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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 16, 2015
BRENDAN McINTYRE:¬† Thank you, everyone, for getting on the call.¬† Really appreciate you taking the time.¬† On with us today we have Martin Blackman, the general manager of USTA Player Development, as well as three of our top young players:¬† Reilly Opelka, who just won the 2015 Wimbledon boys championships, Tommy Paul, who won the 2015 French Open boys championships, and Taylor Fritz, the world No.1 ranked junior.
Once again we appreciate you taking the time to call in.¬† At this time we're just going to open it up to questions.
Q.¬† Reilly, talk about the Wimbledon experience.¬† You also played on Court18 where another big American John Isner had his great marathon win.¬† Talk about the experience.
REILLY OPELKA:¬† Wimbledon was an amazing experience.¬† Court18, the atmosphere was awesome.¬† That was probably my favorite court.¬† Just the fans that came out were really, really into it.¬† They made it a lot of fun.
Q.¬† Taylor, talk about your spring, playing majors, and playing for the SanDiego Aviators.
TAYLOR FRITZ:¬† Yeah, I think about it all the time.¬† It's really great to be able to go to all the Grand Slams, do what I do.¬† I'd much rather be doing this than going to high school like a regular 17‑year‑old.
It's just a lot of fun to play in all these big tournaments.¬† It's fun to support my home team and get the experience against a lot of accomplished professionals.
Q.¬† What is the one key thing to transition to the pros?¬† It's really tough out there.
TAYLOR FRITZ:¬† I think the biggest transition to the pros is going to be the fitness level.¬† All the pros are so much physically stronger than juniors.¬† I think that's the biggest thing.
Q. ¬†Could any of the three of you players talk about how success at the junior level might translate to the pro level, or might not, and what might be the biggest leaps from going where you are now to where you might hope to be?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† I think the juniors is great because it gives you a lot of confidence going into the low level pro tournaments like futures.¬† It really helps.¬† There's a lot of different types of players in the juniors.¬† I think it also helps going to the pros because obviously you're going to see a lot of different types of players in the pros.
I think it's a good experience to play like the junior Wimbledon, helps you get used to grass court tennis.¬† You're going to be able to play on the grass in the pros, so I think it helps a lot.
Q.¬† Tommy, I'm based in Atlanta.¬† You were planning to come play at UGA, and made the decision after the French Open experience to turn pro instead.¬† Congratulations to you.¬† I have to tell you as a Georgia fan I'm disappointed we're not getting you.¬† Did you go to Paris with the idea that if you won that tournament, you were going to turn pro, or was there more involved in that decision?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† First of all, thank you.
I don't think it was all the French Open that made my decision on going pro.¬† It was three weeks before the French Open, I played a couple futures before the French Open, I did pretty well there.¬† That and all of the French Open made me think about turning pro.
I think I made the right decision so far.
Q.¬† Is there any hope at some point in the future we might get you just as a Bulldog student after your pro career is done?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† I'm not sure.¬† Hopefully my pro career is good enough where I don't have to go back to school.
Georgia is definitely a great school, so it's definitely one to think about.
Q.¬† Martin, obviously we have a problem in American men's tennis.¬† Since Roddick retired, no hopes in the slams.¬† Does this give you some amazing hope when you see what these three boys have done?¬† How soon do you think it could translate into similar success on the pro tour?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† Well, yes, it does give me hope, and it's very encouraging, not just because of Tommy, Taylor and Reilly's recent success, but also because I've had a chance to talk to their coaches and watch them practice, so I know they have the character and the work ethic to maximize their potential.
But I think the other opportunity we have is to get them in the mix with our existing pros, some of the younger guys between 100 and 300, and some of the guys that are in the top 100 right now, between 20 and 100.
We haven't given up on the guys that we have inside the top 100 at all.¬† Still look at guys like Stevie, John, Sam, Donald, all the way to Smyczek and Kudla.¬† We see players that can keep progressing and moving up in the rankings.
I think the important piece is to make sure it's a comprehensive approach.¬† We get the young guys that are on this call and some others that are not, we give them the time, committing to the process, don't put timelines or pressure on them, but just give them the time to develop, while at the same time we make sure that those other guys that are already in the mix get everything they need.
Q.¬† Tommy or Taylor or anybody, Agassi, Sampras, Courier, those guys used to say that they pushed each other, just like Djokovic, Federer and Nadal do for each other.¬† Do you feel like you guys as Americans, do you have that feeling, like you're pushing each other to be better and better?¬† Could that help you guys get to the top quicker?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† I really do think having all these good players around the same age really helps us.¬† We all push each other.¬† Definitely our results push each other to make us want to be better in tournaments.
I think when we see one of us win a future like Frances, we believe we can do it, too, and we're still on track.
Q.¬† How about you, Taylor?¬† No.1 in the world.¬† We haven't had one of those in quite a while.¬† You have four guys in the top 10 in the ITF.¬† How does that help you strive to be better?
TAYLOR FRITZ:¬† Well, I mean, I just look at it as a number and not much else.¬† Obviously Tommy and Reilly, they could also be No.1 instead.¬† They won junior slams, they just haven't played the amount of junior tournaments I have.
I don't think much of it.¬† I just take it as a confidence booster and kind of just move forward.
But about the previous question, I also completely agree.¬† I think us all being at the level we're at, we all push each other a lot, and we all make each other better, which is great.¬† That's something I don't think the previous generations had.¬† Hopefully we'll all make each other better and we all can be really great pros together.
Q.¬† Looking forward to Kalamazoo, could each of you comment on playing there, what the tournament means to you, what you like about it, and the fact that the field at the tournament this year is projected to be stronger even than a junior slam.¬† Maybe start with Taylor.
TAYLOR FRITZ:¬† All right.¬† I mean, I'm really excited to go to Kalamazoo this year.¬† We all have a lot better chance of winning it than we did last year.¬† We're all excited to go and play for the wild card.¬† In my mind that's the best part of the tournament, is being able to play against the best players who skip out on a lot of the junior tournaments a lot of the times and compete for the US Open main draw wild card, which could be a huge deal and could be a huge career‑starter for all of us.
It's just a prestigious tournament.¬† I'm sure we're all really excited to play it.
Q.¬† Reilly, your thoughts on Kalamazoo?¬† I know you were in qualifying last year.¬† Talk about how your expectations of yourself have changed with all your recent success.
REILLY OPELKA:¬† For Kalamazoo, obviously I'm really looking forward to it.¬† The level, I think it could be the highest it's ever been.¬† The draw's really deep this year.¬† I think whoever wins Kalamazoo this year really deserves the wild card.¬† There's a ton of guys that easily could win.
Q.¬† And, Tommy, your thoughts?¬† I know you didn't have the best Kalamazoo last year.¬† Is that motivating you or have you forgotten about that?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† I wouldn't say last year was a bad Kalamazoo.¬† I don't know, I'm pretty excited for it this year.¬† I'm looking at it as good preparation for New York and also it would be nice to go deep in Kalamazoo this year.¬† I think it could be fun with all these great players, playing against them and competing.
Q.¬† Reilly, it's been a few days.¬† Has it sunk in you won Wimbledon yet?¬† Do you plan on going home at any time soon?
REILLY OPELKA:¬† After Wimbledon I celebrated for one day, that was about it.¬† Now it's back to work.¬† Leaving tomorrow for New York.
Q.¬† What are you coming to New York for?
REILLY OPELKA:¬† I have a challenger in Binghamton.¬† Head over there tomorrow.
Q.¬† Did you get to go home to Palm Coast?
REILLY OPELKA:¬† No, haven't been able to go home.¬† I don't think I'll be able to head back there until after the US Open.¬† I'm pretty busy.¬† My schedule should be pretty busy from now on.
Q.¬† The US Open, the wild card.¬† What about the possibility of getting a wild card into the US Open qualifying?¬† Is that something that maybe is a possibility for you?
REILLY OPELKA:¬† I have no clue, to be honest.¬† That's not up to me.¬† Yeah, I mean, obviously I'd love to play.¬† If not, no big deal.¬† There's a ton of Americans competing for it right now.¬† It's no big deal.¬† Either way I'll play the juniors.
Q.¬† Mr. Blackman, coming into the USTA and having incredible success with the juniors, what has surprised you coming into this situation with the USTA, seeing these guys have this kind of success?¬† Have you been surprised?¬† Did you feel this was a possibility for this year?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† I'm very happy and I'm very encouraged.¬† I definitely can't take any credit for it.
Q.¬† You can take a little credit.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† But I'm not surprised because I know, again like I said earlier, I've seen these guys practicing.¬† I know their coaches.¬† I know how dedicated their coaches are.¬† I've kind of been aware of the process.
So I would say that I'm very encouraged.¬† But like I said before, even more than their great results, which have been great, all three guys, along with Frances and Kozlov, and our top girls have had great results.
Even more than that, I'm encouraged by their mindset and the fact that they really understand the process that they have to go through in terms of making good decisions and being professional.¬† I have watched them practice, how they approach practice, the engagement they have with their coaches.¬† Ultimately those are the things that will enable them to really be successful.
Q.¬† Martin, could you go off topic and talk about Jack Sock.¬† Coming back from surgery, the problem with his brother, then such a great French Open.¬† How about his game, what kind of potential you think Jack has?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† I think when I was mentioning the players we have in the top 100, I forgot to mention Jack.
But I think Jack is a player that has tremendous upside.¬† It's been really cool to watch his evolution as a player over the last couple years.¬† He's gotten fitter.¬† He's gotten faster.¬† He's improved his backhand.¬† He's mentally tougher.
So, you know, with the exception of probably not playing his best match at Wimby against Groth, I think the momentum he's taken after winning at River Oaks and the team he's got around him is really solid.¬† I think if he continues on the same track, he's got top‑10 potential.
Obviously, like I said before, there's a process.¬† Again, you know, he's got to go through that process, continue to get fitter, continue to work on his game, his court positioning and everything else.¬† But I think he's got a big upside.
I think his coach, Troy Hahn, is doing a tremendous job with him really finding the right balance that works for Jack.
Q.¬† Obviously it's a fierce, competitive situation on the circuit.¬† There are guys from around the world who want it bad.¬† What is the key to transitioning?¬† One step at a time?¬† Talk about the one or two things that are key to transitioning from being a top junior to a good pro.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† Well, I'll tell you what I've learned from our top guys, from Jose Higueras, Ola Malmqvist, Jay Berger.¬† Some of the themes that I hear from them are first the player has to really understand their identity as a player, their game style, and their training on and off the court should really reflect the needs of that type of game style.
But I think our coaches are doing a good job with that and with the guys we have on the call.
I think the second part is we talk a lot about growth mindset, having the mindset to make every day a win, and that win comes on the court, off the court, with nutrition, with flexibility.¬† Again, I think these guys are on that track.
Then the last thing in today's game, you've got to have a couple major weapons and you've got to be a great mover.¬† I think those are pretty non‑negotiable.¬† Again, I think with the guys and girls we have in the pipeline, they don't just have one weapon, they're really in the process of developing two major weapons.¬† So that's very encouraging as well.
Q.¬† It was hard to avoid what Serena Williams did at Wimbledon and has been doing.¬† Obviously she's a veteran.¬† In any way does she inspire any of you three?
TOMMY PAUL:¬† I don't really look up to women's tennis that much.¬† But I do think she's a great inspiration because of how much she has overcome as an athlete.¬† She competes very well on the court.
Q.¬† Martin, the young Australian players have been in the news quite a bit lately, and not in such a positive way.¬† I'm wondering what you're taking from what's happening there and how you're going to use that to avoid those issues cropping up with our young players.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† Well, I won't comment on the young Aussies.
I will say that from our perspective, one of the things that we talk a lot about as a staff is coaching character first.¬† That may seem like just kind of a feel‑good thing to say, but it really translates into the development of a professional athlete in that if you're going to maximize your potential, you're going to have to make a lot of very good decisions.¬† You're going to have to make good decisions about the people you surround yourself with, about your lifestyle, about the choices you make, about when you're faced with temptation.
Again, I think these guys, the guys and girls that we're talking about, because of the values they have from their family, and because we really believe in coaching character first, I think they're going to be in a really good situation to make the right decisions as they get better and better.
The better you get, the more pressure you have, because the more temptations you have.¬† But I think these guys are on track to develop the right way in that respect.
Q.¬† Do you think having them develop as a group works in their favor because they can kind of hang together?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:¬† It definitely helps them because they've got shared purpose, shared values, they have coaches that can hold them accountable, they've got parents that can hold them accountable.
I think the other thing that's very encouraging is we're starting to get more and more involvement from past players who have done a very good job of making the decisions that you're talking about, of making good decisions.
Whenever you can get a former player into a mentoring role, you're really kind of solidifying the values and the culture you're looking for.
So, yeah, these guys are in a great place, and we just have to make sure we take it one day at the same time.
BRENDAN McINTYRE:¬† Once again, I want to thank Martin, Reilly, Tommy and Taylor for taking part in this call.¬† Thanks to all the media for joining us.
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