2014/07/28

“On The Call” – ESPN / Wimbledon Conference Call with Chris Evert and John McEnroe

Chris-Evert

(June 18, 2013) ESPN tennis analysts Chris Evert and John McEnroe spoke with media about Wimbledon, which starts Monday, June 24, exclusively across ESPN platformes.  Much of the conversation centered on the dominance of Serena Williams, the Big Four of men’s tennis, the emerging new generation of U.S. players and the magic that is Wimbledon…both saying if they could only win one major, it would be at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  Highlights:

 

Q.  Think like a coach for me and explain how you would tell a player to try to beat Serena Williams on grass.  Where, if anywhere, do you see a weakness or vulnerability in her game?

JOHN McENROE:  I don’t see a weakness.  I see someone who perhaps is more comfortable at the baseline.  I thought they did a pretty darn good job at the French at the net.  What I would tell her is she can do pretty much anything, but she may have a little bit more difficulty in handling sort of off-speed, junk-ball type stuff where it might entice her to go for too much.  Her serve is the best serve in the history of women’s tennis by far.  Her presence is very intimidating.  But I would not try to match power with her, I would try to do anything possible, if they’re capable of that, to throw off her rhythm.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Well, it’s interesting you say that because I was thinking about that.  Even on the red clay, I kind of had my feelings about how to play her.  But on the grass, it’s a little different.  First of all, I would hope I would have a big serve, my protege, would have a big serve, or you’re going to lose 0-0.  You have to have a big serve working.  Anytime Maria Sharapova had success against Serena it’s because she’s been serving big and consistently.  Your serve better be working that day.

 

The other thing, when I’m returning serve, I wouldn’t stand back that far.  I would actually chip the returns back.  I would really just chip the returns back.  At this point Serena, you know, she beats everybody in the world from the baseline, but nobody’s really tried bringing her in, forcing her to come in.  As good a volleyer as she is because of doubles, she’s still not as comfortable at the net as she is on the baseline.  I would take off some of the pace.  John McEnroe would have had a great game to play against her because he could just chip it back and be prepared for the next shot because she’s going to come in, be prepared for the next shot.  If she comes into the net, if she misses it, hits a winner, you have to accept it.

 

I just think you really can’t hit with her from the baseline.  You’ve got to either hit short angles, dropshots, chip, do something to throw her timing off.  Once she gets in a rhythm, she’s deadly.  But you got to have a big serve.  You have to be able to hold your serve most of the time.  You can’t be just slugging balls with her.  That’s been proven a thousand million times.  It doesn’t work.  If Maria is holding serve, once the point starts, she has about as good a chance as any.  On the grass, it’s going to be more difficult for Maria because of the movement.  You just have to try to throw her timing off.

 

Q. Would you be surprised if she didn’t win this title? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I would be surprised.  Trust me, nothing is set in stone.  It’s a two-week tournament.  I don’t care what anybody says, when you get to be at the 28, 30, 31 age, you played 10 years, 12 years, 15 years on the tour, there are days that it isn’t there.  There are days your body is not working.  There’s days you would rather not be out there, you’d rather be in bed, not get out of bed.  Roger Federer, I think we’ve seen a couple days like that with him.  I know Serena has been out of the game, she’s pumped up, and that’s probably not going to happen.  Sometimes it does happen to players that have played a lot.

 

JOHN McENROE:  I would be very surprised.  I think she’s playing the best tennis of her career.  She’s not only in the best place I’ve ever seen, I think she’s the best player that’s ever lived.  I said that a while ago.  But she’s cementing it in everyone’s mind.  She’s just a level above anyone.  There’s no doubt about it.

 

I think actually in a way what’s happened with her sister, the difficulties she’s had as she’s gotten into the later stages of her career, actually in a way helped Serena because it made her realize she wanted to enjoy and take advantage of these last couple years.  She realized and maybe appreciated a little bit more the talent that she has.

 

Q. Do you think on the men’s side in the U.S. there’s a lack of a major personality since Andy Roddick has gone?

JOHN McENROE:  Well, I think these players, we’re at an exceptional time in our sport certainly.  What we’re seeing is something the level of which we haven’t seen before.  In a way, the players are doing anything and everything to sort of allow the tennis to speak for themselves.  I think Djokovic is making an effort to spread the word, spread his personality.  I think Nadal has a lot of personality on the court.  Federer is the most beautiful player I’ve ever seen play.

 

None of these guys are out there doing the things that Connors and I were doing.  That’s the way they are.  They choose to do it in a different way and that’s perfectly acceptable because there’s a variety of reasons.  That’s a whole other issue, a whole other question about why that is.

 

But certainly in any one-on-one sport, it’s imperative, when people are getting behind cities or teams, when they root for what we call soccer, you call football, American basketball, whatever team you’re behind, you’re behind the whole city and team as opposed to an individual.  We need to do more to make people have a rooting interest, get to know the players a little more, do a better job promoting them, et cetera.

 

Q. Recently at the French Open there was a lot of talk about the top four, the dominance of the top four, making men’s tennis boring.  I wanted to know what your feeling about that was. 

JOHN McENROE:  I think it’s important that you have people that separate themselves and there’s great rivalries like Nadal/Federer, Nadal/Djokovic, now Murray trying to break into the mix.  They have been unbelievably dominant, how successful they’ve been.  If you look at the run that some of the other guys, when I played Connors, Borg, Ivan, there were four guys separated from the pack for a while.  There’s times where that happens.  This isn’t that unusual.

 

I think in a way it should be, if anything, an incentive to the other guys to try to break into the mix.  If these guys are too good, more power to them.  I think it just shows you how great they are.  Everyone is saying how athletic the game is getting, equipment is an equalizer for everyone, but these guys are still winning.  I think we should enjoy it while we can.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  There’s nothing boring about greatness.  Those top players, like John said, are at a level by themselves.  That will form rivalries.  Hopefully there’s one stirring up right now with Nadal/Djokovic.  Their matches are epic matches.  So I don’t think ‘boring’ is the right word.  I wished the women had four up there like the men do right now.  Right now it just seems to be one.

 

Q. John, you talked earlier about Serena being a favorite for the women’s side.  Could you tip who you have for the men’s title this year.  Seems like it’s a tough pick coming in with different forms, Andy Murray having skipped Roland Garros. 

JOHN McENROE:  Yeah, I think it is a tougher call to see who the favorite would be.  I would pick Djokovic 1 and Murray 2.  This is me personally based on sort of what’s been going on.  I think Murray will be hungrier not playing the French, maybe a little fresher.  Then Roger, because he still has such a great game for grass.  It’s tough to win it back-to-back at his age.  Rafa having come back so great, maybe I’m wrong, ’cause I thought he would be a little tired.  After the Djokovic semi, there will be some type of letdown, and he can’t impose his will as easily as on other courts.  I would put him a close 4.  That would be the order if I had to pick 1 to 4.

 

Q. What about for you, Chrissy, a thought on the men’s side? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I think this is the beauty of having the top four players playing so evenly and closely.

Djokovic comes to mind only because I think the disappointment at the French Open.  Then Federer, you know, the thing is that I have a sneaking suspicion that Federer has put all his eggs in one basket and he’s gunning for Wimbledon.  It’s the only Grand Slam that he really has a legitimate chance.  I don’t mean that against him, it’s just that the competition is so good.  Then, you know, Andy Murray, really depends on the nerves, how he reacts.  Every year that he doesn’t win it, there’s more and more pressure on him.  Nadal, I mean, he could come out of the gate and just surprise us all.  I think you kind of wonder after winning the French, I know he’s always hungry, but I think this court doesn’t suit him as well as it does the other players.

 

It’s just totally up in the air.  That’s the wonderful thing about it.  That’s the wonderful thing about having the top four men playing so closely and evenly.  It’s a hard question, and I don’t know if John agrees with it, coming into a tournament, as an analyst, you like to see the first few rounds and see how they’re playing.  Especially after the first week, you kind of have a better view.

 

JOHN McENROE:  Nadal seeded 5, and he plays Djokovic in the quarters, that’s going to impact more than just those two people.  We have to first wait and see what they decide to do with Nadal.

 

Q. John, you mentioned a moment ago that Serena you thought was the best player that ever lived.  If she creeps up in singles Grand Slam titles to Roger, I’m wondering if it’s fair or your thoughts on whether or not she’s the best player of her generation, male or female?

JOHN McENROE:  Well, that’s a difficult one to answer.  I mean, I think you’re talking about apples and oranges.

She’s certainly one of the greatest athletes in the history of our sport, male or female, there’s no doubt about that.  I mean, that’s a given.

 

I don’t see where you can really get very far saying — when you get in direct comparisons with both of them.  That’s like saying, Who is better, Steffi or Andre?  You get into all different types of things.  And I don’t think there’s an answer.  I would definitely say she’s one of the greatest athletes and players, male or female.  I would definitely say that.

 

Q. They’re both defending champions.  Talk about their sort of preparation, their momentum going into Wimbledon, both Federer and Serena. 

JOHN McENROE:  Obviously they do things different.  Roger played and won Halle.  Serena, as far as I understood, went back to the States.  They know exactly what they need to do now more than ever.

I think clearly it’s tougher for Roger at this stage ’cause he has to go out and play best-of-five.  The recovery for longer matches would be tougher, especially if he had to do a few in a row.

 

I do think for Roger that his best chance remains Wimbledon.  As I said last year, it’s his best bet to win a major.  And Serena has proved she can win and is a big favorite anywhere.  She’s got such an intimidation factor that it’s going to be difficult for anyone to beat her.

 

As we all know, everyone has bad days.  She was down 2-Love, couple breakpoints to Kuznetsova in the quarters, had to pull out.  In almost any tournament, you’re going to have one or two days where you’re going to be struggling a little bit.

 

There’s perhaps a handful of players on the other side of the draw that could possibly be able to step in and pull off an upset in that situation, more so on the men’s side than the women’s because there’s huge guys like Rosol type of guy who on a given day could provide more problems.

 

Q. John, I wanted to ask about Nadal.  Do you have any insight into the toll that winning the French this time around took on him, especially the five-setter against Djokovic?  As part of that, could you discuss the pros and cons in Nadal’s case of skipping a grass court tune-up this year heading into Wimbledon?

JOHN McENROE:  First of all, I think he made the right move not playing.  Last year when he played the French, he went and played Halle.  I can’t say this because he was probably having trouble with the knees already, but to me it did contribute to make them even worse, his uncertainty.  I think he needed the break, particularly since that was the first best-of-five set, first major he played since Wimbledon of last year.

 

As far as the wear and tear, emotionally, physically, it’s difficult to say.  I interviewed him after he won the French.  I was amazed how well he bounced back from the Djokovic match, given the fact he hadn’t played as tough a match as that.  He’s certainly phenomenal.  He’s unbelievable.  I hope that he stays healthy.  I would just say emotionally after everything he went through, it would be hard not to have some type of letdown for a period of time.

 

I think for me coming into Wimbledon, because of everything that sort of goes into winning an event like that, to me I would pick him the fourth most likely guy to win it.  I would drop him down below the other three guys there because I think there will be some toll that will be taken, maybe even more emotional than physical.  The movement that he banks on on clay is not going to be quite as easy on grass for him.  He may not be quite as confident.  Having said that, maybe he’ll take the opposite and he’ll be so happy he’s back out there, it wouldn’t shock me if he won it.

 

Q. (Question regarding the men’s seedings and whether they should deviate from current rankings.) 

JOHN McENROE:  I think they should seed Nadal in the top four.  I don’t think anyone would murmur any complaint whatsoever.  I think Wimbledon is the only tournament I’m aware of out of the four majors that does change the seedings.  I don’t know exactly how they do it.  Apparently there’s a formula, a committee, a combination.  But clearly he should be one of the top four seeds in my book.

 

Q. Let’s say they don’t.  That would obviously have an enormous effect on the other four. 

JOHN McENROE:  Ferrer is going to be the five seed if he’s not the four seed.  Therefore, if he played Nadal in the quarters anyway, it would be like the same old, same old for him, because he’s always had to play one of those four guys in the quarters.  If you were to, say, have Nadal play Djokovic in the quarters, possibly Murray or Federer, that would be a big difference, yeah.  It would be absolutely wrong for that to happen, in my opinion.

 

Q. We saw Rafa do an incredible exhibition at Roland Garros.  How do you break down Rafael Nadal on clay?

JOHN McENROE:  It’s sort of like what the person asked before about breaking down Serena on grass.  I’ve watched and played a lot.  I grew up playing a lot of clay, certainly experienced the ups and downs.  Watching the best of the best, Borg and others.  But this guy is without a doubt the ultimate nightmare to play on that surface because I used to think you could take advantage of his serve.  His serve has gotten a lot better.  I used to think maybe you could bring him in.  He’s one of the best volleyers in the world.  He’s certainly one of the fittest in the world.  He’s certainly got more topspin than I’ve ever seen.  He seems to have more shots than anyone on that surface.

 

The only hope you do have is if you were blessed to be born 6’5″, 6’6″, you swing for the fences, you have one of those days where everything works, you basically go for broke the way everybody did, the way some guys that beat him.  Otherwise, you’re in for a nightmare of a day.

 

Having said that, I think it gives you an idea of how determined and well Djokovic was that he put himself in a position to be up 4-3 in the fifth on a pretty hot day, be that close to winning, five points from winning the match.  To me that was the greatest clay court match I’ve ever seen.

 

Q. You were both talented enough to win multiple major championships.  If you could only win one major in tennis, is Wimbledon the one that everyone wants to win? 

CHRIS EVERT:  For me, yes.  If I were to only win one, I would prefer to win Wimbledon rather than any of them.

 

JOHN McENROE:  Growing up as a kid in New York, even though it’s very special to be close to home, ball boy at the event, there’s something magical, it seems so far away when you’re a kid, so beautiful when you’re on TV, to see grass courts, it’s certainly the one growing up that’s the most talked about.  I think it still continues to be.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  It’s the first one we saw on TV.  I remember watching Margaret Court/Billie Jean King play the finals.  I don’t know if it was black and white, but it pretty much was black and white.  Like John said, I remember all the way across the ocean, the history of the event adds to it.

 

Q.  Do you have any quick one final memory from any of the Wimbledons you participated in, something that sticks in your head about the event itself?

CHRIS EVERT:  I mean, it’s hard because we had 15- to 20-year careers.  It’s the one tournament that’s bigger than the players.  Wimbledon is the star more than the players.  It’s the showcase.  That showcase is more the star.  That’s all I can say.

 

JOHN McENROE:  For me personally, it was the tiebreaker in ’80 when I played the match with Borg that people come up to me a hundred times more than any other match I played.  That would be the moment for me.

 

Q.  Chrissy, a question about Madison Keys.  What do you think about her potential? 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, she definitely has the weapons to be top five.  She has the weapons to be number one.  There’s so much more that goes into it than physical weapons.  I can almost say she almost matches Serena’s serve as far as power.  Out of all the players out there, she comes the closest to Serena’s serve.  The power off both sides is tremendous for someone that young.

 

So much remains to be seen.  That’s the mental side of the game, which really hasn’t been tested as much because she is an up-and-coming player and she has no pressure when she’s playing these players right now.

That remains to be seen mentally how focused she is, how hungry she is for success.  That remains to be seen.  Of all the young players, I would have to say she, even more than Sloane Stephens, has the potential to be top 10.

 

Q. I’m curious to know who of the up-and-coming players will win their first slam, whether it be this Wimbledon or down the road? 

CHRIS EVERT:  You have to be a soothsayer to predict that.  The head of the list would be Madison Keys, I think, along with Sloane Stephens.  Bethanie Mattek, she’s had a lot of success the last three months.  She’s like a different person, different player out there, so I wouldn’t rule her out.  I think of the Americans, again, I think Madison or Sloane would have to be the next Grand Slam winner.

 

JOHN McENROE:  If I had to pick one guy, I’d probably pick Dimitrov right now if you have someone who is going to do it.  I think he’s on the right track again after sort of disappointing some of the people that predicted greatness early.  He’s moving in the right direction.  Then there’s going to be someone like Raonic, one of these guys, that gets it, figuring out how to utilize his weapons more on a court like Wimbledon.

 

Q. I wanted to see if you could weigh in overall on the state of American tennis. 

JOHN McENROE:  Basically, certainly we had a lot of success in the past, probably became pretty spoiled.  Clearly Americans have come to expect and want Grand Slam contenders and winners.  We’ve had some excellent players.  Sam Querrey has been a solid professional, very solid.  John Isner got to 10 in the world.  Mardy Fish got to the top 10 before it overwhelmed him.  If you want to compete and win majors at this stage, the athleticism necessary is becoming even more exceptional.  That’s something we have to try to search out and provide the opportunity for kids that don’t have it.  That’s the biggest thing.

 

Unlike women, or girls, I believe girls are much more likely to play tennis than boys.  The greatest American athletes played football or basketball.  We’re lower down on the totem pole.  We need to do something like that.  Unless you get a guy like John Isner, 6’10″, one of the biggest serves ever.  Therefore, he can be a threat to anyone.

 

To go all the way in a major, you need a combination of things.  That’s what we need to push towards.  That’s a whole other discussion.  But we’re certainly not where we want to be, no doubt about that.  Ryan Harrison is a solid pro.  He’s trying to make headway.  Jack Sock is athletically good, but you have to be incredible.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, the next five, ten years, how we veer toward better and better athletes in our sport.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  On the men’s side, all those guys that John mentioned, those guys came out in the last few years.  On the women’s side, I think we have 10 in the top 100.  That’s more than any other country in the world.  That was at the French.  That’s a big statement for some of the critics that have been criticizing American tennis, USTA, whatever.  We’ve got a good stable of players.  We’re not even naming Jamie Hampton, Melanie Oudin0, Alison Riske.  There’s a lot of girls I see down in Boca Raton at the USTA center hammering it out every afternoon.  There’s playing matches and matches, competing against each other, getting better and better as a result.  I think it’s a good time for American women’s tennis.  I think now people can kind of be quiet about their criticism of American tennis ’cause things are definitely starting to happen, pretty exciting things.

 

Q. Who could be the biggest surprise at Wimbledon this fortnight?  Maybe Berdych or Del Potro, maybe Wawrinka is having a good year. 

JOHN McENROE:  First of all, Berdych has been in a Wimbledon final, and Del Potro has won a major.  Stan’s game I don’t think is as well-suited.  All those guys are veteran players.  Certainly one of these big hitters, and Tsonga, are looking to have a better chance.  Out in left field would be the guys I mentioned.  These guys have worked hard to get in a position where they’re trying to get closer and closer to the top guys.  I think that this would be a perfect opportunity depending on what happens.  If they seed Nadal 5, that would open the door up for a couple of these other guys that could make a run a lot further where they wouldn’t have to play one of those guys in the semis.  Berdych beat Djokovic and Federer one year and still had to beat Nadal in the final.  Some of it’s going to depend on what happens with the draw.

 

Q. You spoke generally about U.S. players who might break through.  Can you look ahead to the US Open and speculate about how you think the Americans will perform this year. 

JOHN McENROE:  Pretty hard to jump ahead.  Most of the guys that we’ve talked about, Isner, Querrey, Ryan, they all seem to prefer the hard courts.  That would improve our chances.  Obviously they’re going to have the crowd in their favor, so that would help.

 

You have a lot of things leading up to it.  The obvious ones:  health, how they do leading up to Cincinnati.  It’s difficult to say.  Again, it’s not just the luck of the draw, but to some degree you have to see those things.  Otherwise, I think the upside for Jack Sock is he’s probably the biggest upside we have for a young guy.  Ryan would be close behind him.  Those are the two guys that have the most room to improve to me right now, other than the juniors that we’re waiting to see who is going to break out.

 

CHRIS EVERT:  Yeah, I think the Americans, young Americans, get really, really excited about the US Open, I think more than any other Grand Slam tournament.  I think consequently they have good results because we’ve seen them.  Primarily, like John said, they’re hard court players.  American players are not natural grass court players or clay court players, they’re hard court players.  Most of them have been brought up on the hard courts.  I think with all that, the spirit of playing their country’s championship, the fact that they’re hard court players, the fact that I know on the women’s side they’re all pretty much supporting one another, I think we’re going to see some upsets, definitely upsets, some good results from the Americans.

 

Q. John, with Roger Federer winding down, do you think if he would win Wimbledon he would retire at the end of the season? 

JOHN McENROE:  I don’t know.  I don’t think he’s going to retire for a couple years, he loves playing too much.  The last guy that did that was Pete Sampras.  Very few guys sort of go out winning a major.  He quit right then.

Even though it was an awesome move and I respect it, I think sometimes even he questions it.  He left a big void.

Roger seems to enjoy it almost more than any player I’ve ever seen.  It would shock me if he would do that, absolutely shock me.

 

Q. Chris, this is really not about Wimbledon, per se, but it’s about the Women’s Tennis Association, I know their 40th anniversary is coming up.  Could you speak about what the kind of risk and rewards seemed to be at the time that the WTA was formed, and in retrospect what has it accomplished in your view in terms of making tennis a viable career for women?

CHRIS EVERT:  Let me just say, I was lucky enough to be around 40 years ago.  I was not a part of the beginning.  Basically I was a school girl.  I just listened to everything my dad told me to do.  I didn’t get involved in the politics of it.  But I was aware of what was going on and thought it was pretty progressive, pretty ahead of the times that Billie Jean got these women together to form a union.  I didn’t even know what a union was at 18 years old.  I thought of maybe going down in the coal mines or something when I heard ‘union’.  It was really pretty daring.

 

Then they formed the WTA, where they would have a president, officers, meetings, and basically the women would make the decisions, all the politics of the game, instead of having somebody tell us what to do all the time.  I thought that was great.

 

Then Virginia Slims came along.  I stuck with the WTA, being conservative.  We had two tours.  When Virginia Slims became the one tour, that’s when women’s tennis really took off.  We were making good money.  We were providing a living for a good 200 players down the road.  Funny enough, that circuit at that time meant more to us than Grand Slam tournaments.  That’s where it’s really changed over the years.

 

But if it wasn’t for Billie Jean, if she was in golf, golf would have been the premiere sport for women, not tennis.  So thank God for her.

 

Q. John, you’ve said that Nelson Mandela is the most special person you ever met.  What does it mean to you that he listened to your match from his cell, and did you go out there to the island? 

JOHN McENROE:  I didn’t go to the island, but rather felt like a complete jerk that he listened to the match at the Robben Island prison when I was whining about the call.  It certainly gave me some perspective about the situation I was in.  I shouldn’t have had a whole lot to complain about.

 

At the same time I feel immensely proud that in some way I was able to connect with people beyond your wildest dreams, the type of people you would be able to connect with that said I would have given $10 million that he felt it was an honor meeting me.  I felt ludicrous him saying he was honored meeting me.

 

It was amazing he didn’t seem to have an ounce of bitterness or resentment towards anyone when I was lucky enough to meet him.  It was certainly a moment I will never forget, or an hour.  I gave him my racquet that I played with at that time.  I saw him pick it up and hold it.  I felt lucky that I was able to be part of that.

 

Q. Can you talk about the experience you have of meeting celebrities, whether it’s Pele, the Stones?  Who are some of your favorites?

JOHN McENROE:  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  There’s a mutual respect on some level.  Sometimes you pinch yourself that you’re even hearing people like Pele, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, all these great players, that sort of on some level look at you on equal footing.  To me, that’s always been the greatest perk that I’ve been able to have, being lucky enough to be good at what I did for a living, playing tennis, that I could meet people, whether it was incredible athletes, a couple guys from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Beatles, whatever it is.  It’s unbelievable.  I’ve never taken that for granted and I never will.

I think while it gives you a certain humility, it also gives you a great deal of satisfaction and pride that you feel on some level you’re inspiring in some tiny way, that they have even close to the same level of appreciation that I have for being around them a little bit.

 

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

Shelby_Rogers_Semis_9-29Kuznetsov

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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USTA Execs Talk About US Open Prize Money Increases and Impending Changes

ustalogo

(March 20, 2013) With the USTA’s announcement of a deal approved by both the ATP and the WTA,   which includes an increase in prize money, USTA Chairman, CEO and President Dave Haggerty, USTA Executive Director and COO Gordon Smith, and US Open Tournament Director David Brewer took questions from the media in a Wednesday afternoon conference call.

In addition to the increases in prize money, 2015 will see the Women’s semifinals on Thursday, the Men’s on Friday, with a Saturday Women’s final and the men’s final on Sunday. Also the men’s first rounds will be played over two days instead of three.

“I think that certainly with the physicality of the game, the players, on the men’s side especially, with the long five-set match, perhaps in the semifinals, they need a day of rest, and we have had a day of rest these last couple of years. We had told the playerslast year that we would do that, ” said Haggerty.

“The only way that we can do it now and for the next two years is to have it on Monday, and I think they appreciate the day of rest in between, and I think that in 2015 they look forward to a Sunday final on the men’s side and a Friday semifinals.

“Well, I think that we know that this announcement is going to cost the USTA more money, and I think that we certainly know that it’s going to affect some of what we do, some of our programs, so from an expense perspective, we’ll take a look and be diligent at what we do there, ” said Haggerty in terms of the USTA’s financial health. “We’ll also look at revenues and see if there are ways to improve what we’re doing.”

“What we will not do is we will not drastically increase the ticket prices for our fans and spectators to pay for it. Certainly inflationary increases over years may be what you see, but we’re not going to put it to the fans.”

Chiming in to talk about the USTA’s financial stability was USTA Executive Director and COO Gordon Smith: “If I could add to that, it was important for us to get some long-term stability in this important area because we’ve got some big things to do. We’ve got to really get more kids on the courts playing tennis, and we’ve got a big job ahead of us in transforming the tennis center into the type of facility that we wanted it to be. So that was a major impetus for making this move.

“Well, pretty clearly, we have been increasing prize money for some years,but we have done it on a year-to-year basis. This discussion with the players that’s gone on now forover a year really allowed us as partners to create a predictable future for both them and us. Now we can go about our financial planning for the other significant items that we have to do.”

Smith said that there were “spirited” discussions with the players but not threatening.

“Clearly we discussed with the players the role that we have in promoting tennis through the Open, around the world, and certainly in promoting it in the United States and creating interest through recreational play and tournaments and leagues, and they clearly recognize that that’s something that is appropriate for us to do and recognize that that’s where a fair amount of our resources need to go,” Smith elaborated.

“And those were the discussions that we had back and forth.”

“So I think it was certainly a number of factors that went into mind. We understand the importance of the players, what they bring to the US Open, the importance of the players, the importance of the lower ranked players being able to make a good living, also the stability of the US Open and a nice long-term arrangement.”

Haggerty made a point of saying that each Grand Slam makes its own decisions in regard to prize money and they do not consult each other, no agreements are made between the majors.

To read more about the specifics of the USTA’s announcement: USTA Strikes Deal with ATP and WTA for US Open

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

Jim Courier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q.  You yourself.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Me myself?

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

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

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

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

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

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“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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“On the Call” with Roger Federer for the Emirates Airline US Open Series

Roger Federer held a conference call with the media on Monday afternoon to discuss his participation in the 2012 Emirates Airline US Open Series, which this week in Mason, Ohio for the Western and Southern Open.

Q. Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open and Rafa Nadal the French Open, you Wimbledon, Andy Murray the gold medal. Would you consider this year’s US Open to be sort of a tiebreaker to the tournament of who has had the best year?
ROGER FEDERER: Obviously it gives you a direction, yes. But you have the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the year and there’s still a lot of tournaments to play for like Shanghai and Paris, so forth. It’s not just only I think the US Open, otherwise the winner wouldn’t play the remainder of the year. I think that’s not going to happen. It is interesting, obviously, that three different guys have won three different majors this year, plus Andy the gold. It definitely sets a great tone for the US Open, there’s no doubt about that.

Q. I’m wondering if you have had the time or taken the time to analyze what happened at the gold medal match. It was so lopsided, so out of the character, not what we’re used to seeing.
ROGER FEDERER: Honestly it took me five minutes to analyze really. I didn’t need to kind of sit down and go in a dark room and cry over it and kind of understand what happened. I think I understood rather quickly what happened. I thought Andy played a good match. The beginning of the match was very close. I had some chances there. Had some chances in the second set. I think I missed nine breakpoints, I didn’t make one. That obviously doesn’t work in a big match like this against a great player like Andy. Once he was in the lead, obviously he did really well to keep the lead. Yeah, I think that was it for me. Maybe I was emotionally drained a touch. Maybe I was a bit tired from the Del Potro match. I thought Andy did really well to put the pressure on me. It was out of character for me to lose nine games a row in the finals. That’s obviously something that can happen, but I guess I got myself to blame, and Andy’s great level of play. For me, I moved on really quickly. I was happy for him and disappointed for me. I was still very happy to get the silver and the medal for Switzerland.

Q. Could you look back to Wimbledon a little bit? Everybody always tries to retire players when they hit 30. It seems like the game is skewing a little older now.
ROGER FEDERER: I think you’re right. I mean, I think over 30 players in the main draw of the French Open. Seeing, for instance, how well Tommy Haas is playing, how many of my generation are still playing and playing well, it’s nice to see really. I remember when I was coming up on tour how many great rivalries we had in the younger generation. When I came up, we came up, basically there was still Agassi, Sampras, Moya, Henman, you name it, all the older guys that made the tour work. I think we had so many great young players coming up, it’s nice to see so many guys are playing well, holding on and winning titles really. I think it’s really good times in tennis. Like you say, you have the older generation, you have the generation of Rafa that’s extremely strong as well, and now the new generation is coming through as well with Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic, David Goffin, Kei Nishikori, all those guys. It’s good times in tennis right now. But I do hope we get even some more better younger juniors coming through in the next couple years.

Q. With a longer-than-normal grass court season in 2012, such a short turnaround to prepare for New York, do you think it’s tougher to make the switch from grass courts to hard courts this season? What are the precautionary measures you might implement to ensure you can stay healthy now?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, there’s no doubt about it, this is not an ideal preparation. I mean, it’s amazing, for instance, what Novak was able to do. It’s not impossible, but it’s just very hard on the body and mind to travel halfway around the world, go on a different surface, win, then back it up week and week again. Obviously, the US Open is only coming up. That hasn’t even started yet. It’s been tough. In the past you would take maybe a few weeks off for a top player, then prepare for three brutal weeks on hard courts, then come over here wanting to fire out of all cylinders. This year it’s different. Obviously we stayed on grass. Now all I have is four days on hard courts before I play my first round here probably against a top 30 player or top 40 player. It makes it obviously very difficult and a big focus for me to get through my first-round match over here. Obviously physically I feel fine. The body did hurt maybe the first couple of days just because the movement is a bit different. But I think everybody has a bit of issues like that in the beginning. So it’s just important to be professional, sleep enough, eat healthy, do all your treatment the right way, all that stuff, so you will manage the next like over six months on hard courts now. That’s the most brutal surface out there. It’s a big stretch coming up for all of us really.

Q. You just said that physically you feel fine. How do you feel mentally and emotionally going into this year’s US Open as opposed to last year? Can you look back a little bit on last year’s Open.
ROGER FEDERER: I’m very excited, very happy. Back to world No. 1. I’ve had a magical summer for me. Really ever since the French Open, it’s been a good year all around anyways, but winning Wimbledon, getting back to world No. 1, there’s been so many things happening for me, it’s been a wonderful last few weeks. I feel like I’m feeling better than last year because I was a bit shaken up against the loss by Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and even through Montréal, it was a tough situation. Cincy I didn’t play all that great, lost to Tomas Berdych. I came into the US Open not quite sure of how I was playing. I was actually playing really, really well. I had that brutal match with Novak, up two sets to love. I feel like this year mentally I’m more at peace. Then again, that doesn’t give you any – how do you say – idea yet of how you’re going to do at the US Open and Cincinnati. We all have to wait and see how that goes.

Q. You mentioned about reclaiming the world No. 1 spot in the ATP world rankings. You surpassed Pete Sampras’ record by doing that this summer. At your age, at this time in your career, how important is it to you to keep surpassing records like those of Pete’s?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t know how important it really is for me. I just think it’s a motivation, a big one, for me to be able to have the opportunity to reach such great records, you know, equal, tie and break records like these. It obviously kind of gets you going. It motivates me to play against younger generations. It motivates me playing in front of full stadiums. All these things add to the great puzzle and life I’m living as a player. It makes easier, all the sacrifices, all the traveling, playing we do on a daily basis. But it’s not most important. But obviously it’s a nice thing to have and one I hope I will be very proud of once I retire.

Q. The US Open has record prize money again this year, $25.5 million. You’re somebody that travels all around the world. Can you tell us if you’ve seen how the economy has affected different places? I imagine pro tennis players are insulated because the tournaments take very good care of you as you travel. But can you talk about if you’ve seen any change in how places have been affected by the economy over the last few years.
ROGER FEDERER: By ‘places’ you mean tournaments, right?

Q. Yes.
ROGER FEDERER: I think we’ve gone through the crisis – who knows, maybe there’s another crisis on the horizon here – actually pretty good, considering how bad the economy was from 2008 till now. We’re obviously trying to sign on some sponsors during that time for the tour because we lost Mercedes and others. I think we’ve actually gotten through this financial crisis, economic crisis, really well. I think also, obviously because it’s a one-week or two-week event, you have an entire year to look for ways trying to make your tournament sustainable. Obviously you hope that they had long-term contracts. Obviously some did get unlucky, that the contracts ran out right at the time that you didn’t want it to run out. Obviously then it was a dangerous and difficult situation really for those. They asked the ATP for relief, the council and board. That’s what we discussed and tried to make it a good decision for the tournament but also for the players, because you want to keep the jobs alive for all those players, that they can travel the world and still make money and have all those possibilities to play tournaments. Overall we’ve gotten through this pretty good. Yeah, we hope it’s a successful tour, and I feel it is.

Q. Could you address the fact that a couple weeks ago they announced that Wimbledon in 2015 will move into the summer an extra week, so there would be three weeks of grass court play prior to it.
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I think it’s a great thing. I think it was very well-received from the players. From what I heard, everybody was in favor of it. Think back at how the tour used to be. We used to have three Grand Slams on grass, and now we only have one. We barely have one month of tennis on grass. Obviously it’s nice to keep that surface alive a bit more. It gives just a bit of a bigger rest between the French Open and Wimbledon, so that completely makes sense. Obviously, you have to understand every change brings problems from time to time. But I’m happy that Wimbledon and the US Open were able to sort out that kind of a situation because it wasn’t an easy one for the US Open, but a very good one for the players. I think Wimbledon is excited about it, too. I think it has many more upsides than downsides to it.

Q. For those of us who weren’t at Wimbledon for the Olympics, how different was it? Was there anything you missed that you would normally have at Wimbledon? Anything you liked about the Olympics?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes, many things I missed from the Wimbledon tournament. I guess you also felt that it was just a completely different event. Those things we thought we were very nice, then other things we had to get used to. I think it was nice we had to adjust, that it was a completely different feel from Wimbledon to the Olympics. I think overall it was a well-run tournament. At times it almost felt like the site was too big for the Olympics. I can only speak from experience from Sydney, Athens and Beijing. They all created the stadiums for the Olympics. They were not as big, obviously, as Wimbledon. Hardly any is, except for the US Open. I thought it was great to have such a big site, but at times it was too spread out, I thought it was. Then again, it didn’t change the fact that we had great atmospheres in the stadiums, that it was a very unique place to play tennis at where there is so much history.

Q. When your girls were born, you spoke about wanting to be around the game long enough for them to be aware of who you were as a tennis player and what you had accomplished. What do you think their sense is now, because they are a little bit older, and what do you and Mirka tell them?
ROGER FEDERER: It was really Mirka’s wish more than mine. I’m just happy I’m still playing and things are still going so well for me, that I’m actually able to feed them almost on a daily basis. That’s what I was worried most with Mirka. Maybe with having twins, it was going to get extremely difficult to travel the world with them, see them enough, that it was not going to actually pull me away from the game. That was my biggest worry. It was really Mirka’s dream to have them still see me play from time to time. We’ve already had that now. So I don’t know exactly what they think of me. As their dad, they know I’m a tennis player, that I do play a lot of tennis, but I don’t think they understand that it’s actually a job. They don’t understand, I think, the difference between a match and practice. It doesn’t matter. They sit in stadiums. They’ve created obviously some of the most unique moments in my life, having seen them, you know, at let’s say trophy ceremony in Basel, trophy ceremony particularly at Wimbledon this year. Those are memories no one can ever take away from me and Mirka. That was a very intimate moment for me and Mirka even though it was in the eye of the storm with everybody watching. It was a great, great feeling for me. I hope they also look back and were happy we did those things. We really try to protect them as much as we can. Life on tour is good with them. I’m happy the way things are going.

Q. Do you want them to play the game?
ROGER FEDERER: Not necessarily, no. If they really, really want to, I’ll support them. If they don’t, I’m very happy they do something different, as well.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk over your records. There’s two that don’t get a lot of attention. You’ve never retired from a match once you started plus you’ve played every Grand Slam since 2000. What pride do you take from those?
ROGER FEDERER: I wonder how many close calls I’ve actually had to retire during a match. Maybe a handful where I was just thinking, man, I’m in too much pain, I maybe actually shouldn’t be playing. But I can just play, or I have so much pain, but I know I won’t injure myself more. It was more kind of like some of those moments. Obviously playing the consecutive Grand Slams, you don’t really think about it. I’ve never actually entered a Grand Slam just to enter to keep that streak going. I guess I was always lucky enough and prepared enough to feel like I could do something and play well or even at times obviously win very often at Grand Slams. So that’s not one thing I thought about. But every match I play, not retiring after a match for me, that’s something that’s almost normal. If you do enter, you’re supposed to be playing. I’m happy also I’ve played schedules from always January till November basically. I’ve never taken a full season off after the Open. I’ve never taken more than, what, eight weeks off from the tour. I’m obviously proud of this. Then again, it doesn’t mean that much. I know other players have many more problems trying to do that all the time and some just can’t because it’s not possible with their body or they’ve gotten unlucky much more than I have over the years. I think I’ve taken great care of myself and mentally I’m very strong to be able to handle all of that, I do believe.

Transcript courtesy of ASAPSports

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

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“On the Call” with Mardy Fish on the Emirates Airline US Open Series

Mardy Fish Photo by Tennis Panorama News

Mardy Fish held a conference call with the media on Thursday afternoon to discuss his participation in the 2012 Emirates Airline US Open Series, which begins this week with the women’s Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif.  Fish plays in the first men’s event at the BB&T Atlanta Open, July 14-22. Transcript courtesy of ASAPSports.
ERIC SCHUSTER:  Thank you, everyone, for joining us for the second in a series of player conference calls we will be hosting throughout the Emirates Airline US Open Series.  On the phone today we have the 2011 Series champion Mardy Fish.  After a recent health scare that kept him off the court for most of the spring, Mardy returned to action at Wimbledon, where he reached the round of 16.
He is scheduled to begin his title defense at the BB& T Atlanta next week followed by the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., the Rogers Cup in Toronto, and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Before we get into the Q&A, I’ll ask Mardy if he can share some of his thoughts on winning last year’s Emirates Airline US Open Series title and his plans and goals for the summer of 2012.
MARDY FISH:  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone, for being on the call.  This is my favorite time of the year, so obviously this is an exciting time.  I played so well last year.  Winning the US Open Series was an honor, and I played well in every event that I played in the summer, including the US Open obviously.  You know, it should be fun again.  Obviously I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m going to start in Atlanta and head there this weekend and get going.

Q.  How did getting back on the court and playing several matches in succession at Wimbledon help you sort of get your feel back after having some time off there obviously for the health reasons?
MARDY FISH:  Yeah, it was huge to be able to get through the first two matches.  Obviously the first couple are going to be the hardest ones.  You’re not going to come back as sharp.
You know, my fitness level isn’t where I want it to be for obvious reasons, but it was nice to be able to play those matches, to be in pressure situations, high pressure situations in a Grand Slam to where I can sort of get those out of the way and move on.
A lot of times when you take some time off, you have to usually‑‑ sometimes you have to take your lumps in tournaments, and you’re going to play some bad matches and probably not get through them, and I was lucky enough to get through those first two rounds to where I could really feel like I had some matches under my belt and I could start playing some good tennis again.
I did that in the third round.  I played very well against a good young player in Goffin, and I certainly played well enough to win against Tsonga.  I played great the first day, first rain delay, the third rain delay and the fourth rain delay.  I played fine.  I actually won more points than he did in the match, in the four‑set match, which doesn’t happen too often.  I was happy with the way I played there.
And obviously going into Atlanta and D.C., those are tournaments that I’ve had success at, and I’ll try to build on some of the matches that I won at Wimbledon.

Q.  I just want to ask you a quick question about the Olympics.  It seems like a lot of the players are more excited and more enthusiastic about playing the Olympics than in previous years, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on why that may be, just taking into account your past experience playing at the Olympics and how the Olympics factors into the players now compared to what it did when you started playing them?
MARDY FISH:  I think the Olympics this time around as opposed to maybe 2008 is a little more appealing considering that we’re playing at Wimbledon.  You’re playing at a familiar place, as well, and a pretty localized place, too.  There’s not many easy ways to get to Beijing.  London ‑‑ it’s a pretty Euro dominated sport, so naturally it’s pretty easy to get to London for those guys.  And then obviously playing at Wimbledon will be special and will be interesting, as well, to see people not in white clothes and things like that.
And it’ll also be interesting how they turn the grass around so quickly and see how they’re going to do that because we beat it up pretty good throughout the two weeks.
I think all those things together, a lot of people are looking forward to it.

Q.  As a two‑time champion in the Atlanta tournament, somebody could say that this tournament is Mardy Town, but will the third time be the charm, considering you’re going to have some stiff competition?  Will there be any Fish Heads present at this match, and will you be able to pull it off a third time?
MARDY FISH:  I would love to.  I’m not sure about the fans.  You know, we get great support in Atlanta.  Atlanta is actually one of the more fun weeks that we go to, fun cities that we go to all year.  They’re extremely knowledgeable in the game of tennis.  I think there’s more USTA members per capita in Atlanta than there is in the entire country, or at least that’s what I heard.  It’s very natural and very easy for us to play there in front of fans like that.
I certainly enjoy playing there.  Obviously I love the weather, the heat.  Playing in that type of heat is not just about being fit; as well it’s about convincing yourself that you like it more than the other guy, pushing your body further than you think it’ll go.  You know, there’s numerous ways to get through it, and I love it.  I grew up in it.  I grew up in that weather, and I play my best tennis in that type of heat.
So I hope to‑‑ yes, like you said, there’s going fob a lot of great players there, as there has been the past two years, as well.  Look, I’ve had two very, very close matches in the finals, both to Isner and to‑‑ I’m sure he’ll be looking to win one of those titles, as well.

Q.  There’s been talk lately that Wimbledon may move their tournament up a week, which would then crowd out one of the US Open Series tournaments.  Any thoughts about that, the impact on that then on the US Open and so on?
MARDY FISH:  I haven’t heard anything about that.  I mean, I think that would give‑‑ speaking of not just Americans but some of the other European players and some of the players coming from afar, it gives them an extra week to maybe come over and get used to the weather and get used to everything.  You know, it’s already a tough turnaround between the French Open and Wimbledon.  Three weeks is not very long.  Two weeks would be even tougher.  So I’m not sure that something like that would ever happen.

Q.  If I can, following on the toughness of that schedule, will your cardiac incident impact your mind and how you determine your schedule for next year?
MARDY FISH:  It very well could.  You know, I know that everything is fine with me, but I’m going to put myself in positions where I’m very comfortable from now on, that’s for sure.  I’ve played a lot of years out here, and I’ve played every tournament there is.  In the years that I have remaining, I’ll try to put myself in the most comfortable situations for me so something like that doesn’t happen again.  It might be a little bit different for me than other players.
So yes, there is a possibility, but that’s a little bit in advance from now.

Q.  And finally, did the schedule have anything at all to do with the incident?
MARDY FISH:  As far as not playing the Olympics?

Q.  No, no, the schedule you played before the incident occurred, did it have any impact at all from your cardiologist on that?
MARDY FISH:  Well, I think stress is one of the main reasons why you get arrhythmias, stress, alcohol, caffeine, things like that, that bring them on.  I went to Australia in January, I went to Switzerland and back, to LA for Davis Cup, then I went to Marseilles and Dubai, then back to LA.  So I think we can draw our own conclusions how hard the schedule is for us and how tough it is on our bodies and our minds.

Q.  As the two‑time defending champion of our tournament, you’ve obviously had a lot of success in Atlanta the past two years, but we have moved our location this year from kind of the suburbs to a more central location inside the city.  How do you think the change in atmosphere is going to affect the players?  Is it going to be more beneficial for them to be in a more vibrant, exciting atmosphere?
MARDY FISH:  Yeah, they keep switching on us every year.  First was the Atlanta Athletic Club, which we loved.  We loved both locations.  They were great.  They got great crowds.  I expect the same in that regard.
I don’t know what to expect as far as it being in downtown.  I’ve seen pictures of the facilities now, but obviously I haven’t been there.  You know, who knows as far as the weather is concerned as to how the buildings might trap in the heat and stuff like that.
But we’re looking forward to it, and hopefully one of these years we can stick on one specific venue that we can all stay at every time and everyone can look forward to, because it is kind of hard from time to time to keep moving around from place to place.  But I know everyone has enjoyed both venues that we’ve had so far, and I’m sure this one will be no different.

Q.  When players come back from an injury or a health incident that keep them off court for a long time, they obviously have to get themselves physically prepared for the tour, but talk about preparing yourself mentally to go back on tour and talk about your level of confidence going into the hard court season.
MARDY FISH:  Yeah, that’s been the hardest part for me is mentally trusting everything.  You know, the summer is tough in general just because you know you have to deal with the player and the opponent across the net, but you also have to deal with the weather and sort of the conditions that you have to play in, and you prepare yourself the best way you can.  I’ve prepared myself very well the past couple years, and this year is a little bit different going in.
But I’m doing everything I can, getting myself into the best shape I can, took a few days off after Wimbledon and then started to get back at it and grind again.
It’s tough being in LA because the weather is 70 degrees and sunny out here, and it’s 100 degrees everywhere else.  So it’s kind of hard to train in that type of stuff.  But I’ll get to Atlanta as early as I can and try to get into that climate and that weather and try to deal with it as best I can.

Q.  After that tournament in Atlanta you’ll be back up in D.C. this year, the Citi Open.  Last year you had to pull out.  Talk about coming back to this tournament where you’ve had some success and also regarding the weather here because obviously it’s pretty grueling and can be very, very oppressive.
MARDY FISH:  No, it’s one of my favorite stops of the year.  I love the city of Washington, D.C.  The venue is outstanding.  The weather is hot, but it’s the kind of weather that I enjoy playing in.  And having Citi come on board and having a new title sponsor is great for the tournament and great for the city of Washington, D.C., as well.  It’s nice to be a part of that event because obviously I wanted to play last year but just‑‑ it just didn’t work in my schedule.  It was a good thing for me because I had won a ton of matches in the weeks prior.  I played well at Wimbledon, as well, before that, and then obviously played Davis Cup.
So I had a lot of matches under me and needed just a small break there to kind of regroup and regenerate and go up to Montreal, where I did well there, too.  The schedule worked out well for me last year, but the only miss or blip on it was that I had to miss D.C.  We won’t have that problem this year, and I’ve worked my schedule around to be able to be a part of that event, so I look forward to it.

Q.  And on the scheduling front, obviously not playing the Olympics sort of gives you a jump start on the hard court season.  How do you think that might help you with the US Open Series again this year?
MARDY FISH:  Well, I see it as a plus as far as playing the events that I do well at.  Playing in the States is my most fun time of the year, playing in the summer, playing in the heat, and I didn’t want to miss that.  I didn’t want to miss two full weeks of the most important time for me or the most fun time for me.  I’ve played the Olympics before, and I think it’s very hard to play the Olympics and Davis Cup in the same year.  Everyone’s schedule is suppressed during an Olympic year.
I was lucky enough to do well in the Olympics when I played in 2004 and win the silver medal, so I’ve got a medal and I’ve got the memories from that, so I’ll skip the Olympics this year and look forward to going to D.C., where I would have missed it had I gone to the Olympics.

Q.  We’re looking forward to having you up in New York obviously for the Open.  The crowd up here in New York and the energy is very unique.  What do you enjoy most about playing in the Open?
MARDY FISH:  I enjoy the‑‑ sort of the camaraderie that you can get from the fans for the American players‑‑ it’s definitely the most favorite Slam for the Americans as far as being able to play in those big courts and having the crowd behind you.  We go so many places, in Spain and in Italy and in England, where you can play a guy from that country, and those fans are just going crazy for their player.  But we know for a fact that we have that one big event where everyone wants to do well, and we’re going to have the fans behind us and rooting as loud as they can for us.  So that makes it so much fun and exciting and one of the best times of the whole year for us.

Q.  Winning matches in Grand Slams, especially when the crowd is behind you, as you said, is great, but it’s obviously different when you’re playing and representing your country, whether it be Davis Cup or Olympics.  How can you compare the two?
MARDY FISH:  Well, Davis Cup is a little bit different animal in the sense that, yes, you feel like you’re playing for your country and you also feel like you’re playing for your teammates.  The Olympics is a little bit different because it’s still a regular tournament, and we still have ‑‑ every week that we play, we still have the USA next to our name, and the Olympics is sort of the same.  It’s a regular event, where Davis Cup is such a unique animal where you’re relying on other‑‑ you’re relying on your teammates to win.  You can’t win on your own.  It’s the only team thing, team sort of sport or team thing that we have in tennis, and so that’s why I love Davis Cup so much, because you can’t necessarily just rely on yourself.  You can play well and you can win matches, but you need your teammates to play well and win, as well.  That’s when it feels so satisfying.

Q.  You and Andy have to answer a lot of questions about where the next American stars are coming from.  The USTA will be introducing major changes to the junior competitive structure going forward.  It’s kind of devolved since you were a junior where players can kind of chase points, and a lot of these players ranked 300, 400, 500 were getting into national events, but now it’s going to return to where you have to earn your way to nationals through sectional play, like when you and Courier and Andy were juniors in Florida.  Do you have any stories from your junior days about working your way up in Florida tournaments, and what do you think about these changes?
MARDY FISH:  Absolutely I do, yeah.  I remember playing the regular events in Florida, playing the designated‑‑to try to get into the designateds, to try to get into sort of the national events from there.  And it’s sort of the same setup in the pros that it is in the juniors, it’s just you start‑‑ you’ve got to start in the little cities like where I grew up in Vero Beach, and I remember playing tournaments in Vero and in Fort Pierce and West Palm Beach to make it to the designateds in Lakeland or Tampa, to make it to the national events or just even smaller national events all the way up into Kalamazoo and things like that.
Yeah, I certainly remember playing and going through all that, and felt like the more tournaments that I played, the more tournaments I was able to go to and to compete in was going to help my growth as a tennis player at such a young age.  So I think that’s a very good idea to go back to that, instead of just being able to get in sort of on name recognition.

Q.  And the feedback from college coaches, they’re saying they want tougher U.S. juniors coming out to compete with the international players that they’re recruiting.  Do you think that will maybe produce more U.S. stars and tougher juniors, tougher college players?
MARDY FISH:  Sure, yeah.  You’re just going to get more people, more kids playing more tournaments, and I think that’s the best thing‑‑ that’s the best way to look at it.  Once you play and realize how much fun playing tennis is, how competitive it is, how much fun it is to play an individual sport like that, you’re going to get more and more kids sticking with the game.  I think that’s the goal for them.

Q.  I just wanted to know, how have you had to adapt your training and your nutrition, if needed, with the illness that you had and now coming back?
MARDY FISH:  The nutrition stays the same, has stayed the same for a while now.  As far as training is concerned, yeah, I mean, I’m getting back to being able to do everything that I was prior, it just took some time to really get back into shape, into match shape.  I still need matches.  I still need to get out in the heat, to get to Atlanta, to get to these places early and really get in the climate and prepare myself as good as I can.
You know, just playing these tournaments and playing in the States will help that a lot.

Q.  We’ve also heard a lot about the up‑and‑coming American players that are juniors.  Are there any players that you’ve kind of taken under your belt, considering that you’re a veteran with a lot of experience on the tour and have played as a pro for so many years?
MARDY FISH:  You know, someone like Ryan Harrison jumps out at you.  He’s sort of a sponge when it comes to information from all the guys that have played or have played for a while or have just retired.  You know, there’s still a lot of players.  The only problem with taking someone under your wing is that you’re trying to compete with them, as well, and it’s an individual sport, so it’s not a team sport.
I’m certainly open to discussing anyone’s game at any time.  If a young player would approach me, I would give him my full attention.  But they’re still trying to take your lunch away.

Q.  Exactly, survival of the fittest.
MARDY FISH:  So this is an individual sport, and that’s what makes it so great.
What I’m trying to say is that there isn’t that much sort of dialogue between players trying to help players out, and if someone like Ryan Harrison comes to you and asks you a question, you give him your full attention.  But there’s not a ton of it, because A, there’s not a ton of young Americans that are coming up that are playing as well as he is, and B, you’re trying to play for yourself, as well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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

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Getting to Know No. 1 Junior Taylor Townsend

The World’s No. 1 Junior girl Taylor Townsend, from Stockbridge, Georgia participated in a USTA media conference call with General Manager of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe on Thursday afternoon. Here is a transcript of the call:

TIM CURRY:  Thanks, everyone, for joining us.  We have with us Patrick McEnroe, the General Manager for USTA Player Development, and Taylor Townsend, who is the No.1 junior girls tennis player in the world.
Wanted you guys to have an opportunity to get to know Taylor a little bit more.  Taylor swept the singles and doubles title at the Australian Open in January, the first American to do that at a Junior Slam since Lindsay Davenport at the ’92 Open.  Since everyone wasn’t in Melbourne, we thought it would give you a chance for you to get to know her before Paris.
With that said, we will start the queue for questions.

Q.  Patrick, when you’re looking for young talent, what is the key thing that you look for?
PATRICK McENROE:  How about desire?  I mean, I think that’s obviously crucial.  Overall athleticism.  Certainly tennis IQ is up there on the list.
But I think the thing I’ve learned in my four and a half years on this job is that there’s a lot of talent out there.  Obviously Taylor is one of those young players.
What helps differentiate the players as they get a little bit older and play with the pressure of obviously high‑level juniors, then start their pro careers is that hunger, that desire to keep working and keep improving.
The trajectory of getting from being a top junior nowadays to becoming a top player in the men’s and women’s game, it’s a little bit longer than it was certainly when I was growing up and playing where you had 16‑, 17‑year‑olds getting to the last four of majors.  Those days are probably over.
That means you really have to have a lot of hunger, have to keep improving.  Taylor has had a lot of success in the juniors.  We hope she continues to do that.
What I’m most proud of about her is that she wants to get better.  She’s working hard, working on her overall game, which is a great tennis game.  She has a lot of natural ability as a player.
What’s going to determine whether or not she makes it to the top of women’s tennis is going to be her desire, her work ethic day in and day out.  Once you start to make that transition to the pros, it’s inevitable that you’re going to suffer some losses, have some bumps and bruises along the way.  The players that are really focused and determined and that can go through that have the best chance of making it all the way to the top.

Q.  What’s the key to that focus?
PATRICK McENROE:  As I said, I think it’s desire to want to get there.  Being the No.1 junior in the world is a great accomplishment.  I can tell you that Taylor has much higher goals for herself.  It’s not going to happen, as I said, overnight.  She’s still quite young and she’s got a couple of years ahead of her to keep playing some juniors and obviously start transitioning to the pros, as well.
We’ll all work with her and her coaches and her parents and everyone on what makes the most sense for her to keep progressing and keep pushing herself to get better.

Q.  We have an incredible situation with the top three or four in men’s tennis.  The younger generation is not breaking through.  Could you comment about the big picture there.
PATRICK McENROE:  Well, when someone like Andy Murray can’t break through and win a major, that tells you how difficult it is.
You’re dealing with, in the men’s game, three of arguably the greatest players of all time.  Certainly if Djokovic can win the French, you have to start thinking of him in those terms career‑wise along with Federer and Nadal.  Those guys have already done it, won all the majors.
It’s pretty amazing when you think in the Open era when Agassi finally did it and won the French, he’s the first guy since the Rocket to win all four majors.  Now you have potentially three players in a row with a chance to do that.
I think it’s really more a testament to how good those three guys are rather than sort of the deficiencies in a Raonic or Ryan Harrison.  They’re young and they have a lot of work to do to keep improving.  The bar has been raised incredibly high.

Q.  Patrick, Taylor doesn’t have a regular game for a junior girl.  She’s very aggressive and looks like she likes to attack the net.  Can you describe her game.
PATRICK McENROE:  I’ll let Taylor answer that first.
Go ahead, T.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Well, I’ve always been comfortable at the net.  When I started playing tennis, we did a lot of volleys.  It was just something that I pretty much just came up with.  It was kind of normal to me.
Now that I’ve been able to travel and see how a lot of other girls play around the world, I see that it’s not really normal.  It’s normal to me, but not normal to other people.
I mean, I’m glad I’m able to have a game that’s different and unique, be able to use it to my advantage.

Q.  Taylor, can you describe your move from California to South Florida.  Did you start at the Plantation or go right to Boca?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I’m originally from Chicago, then I moved to Atlanta.  I mean, my transition, I moved from Atlanta straight to Boca.  I was pretty comfortable with the transition, though.  I was really comfortable with Kathy.  I had been going on trips with her during my eighth grade year.  I was really comfortable with her, the way she coached me.  We had a good connection.  She understood my game, what I needed to do.  She pinpointed some things out to me that were really helpful to continue to help me progress.
We kind of had a good relationship.  So it wasn’t really a hard transition for me.  I was really excited about coming to the program.  I love the environment here.  It’s a lot of fun.

Q.  What is your personal timetable to turn pro?  College or right to the circuit?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I like to keep my options open as of right now.  My goal is to go pro.  Until I feel like it’s the right time, and I consult with my family and everyone, then I’m just going to stay amateur for now.

Q.  Patrick, how significant is it to be the No.1 junior in the world?  We see a lot of guys peter out once they got there.  Remind me of the last few Americans that had that title.
PATRICK McENROE:  That’s a good question.  As Tim says, she’s the first to get to No.1 since Lindsay.  Obviously, those are big shoes to fill.  As Taylor said, she’s on her own timeline.  As long as she keeps working hard and keeps improving and gets in better shape, her overall game is obviously very sound, but everything has to get better.
That will happen in due time.  But, as I said in the answer to my first question, the game is a lot tougher physically now than it’s ever been.  You’re seeing that a lot more in the women’s game in addition to the men’s game.
It takes longer to get there, so you’ve got to keep working.  Taylor, as she talked about, her game is different than a lot of the players.  But she also has to go out there and hit a lot of balls to be able to use her weapons, coming forward, variety, she likes to serve and volley.  You need the other pieces of the puzzle as well.
You can be a great volleyer, but if you can’t move around the court and get to the net, chances are you’ll be exposed the higher level you go.
So I think that’s why you have to continue to work hard all the time.  You have to in some ways be more patient that it’s not going to happen overnight.  We’re not talking about No.1′s from America, but look at No.1′s in the juniors.  You can go down the list in the last 10, 15 years.  It’s not the automatic to be the No.1 junior, to all of a sudden be in the top 5 or the top 10.
TIM CURRY:  As a point, the ITF can’t verify on the weekly rankings whoever has been No.1 since they changed the ranking system in 2004 to the combined singles and doubles ranking, so Taylor is the first American girl to be the No.1 player since ’04.  Prior to that, any of the Americans that were year‑end No.1′s were based on kind of a voting system rather than the ranking‑point formula.
Taylor could definitely be the first American junior No.1 girl under the ITF ranking program.

Q.  Taylor, I was wondering about what you’ve been doing since the Easter Bowl, if you’ve been training on red clay to prepare for the French, and if you’re going to go over and play Belgium first?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  After Easter Bowl I came back to Boca for a few days and really hit the fitness pretty hard.  I went to the junior Fed Cup in Mexico.  After that I came back to Boca for two weeks and I really hit fitness really hard.  I just came back last week from Pat Etcheberry’s place in Orlando.  We’ve been working on my fitness and strength.  I’ve been hitting on the clay.
But I’m not playing Belgium.  We’re going to go over to Spain for about a week and train on the red clay.  We’re really familiar with BTT, that’s the academy we’re going to.  We’re really familiar with them.  We went for three weeks last year, so we know the coaches, the drills and everything, so it should be really good.  We should be ready for the French.

Q.  Because of your game style, I don’t imagine red clay is high on your list of favorite surfaces, but how will you adapt to clay?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I really like clay actually.  I can’t speak about grass, I’ve never played on grass.  I love hard court.  I like clay as well.
I think it really helps as far as like my heavy topspin, my slice, using my serve.  I think it’s more about not so much adjusting but it’s more about using the clay, using the surface to my advantage, making more my opponents move.
Obviously the points are going to be a lot longer on the clay.  That’s why we’re working on the fitness, being able to stay in points.  But I think my game is pretty well‑suited for clay, as well.

Q.  Patrick, what are your thoughts about tamping down the expectations of someone who has had the success that Taylor has at this early age?
PATRICK McENROE:  Quite honestly, I was a little torn about even doing this call for that very reason.  I don’t want Taylor to feel too much pressure, she understands what I’m saying, to get too big of a head.
But she’s done great, she’s working very hard.  As she said, Kathy Rinaldi and her have a great relationship.  Kathy has really poured her blood, sweat and tears into not only helping Taylor but Sam Crawford, a number of other girls down if Boca, Grace Min when she was down in Boca.  There’s a nice camaraderie with the girls down there.  Obviously Taylor has some really good friends down there.  That helps a lot when you’re away from home.  That’s difficult.
But I think she’s doing really well.  She’s handling success well.  To win the Australian, I was lucky enough to be there, sit behind Kathy during the last couple of matches, to see the emotion that the two of them had was great to see.  You can tell it means a lot more to them than just a tennis match.  That’s a great sign.  Then Taylor came back and had a great Easter Bowl and won there.
I think she’s handling the success well.  Again, it’s all about coming back, as she said, going back to work, working hard, getting better.  You have to enjoy the process.  You have to enjoy the people you’re working with, the people you’re around.  I think if you do that, in due course the results will come.
If you’re a happy person, you’re happy with how you’re improving, I think that’s what we’re looking for.  Obviously we’re looking for our players to do well, but we’re also looking to create an environment where they’re thriving as people and they’re enjoying themselves and they’re good citizens in addition to being hopefully great tennis players in the future.

Q.  Patrick, I know how hard you’ve worked with player development in the U.S.  If you would take one aspect of any country’s Player Development Program and use it in the U.S., something somebody else has been successful with, what would it be?
PATRICK McENROE:  I’m not skirting that question because I think it’s a good one.  To be honest, I think we’re kind of trying to do it our way.  We are the United States of America.  That’s not to say we haven’t looked at what Spain has done.  This is one of the reasons why we sent our girls over to BTT, which is a tennis academy in Barcelona.  By the way, Jose Higueras will be there with the girls next week.  He has a very good relationship with that academy.
You look at what the French have done with their sort of regional centers.  That’s something we’re trying to do in a similar fashion with our own regional training centers around the country, working more hand‑in‑hand with them, communicating the way we’re trying to coach and hopefully find out from them.  I don’t really think it’s taking one thing.
I remember, when I was playing, the Swedish players.  It wasn’t so much the way they played but their camaraderie.  They supported each other, were out there helping each other.  I think we have that with Taylor and the group of girls that were out there.
It was awesome to see the other girls that were there watching her play.  She won the doubles there with Gaby.  To see them supporting each other, watching each other’s matches, that’s what it’s all about.
I guess if there was one thing I could pinpoint, it’s this being a team effort on our part.  That starts from USTA Player Development, that’s the private academies, the personal coaches.  That’s not always easy to navigate those waters, nor is it easy to have players that are competing with each other out there supporting each other.
I guess that’s the one thing I’d like to see us do more of and I think as a group we are.

Q.  Taylor, now that you’ve won the Australian Open, you’re being compared to Serena and Venus at such a young age, what are your expectations heading into the French?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I mean, I set high expectations for myself for each tournament.  I’ve always kind of lived by the motto that I’m not going to go to a tournament if I don’t feel like I can do well.
My expectations, I’m going to do the best that I can.  But I feel like I can do well at this tournament.  I started off my year great.  I feel like I can continue that success, so…

Q.  You said you’ve never played on grass.  Obviously you’ve played on hard court and clay.  How many times have you played on a clay court?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Well, I’ve played on clay not a lot, but I’ve played on clay a good bit of my life.  Red clay I’ve only played an actual event on red clay one time, and that was in Prostejov in the Czech Republic for the World Junior Cup, I played doubles there.  That’s the only time I’ve had competition on the red play.
But I trained on red clay three weeks last year in Spain.  That’s the last time I was on the red clay.  It should be fun.
PATRICK McENROE:  In all three of our centers, we have the green clay, we have the Har‑Tru.  It’s a little bit different than the red clay.  But we’re having them play as much as possible on the clay to get used to the movement, sliding, patience, building points, all that stuff.

Q.  Patrick, what do you think is the biggest reason why an American hasn’t been able to break through?  We’ve seen John Isner.  But break through and stay there.  If you could say there’s one specific reason, what do you think the biggest reason is?
PATRICK McENROE:  Are you talking about at the French or in general or you don’t know?

Q.  It was more general, but if you want to aim at the French as well.
PATRICK McENROE:  You mean like break through and win a major?  I’m trying to specify what you mean.

Q.  Not just win a major, but stay there, too.  Yes, win a major.
PATRICK McENROE:  I’m trying to think about who else, other than Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, who have.  There’s a short list.
This is what we’re trying to accomplish.  We’re trying to get more kids playing tennis, number one.  It’s the same old refrain:  there’s not one issue.  The issue is that there’s phenomenal athletes playing tennis from all over the world.  We’ve got to do a better job getting those kind of kids playing tennis, then we’ve got to do a better job coaching them and mentoring them as a country.  The USTA, we’ve got to do a better job.
If you do everything right, you’ve got a chance.  You’ve got a chance to make it.
I can’t pinpoint one thing at all.  I think this is a long‑term project, at least for me when I took over this position four years ago.  We’re happy with the progress but we realize we’ve got a long way to go.

Q.  Taylor, possibly a sensitive issue.  You never like to ask a woman about weight issues.  Early on I noticed you were pretty overweight.  I saw you recently and I marveled at how svelte you looked.  Can you talk about your battle with that over the years and what you’ve done to get in better condition.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Well, I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my body.  I know and I’ve been told, it’s obvious for me, that I don’t have a typical body type of everyone else.  Really I just have to work with what I have pretty much.  I use it.  To me it’s been working pretty well (laughter).
Being down at USTA I’ve learned the importance of my fitness level.  I learned that just skill alone, talent, being able to use your hands isn’t always enough.  If I can’t get to the ball, if I can’t stay in the point long enough, I won’t be able to give myself an opportunity to be able to use what I have.
Fitness is really important.  I’ve learned that over the course of these years being here.  I definitely made a transition, a positive transition, in the way that my body has come along.  I think as well as losing weight, dropping weight, but growing as well.
I was young probably when you saw me.  So just being able to grow into my body, get a little taller, all that stuff, it’s helped a lot.  Hopefully I can grow a few more inches.  But I’m just pretty much using what I have.
PATRICK McENROE:  You’re using it pretty darn well, Taylor.  Don’t worry about it.

Q.  How tall are you?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I’m 5’6″ and a half‑ish.

Q.  What junk food have you given up?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I’ve given up a lot actually.

Q.  Your favorite one?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Fast food, like burgers and all that stuff, it makes me sick now.  I can’t eat stuff like that.  Like McDonald’s, fries, all that stuff, if I eat it, I get a bad stomachache.  I’ve given up ice cream.  Went to Froyo.  It’s a little bit healthier.

Q.  What flavor did you give up?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Cookie dough.

Q.  After the Australian I hope you treated yourself.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  I had frozen yogurt.

Q.  Taylor, of all the things you do in life, tell us something you want the world to know about you, whether it’s on or off court, that maybe we don’t know.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Well, I love to dance.  I know they all talk about Azarenka, how she dances before she gets ready.  That’s me, too.  When I was at the Easter Bowl, they all talked about how I had on my beads, I was in my zone.  That’s how I get ready for my matches.  I have my music.
I love music as well.  I played the violin for three years in middle school.  I played from sixth to eighth grade.  In my seventh and eighth grade year, I was in honor orchestra.  I’m pretty good at it.

Q.  What kind of music do you play on the violin and what kind of music do you dance to?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  On the violin, I play a lot of stuff.  When I was in school, my instructor, she would kind of pick the music out depending on our performance or whatever.  But we did Pirates of the Caribbean, we did Bella’s Lullaby, which is from Twilight.  We do modern stuff, but a lot of different stuff like classical, jazz and blues.  It’s fun.

Q.  Is there a favorite composer in there?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  Not really.  I mean, I just recently got my violin fixed.  I started playing again.  But I haven’t played in a while.

Q.  And what do you dance to getting ready for a match?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND:  It depends on my mood.  Sometimes I like to listen to rap, but also it depends how I’m feeling.  Sometimes I listen to rock, sometimes pop.  Now I’ve started listening to house music a lot, so…
TIM CURRY:  Thanks, everyone, for joining us.  Thanks, Taylor and Patrick, for your time.  Taylor’s next event will be the Junior French Open, the second week of the French Open.  Patrick will be there with ESPN.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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