real shot. It’s a matter of maturity. I think Sloane Stephens is equally in. Maybe not a legitimate shot to win, but I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a move from either her or Madison Keys, Lauren, Jamie Hampton, with real serious shots at getting top 10 and then eventually even top 5. Most of them are young, enthusiastic and really talented. This has a really high enthusiasm quotient for me.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The first question about Djokovic, he’s gone on record saying that the French Open is the most important tournament for him this year. I just think that speaks for itself. I think whatever has happened before, he does have a win over Nadal this year. Whatever has happened, I think he’s going to erase the losses and go into this fresh. He wants this one badly, very much like a Maria Sharapova wanted the French last year. In saying that, that I think is going to give him more motivation.

 

As far as the women, I agree with Cliffy. Nobody stands out for the French Open as far as really doing some damage the second week. We’ve got a really consistent roster. Bethanie Mattek, she’s had wins over Sloane Stephens, Errani, who is a great clay courter. She’s gone from like 400 to 100 in three months. I think she is the most improved American player we’ve seen in the last few months. There’s some big names, and Cliff mentioned them. Madison and Sloane, Christina McHale, Lauren Davis just beat Christina McHale, and I’m proud of her because she trains at my academy. But there’s some good, solid American girls that I think in the next couple years could be top 20 definitely.

 

Q. I was hoping you would give some advice to Maria on what she can do at this point to make more of an impression on Serena’s game on clay or in general. Serena leads 13-2 head-to-head. She’s No. 2 in the world, vying for the No. 1 spot from time to time.

CHRIS EVERT: And remember, Maria didn’t have to beat Serena last year at the French Open, right? She didn’t have to beat Azarenka in the French. I think last year, the draw opened up perfectly for Maria. The tough thing about Maria, the tough thing for her playing Serena is that Maria’s strength, which is her return of serve, really isn’t a strength against Serena, so she can’t win those free points on her return of serve because Serena’s strength that feeds into Maria’s strength is so dominating.

 

When you get on the clay and you start to look at how important moving is, sliding on the clay, really Serena I think is head and shoulders above. Even though Maria’s movement has improved, Serena is still head and shoulders on the clay as far as movement. It’s tough, but at the same time Maria has to believe and just keep that confidence going because she did play a great set and a half at Sony Ericsson. She was dominating, moving well, dictating the points. Serena was a touch off. I think it’s an uphill battle for Maria. Knowing how mentally tough she is, how much she is a fighter, she has just got to hope that Serena has a little bit of a lapse maybe of concentration or whatever and just dive in there at that point. That’s how I feel about that. What do you think, Cliff?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: What you said, I could not add anything to it that makes any more sense. You’re exactly right about the points that you’re making. It is about the movement. That’s the problem. The question always is, How can she beat her? Maybe tripping her up when they’re crossing sides after 1-Love in the first set, that would be the best solution. Going back to one thing you said, Chris, to add to what you said earlier, believe it or not this is the best chance you have to beat Serena on this surface overall. You have to bear that in mind. Take comfort in the fact this is her least effective surface, do whatever you can. I think I’m very impressed with the way Maria has come back. She had a tough time with Azarenka last year. But she’s just such a mentally tough competitor, always has been, and it stays that way. It’s all about Serena. Every tournament is all about Serena. But Maria is still in there with her mental strength. She could do it. Look, Serena may lose again early. You never know.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The other thing is she’s players, like Cliff said, when they go into a match against Serena on the red clay, they have to have a little bit of confidence anyway knowing that Serena’s only won this title one time, and that clay hasn’t been her best surface in the past. Maybe there is a shadow of doubt. She may be impatient. She may make errors. They’ve got to see that there’s a little window when they play her at the French versus the other Grand Slams.

 

Q. Thinking back to a year ago at Roland Garros, Errani making it to the final. Chris, are there two or three names you would throw out there who have never won a Grand Slam title, maybe never made the final of a championship, who you think could be a surprise person to make a run into the second week?

CHRIS EVERT: I think Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the way her form has been the last two months, being an American, she’s at a really good place right now in her life and with her tennis. Most of the people that come to mind, like Li Na, who has won it, you can’t underestimate her. Radwanska, I’m still waiting for her to make that step because I think she’s the kind of crafty, smart player that should on paper do well at the French. I don’t think that’s been one of her better tournaments either. So look for her a little bit to do something. (But) it’s a tough one. I look at Sam Stosur. There’s a lot of players, as I said before, like Ivanovic, like Li Na, like Sam Stosur, who have shown they can do well on the red clay. Maybe Ivanovic is another good one. She’s had some good results lately.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I was going to mention her. I wonder what you think about Wozniacki, have we seen the last of her? I think she’s got another big win in her, too. She’s a potential surprise because she’s got the defensive game and clay is by definition good for the defensive players. I like you’re call about Ana because she had her serving problems the same way Maria did, and she seems to have overcome them.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Cirstea, Errani, they’re all dangerous players. You mention Wozniacki, two years ago she’s No. 1 in the world. She seems to be losing. Before she never lost to players she never should lose to. Now she’s losing to players ranked below her. I want to see her do well, but she hasn’t shown me she’s a threat.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: Makarova. There’s my outside pick.

 

Q. It’s the Serena day. When you’re talking to other players, how incredibly dominant she is, it’s hard to come up with anybody who has a chance to knock her off, how demoralizing must it be for the other players? How many players out there do you think really believe, I can beat Serena Williams? You have perspective that we don’t have about what goes into the mindset of all these women going into a tournament knowing that this woman is just steamrolling over everybody. What would be able to keep you hopeful you could beat her? Do you think people go into it defeated when they play her?

CHRIS EVERT: I think 99% of the players go out there knowing that they’re going to lose. I do think that. Azarenka, Maria, I just think they definitely give themselves a chance. There’s no way they walk out on the court with Serena and think they’re going to lose. They give themselves a chance because they’re confident and they have beaten Serena before. They do, especially at the French, this is her weakest surface, she could have a bad day. She has the ability to make errors. I’m going to get a little more time to return that dominating serve. I think of all the Grand Slams, this is the one those top players feel they do have a shot and feel a little more confidence.

As far as the other players, the only thing is, if you go out there and play Serena, you see that she’s not in a good mood, she’s starting to spray balls, then I think the body language could give players confidence after a couple of games. It has a lot to do with her body language, the way she’s playing. It almost doesn’t matter how you’re playing. It almost doesn’t matter. You know what, the other players probably hate it when we say this, but it really is all about Serena and how she’s feeling and how she’s playing.

 

Q. Would you have liked to have played her, Chris?

CHRIS EVERT: Well, really, do we have to ask that question (laughter)? I mean, I would have played her 30 years ago. That’s unfair to ask. I mean, with my mind I probably would have definitely drawn her in. When I’m commentating, I’m screaming. I’m like under my breath, ‘Dropshot, hit a short angle, come in, show her something different.’ You can’t be banging balls from the baseline with her. You’re not going to win. She’s got a good volley, she doesn’t have a great volley, but she has a great everything else. Expose her weaknesses a little more. Is it tough to get a dropshot, absolutely. But she will give you some mid-court balls. You’ve got to be creative and do something different with those shots. I don’t think Maria has that in her repertoire. I think Vika does. I think Li Na does. You’ve got to really try to find the right shots to use against her. To me they’re the dropshots, short angles, drawing her into the net.

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: If you look at it from the other angle, the other question along the same lines is not are the other players beaten when they take the court against her, but what about from her standpoint. She’s lost only two matches this year. She’s only lost two matches this year. But there is time after all the weeks, the practicing, the matches, when you get to a point in a match sometimes where you say, Wait a minute, what is this pip-squeak doing breaking my serve in the first set? You start to think about it, spray a few balls. There’s always the hope from someone playing against her, Errani did it last year, where you do see the opening that Chris was talking about. It’s not a foregone conclusion. You wouldn’t bet against her, but there’s two sides to the mental equation.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Also she’s not 21, she’s 31. I always found that even though she’s had a lot of not vacations, but periods where she’s taken rest and rehabilitated, she’s been out of the game, she still has played a lot of matches. She has to play seven solid, good matches. When you get older, as Roger Federer is finding out the hard way, you have more off days. No doubts about it, you have more off days because you’re not as mentally fresh as you were when you were 21. That could be a danger for her also. My last two years that I played, I’d wake up in the morning and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I dreaded knowing I had to go out there and play a match. That happened not frequently but once in a while.

 

Q. I have so enjoyed this game planning talk. Would you both take a crack at Nadal. In other words, how would you construct a game plan against Nadal at the French? Is there any point in trying to play better defense or be more patient? What do you expose?

CHRIS EVERT: You know what, same thing.

 

Q. Same answer applies?

CHRIS EVERT: I have seen Nadal eight feet behind the baseline. I have seen players dropshot him. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like running up. He doesn’t like being on the defensive. He doesn’t like being at the net. You got to take them out of their power zone, right? You have to hit the short angles, dropshots, slice it. I think you have to bring him in, hit them shorter. And I think you have to have a big first serve. Cliffy, what do you think?

 

CLIFF DRYSDALE: I think those are all really good points. It’s hard for me to imagine. There’s got to be more to it than that. My feeling on Rafa, he’s way behind the baseline, like you said. By definition with his strokes, they’ve got so much topspin on them, they’ll jump up a lot. But eventually by definition they end up short. In 2011 the way that Djokovic took him down was by standing on the baseline waiting for the short ball and then making Rafa run every which way from east to west on his side of the court. That is still the formula for beating him. It’s easy to say from a strategic standpoint; it’s not that easy to do.

 

A guy like Federer, for example, with the one-handed backhand, he just can’t do that, whereas a Djokovic can. Andy Murray has also got a kind of game, but I’m not sure he can do it on the clay courts, that can do that same thing: stalk the baseline, wait for the short ball, then bang it. That’s how Rafa is vulnerable. The problem is you have to do it for five sets, four hours, and be in great shape. You don’t have that much margin because, by definition, you’re a much more flat ball hitter than he is with all the topspin he has. That’s the solution.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think that Roger’s backhand, I could be completely wrong on that, but I think on the clay he has a good slice. He can hit that high backhand slice, hit a short angle. He has that dropshot. But I think Roger, again, could take a set off him. But to keep that up for five sets, yeah, I think Djokovic is the only one.

But Djokovic has the touch. He’s got to mix it up, though.

 

Q. As analysts, when you’re watching the matches, can you tell before the players themselves that the wheels are starting to come off the bus, that they’re starting to lose things?

CLIFF DRYSDALE: That’s an interesting question. I think both Chris and I can tell, you have a sense for when a match is turning around. It’s quite clear often. You can see it before your eyes. But I’m not sure that we can tell before the players themselves.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think that we can tell before the opponent can see it, for sure. When we’re up there in the box, we’re watching the action down on the court, we’re seeing like Victoria Azarenka play Serena, all of a sudden the point is over, the person that is kind of starting to be upset, starting to show more body language, we see it because the opponent, her attention is centered around herself. She’s not like looking to the other side of the court and saying to herself, Whoa, she’s really upset, I’m going to use it to my advantage. The beauty of commentating is we can see that pretty quickly. Both Cliffy and I, this is the advantage of having played a lot, having had good careers, Grand Slam careers, definitely we can sense, especially knowing the person, what the next move is going to be, how they’re going to react. I think we can see the wheels falling off quicker than their opponent can see it.

 

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McEnroe: Serena Williams and Nadal Have to Beat Themselves to Lose at French Open

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(May 20, 2013) – John McEnroe agrees with the vast majority of tennis prognosticators that Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are heavy favorites to win the upcoming French Open.

McEnroe spoke to media on Monday, ahead of next weeks’ French Open on a Tennis Channel conference call. McEnroe has served as an analyst for the network’s French Open coverage since 2007.

Asked about the chances of Serena being upset, McEnroe said:”I mean it’s been done before.  I’ve done it myself, but you sort of have to beat yourself.  The level she’s at when she’s playing well, I don’t think anybody can beat her.  Anybody, no matter great they are, everybody has bad days.
“On clay, it’s her worst surface.  The odds would increase.  The pressure is greater obviously at the French because she’s only won it once.  I would say at some stage in the event, it would be likely that she won’t have one of her best days.  Depending on her opponent that day, someone might have a shot at her.”

McEnroe is impressed with Nadal’s comeback after being off the tour for seven months.

“It seems like he’s barely lost anything, if at all,” McEnroe said.  “Right now he seems to be finally, he says, playing the best he’s been playing the whole year, which is sort of frightening for the other players.
“Unless something happens that’s unforeseen, it would be pretty hard‑pressed to make an argument for anyone other than Djokovic to beat him.  It would have to be one of those swing‑for‑the‑fences type players like Soderling was that one year, and the conditions would have to be extremely heavy so his ball wouldn’t have the type of jump it normally does.”

Coming into the French Open, both Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are on win streaks. World No. 1 Williams has won 24 straight matches which include Miami, Charleson, Madrid and Rome titles. Nadal, whose ranking has moved up to No. 4 this week, has captured his last three tournaments – Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.

The French Open begins on May 26.

 

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Tennis Channel Announces 2013 French Open Broadcast Schedule

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Meet Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, USTA Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge Winners

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The USTA held a conference call with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winners, who each earned a wild card into the 2013 French Open based on results over the past three weeks on the USTA Pro Circuit. Here is the official transcript of the call from the ASAPSports site:

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

May 6, 2013

Alex Kuznetsov

Shelby Rogers

AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks for joining us on the call today with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the men’s and women’s winners of the Har‑Tru U.S. Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, winning a wild card into the 2013 French Open later this month.
The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the 2013 French Open and US Open are exchanged.  This is the second year the USTA has held the Wild Card Challenge using the U.S. Pro Circuit events to determine the recipients.
The winner of the Wild Card Challenge was determined by the player who accumulated the greatest number of ATP and WTA ranking points at two of three USTA Pro Circuit events.  Alex earned 115 points in the challenge, winning the title in Sarasota, reaching the quarters in Savannah and Tallahassee.  Shelby earned 88 points winning the Charlottesville title and reaching the quarterfinals in Dothan.  She clinched the wild card this weekend.
Both Alex and Shelby will be making their French Open main draw debuts.  Alex reached the finals of the French Open juniors in 2004, losing to Monfils in the final.  Shelby’s last appearance in a Grand Slam was in 2010 when she won a wild card into the US Open by winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships.
We’ll open it up for questions.

Q.  Alex, could you think back to 2004 when you were a finalist in the boys tournament at Roland Garros, give us an idea at that point where you felt your career was and maybe were you thinking back then that relatively soon you’d be in the main draw there at the French Open and what it means to you now to earn that chance to play in the main draw there.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously, yeah, back then it was a great time for me.  I was in the finals of the juniors.  I was playing some good tennis.  Going up against Gaël Monfils, I think he was ranked No.1 in the world at that time.  We were going to be playing on Court1.  I remember I was really excited.  Had my parents and grandparents over there with me, some coaches.
Yeah, obviously it was a great time for me.  But I knew it was a long road ahead of me.  I think I had a couple ATP points at the time.  I knew after that tournament I was going to be playing a lot of futures and challengers events.
But, honestly, to think I guess it’s been almost 10 years that this will be my first French Open main draw, I would have said I’d liked to have been in a couple before now, to be honest with you.

Q.  What does it mean to you to get that chance now?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  It means a lot.  It means all the hard work that I’ve put in is paying off.  I continue to keep working hard.  I know this is kind of the first step of many, I hope.  I look forward to continue playing some good tennis.  I look forward to getting over to Nice next week to start playing some tournaments over there, hopefully get some matches under my belt there.  Hopefully I continue playing well leading up to Roland Garros.

Q.  Alex, obviously we saw last year someone who had some major injuries, not exactly the same situation with you, the car accident.  I’m wondering if Brian Baker offered any inspiration for you in the last few months?  Obviously he was also a French Open junior finalist a long time ago, came back and made a big impact last year.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Brian offered a lot of encouragement to me just to see kind of what he’s been through throughout his whole career.  I had that one major injury with the car accident, but he’s a guy who has had numerous major issues with his knees and his hip and his elbow.  This is a guy that pretty much stopped playing professional tennis, became a coach in college tennis.
To see him come back the way he did, get to the final of Nice last year, go to the French Open and win a round, then play Simon tight in five sets, that gave me a lot of inspiration to see Brian do that.
I’m good friends with Brian.  He’s come down to Saddlebrook to train in the off‑season.  To see how hard he works, how much he loves the game, it’s a great thing.  I wish him more success and I hope he recovers quickly, hopefully we can do some good things on the ATP Tour together.

Q.  At 26, do you feel like there’s still a lot of road ahead of you as a professional tennis player?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Definitely, definitely.  I feel, honestly, that I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life.  I feel strong.  I feel fit.  I’m really looking forward to the future.  I feel like I’m on the right path right now.  I feel I’m really focused on what I need to do.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard.  Hopefully I can continue some good success.

Q.  What is your coaching situation right now?  You said you’re training aft Saddlebrook primarily?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Primarily at Saddlebrook.  I work with a guy named René Moller.  He played on the tour.  He’s from NewZealand.  He also played at the University of Auburn.  Also I’m working with Craig O’Shannessy.  He’s been helping me out these last couple months not necessarily at tournaments but over the phone.  We’ve done some video.  He’s actually going to be in Paris with me this year.

Q.  Alex, looking back at your results this year, there wasn’t too much of a sign that the big breakthrough was going to come through for the three tournaments, particular in Sarasota.  How were you able to turn it around and what was your mindset going into this whole playoff system?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  My mindset, I wasn’t thinking about the wild card at all, to be honest with you.  I got the email from the USTA saying they were going to be doing this playoff for it with these three tournaments.  I didn’t think much of it.  I think I lost five or six matches first rounds coming into Sarasota.  I didn’t make the main draw.  I had to play qualifying.
To be honest with you, I was looking to go to Sarasota, get some confidence back.  With every match, I gained a little bit more, started playing some really good tennis midweek.  That continued even through the three weeks.  Even in Savannah, I lost to a good clay player in Hidalgo.  I was unfortunate to have a shoulder injury in Tallahassee.  I beat some good players along the way and am feeling really confident with my game right now.

Q.  Was there any particular win that you had maybe in Sarasota that you think really kind of spurred you on towards this run?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  You know, I played a lot of good players there.  I think with every match I just gained a little more confidence.  I beat Ben Becker, who is a top 100 player.  He’s been there for a while.  I beat a good friend of mine playing some good tennis this year, Tim Smyczek, in a tight three‑setter.  Then I beat Stevie Johnson, also a really good player who has been playing some good tennis this past year.
With every match, I just got more and more confident.  I think the final really showed how well I think I’m capable of playing.  I feel I still need to work really hard to attain that level with every match.
To beat Wayne Odesnik 6‑0, 6‑2, was something I definitely didn’t expect.  I was really happy with the result.  I’m really looking forward, as I’ve been saying, to the future and continuing to work hard.

Q.  You said you went into it without thinking about the wild card.  At what point did you realize that it was within your grasp?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Honestly, even after I won Sarasota, I didn’t think I was going to have the wild card.  I still knew that Wayne, he’s a great clay court player, all he really needed to do was win Savannah or Tallahassee.  I think he was capable of doing that.  Also with the fields that we had in those tournaments, there’s a number of guys that could have won two weeks back‑to‑back.
Even after Sarasota, I wasn’t thinking much about it, to be honest with you.

Q.  Shelby, can you talk a little bit about your run through the three tournaments, how you were able to get things together and pull this off.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  Going into Dothan, I was in a similar situation at Alex.  I lost six matches this year.  I hadn’t won a round since November of last year or something.  I was just trying to get some confidence back, get some matches, get some clay court tennis in.
I thankfully carried the moment over into Charlottesville.  I was playing solid tennis, I was confident with what I was doing.  Unfortunately I had to play one of my friends I think every round at that tournament, so that was a little bit tough, playing the Americans.
But, yeah, all the cards fell in my favor that week.  I came out with the title.
Then going into Indian Harbour, I lost second round there, but it was a tough situation at the end because I was just kind of waiting for people to lose because I was at the top of the points.  I was just hoping somebody wouldn’t take the title that week and pass me.
At the same time I wanted my friends to do well there.  So hopefully I’m never in that situation again.  But I got the wild card in the end and I’m really happy about it.

Q.  Historically how comfortable are you on clay?  Have you played on European red clay before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I grew up on the green clay in the States.  I grew up in Charleston.  I was pretty much taught on the green clay.
I’ve only played two tournaments on red clay before.  I played one ITF junior event there which I won the singles and doubles, so that was a pretty special week in Costa Rica.  I played in Acapulco earlier this year and lost first‑round quallies there.
I feel pretty comfortable on the clay.  I’m confident in my game and my movement right now.  I’m just hoping for the best.  I’m ready for a good experience in France.

Q.  Have you been to Paris before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No, I haven’t.  This will be my first time.

Q.  What’s the first thing you’re going to want to do?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think I have to go to the Eiffel Tower, right?  A couple other sites, I guess.  Maybe see the city a little bit.  Hopefully stay on the red clay as long as I can.

Q.  Shelby, what do you contribute all the success you’ve had in the last three weeks or so?  Has there been a change in your game, coaching, anything like that other than just hard work?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No.  I honestly haven’t changed a thing.  I had a rough start to the year.  I had a lot of tough matches against good players.  I felt like I was right there in each one of them.
I guess just sticking with it, keep believing in yourself, not giving up is the hardest part.  When you’re in a slump, you can get a little frustrated, want to not work as hard, stop what you’ve been doing to get you where you’re at.
I just kept believing in the process and I knew it was going to come, but maybe not so soon, maybe not for a French Open wild card.  But you have to keep working hard every day and something good’s bound to happen.

Q.  Are you currently working with someone in particular with the USTA?
SHELBY ROGERS:  My main coach is Sylvan Guichard.  He’s a French guy that works here in Boca with the USTA.

Q.  One of the USTA coaches will be with you in Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Unfortunately, Sylvan will not be able to go this year.  But I think two or three of the other USTA coaches will be over there.  They do a great job with the whole player development.  Everybody knows all the players’ games.  They can all help me out.  All the coaches are great so I’ll be in good hands.

Q.  You’ve done well in singles, but you’ve done almost as well in doubles.  What do you contribute that to and what do you think about doubles?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think doubles is really fun.  Singles obviously is a little more important to me.  But when I go on court for doubles.  I have good partners, we have a lot of fun on court.  It’s a little more relaxed than singles.  It’s just a good time.  You get to work on your serve, you get to come in more, a little more variety in doubles.  It’s a little bit different game, but I love it.  It’s a good time.

Q.  What about your switch to training with the USTA from training at Family Circle in Charleston?  Was that a big boost for you?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I guess it’s been a couple years now since I made that decision.  It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life, leaving my family and everyone at home, the coach I’d been with since I was seven.
But there just weren’t any players to train with in Charleston.  I had a good setup with coaching and fitness and stuff like that.  But moving to Boca, you have world‑class players every day to practice against, a nice gym, fitness trainers.  Everything is right at your fingertips.
I think it was a good move and something that I needed to do.  It definitely helped my game.  The results show that, I think.

Q.  When are you leaving for Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I’m leaving Wednesday.  I’m playing a tournament before and then I’ll head over to Paris the following week.

Q.  Shelby, looking at your results the last couple years, you’re playing a lot of challengers, having some good results, cracked top 200.  I’m sure you see a lot of WTA main draw.  Do you feel in the next year or two you can get yourself to the point where you’ll be playing regular WTA events?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Absolutely, yeah, that’s definitely a goal of mine.  Going into this year, I want to be top 100 by the end of the year.  I think as a player, getting to the WTA is pretty important because you get more points in those tournaments, you can keep your ranking up a little bit easier.
Yeah, I mean, hopefully that happens as soon as possible.  But just got to take it one match at a time, one tournament at a time, hope for the best.

Q.  Game‑wise what do you feel you need to do to get to that level?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think a big thing for me recently has been patience, not trying to do too much with my game.  I tend to pull the trigger a little bit too much.  Patience and strategy, just grinding away every point.

Q.  Alex, can you talk a little bit about what it will take for you to get the top 100 and then maybe top 50 or so?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I think, first off, I need to stay healthy.  That’s number one.  But then after that, kind of like what Shelby said, being consistent, playing at a consistent level week in, week out.  Obviously, nowadays with the men’s game, fitness is a big part of it.  I need to get stronger.
For me I think mentally, like I said, I just need to stay in it mentally week in, week out.  The year, it’s a long one.  I think in previous years I’ve had a few good results, then after that I’ve kind of gone away for a month or two before I had another one.  I think the main thing for me is staying in it mentally week in and week out.

Q.  Alex, I know you spend a lot of time at Saddlebrook, traveling around.  Do you get much chance to go home to Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Yeah, I try to get up there as much as I can.  My parents and grandparents are still up there.  My best friends are up there.  I try to get up there at least once every couple months, even though it’s hard.

Q.  When you were growing up, learning how to play, who were your influences in Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Mainly it was my dad.  My dad was kind of my main influence.  Also I worked with a guy by the name of Jason Katzer (phonetic).  He played at Ohio State.  He grew up in the area and was kind of my first tennis coach.

Q.  Could I have your thoughts on this particular process of deciding a wild card.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I think it’s a great way of picking a wild card recipient.  It shows a little bit more the player that can be consistent with results instead of just having one good weekend or one good week.  You really have to prove yourself over three weeks, which I think is a great process.
You have to be mentally tough.  You have to bring your game throughout the whole three weeks.  I mean, it’s the same players, but you just have to win the most matches.  Ultimately, yeah, I think it’s a better way.  I’m for it.  I like it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously I’m for it as well because I didn’t get to play for the one in Australia.  I think they chose the players they wanted in that one.  I think this is an opportunity for the player who is playing the best tennis at the time.  You’re also competing against players from different countries, so you’re not only competing against Americans.  Obviously there’s players from South America and from Europe who grew up playing on clay, so they have a lot of experience.  You deserve the wild card if you’re able to do that.

Q.  Shelby, you beat Nicole Gibbs at the 18‑and‑under championships to get your wild card into the US Open in 2010.  You didn’t go to college.  Can you talk about that decision and what the last two or three years have been like for you grinding it out on the Pro Tour.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I had a couple good pro tournaments and decided to officially turn pro and not go to college right out of high school.
I did the whole college visit.  I went on my official visits, went to a couple schools.  I actually probably would have gone to Clemson maybe.  I was pretty set on that.
But I really had to give myself a chance on the tour.  It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.  I can always go back to school, get my degree, take classes, but I can’t always play on tour.
We have a pretty short window of time, I’d say.  And I had to give myself a chance.  I think I would have regretted it a lot if I didn’t, especially seeing some of my friends going out and trying it, as well.
I think I would have always been wanting to play for (indiscernible) in college.  I’m happy with my decision every single day.  I don’t regret a thing.

Q.  Shelby, who do you get to train with and see on a regular basis down in Boca?
SHELBY ROGERS:  We have Madison Keys, Grace Min, Jamie Hampton, Taylor Townsend, Kim Crawford, Sachia Vickery.  I hope I don’t leave anyone out.  That would be bad.

Q.  Do you train alongside them or play against them in practice matches frequently?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, we’re always rotating.  We’re drilling together.  Playing matches together.  Fitness, as well.  It depends on who is in town.  We’re always traveling, playing tournaments.  Wherever we’re here, we help each other out.  All of us girls get along pretty good.  It’s a good environment, a good peer group for all of us to improve.

Q.  You said you’ve been at Boca for two years now.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yes.

Q.  Have you noticed in the last couple of years whether or not the tenor or intensity has changed?  A lot of recent success coming from players down there.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  I mean, I think, you know, we’re constantly getting better as a team.  The USTA is making a lot of improvements down here.  Everybody’s working really hard.  We give 100% every day.  All the girls are putting themselves out there.
Like I said, we help each other every single day we’re here training.  We encourage each other, push each other, because we want to be the best we can be.
I think it’s really neat that we have a lot more girls training down here now.  Before there were just a few.  We were spread out all over the U.S.  It’s nice to be able to train with them and play matches because, like I said, in Charleston, I had nobody to hit with.  I had good coaches, resources, but nobody to play against.  So it’s really important to have a good group around you and people to play with.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about Har‑Tru, the surface.  As a player, would you be interested in more American tournaments on Har‑Tru?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Like I said, I grew up on the green clay, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.  I guess if I grew up on the West Coast, I’d be more of a hard court player.
I don’t know.  I mean, the women have one tournament on green clay in Charleston, which is where I’m from, so that’s nice to have that in my hometown.
I’d be all for having more tournaments on the Har‑Tru.  I think it’s a great surface.  Brings out different parts of your game.
I guess we have an advantage being on the East Coast.  I don’t know.  Everybody can travel around the country and have an equal opportunity to play on it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I would be for it, but I also think being that our main Grand Slam is on hard court, there also needs to be obviously an equal amount of hard court tournaments.
Like Shelby, I also grew up playing on clay on the East Coast.  I played at a club in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, which had indoor red clay.  I hit on it a lot.
I don’t mind playing on clay, obviously.  I think it’s a good surface to start younger kids on.  I think they develop better on a clay court than they would a hard court.
But, yeah, I’d also be for it if they had a few more events.  But I’d like for them to keep some hard court tournaments, as well.
AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks today to Alex and Shelby for taking the time to talk with everybody.  Thanks for everybody on the call.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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Azarenka is Ready for Melbourne, Looking Forward to Madison Square Garden

Victoria Azarenka serving china Open

( January 10, 2013) MELBOURNE/NEW YORK -  Prior to her participation in the Australian Open draw in Melbourne on Friday morning, No. 1 Victoria Azarenka took time out for an international conference call to promote taking part in the BNP Paribas Showdown on March 4, 2013 in Madison Square Garden where she’ll take on Serena Williams.

Azarenka who pulled out of the Brisbane International last week due to a big toe injury says she ready to go in Melbourne: “I’m feeling really good. If you’re asking about my foot, it’s feeling much better … the last couple of days. The scary part is in the past as it happened in Brisbane. I’m really glad … I can practice full time right now.”

This will be the sixth annual BNP Paribas Showdown as part of Tennis Night in America on World Tennis Day. In the opening match, Victoria Azarenka will take on Serena Williams followed by Rafael Nadal’s return to action in the US after an injury layoff as he plays Juan Martin del Potro.

For Azarenka this will be her first time playing in “the world’s most famous arena. ” I’m very excited and once I heard about this opportunity I said yes right away, Said Azarenka. “It’s something really magical to be a part of this event and play at such an amazing facility.”

Coming into the Australian Open as the defending champion and into the 2013 season in general, is she under the pressure of expectation?

“My approach to this year is the same as every year,” said Azarenka.  “I try to do my best; you set up priorities and goals for the tournaments. I don’t really want to defend anything I’m here to try and win another title. That’s how I look at it…and at the end of the year try and get to the championships because that is the point we all know that you we are being pretty consistent throughout the whole year. My main focus and attention will be on the Grand Slams.”

“The season has started already and the Grand Slam season starts here right now. I think women’s tennis is great, competitive atmosphere right now… There are a lot of girls who can show some great tennis. For me personally, I’m very excited to be a part of this competition. As for who I have my eyes on, I’m not sure. I’ll have my eyes on the ball (laughs) and on me. The top ten and the rest of the players are the ones to watch for. I’ll be looking forward to whoever I play.

The most I’m looking forward to is having a great match and I hope the crowd enjoys it and I can’t wait to be a part of this match, Azarenka said about he future BNP Paribas Showdown match versus Serena Williams. “I visited Madison Square Garden during the US Open and it was under construction and I was absolutely amazed. As a kid you watch all those events coming up – concerts and the games and you dream about it. I have it locked in my mind and for me to actually be there will be an honor.”

The BNP Paribas Showdown is part of Tennis Night in America and the inaugural World Tennis Day.  More information about World Tennis Day events and the BNP Paribas Showdown matches in New York and Hong Kong can be found online at www.WorldTennisDay.com. The Hong Kong event will feature John McEnroe against Ivan Lendl and Caroline Wozniacki against Li Na.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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“On The Call” With ESPN’s Darren Cahill and Chris Evert on The 2013 Australian Open

Chris EvertDarren Cahill

(January 9, 2013) On Tuesday, Jan. 8, ESPN tennis analysts Darren Cahill and Chris Evert spoke with media about the Australian Open, tennis’ first Major of the year, on ESPN2 and ESPN3 starting Sunday, January 13, through the finals two weeks later. This press release has all the details.

 

Highlights from the conference call:

 

Q. Watching Serena and seeing what shape she’s in, watching what she’s done early in the season, is there a chance she could win the calendar slam? I know it’s hard to do. Obviously she has to stay healthy, which is a question. Looking at the way she is right now, certainly seems she might want to do that. What do you guys think?

CHRIS EVERT: Is it possible? Absolutely. It’s absolutely possible. I think you nailed it when you said the thing with Serena is not only her health but her motivation. I think she’s got the motivation, there’s no doubt about it, because she’s been out of the game so many different times, either for injuries or for other interests in her life, whatever, so she’s still a fresh older player. So I don’t think that motivation will be a factor.

 

To stay healthy in this day and age is, as we’ve seen Nadal and other players, I think more difficult, especially for someone like Serena who is such a physical player and has a tendency to get injured. When she’s on, she’s unbeatable. She’s dominant and unbeatable. I don’t know if anybody can really stop her. But you have to remember that we’re talking Grand Slams in the same sentence, and they’re two-week tournaments and have always provided surprises for us.

 

So the big question is for those two-week periods, can she keep the high level of focus and fitness for 14 days in a row. There’s no easy matches anymore, as we saw last year here when she lost, and also last year at the French when she lost. You got to start out 90% to 100% from the first match.

 

But is it possible? It’s absolutely possible. Do I think it will happen? I have my doubts that it would happen only because she is human.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. I think at the moment she’s playing a level or two above the opposition. She’s a stronger, faster athlete than she was maybe three or four years ago. I think she’s a more intelligent tennis player now. I think the fact she’s been looking to take other people on, other people’s advice, has helped her tennis. I feel like she’s always learning. I think it’s a great example for everybody, that even once you reach your 30s there’s still ways to improve your tennis. That’s why Federer has been so good over the years and with Andre lasted until he was 36 inside the top 10. He was a student of the game and was continuing to try to get the most out of himself.

 

I agree with Chrissie. The reason so few people have won the Grand Slam is because it’s such a very difficult thing to do, different surfaces, different balls, different challenges along the way, stumbling blocks along the way, they’re enormous. Some of them you do see, some of them we don’t see. But a fit and healthy Serena absolutely has a chance. I think if anybody can do it on either side, Serena can do it.

 

Q. Can I ask you what you’ve seen from Sloane Stephens this year? What are your impressions of her coming back this year?

CHRIS EVERT: Well, I think that last year really helped her as far as experience. She went into last year with these big eyes, you know. She was a novice. She was finally on the big stage, on stadium courts. I think it was an awakening for her. It was like a dress rehearsal for her. Now I think she’s had that experience behind her and it seems to me that she’s moving better and she’s also more relaxed in the position that she’s in, you know, in the top 50 in the world. She certainly was one of the more touted players as a junior. I think there are a lot of expectations. I think finally now she’s mature, she’s calmed down. I for one think she does have the talent to win a Grand Slam title. So I think she’s on the upward swing.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that as well. We see a couple of kids, male and female, come through every year that to me have top 10 written all over them. Sloane is one of those players. I feel she’s matured in the last 12 months. Her game is great. It’s always been good. I feel like she’s got that personality that expects to be in the top 10, and that’s half the battle, feeling like you belong on the big stage, you belong playing the greatest players in the world.

We even saw that last week in Brisbane, when she was playing Serena, she maybe gave Serena her toughest match of the week. Even in conversations with her coach, you can see it’s a confidence, not an arrogance, it’s a confidence that, Okay, when everything comes together, when she gets a little bit faster and stronger, becomes a more intelligent tennis player, this is going to be her stage.

 

You just have to play a little bit of a waiting game with a player like her because she has a lot of weapons. She needs to find the best ways to utilize those weapons. Maybe that might come in three months, maybe that might come in three years, but there’s no question she has top 10 written all over her and can certainly win a slam.

 

Q. Could you say the same thing about Laura Robson?

DARREN CAHILL: Absolutely. I think she’s a half a step behind Sloane as far as the development. She’s certainly got a lot of weapons. Laura has improved her movement around the court, which is going to be a big factor with her to deal with the strength of shots, a lot of the top ladies, what they play with in today’s game.

There’s no question Laura has the talent. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in the ladies’ game that varies the spin the way she can do it. The fact she is a lefty is a slight advantage going forward. She also understands the game extremely well. She certainly has the weapons. But there’s the court speed and the ability to play a little defensive tennis at times that is going to be important for her to evolve and improve. But there’s no question there can be a rivalry there.

 

Q. Back to Serena real quick. She’s done so much in her career, has had an amazing career already. Getting a Grand Slam this year, where would that rank her in terms of all time with Chrissie and Billie Jean and even some of the other international players? Then if y’all could talk a little bit about Ryan Harrison and what he needs to do this year, where he’s at.

CHRIS EVERT: Let me tell you, if she wins four Grand Slams in a row this year, I would think she would be the greatest of all time for the simple reason that, first of all, does she have 14 now, is that what she has?

 

DARREN CAHILL: 15.

 

CHRIS EVERT: She has 15. Anybody who wins a Grand Slam in this era with the level of tennis as high as it is, because the level of tennis gets higher every single year, would currently have to be the greatest player that ever lived. Point-blank, that’s all that needs to be said. She would still be the greatest player that ever lived even if she didn’t win four in a row, in my mind.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I would agree with that, Chrissie. I think in the era we’re playing in, it’s so competitive, so many different countries competing. Look, the game has changed. It’s improved every year. I feel the players now are more professional in turning over every single stone they can, not just on the men’s side but the women’s side as well. If she would go through and win the four majors in a row, that would mean she won six in a row. If she won six in a row, there’s no question in my mind she would be the greatest female player that’s lived.

 

CHRIS EVERT: You asked about Ryan Harrison. Go ahead, Darren, you can take that one.

 

DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, look, I’m a big fan of Ryan’s. There’s talk down here in Australia about Bernard Tomic, how it was last year. He’s a young guy that’s made a bunch of mistakes off the court. Some of those mistakes have come on the court as well with a lack of effort the last two or three months of last year. I’m sure he’s very happy to see the rear-end of 2012 and look forward to 2013. But always the second year on tour is always an extremely tough year for these players. You make a break as a youngster, break into the top 50 in the world, people pay more attention to you. They work out your strengths and weaknesses, they spend more time breaking down your game. All of a sudden, players are coming onto the court to play these kids and they have game plans which they’ve never seen before.

 

The second year on tour is a real learning year for a lot of these players. It’s what happened to Ryan as well. Exactly the same at Bernard Tomic. What would be a pretty good ranking for Bernard Tomic this year, I would have said around 50, because it’s going to be tough to replicate what he did in 2011, and I would say exactly the same for Ryan Harrison. He slipped down a little bit after having a breakthrough in 2011. It’s a learning year for him. I feel that this is a kid that takes the right steps to be as good as he can be.

 

He’s changed coaches a few times. He works incredibly hard off the court. He’s taken on a mentorship with Andy Roddick, which I think is a good thing for him. I think you’ll find in the next few years, with Tomic, Goffin, Raonic is already up there. They’ll be around the top 10 if not in the top 10.

 

If you have a look at the top 20 at the moment, most of these guys are approaching 30, if not 30. The shape of the men’s game is going to change in the next three or four years. These guys need to keep working on their games, staying healthy, getting the best out of their games and they’ll find themselves at the top of the game very soon.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I’d just like to add that I think the men’s game, as far as American men players, was a bit disappointing last year. I think the women’s game, the American women’s game is looking stronger than the men’s. I think Ryan and even Jack Sock, Isner, these players – not to be too critical – but need that hard work ethic where they look and see how a Nadal trains, Djokovic and Federer and Ferrer. The top players are at a different level when it comes to hard work ethic and the training and even the dedication. I think it’s just brutal now. I think that’s got to be one of the things, intangibles as far as, Okay, you got a great game, but how much do you want it and how much are you willing to work for it? I think there’s a lot of talent in those two players I mentioned, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison. But I think they’ve got to maybe go up a little level as far as their fitness and their hard work ethic.

 

Q A question about Federer and Nadal. Do you think this is going to be the first year in what would be 10 years or more that neither one of them wins a major? What are the chances that neither one of them wins a major this year?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, heavens. It’s all speculation, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know how you can say. First of all, Nadal, we don’t even know if he’s going to come back, right? I think it very well could happen. Yes, it very well could happen. But I just think if Nadal gets his act together in February, March, and he gets healthy, he’s pretty invincible on the red clay, even though Djokovic did have a good match with him last year at the French. I think Nadal, he puts all his eggs in one basket when it comes to winning at least that one Grand Slam. I think he’s going to do everything he can to prepare for that one Grand Slam. So in that respect, you know, no, that won’t happen. I mean, I predict Nadal is going to come back and win the French. I think Murray is also going to win a Grand Slam this year, and Djokovic also. And Roger, you can never count Roger Federer out, especially on the grass. But I think, gosh, each year gets a little bit tougher, you know, for him.

I would love to see him win a Grand Slam, but I don’t know. I don’t think you could ever be 100% sure with him.

What do you think, Darren?

 

DARREN CAHILL: I have a question for you in are you willing to go bet against Nadal?

 

Q. I’d never make that bet.

 

DARREN CAHILL: Then you can’t expect us to make that bet!

 

Q. I don’t expect you to. I just see it as the first time in a long time where that’s a possibility. It never even used to be a possibility.

 

DARREN CAHILL: It’s always been a bit of a possibility because these players, the ones that have been chasing Federer and Nadal are so good these days. No question Nadal, I think he’s going to come back and he’s going to be just as strong as he was. It was three years ago at Wimbledon that we were all throwing our hands up. I went through the same thing, patellar tendonitis, not to compare myself with him, it’s in a different world completely, but I understand what he’s going through when it comes to this knee pain. It put me out of the game when I was 25. I was going, you know what, this is going to be tough to get back to the level he was at. Lo and behold, he came back a better tennis player.

 

Anything he achieves on the tennis court is not surprising. Everything Federer achieves on the court is not surprising considering what he does to get the best out of himself and what he’s achieved in the past. I do think you’re right that 2013 might shake the future in the men’s game. We might get an insight as to how the men’s game is going to look at from the next five or six years and beyond from the results in 2013. But there’s no way anybody is going to put a red line through Federer and Nadal just yet.

 

CHRIS EVERT: If I were to be a betting woman, you know, you can never bet against Djokovic on a hard surface, like an Australian or a US Open. And Federer certainly I think is going to be — I think Wimbledon is his goal in his life. And Nadal, the French Open. Murray, he’s going to be the spoiler this year. Somehow he’s going to be the spoiler. He can play great grass court tennis, as we saw last year at Wimbledon. And he’s a great hard court player also. So he’s going to be the one that’s going to be the spoiler, I think.

 

Q. Around the time when Nadal or Federer were winning everything, 2005, 2006, I think everyone saw Murray and Djokovic as strong, probably going to get to the top, the only thing holding them back were these two guys. I don’t know if you would say that now about some of the guys younger than Murray and Djokovic. What do you two think? Is that next generation maybe a little bit behind where this generation was a few years ago or are they coming along okay?

CHRIS EVERT: I’ll just say briefly, because Darren knows a lot more about this than I do, I’ll say briefly I think this is the year, 2013, for these players to emerge. I think we kind of saw hints of it last year.

But especially this year, with Nadal not being 100%, Federer, like I said, as each year goes on, it’s going to be harder and harder for him to be mentally tough for every match. I think this is the year that some new faces are going to pop up, and have to. That’s always been the way it’s gone in tennis.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree with that. You’re right, absolutely. This generation of Murray and Djokovic, the one previous in 2005, 2006 that came up, were right there with these guys.

 

I remember a little story actually with Andre. Remember back at the French Open in 2006 when Djokovic got through the quarterfinals, played that match against Nadal. He walked off the court after a couple sets because he was injured. Obviously it was a big thing for the young kid to get through to the quarters. In the after-match press conference he said he felt comfortable on the court against Nadal. That caught the attention of Andre back in 2006. I remember vividly the tournament right before Wimbledon, just before Andre announced it was going to be his last Wimbledon ever, and the US Open was going to be his last tournament, he played an exhibition against Djokovic.

 

Andre said, The kid just played Nadal, right? This is the kid that said he felt like he was the better player at the French, right? I said, Yeah, this is the kid. So walking out from the locker room onto the court, I remember walking next to these guys, and Andre peppered him with questions about his career. This is an 18-, 19-year-old kid that came out and said he felt like he was a better player than Nadal on clay. Obviously I’m paraphrasing him a little bit.

 

Andre peppered him with questions about why he would make such a statement. Novak wasn’t being cocky, he wasn’t being over the top. He basically answered each question with, No, I just felt for this reason, if I could play my game off the backhand side, I have a big pocket. I felt if I could push him back on the backhand side I would make this progress, my forehand down the line, I could make this progress. He answered every one of Andre’s questions like a true pro. That’s the intelligence and the thinking of that generation of player.

 

Now, Murray was exactly the same. You’re right, that generation of player is slightly ahead of the generation we see right now. I think Nadal, Murray, because Nadal is only a year or two older than those guys, but Nadal, Murray and Novak was a unique circumstance for men’s tennis to get those three guys into the game. But they are special tennis players that you rarely see. We haven’t got those generation of players coming through. We have some really good players. But it might be the generation after that that comes through and pushes them. But you are right, they are a level ahead of what we have at the moment.

 

CHRIS EVERT: The four men are so dominant, they’re so close. They beat each other. They just keep beating each other. Nothing is predictable when they play one another, whereas that’s so different in the women’s game.

Like you said, Darren, they can sort of rationalize and speak intelligently, have intelligent strategy against the other men. In the women’s game, I think the top players look at playing Serena, and they’re hoping that she just has a bad day. It’s hard to figure out what the winning strategy is against her. That’s where it’s different.

 

Q. In Abu Dhabi, Janko Tipsarevic described Andy Murray as a different animal. Have you seen a difference in the way Andy carries himself on the court, his attitude? Can you see him going on to win multiple majors this year potentially?

DARREN CAHILL: Look, I do see a slight difference on the court with his attitude. I feel like he spent 12 months now with Ivan. He knows exactly what the plan is. This time last year, it was a little bit, Let’s look and see how this goes. Obviously it was a big step for him to take someone on like Ivan. He knew what media attention it would gain. He never won a Grand Slam tournament before. Obviously all eyes were going to be on the Murray/Lendl partnership.

 

They’re 12 months down the road now, they have an Olympic gold medal under their belt, a US Open under their belt. I see a little bit more swagger on the court. It doesn’t mean anything when it come to playing these top guys. It means he’s not focusing on that one major; he’s focusing now on multiple. There’s no question he’s capable of winning multiple slams.

 

Two or three years ago in 2010 when Novak was going through the rough spot, the serve was all over the place, the forehand was all over the place, he was struggling in the heat. Chris Fowler was doing a tournament with Brad Gilbert and myself, posed a question to us, if we could go back to coaching, who would we take on at that particular time, and both of us in unison said Novak Djokovic. The reason for it is we saw the most improvement coming from someone’s game in the top 10 from. Credit to his coach, Marian Vajda, to get him to where he is. I look at Andy Murray’s game a bit the same. Even though he’s achieved what he’s achieved, there’s still an enormous amount of achievement that can come from Andy Murray’s game. I think if they stay together the next couple years, I think you’ll see him realize a lot of his dreams and win more major championships.

 

Q. Do you think Ivan would be the key then?

DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, I think it’s important. I think stability in a relationship, in a player and coach partnership, is more important than people realize. The message sometimes is the same message. There has to be that belief and that trust between the player and the coach. You don’t get that from spending a couple of months together; you get that from spending years together.

 

I feel like in the next couple years, if they can stay together, it will only be good for Andy. Obviously the big question mark is the amount of travel is takes on Ivan with his family. The fact that he’s stepped up and committed to Andy to do this job, it was a little bit surprising for me that he would do it. But also I think it brought a smile to everybody’s face in tennis that somebody that achieved so much in tennis in the game would be so willing to invest in somebody else’s career. It’s great for everybody on a whole and specifically for Andy.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think Ivan Lendl was the perfect, perfect fit for Andy Murray because Andy Murray’s attitude has completely changed and his demeanor on the court. It still shows up now, but Andy used to be a very emotional and very passionate and very impulsive, would just get down on himself so easily. Then you would have Lendl on the other side known for being stoic and unemotional. He didn’t let anything bother him.

 

I just think that nowadays when Andy is about to erupt, he’ll look over and Ivan will give him a look like, Don’t you even think about starting that kind of crap, you know. And Andy Murray will just go back to being more serious.

I think temperament-wise he’s really helped him. I think that’s exploded into his game. He’s just playing so much better. I think they need to stay together. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. I don’t even know where Andy Murray would be today if it wasn’t for Lendl because I think he significantly changed him and changed his temperament and his whole personality out there.

 

Q. The weather. It’s usually very hot in Australia. It’s particularly hot this year. Do you think that may play a bigger factor this year than in previous years at the Open?

CHRIS EVERT: Conditioning is always a factor. It’s 100% a factor. Especially coming off of everybody had a rest. Who knows, some players went skiing, some players really did take time off and are kind of working their way into the beginning of the year. Some already have worked hard and are very fit. I think conditioning and fitness is definitely going to be a factor with the heat. You’re going to have some players that are going to fizzle and some players that aren’t going to be able to cope as well as others. It’s just a matter of conditioning for the players.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I think that’s also why you see so many players get down here much earlier than they used to with the Australian Open. It’s to get used to the climate in Australia. Everyone is coming from Europe or America. The weather over there is pretty average at the moment. Ana Ivanovic was down here on the 21st of December to get ready for the Australia summer. Daniela Hantuchova was down here two or three weeks before Christmas to get ready. Most of the players are either doing their pre-season in Australia or they’re coming out before Christmas to make sure they hit the ground running. By the time they get to the Australian Open, they are well used to the heat, if they have to play matches in those 35, 36 degree days.

 

Q. I wanted to go back to the Andy Murray/Ivan Lendl partnership. Are there technical differences that Lendl has made in his game so far or would you just say it’s temperament-wise?

CHRIS EVERT: I think definitely there’s been some technical changes. But to me it’s mostly been attitude.

Go ahead, Darren, about the technical.

 

DARREN CAHILL: You know, I spent a lot of time with both these guys, especially with Andy back in 2011. It’s a little difficult for me to comment on the Lendl/Murray partnership because I played a small part in it. I’m sitting back now wondering how it was going to go last year. Like everybody else, I’m happy that it worked. Getting any real information out of Ivan is like pulling blood from a stone. The guy keeps everything really close to his chest. That’s what good coaches do. They reveal little bits of information but nothing too specific that is going to give you an insight as to what they’re actually working on because they don’t want to give any ammunition to their main rival.

 

Nadal doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when it comes to the serve. Federer doesn’t tell us what he’s working on when he’s working on the backhand, the net game, or being more aggressive. These guys don’t give you much and the coaches don’t give you much as well. Sitting on the outside looking in, there’s no question that he’s trying to get more weight behind that forehand side of Andy. If you go back to tape three years ago and watch Andy Murray hit forehands compared to the way he’s hitting them today, there’s a stark difference in the amount of weight behind each and every one of those forehands and his willingness to take that forehand up the line earlier in the point. That creates much more open court for you. While you can do it well, you can also look to the direction in which Andy is hitting the second serve. Used to hit it the same spot in the court every time. Now he’s moving around the service box to possibly get free points off the second serve. He didn’t serve great, even though he won the tournament in Brisbane. On the whole, there’s also a lot more miles per hour behind that second serve than there used to be. The first serve is now considered a big weapon and one of the biggest shots in the game. There’s no question that he’s targeted four or five different areas in Andy’s game. Again, that takes time to work on. You can’t fix that stuff in one week, in two weeks, in one month. It takes a lot of time. I think you’re starting to see the benefits of late last year, the Olympics, US Open time. All that came together for Murray and Lendl.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I think with Lendl, the attitude is a big thing, but I also think second would be he’s a more intelligent player. I think Lendl really helps him with strategy with these players. I saw that when he played Djokovic, when he plays Federer. Actually, he was playing Djokovic last year at the Australian Open. He’s just slicing his backhand, giving him no pace. That was something that had been talked about with Lendl.

I think Ivan is really one for exposing what weaknesses these top players have. So I think he’s become a more intelligent player as well as a more focused and more calm player on the court. Like Darren said, that’s why I gave him the question, Lendl doesn’t say anything. You are not going to get anything out of him (laughter).

 

Q. A lot of the Andy Murray stuff has been covered, but a quick one. Darren, how do you see the head-to-head between him and Djokovic if these are the two strongest guys? Who do you think has the upper hand mentally between the pair of them? Considering the kind of improvement you see is possible in Andy’s game, would you put a number on the amount of Grand Slams potentially he could be winning in his career?

DARREN CAHILL: Look, I think it’s a little bit, as I mentioned before, in the men’s game, it’s going to be really interesting how everything plays out in the next three or four years because of the fact that we see so many guys in the top 20 around that 30-year mark. These two guys might be completely dominating every single major like Nadal and Federer did. I think it’s impossible to put a number on it.

 

I just know from Andy’s perspective, even though Federer and Nadal were dominating the game a number of years ago, the guy he spent more time thinking about was Novak. These two guys, they’ve known each other since they were 12, 13 years of age. They were born a few days apart. This was his main rival, was Novak Djokovic. They both knew they were going to be good tennis players. Who knew how good they were going to be. This was his measuring stick for success or failure. He had to be competitive with Novak Djokovic.

I think you saw him go through a little period when Novak came out in 2011 and dominated, you saw some frustration in Andy’s game, in his demeanor on the court, the way he handled himself. He made the changes to fix that up by employing Lendl.

 

Who knows how much that win at the US Open is going to help Andy in the big situations. We get the Australian Open to see that for the first time. This is the first time Andy has ever walked into a major championship as a major winner, as a Grand Slam winner. Who knows how much confidence that will give him.

 

Now, we’re in unknown territory here for the next 12 months for many, many reasons. Novak is really the only sure thing we know at the moment. That is that he’s going to put himself in a position to win majors time and time again. The rest of it we don’t know. We don’t know how Federer is going to be, how good he’s going to be. We don’t know if Nadal is going to come back. We don’t know how much that US Open win is going to help Murray. I think that’s why it makes this year a real fascinating year for the men’s game.

 

CHRIS EVERT: You’re right, it’s an unknown about Federer because he put so much into winning Wimbledon last year. You wonder how much it drained him. The other thing, Djokovic has an advantage over Andy Murray. Unfortunately, when you know somebody so well, you have an advantage. Djokovic has played him so many times, has seen him lose his temper, seen him lose focus, get ruffled and riled on the court. I think as much as Andy Murray has improved, I still think Djokovic, when he plays him, he has still that little mental edge because he knows he still could erupt. Andy Murray, again, he’s improved so much. Hopefully we won’t see that. If we don’t see that, then I think Andy Murray definitely will reach a higher pinnacle in his game.

 

Q. This question is about the game itself. This year it seems that the umpires are more strict about enforcing the 25-second time limit between points. Do you believe it to be good for the game or do you think it will hurt the players that will have to rush themselves now?

CHRIS EVERT: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I’m a rule person. I mean, there are a lot of players that have taken advantage of that rule and have gotten away with it. So I think it’s good to enforce the same rule on everybody.

DARREN CAHILL: This generation of tennis player, it’s not their fault that they’ve been allowed to change the rules, this time violation rule in the last five to 10 years because the rule hasn’t been enforced. This particular generation of tennis player doesn’t understand playing to a time limit. We’ve had 45, 50, 55 seconds between points. We were never able to get away with that. While it’s not their fault, this generation of tennis players is not the first generation to play long rallies. You look to Connors, Wilander, Lendl, they used to play just as long matches, and maybe the game is more physical now, but it’s become more of a physical game, taxing on the body, sliding on the hard courts, whatnot. But it’s not the first generation of players to play incredibly long rallies, where they have the heart rate up around 190 after every point. Because they don’t know it, because that rule has never been enforced, it’s a bit of a shock to the system for these guys.

 

But I believe for the good of the game, for the game moving forward, not just from a spectator point of view, but also from a television point of view, even from a player point of view, because the fittest and the strongest will benefit from this, that time violation has to be enforced.

 

I have a little flexibility with it. I feel like maybe 25 seconds might be a little too fast. 20 seconds at the Grand Slams, that’s just ridiculous. I believe 20 seconds is going to be enforced again. They don’t actually enforce it at the Grand Slams. This is an ATP thing, where the ATP is becoming much more stricter on the time violations.

I think there’s an easy way around this. After you hit a serve, it’s an ace, no problem, the umpire calls the score, starts the clock, there’s a pregnant pause in the time between when the crowd applauds, 5 to 10 seconds, the umpire calls the score, then you start the clock. At the moment, no matter if it’s a one-shot rally or 50-shot rally, as soon as that point is dead, the clock is being started. I think there’s a little adjustment that could be made. But I applaud the ATP for taking the stance. I believe this is a good thing for the game of tennis and tennis moving forward, no question about it.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Boy, you put a lot of time into researching that one, huh (laughter)?

 

DARREN CAHILL: More time violations given out in the last couple weeks than all last year. A real big shock to the players. All of a sudden they don’t know what’s going on. A couple players have lost a couple of first serves in big moments. I think Baghdatis lost a first serve for a time violation in Brisbane. It’s been a real shock to the players, but it’s not their fault. They’ve never played to a clock before. It’s going to take a little time for the players to adjust.

 

Q. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about Caroline Wozniacki. Do you think she’s able to win the Australian Open and how do you see her year in general after a really bad 2012?

CHRIS EVERT: I think that’s a question that we’re all wondering. Anybody who admires her, there’s really no harder worker out there than Caroline. She trains so hard. You can tell she wants it so much. She’s had trouble with the coaching situation. She had her dad, then she tried two coaches, that didn’t work out, so now she’s back with her dad again. I think that’s probably a good idea. You have to get the person back that you feel the most comfortable with. And I think it’s just obvious to everybody and to her what she has to do, and that basically is just to hug the baseline a little more, take the ball earlier.

 

She’s playing the tennis of the last generation. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She never misses a ball, she’s consistent. She’s got great feel, great concentration. But the fact of the matter is she’s giving her opponent too much time on the other side of the net, when she could be offensive. She has to take a few more risks off the second serve. Anything inside the baseline she should go for. It’s a tough task for her. You know, I think her goals have to be she has to take baby steps. Right now she’s not looking to be No. 1. She should be looking to be in the top 5, top 6, work her way to be back in the top 5. That would be a reasonable goal for her. She has everything else. But I think her game, her thinking is going to have to change and get a little more offensive and a little more aggressive.

 

DARREN CAHILL: I agree. You know I know Caroline quite well and I think the world of her. I think the game is better off if she’s in the top 5, pushing for majors. I think she’s good enough to eventually win one, no question about it. I think she’s got herself into a little bit of a rut at the moment because she doesn’t know what type of game she should be playing. I agree with Chrissie. She builds her game on making her side of the court feel so small to everybody. At the moment she’s trying to be the player that she’s not really comfortable with.

 

You have to evolve as a tennis player; you have to get better. She needs to pump up her serve. She needs to find spaces in the court, not being three meters behind the baseline and wait for the game to come to her. You have to become better at her game. You can’t go away from what’s made her a great player.

 

About Lendl and Murray, stability, there has to be stability in the camp. I think you’ll find that Piotr is a very intelligent man. I think you’ll find that he gets a bit of a hard time because of his whole coaching scenario. But Caroline is just as strong minded as what Piotr is and she wants Piotr around. She wants her dad in charge of her career. If that’s the case, call her shot and say, This is the way it’s going to be. Stop messing around with the trial coaches. She has the ability to get some advice off other coaches in the game as well through the adidas program. But get that stability that she’s looking for.

 

I think the other factor, she fell into a little bit of a trap that a lot of players do when they have success on tour. She made a change to equipment. She was the No. 1 player in the world. All of a sudden you get these major contracts being offered to you. The two things, unless it’s going to do your game a lot of good, that you should never mess with, I believe, it’s my personal opinion, I talk about this all the time, never mess with the shoes you’re wearing and never mess with the racquets that you’re using. They are the two most important pieces of equipment that are going to determine how many you’re going to win and how many you’re going to lose. Any change you make to that, it takes time. You can never turn a career around because of that particular change. I would have loved to see her stay with what she had and keep evolving her game from there.

 

Look, I can point to a hundred examples where a change of equipment has been a negative for a player. I can maybe point to a handful where it was a good one. A good one last year was Sara Errani. She handed back a big check for her racquet sponsor because she found a piece of equipment that was better for her game. Look what happened to her. Unless you find a piece of equipment that you know is going to be better for your tennis game, stay with what you have.

 

CHRIS EVERT: I agree. Darren, you made a good point about, I think she does feel comfortable with her dad. You know what, she tried it the other way. She went past her safety zone and she went to two coaches and she tried it and it didn’t work. So now she’s back with her dad. My dad was my main coach for my whole career. But I had hitting partners. I had other coaches come in and out, travel to tournaments with me. But my dad was my main coach. And I think she makes that decision and now we’ve got to respect that.

 

The other thing is, you have to change with the era. When I played, when Martina played, we played through three different eras. I started with Margaret Court, then I went through Martina, then I ended up with Steffi and Monica. I had to change my game and I ended up being a better player than when I was starting out and when I was No. 1. You have to be flexible, you have to really understand that the game has changed and you’ve got to make those minute, and they are, you keep the main focus of your game and the main strengths, the base of your game, but you do have to change certain elements of it to really play in that era. And that’s what she maybe hasn’t adapted as well as she could have.

 

Q. I also wanted to ask both of you guys where you feel Rafa is right now. Should we be worried about Rafa or not? What other girls are there that we should watch? Petra certainly has had a slow start. Who else can challenge?

CHRIS EVERT: I’m going to give you the girls and Darren can do the Rafa. I mean, I have one eyebrow up when it comes to Rafa because I don’t know. He’s been out of the game really since the French. Even at Wimbledon he played, what, one or two matches. That’s a long time. So, yeah, I think everybody is concerned.

 

As far as the American girls, I think we’ve had four girls do extreme think well at the start of the girls. Madison Keys, I like to mention her because she’s had two big wins. She had two upsets actually. She’s in Sydney right now in the quarterfinals. I mention her because she, like Serena, is a power player. I think her serve even rivals Serena’s. I think it could be just as good if it isn’t now. So I think we’ve got to watch her.

 

Jamie Hampton, I have to give her kudos because her work ethic is unbelievable, she’s a fighter.

 

Then Lauren Davis, she had a big win over the 27th-ranked player in the world, Cirstea. I think between Lauren Davis, Jamie Hampton, Madison and Sloane, starting out the year the way they have, I would like to personally keep my eyes on them.

 

Q. Then we can watch Taylor Townsend.

CHRIS EVERT: Then there’s Taylor Townsend and CoCo. And Donna Vekic, being 16 years old and being in the main draw of Australia, I think that merits having a look at her also.

 

Q. Is there hope for CoCo?

CHRIS EVERT: There’s always hope for CoCo, but CoCo has to get in better shape. She’s got to drop a few pounds and get into better shape and she knows it.

 

Then I’ll throw in Maria Sanchez who went from 800 to 127 in a year, too. She’s an American player that graduated from SC. She’s out there on the tour, too. She was actually 800 last summer. At the end of this year, she’s 127. She’s taken a big jump. She’s an American player. But I think between the American players and Ashleigh Barty and Donna, I think it’s looking really exciting.

 

Q. So the American women look promising coming up?

CHRIS EVERT: Yes, because there’s 10 in the top 100, and that’s more than any other country. I think Russia might have 10. So it’s looking good.

 

Q. Darren, can you address the mysterious Rafa.

DARREN CAHILL: You know what, for me I look at him and we never quite know the stuff that flows through the veins of champions. It’s a little bit different from us normal people. I feel like whilst there’s a big question mark about his game, I know he’s been out for seven or eight months now, this is a guy that you can just see it in his eyes when he steps onto a tennis court, you can see it when he’s put into a position when somebody is threatening him. The guy hates to lose.

 

He won’t put himself back on a tennis court unless he’s ready to win. The guy will do everything he can to get back to where he was. If he does come back, he’s not coming back to be top 10 in the world, he’s not coming back for the money, he’s not coming back for anything but to win majors. When he does come back, and hopefully he will, he will be 100%. He will put himself into a position that he feels like physically he can compete with these best players in the world again.

 

So that’s why I feel it was a little blessing in disguise, I know it’s not perfect for him, but blessing in disguise that maybe he’s not restarting his career in Australia because it’s a brutal thing for him to do on the hard courts. Looks like he’s going to play his first tournament in Acapulco, a clay court event, to ease his way back into the game.

But make no mistake, if Rafa steps back onto the court, he’s stepping back onto the court to win tennis matches, simple as that.

 

CHRIS EVERT: Also history has shown, if you look at Serena, players that have had injuries and taken time off, they come back with more of a vengeance, more passion. They appreciate their health and life so much more.

If he can get himself back physically at 100%, he could be a better player, no doubt about it.

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“On the Call” With US Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and US Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez

(December 5, 2012) WHITE PLAINS, NY – The USTA held a media conference call on Wednesday afternoon with U. S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. Tennis Panorama News listened in on the call.

This is the official transcript of the call from ASAPSports:

TIM CURRY:  Thanks, everyone, for joining us today with U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier and U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez.
The U.S. Davis Cup will host Brazil in the first round of the 2013 competition February 1st through 3rd, also known as Super Bowl weekend.  This year the U.S. played all three Davis Cup ties on the road, posting impressive wins over a Roger Federer‑led Swiss team and a strong French team in Monte‑Carlo before losing to Spain in the semifinals.
The U.S. Fed Cup starts its 2013 campaign on the road against Italy, February 9th and 10th, after sweeping Belarus and Ukraine to earn a place back in the World Group following a one‑year absence.
Mary Joe was also the women’s coach for the U.S. the Olympic team, which swept the gold medal in singles and doubles, and the Bryans in mixed.
We’ll take questions at this time.

Q.  Mary Joe, I believe one of the more promising young Americans, Taylor Townsend, just turned pro this week.  I was wondering what you thought of that move by her, sort of her relationship with the USTA as she turns pro and moves away from the junior ranks.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I think it’s exciting news.  I think they just announced it a couple days ago.  I’ve been following Taylor’s junior career the last couple years and it’s been pretty impressive.
She’s going to be playing this week at the Orange Bowl to try to secure the year‑end No.1 ranking with the ITF, which will be the first time an American has done that in a long time.
She’s talented.  Lefty, lot of ability.  Likes to come forward, which is so nice to see.
As to the relationship with the USTA, I’m probably not the best person to talk about that.  But from what I know she trains with Kathy Rinaldi in Boca.  I think that’s all good.  She’s received a lot of support.
We’re all really excited for her.  I think she’s got a very bright future.

Q.  Jim, you made some comments a few weeks ago about changes you would like to see happen to Davis Cup.  First and foremost, do you think it should be every other year as a lot of people have suggested, with the way Ryder Cup is for golf?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  It’s something that I’ve spoken pretty at length about.  I’m on the record as to what my thoughts are for what change should come.
But the ITF is in control of this event.  Obviously, it’s not a USTA‑operated event; it’s not a Jim Courier‑operated event.
I’m very passionate about Davis Cup and I’d love to see it get equal to the other majors.  There are lots of different thoughts out there about how to get there.  But given that it takes up four weeks on the calendar, I’d love to see it make a little bit more sense for the players, I’d love to see it make a lot more money for the ITF so they can do their good work spreading the gospel of tennis around the world.
Right now I don’t think it does quite as much as what it could in comparison to what the four majors do.
You can look up what I said.  I don’t want to rehash the model that many of us proposed because it will take us a little bit of time to go through it.

Q.  I’m going to ask you both a generic question.  Talk about your teams, what your realistic expectations are for Davis Cup and Fed Cup next year.  Maybe you could give me a breakdown of some of the players you’re familiar with, what are realistic expectations of those players next year.  Mary Joe, maybe you can put Serena aside.  But, Jim, maybe you can talk about John, Sam, Ryan, Scott, maybe even Donald.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Normally we go ladies first, but…
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Go ahead, Jim.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  We’re excited about 2013 as a team.  We’re proud of what 2012 ended up being for us given how challenging the draw was.  We’ve earned some home ties this year, which we’re really looking forward to, assuming we win our first one.
We have Brazil, which will be challenging.  They certainly are not walkovers and we’ll be ready to play when we get to Jacksonville the first week of February.
From our team standpoint, I think what we saw in Spain is probably the nucleus of what our team will be for the next couple of ties unless we see Mardy Fish back out there feeling good.  Obviously his tennis, when he last left off, was excellent.  Made the Round of 16 at the US Open, had played well through the summer.  If he can get his physical challenges taken care of, he’ll be a big part of what happens with our team going forward.
Isner, with Querrey, with the Bryans, I think that’s likely what we’ll be looking at early on until Mardy Fish gets back up and running.
You look down the list of our players, you have Brian Baker, who had a ‘coming out’ party this year, a little late in the age department, but certainly played some great tennis.  Ryan Harrison was a big piece of what we did this year as a team.
Then you can start looking towards some of the younger players or less experienced players, Donald Young, Jr., I’m hoping he can turn it around and get back to where he rightfully belongs talent‑wise in the top 50.
You have some other guys coming out there with Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Jack Sock, some others, that can be a part of what we do going forward, but they have a lot of work ahead of them and hopefully they’ll be doing that.

Q.  Isner had some great moments this year, especially playing for you.  Then he also had some tough moments.  What do you expect from him next year?  Can he be a slam contender?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think if John has the kind of off‑season that he should have, if he does all the right things, John is one of those players that can really upset the apple cart.  We had this conference call this time last year, and I’ll be echoing what I said, which he is the most disruptive force in men’s tennis when he is on his game.
I think he saw clearly this year that he has capabilities to beat the top players, because he did so.  I think we also saw some physical limitations, which Craig addressed with him, I addressed with him, I think his new coach will be addressing with him, as well, that can certainly be easily corrected with the proper work and diligence.
I’ve had lengthy discussions with him about his schedule.  He knows what he needs to do.  We’ll see if he’s able to actually do it.
He really is one of those few guys that you can look at and say, he could win a major.  As thick as this era is at the top, he’s one of the guys that none of the top four players wants to see in his section of the draw.

Q.  I’m sure you were encouraged how Querrey established himself this year.  But Harrison had an up‑and‑down year.  I realize he’s young.  I would think maybe 2013 would be a pretty big year for him.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  One would hope.  He made significant strides in the off‑season in 2011 in preparation for 2012 physically.  He became a much more complete athlete, which I think has set the table for him now becoming a more complete tennis player.
He had growing pains, which all young players go through.  I’m hoping, sounds like you are as well, that 2013 is going to be a breakthrough year for him.  Sometimes all it takes is one tournament to turn the direction of your career.
This year in 2012 he had some unfortunate draws in majors, had some difficult competition in early rounds, and wasn’t really able to punch through.  I think next year hopefully he’ll get a little bit of a break in some of the bigger tournaments and get some momentum.  All it takes is one tournament, from my experience, to change your belief as a tennis player.
Ryan has some work ahead of him for sure, but we know he has upside.

Q.  Mary Joe, you have a real easy tie coming up.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Nothing like starting off with a bang with Italy (laughter).
Obviously, it is going to be challenging.  We’re also very happy that we got back in the World Group this season.  It feels like we played ages ago.  Our last tie was in April in Ukraine.  10‑0, so that was a really solid season.  All the girls played well and worked extremely hard.
As of now, we’re looking at Serena.  She’s so far said yes, she wants to go.  Venus, if healthy, wants to go.  I’m happy with the progress we’ve seen from Christina and Sloane.  Both in the top 40 now.  Sloane had a breakthrough season.  We’ve seen her ability.  She’s getting mentally tougher, playing to her strengths much more.  Lepchenko to me was such a surprise to see her get so much out of her game and how hard she works.  She’s ranked right behind Serena, ranked behind Serena at 21.  She’s a fighter.  We have a good group that can play on different surfaces, that are excited to play Fed Cup.
Hopefully we can get through Italy.  It’s not going to be easy with the depth and variety that they have on their team.  But obviously looking to be confident and hopefully get through that.
But below those girls, you still have Vania King who is in the top 100, who is always not only good in singles but very good in doubles.  I’m happy with Jamie Hampton’s progress.  I thought she had a very good season, first season she finished in the top 100.  She has a lot of ability.  She’s starting to figure out her strengths and play to them a lot better.
So excited for Melanie that she’s done well at the end of the year here.  After winning in Birmingham, got herself back in the top 100.  I’m hoping she’s going to be back in our group.  Her enthusiasm, what she brings to the table is phenomenal.
We have the young ones, Madison Keys has won a couple tournaments.  She’s only 17.  I look to her to make some strides this year.
CoCo is in the back 100.  Hopefully she’s going to have a consistent year.  Lauren Davis surprised me a bit by breaking into the top 100.  I think I can put her with Melanie.  These are two players that aren’t that tall or strong, but have great work ethic and get the most out of their game.  Mentally I think because they’re so strong, they can crack the top 50, for sure.

Q.  Serena and Venus are obviously known quantities to most of the world.  Sloane and Christina finished the year in the top 40, very young.  What do you see out of them next year?  Would you be surprised to see them reach a slam quarter or semi?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I think to me the most important thing is how much they want it.  I’ve always seen that desire from Christina McHale, her work ethic, how hard she trains.  This year is when I saw hit from Sloane.  I think she is training the right way, mentally she is getting more focused, she’s sustaining her level for longer periods when she plays.
They’re both very different, different styles of game.  You’re always going to have a little bit more stability with Christina, how she plays.  There’s much more upside from Sloane in the way she can create power, variety, the way she moves.
I do expect them hopefully to go another step this year and make it to the quarterfinals of a major.  They’ve both had big wins, and that helps a ton.  Next goal is top 20 and we’ll go from there.

Q.  I’d like you both to break down your opponents a little bit.  Jim, when you think of Brazil, two words come into play:  talent and dangerous.  Mary Joe, the same with Italy, how good they are at singles and doubles.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Ladies first this time (laughter).
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Well, it’s funny.  We played Italy in two finals.  At that time it was Schiavone and Pennetta who led the charge.  They had contrasting game styles, but very effective on every surface.  They translated their game well to every surface.
The top two now are Errani and Vinci.  Errani had her breakthrough season this year getting to the finals of the French, then did so well at the US Open.  In doubles you have Vinci and Errani as the No.1 team.
Errani is more of a counter‑puncher, but she can create.  She’s looking to hit her forehand with heavy spin.  She’s very quick.  She sort of doesn’t have a huge serve but it doesn’t really matter because she’s so quick.  She plays clay court tennis but can translate it onto a hard court.  We’re going to play indoor clay court, so hopefully it won’t be too slow.
But Vinci is very different from Errani.  She likes to come in.  A little bit old school in her technique, style.  Has a great and beautiful one‑handed backhand that she slices, can chip and charge, and I think has the best volleys in the women’s game.  Great technique.
The good thing from my perspective is that they’re players that don’t blow you off the court.  You can really play against them and you’re going to have time.  But I guess the downside is how tough they are mentally, how they really, every time they get on the court, have a purpose and play the right way.
It will be challenging.  Doubles‑wise, I think they won the French and the US Open, they’ve proven how tough they are.  So there’s a lot of depth.  It’s going to be interesting and we’re going to give it our best.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  From the Brazilian standpoint, they’re led by Thomaz Bellucci, lefty, ranked 33 in the world right now.  Most of his good results have been on clay, although he did have an outlier result in Moscow at the end of the year, made the fourth round of Indian Wells.  He’s capable, but he’s a guy that likes time.  That’s something that our team historically is pretty good at taking away from players.  All of our singles players have big serves.  That’s something we’ll certainly look to do with Thomaz, is to take time away from him.
Second singles player, interesting to see who they pick.  Three guys ranked between 120 and 150 in the world, between Dutra da Silva, Alvez and Souza.  We are really not sure who we’re going to get from that standpoint.  My understanding of those guys is they’re primarily clay court players, as well, for the most part.
We’re obviously going to tailor the court to our team and use the home surface advantage as much as possible.
Definitely the doubles team Melo/Soares is a veteran team, one of the better Davis Cup doubles squads around that plays a lot through the year.  Bob and Mike have a lot of experience against them.  They’ve played them several times and lost to them I believe a couple of times as well.  There won’t be a lot of surprises I don’t expect in the doubles court.
But for the average tennis fan, you may not know much about these players, but from our standpoint obviously we respect them and we’ve played many ties against players who rise to the occasion.  Both as a player and captain, I’ve seen that happen.  So we’ll be ready for them.
This will be the first time in a while that we’ve been a favorite, probably since Chile in 2011.  But we won’t take anything for granted.  We’ll be coming in ready to play ball.

Q.  Sorry to change subjects a little bit.  I’m covering the Orange Bowl.  Both of you won this.  I’m wondering if we’ve seen the end of teen phenoms in tennis.  We don’t see teenagers winning at slams anymore.  Is this the end of the teenage era?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I hope not.  It’s true that when Jim and I were playing, there was a lot of depth with the teenagers.  They did break through and go on to do big things on the professional level.  But it has become more physical.  It’s become a lot tougher to break through when you’re that young.
So we’re seeing on both sides, but with the women, the players are developing more as tennis players and experience is playing a big role in their results at a later age.  It’s good to see, as well.
I definitely would love to see someone young break through, but I definitely think it’s getting more difficult physically on both the men’s and women’s side to be able to do that.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I’ll echo MJ’s comment about the physicality of the game, how that’s changed a little bit, the trajectory of the teenagers.  I will say unequivocally if we get a superstar, they’re going to break through.  We have not seen the last of teenagers winning majors in tennis.
We all mimic what we see on television.  The younger players growing up now will be mimicking what they see on television.  They’ll be moving the way we see players move, the way Clijsters moved, the way Djokovic moves on slow and hard courts.
Maybe you just need an exceptional player, maybe more exceptional than they used to be, to break through, particularly on the women’s side where you can mature as a 25‑year‑old female at the age of 18.  I see no limitation there.  It’s always been a little harder for the boys to become men physically.  They just mature physically a little bit later.

Q.  Mary Joe, at the Orange Bowl you played the 14s, the 18s.  Do you feel like Townsend turning pro should be playing ahead of her age group?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I think it’s very individual.  For me I went through each age division.  I actually won the 16s the year before at the Orange Bowl.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  She just brags the whole time (laughter).
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  But I think if you have done everything you can in the juniors, you’ve accomplished all your goals, have been dominant, there’s no reason why not to move forward.
Again, it’s individual.  I’m a big believer in weighing the pros and the cons to everything.  Sometimes I think it’s better to wait and develop more as a player, develop more physically before making that jump into pros.
There’s a lot of temptation out there.  It’s not easy.  But I think you have to take each case individually to be able to decide whether or not it was the right decision.

Q.  Mary Joe, you mentioned that so far you expect the Williams sisters to play Fed Cup in 2013.  Can you speak a little bit more on your conversations with them, specifically about Serena.  Did you see signs of maturity in her on and off the court in 2012?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  To answer your first part, I’ve spoken to her a couple times about it.  As of now, she says she wants to play.  She’s spending a lot of time in Europe now, in Paris, where she has an apartment.  This is one of the places that she actually was rooting for that we would draw because she loves playing in Italy.  I think she sees a challenge.
I actually think, from spending the time with her at Fed Cup and the Olympics last year, she enjoyed being on a team, the camaraderie she developed between the players, being the role model, having someone like Sloane look up to her and ask her questions.  It’s not something you get.  I also understand her time is very valuable and she doesn’t have every week to be able to devote to Fed Cup.
But I think this fits into her schedule.  I think if she’s healthy, we’re going to see her there.
As regards to Venus, with her it’s a little tougher because she’s managing her condition.  It’s all going to depend on how she’s doing.  She finished strong at the end of the year winning the one tournament.  I don’t believe she’s playing anything before Australia, so I think that’s going to be the big test, to see how she is in Melbourne.

Q.  Been a while since they’ve played when there’s no Olympics coming up.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  That is very true.  We’ll see.  Keep our fingers crossed.
But I do believe that Serena mentally ‑ we’ve seen it before, we saw it again in the second half of the season ‑ was mentally and physically superior.  I’ve never seen her play as well as she did at the Olympics start to finish.  There were no down spells at all.  There was no irregularity in her game.  She was very focused and determined.
When you get that from her, you see what she can produce.  Was pretty impressive to see she even finished the season well after not playing after the Open and won the Championships.  She’s going to continue to be the one to beat.  Sets the bar really high for everybody else.  At 31, it’s almost like she’s 21 again.

Q.  Jim, what do you think the team took out of its two road wins on clay?  Is that something that can carry forward to next year?  Secondly, the Bryan brothers, any commitment to Davis Cup slowing down, both married, Bob being a father?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  No signs of anything but 100% commitment from Bob and Mike for Davis Cup.  They love it.  Honestly my personal opinion is when they start to wind down their career, the last thing they will let go of will be Davis Cup as long as they’re playing the kind of tennis they’re comfortable with.  They just love it too much.  It’s such a showcase for doubles, and they obviously step up to the plate and play well when given the opportunity.
As far as clay goes for our team, I don’t think there is a lot of fear in John Isner or Mardy Fish as far as playing clay goes.  They both like it.  Harkening back to the Andy Roddick era, that was a surface that was a little less comfortable for Andy versus the others.
But for 2012, whenever we stepped onto a clay court, even Ryan Harrison, who stepped in for Mardy last minute in Monte‑Carlo, grew up a bunch playing on clay down at Bollettieri’s.  If you can slide on the stuff, you can play on it, as long as you don’t think you can’t.  I thought we competed well on that surface and I don’t think it’s an obstacle for us at all.

Q.  You have both seen a lot of parents in your travels as coaches, players.  You had tennis parents.  You will be tennis parents.  Describe to me the ideal tennis parent and the nightmare tennis parent.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  From experience now, I have become a tennis parent.  Both my kids are playing USTA tournaments.
I get a little bit nervous.  I didn’t think I would, but I get nervous watching and not happy when kids try to bully my kids, or parents get involved.
I don’t remember it being quite as intense as it is now.  It’s very not only competitive, but it just seems like it’s gone up so many notches in the intensity, how parents want to live through their kids.  It’s the end all, be all.
My daughter is 10, my son is 8.  You should see, some of these parents think it’s the finals of Wimbledon every time they go out there.
I think the ideal tennis parent is someone who makes sure their children are enjoying the sport, gives them room and space, obviously support and guidance, but aren’t on top of them 24/7.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Can I ask a question about your question?

Q.  Absolutely.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  When you’re asking what is an ideal tennis parent, what kind of a result are you trying to achieve?  Are you trying to get a well‑rounded human being or a tennis champion?

Q.  That’s a very good question.  I would say both, but somebody who doesn’t quit the sport, too.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think it’s hard to get both.  I think you’ll see just from the history of our sport in this country, which we can speak to, because MJ and I lived it, there are a lot of extreme parents out there that have created some extremely good tennis players.  This is a hard sport to try to balance everything with.
There are exceptions.  I think Mary Joe and I ‑ I’m very biased when I say this ‑ we turned out to be pretty well‑rounded people who have reasonable perspectives.  That’s not always easy given the complexities of raising a child in a sport that’s not a team sport, where everything falls on their shoulders.
If you want to raise a champion, I think history shows you need extreme commitment from the parents.  They’re not the parents who just watch, they’re the parents who watch and are on the court every day.  They are the Yuri Sharapovs, Mike Agassis, Richard Williamses of the world who drive and drive and drive.
I’m not saying they’re not well‑rounded people, they all seem to be well‑rounded now, but maybe in the heat of fire maybe they weren’t earlier in their career.  That question is an onion:  you can peel off a lot of different layers and get a lot of different looks at a right answer.

Q.  If you are looking at kids who are maybe USTA ranked 30 in their section, is it different for them?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think it should be.  You’re not going to make a living playing tennis if you’re 30 in your section.  At that stage it’s something more about developing character, learning about yourself, creating skill sets and traits that will translate into success in other areas of your life.  That’s the way I would look at it if I were parenting.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  You’re 100% right.  I look at it from that angle.  Just sports in general, how great it is for children to learn characteristics that they’re going to need later in life.
But I think so many parents just have this false sense of what their child, the road they’re taking, what they can be.  You have to start off with the well‑roundedness as the principal goal.  If you see your child is excelling, then that’s the time where I agree with Jim, you do need someone committed.
I always tell everybody, if my dad didn’t take me to practice every day or on the weekends, sign me up for tournaments, I would have stayed home and watched cartoons.  You do need that commitment and support from a parent.  But to me being well‑rounded is a lot more important.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  The last thing I would add to that from my perspective, too, is there’s no blanket you can throw over this and say that this is the way.  You’re looking for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist.  Every kid would need something different from their personality.  I wish it was easy.
There’s a lot of people working for the USTA and other tennis academies out there that are trying to push kids into being champions.  There’s no blueprint that you can follow.  It has to be done with flexibility based on a personality.
MJ wanted to stay home and watch cartoons.  I was begging my parents to take me.  There’s two different ways to get to the same place.

Q.  Mary Joe, if your kids turned out to be 30 in their section or 50 in their section, would that be okay with you?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  That would be phenomenal.  Every time I see them play, they played a tournament over Thanksgiving together, I’m so happy.  I just can’t believe they actually play, hit the ball over the net, play points, tell score, the whole thing.
That to me is success right there.  It is a game of a lifetime, as we’ve heard many times.  My goal is for them to know the skill so they can do whatever they want with it, whether they play at school or socially, or who knows, maybe their boyfriend or girlfriend will be a tennis player and that is going to be a big key in their relationship.
Whatever it may be, tennis fulfills a lot.  It’s been my passion my whole life.  It continues to be.  I’m just ecstatic they both like it.

Q.  Mary Joe, can you talk about how exciting it is this will be the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup.  I know you always talk about some of the best memories you have in tennis were playing Fed Cup.  To see the kind of support it gets now, Fed Cup finals sold out in minutes, just how far you’ve seen it come.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  It’s phenomenal that it is the 50th anniversary.  I think they’re trying to organize a few festivities to celebrate.  I played many years, had great mentors as coaches, starting with Marty Riessen, Billie Jean King, I had Martina Navratilova for a year.  There’s just a lot of history that has been passed down, a desire to not just play for yourself but represent your team and country, that was big.  It continues to be so for me.
It’s great.  I love that I’m part of it still and continue to be able to help and give back as much as possible.

Q.  Jim, you touched on this earlier.  But speaking of the first home tie for you guys in a while, it will also be the first‑ever home tie for John and Sam, the first time they’ll play Davis Cup on something other than clay.  Can you talk about that and how that plays to your team’s strengths.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  First, I’ve not announced the team.  I want to be clear to everyone that the team probably won’t be announced until sometime during the Australian Open when we’re required to announce it.  Hopefully everyone will be healthy and we’ll have all options on the table.
Let’s take a leap and say if John and Sam are playing, I can tell you they’ll be extremely excited.  These guys have been on the road for all their ties, as you’ve mentioned, to have a chance to play at home in a comfortable environment, particularly for John, seeing as he’s from the South, seeing as he played college tennis not too far from Jacksonville in Athens, I think he would be especially excited to be in that environment and feel the energy of a crowd behind us as opposed to pushing against us.
So it will be interesting to see whenever that does take place, interesting to see how they react to it, because we won’t know until it happens.
Those are special moments for players, no question about it.

Q.  Jim, this is the first time that Jacksonville has hosted a major men’s event.  Obviously it’s hosted other tournaments for many years.  How important is it for a crowd to be into the match and be supportive of these players?  Are you expecting that Jacksonville will have that type of crowd that will be behind these guys?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Yes, it is important that the crowd is behind it.  One of the beautiful pieces of Davis Cup tennis is the partisan crowd aspect, the atmosphere that’s more like a college football game, which I know Jacksonville area fans are well attuned to, given they have the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party every fall with Florida/Georgia football.  It’s that kind of ambience that you’re pulling for the United States team that we anticipate and we certainly desire as a team.
I think certainly there will be plenty of people in the Jacksonville area that will be present and participating.  I think we’ll also draw from the region, as Davis Cup typically does, the tennis and sports fan that want to be part of something that’s international in scope and has a different flavor to a normal tennis event.
If you’ve never been to Davis Cup, this is like nothing you’ve ever seen as a tennis fan.  I think people are always partisan once they get in there and see that it’s okay to scream and shout.

Q.  Jim, obviously you still have the fire burning inside you.  How do you impart that to your players?  Do you need to impart that to your players still?  Same thing for you, Mary Joe.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Kind of along the lines of what we were talking about as far as parenting goes, different players require different things from a coaching standpoint.  I think we also have to keep in mind that all these players have their day‑to‑day coaches and teams, and Mary Joe and I are very supplementary to that.
Speaking for myself, working with the Bryan brothers, there’s not a whole lot I need to bring to the table.  They’re super energetic, professional and polished.  They’re very systematic.  They know what they’re doing.  There’s no question marks for me to get in there and say, Hey, you guys want to change this routine.  Far be it for me to tell them how to do their job.  They’re the best at what they do.
For players like John, Sam and Ryan that are still evolving as tennis players, there’s a little more interaction and it can vary based on how they absorb information.
Working with Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick, who were more experienced, a little bit more in the Bryan brothers camp, they know exactly what they need, they know where they need to go to get where they’re going, there’s less information that’s required.
I think it’s a learning curve for everyone as far as how to impart information and when to leave well enough alone from my standpoint.
I can’t speak to MJ, but I would imagine her experience has been a little similar to mine.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Totally.  That’s the hardest thing in the year or two, is to really learn the personalities, who needs to be told what, when and how much.  How much do you push, how much do you not push.  It’s a balance.  After a time, you sort of learn what triggers the right response from the players.
For me, it’s really trying to get the most quality when you’re there.  We’re there a limited time.  We’re not their main coaches, like Jim said.  We try to give them the best advice and get the most out of them.
Every time they get on the court, they have to have a purpose, they have to have a plan of what they’re trying to achieve when they’re out there.  It’s more quality than quantity.  Some of my players want to practice 10 hours a day.  I have to pull them back and say no so they’re fresh.  Others want to practice less, so you have to push them to practice more.
It’s a learning curve.  But the more time you spend with different personalities, the more you’re aware of what you need to say and not say.
TIM CURRY:  I want to thank everyone for joining us, and thank Jim and Mary Joe for their time.  Hope everybody has a good day.  Thank you.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Thanks, everyone.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Thank you.

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