home jobs contact us
Our Clients:
Browse by Sport
Find us on ASAP sports on Facebook ASAP sports on Twitter
ASAP Sports RSS Subscribe to RSS
Click to go to
ASAP Sports e-Brochure View our


June 26, 2003

Billie Jean King

Fed Cup

DAVID NEWMAN: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us from near and far for today's exciting news regarding the United States Fed Cup team's quarterfinal match against Italy, July 19 through 20, at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Center in Washington, D.C. As you may know, earlier this month, the USTA and US Fed Cup Captain Billie Jean King announced that four-time Grand Slam champion, singles champion, Venus Williams has committed to the team, and today we are pleased to share some exciting news about the remainder of the team. Tickets are available for this exciting Fed Cup tie by calling, you know, 888-334-USTA, or available by Ticketmaster. The best-of-five match series will begin on Saturday, July 19th at 4:00 with two singles matches, followed by two reverse singles matches and a doubles match also at 4:00 on Sunday, July 20th. Without further ado, it's my pleasure to introduce a seminal figure for the sport of tennis in 20th century life in the United States, the United States Fed Cup Captain, Billie Jean King.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Thanks, David. I'm thrilled I'm still alive in the 21st century. I'm really excited. We finally have three other players that I'm going to add to the team, and that's Monica Seles, Meghann Shaughnessy, and Lisa Raymond. Everyone's extremely excited that we're going to be in the Washington, DC, area. We're particularly excited that the Washington tennis and education people are behind this. We hopefully will make a huge impact on the community, and the community's going to make an impact on us, as well. We really look forward to coming to Washington, DC, so let's just get into questions.

Q. How do you assess Venus' chances at Wimbledon?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Obviously, at the French she had that abdominal pull. She came into the French without any practice at all. Since the French, I've talked to Venus and she said her abdominal muscle is really in good shape now. She's had chances to practice and to train, and I think you're going to see much better results from her at Wimbledon. So far I like what I see. But I think with Venus, if she could just go to net more often. Everyone, including the media, keep telling her, so it would just be nice to see her go to net more often with that wingspan. She really does volley well. That would be the only thing I'd like to see more of. It looks like her serve is better, and her forehand is finally more consistent than it was during the French.

Q. When you practice with her, is she receptive to coming in more in practice and working on it?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah. Actually, in one of the Fed Cups at Stanford, she ended up losing the match. She was up a set and 4-1. We already won. I said, "Well, you can either just worry about winning, or do you want to practice on what we've been working on?" That was appropriately going to net. She actually did try to go up quite a bit. Sometimes she went at the right time, sometimes not. But she certainly was trying to do the right things. But Venus is extremely receptive. She is very respectful, very receptive. She is a really wonderful human being. She's very good at mentoring. We had two young players come. We just started this year having two players come, like young pros. We had Jamea Jackson and Alley Baker come when we were in Lowell, Massachusetts when we played the Czech Republic. She was very good taking over as kind of like the mother hen of those two younger players. It was really wonderful to see. All of the players did to a certain extent, but you can certainly tell that Venus has taken care of Serena as they have grown up, because she's definitely obviously the older of the two - only by 15 months. But she definitely is very helpful and an extremely great team player and tends to take the lead. When anybody's going to talk on behalf of the team, usually Venus is the one that stands up and talks for the team.

Q. Monica, what is the status of her foot injury? How is her health in general?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I just talked to Monica a couple days ago. Her foot, she had an MRI. It's just a little bit of a stretch. She's starting to hit already. I said, "Monica, what's going on?" Anyway, she's very excited about playing Fed Cup. She's starting to hit again. So things look good right now. Obviously, if there's a problem, she'll call me. Like we're very fortunate that we have some great depth in American women's tennis.

DAVID NEWMAN: Monica Seles is a nine-time Grand Slam singles champion. Her commitment to Fed Cup is her first commitment since her injury ON May 27th at Roland Garros.

Q. After being one of the most integral players in women's tennis for so long, is it hard for you to sit on the sidelines and be a coach and mentor? Do you get the urge to go out and show these players what you still have?

BILLIE JEAN KING: No (laughter). I have no problem sitting on the sidelines of these players. I'll be 60 this year, November 22nd. And I certainly cannot show these players anything, so as far as my own play. But I certainly have many, many years of experience, as well as watching other generations play and playing against them. So I think I have a lot to add. Zina Garrison is the coach, and I'm the captain. We work together really very, very well. We also have hitting partners that know a lot about the game. So it's a real team effort. But, no, it doesn't bother me. Would I like to be young again and run like they do? Yes. The running and the jumping would be great, because I have no vertical jump anymore. I always just loved to watch these great players and their vertical jump, how they get up for the ball. It's so much fun to work with them. I've always loved coaching since I was 12 years old and taking lessons in the public parks. My coach always made me teach, actually. I've always loved teaching. And my dad's been a coach and a baseball scout. I've just been around the environment. I've always loved the coaching aspect. It's true, though, that most of the very top players don't like to coach. I think I'm actually rare in that situation, that I do love it.

Q. If you could choose like anyone that you could have played against in your prime that's big now, who do you think you would have chosen?

BILLIE JEAN KING: To play against?

Q. Yes, ma'am.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Shoot, I don't care. I always loved the challenges.

Q. Really?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah. I don't care. Put 'em out there and let's go. No, I think, like what we talk about in Fed Cup, what I strongly believe, is you get your own act together first and you stay on your side of the net. One of the worst things you can do is get on the other side of the net and not concentrate. So what makes great champions, if you listen to them, it's usually about them paying the price, getting their own act together, and that's the best you can do. Now, if the other player plays better, so be it. Should you understand how the other player plays? Absolutely. You still have to play your game first and still go with Plan A, and then Plan B would be getting out of your comfort zone a little. We talk about this with the players. What I do is I get the Fed Cup players to talk about each of the players they're going to play against. You know, I believe the Fed Cup players know better than I do because they're still playing. So what we do is I ask the different players, you know, if you've played someone recently. Like we're playing against Italy. I want to know, you know, like if you've played against Elia, Schiavone, Pennetta, Rita Grande. Lindsay Davenport played against Rita Grande yesterday. I ask them, what is it like? How do they play? I get the players to help each other by listening to each other because they have the book, they have the real book, what I call the book, on the other players because they actually are in the trenches playing against them. So I'm a big believer in listening to my players as far as how the other players are playing. But, most importantly, I have to create an environment, Zina Garrison and I try to create an environment that's fun and make it so they feel like they've prepared the best they can. But I also want them to have a great experience. Remember, we're going to be in Washington, DC. Hopefully, we'll have opportunities that we don't usually have being in the capital of our country.

Q. Could you kind of talk about Zina Garrison and the help she does bring to the team.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Zina's great. Zina is a little angel that has been very helpful. She's been very eager to learn more about coaching since we started together. I believe we started in Ancona when we played against Italy in '99. I thought she started before that. Maybe she didn't. We've had a great time working together. She's very helpful. She's very calming. She's become very versatile in that she can help with whatever area that we need help in. I mean, we're talking from hitting slice backhands to help the players, she has a one-handed slice backhand, and most of the time they'll say "help." She'll go out and hit a slice backhand or help them with some technique situation. I think she's very valuable, too, quite honestly because of the culture she's from. She can be very helpful with players from the same cultures, like Alexandra or Venus or Serena. She's known them for a long time. But she's also very helpful with people like Meghann Shaughnessy, who absolutely thinks Zina is great; Monica. Everybody loves Zina. She can help everybody. She's been fantastic to work with. You know, I've known her for a long, long time. She does so much in Houston to help grass roots tennis with her academy. I couldn't be happier having Zina Garrison as our coach for the Fed Cup team.

Q. Do you see your personalities compare, or do they contrast in a way that you both can help the players?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Zina and me?

Q. Yeah.

BILLIE JEAN KING: We're very different. You know, I'm much more reactive than she is, although I've tried not to be. I've tried to learn. But I'm much more vocal. What I've tried to do is get her to be more vocal through the years, and she certainly has. Zina has changed a lot in that area. Zina, back in those days, would hardly talk - at least around me. And now, you know, she can say anything and she can talk. I have her talk to the players quite often now. I mean, she does it. I just say, "Go, Zina, go." She used to come to me and say, "What do you think? I'm noticing this or that." I said "Zina, you go tell them. You own it. Your own voice. You go tell them." She chimes right in now. She doesn't hesitate. It's fantastic. I love it. It's great to see. You know, she just gets right in there now.

Q. I wanted to ask if you could talk a little bit about the book and kind of what you know of your opponents, the Italians, how you kind of think your full team will match up against them.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, as far as our head-to-heads, we're in very good shape. I think, quite frankly, I'll be unhappy if we don't win big. But Pennetta is getting much, much better. She's young. I think that she's going to be very dangerous over time. I know that I think, you know, Farina Elia is also really good. They're all very high now. They're getting in the Top 30, around that area, you know. That's when players start to become very dangerous, because some of them are on their way up, and it's -- like, for instance, we have Laura Granville from the United States who is moving up. She just keeps sneaking up. You know, she's in the Top 30 now for the first time. That's what's happening. I know that Pennetta is the one that they're looking to be somebody. So I'm always very nervous. I'm always like -- I don't know if "nervous" is the right word. It's almost like getting excited about the fact that you never know how someone's going to play in a match. Somebody could have the best match of their life or the worst match of their life and you have to be ready for either one. You have to be ready that you play the worst match of your life and you have to find a way to win ugly and hang in there, and other times you're in your zone. That happens with the other players. So these Italians prefer team play, I think. When we played them in Italy, you could see them raise the level of their game. I think that is the strongest Italian team they've probably ever had in the history of the country. When I used to play, they used to have two players that were very good. All they did was lob all day long. But these players are much better. They're much more aggressive and consistent. So I think you're going to find really some very good matches - I hope not too good, though. I'm hoping. But Pennetta is the young one coming up. I don't know how they're going to work it. I think they have to go by ranking. So it depends. I think there's a cutoff date, 10 days before we have our matches, I think the rankings they may use. I'd have to look that up again. But I think that could be it. I think we have to go according to ranking when we do our singles. I wish sometimes we didn't have to, but we do. It would be more fun, actually, if I got to just pick, you know, like, I don't know, put Lisa Raymond in No. 1 one time, if I think she's got a better chance. Lisa Raymond actually keeps going up in rankings, too. And I don't know, a lot of people think of Lisa Raymond just as a doubles player but, believe me, she concentrates a lot on her singles. She really does. And I don't think people give her enough credit for that. And she's really versatile. She can play singles or doubles. So we're really lucky.

Q. What would your doubles combination be?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I'm not sure yet. I might have Lisa -Venus. Lisa and Meghann have played together a couple of times. I'm not sure yet. Got to see how it works out. But I probably would think -- my first impulse is Lisa and Venus. But that doesn't mean that's what it's going to work out to. Until you get into that week, you never know. It's going to be hot there, too. So I'm assuming. That's another consideration.

Q. Some thoughts on boosting the profile of Fed Cup, what you think it needs to take it to the next level?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, I'm a big believer in never having dead points. Regular tennis, you don't have a dead point. World Team Tennis you don't have a dead point. Fed Cup and Davis Cup, you do. I just think there's something innately wrong with that. I don't like it, and that -- that part of it. I think most of the players have said that, because you still have to play those two other matches if you win the first three matches. So I wish, for both Davis Cup and Fed Cup, there would be a change in that area. Fed Cup, remember we're having our 40th anniversary this year. We're 63 years behind the men in time alone and tradition. Also the men have never varied, I don't think, at least not in a major way, their format where we have -- we started Fed Cup, we used to play one week in a neutral site. We started with 16 teams, obviously, in 1963, and now we have over -- we're like around a hundred. It varies. Sometimes we're over a hundred, sometimes we're a little bit under a hundred countries. We certainly have grown as far as participation. I think we do have a problem that people don't know what it is. But I don't think people really know what Davis Cup is either. They've heard of it. But then you go one step further, and they really don't, because I usually ask one other question. But I think with the excitement of Roddick, some of the new guys, Blake and all that, that Davis Cup is going to be up there again. And Patrick McEnroe is a great captain. So I think that's fantastic. As far as Fed Cup, I think the USTA has made a huge, huge push to make us much bigger, a lot of ad campaigns, trying to get the word out that Fed Cup is international team play, that it's truly exciting. I think in Lowell, Massachusetts, at the Tsongas Arena, it really showed what a great job the USTA did and it also helped having Venus and Serena obviously. When they're on a team, it makes a huge difference, one of them or both of them. When both of them are on a team, it even makes a bigger difference. But they really do transcend tennis and make a big difference in the ticket sales, there's no question about it. So I think it's got to do with marketing and I think the USTA is doing a great job. They're really putting full force into it. And I think that will make a big difference over time. It just takes time. Tradition equals time. You have to be in there a long time. We have a long way to go, though. I think Lowell, Massachusetts was a great kickoff for this year and for our future. And I hope Washington will be just as successful as Lowell.

Q. Is the key getting the top players to participate?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Oh, sure. Top players drive tennis. Top players drive every sport. Franchise players even in team sports seem to make such a big difference. Although they have years and years of loyalty, like say in baseball, baseball is over a hundred years old. Can you imagine the Cubs for how many years, the Yankees, whatever? It takes a long time. It does help to have franchise players, though, there's no question.

Q. What are your thoughts on the proposed King Cup?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, it's very flattering (laughter), to use my name. I mean, that's over the top. I think we should try new things. You know, I'm a big believer in trying new things. Look at other sports, a lot of changes. We've done very few in our sport. I think it's very important -- I don't think change for change's sake. I mean, think about it. But why not try some new things? I think it would be exciting. Why not? I personally would love a coed event, but that's, you know, because of my World Team Tennis background, and I love coed. I think one thing that tennis has that most other sports, not all of them, golf obviously has women, too, but tennis is one of the few sports that is so huge in women's sports and men's sports. I think that's such a huge advantage we have that we need to capitalize on it a lot more than we have. And we have a great package. We've got something for everybody, with men's and women's tennis. I just love it. You know, I would like to see World Team Tennis in the Olympics because it would be an unbelievable team sport for the Olympics. I love coed. But I'm very flattered that they even want to do something with my name on it. I mean, I can't say. I don't know what to say. I think we should try it. What do you think? Don't you think we should be trying things?

Q. Sure, why not?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Or what? How many changes has tennis had in a hundred years? One, two.

Q. Tiebreak, there's been a few here and there.

BILLIE JEAN KING: What? Two. We used to have to keep one foot on the ground in serving when I started tennis back in the '50s. They changed that about '57, I think, or '58, where you could jump, where you have both feet off the ground the way you know it today. We did the tiebreak in 1970. That's it.

Q. They've eliminated let serves.

BILLIE JEAN KING: We do in Team Tennis. But I'm talking regular tennis. Team Tennis we play all lets. They didn't actually do it. They thought about it.

Q. Tried it at a few tournaments. Your point is well-taken.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Can I just say one thing? Guess who they tried it with? The older players. Who should they have tried it with? The juniors. We do junior tournaments all the time, they love it. They don't care. I let them vote on it, whether they want to play lets or not play lets. 98% vote saying, "Let's play them." I let them choose. The kids, they're adaptable. You don't ask my generation. At The Open one year I asked. I said, "Every old fart isn't going to like it, except two of us probably." I was right on the money. Old people don't want to change. It's young people that are adaptable. So it's very interesting. But it would be -- I think with the USTA and the group of professional staff we have now, it's just incredible. I mean, the US Open has become huge. I think Arlen Kantarian and Pierce O'Neil and everybody, the whole team, is just unbelievable now. If they want to try some new things, let's go for it. They certainly have the brain power and money to do it. They're really exceptional now. It's just incredible how that shifted, just gotten more and more professional. And it's made a big difference. The staff has made a huge difference.

Q. Doing a follow-up story on Gladys Heldman. And what is the future of grass court tennis?

BILLIE JEAN KING: First one, Gladys. So sad. But the one wonderful thing is I got to see her last year. I went to see her -- her and Julius', her husband's, 60th wedding anniversary in Santa Fe. She has a wonderful indoor tennis court there, they do. Actually, Rosie Casals and I played tennis with Gladys Heldman last year when she was 80 years old. I think she was 80. You know, I'm not sure.

Q. I think she's 80.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Anyway, she played a set of tennis with us. She played unreal. She was in there the whole time. I'm really happy about that because I hadn't seen her for years. Without Gladys Heldman, we would not have professional women's tennis the way we know it today. When the nine of us signed, the nine original, we signed that $1 contract, little did we know -- well, we actually did have a vision, maybe that's why it worked. But she went out and got Virginia Slims as a sponsor, away we went. Because we had tours that pushed the majors to get their act together. So we're totally indebted to her forever. I hope that we'll do something for her this year at least. We've done -- we had a reunion in Houston on the 20th anniversary, too, which was really wonderful. Ted was still alive then, too. Then the second question was what?

Q. The future of grass court season tennis. It's really hard on the players. Do you ever see it coming back as a surface?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I don't know. It certainly looks beautiful, though. I mean, it also gives a volleyer a chance to maybe win a tournament. It's so much harder to volley now with these new racquets. I mean, the players can pass you from 10 feet behind the baseline now. I don't know. I almost think if they're going to have grass, they need to do at least one more week of it or something. You really do have to practice a lot on it to be any good on it. In my era, probably 70% of the tournaments were on grass. Now it's even worse than that now. Now it's just flip-flopped. The three majors were on grass with the red clay at the French when I was playing. But that's why you see different styles of play now, because if it were still on grass, it would be interesting how the players would play. Their grips I don't think would be quite the same. It would be interesting.

Q. Bobby Riggs, do people still come up to you about that? What do they say, if they do?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, every day I usually get someone to say something. When I walk out the door, if I'm going to be in the public, I know I'm probably going to hear it, a Riggs-King story. They say a lot of things. They get angry with me because they lost money. They get happy with me because they won money. They tell me how it changed their life. As far as women, a lot of women said it helped their self-esteem. For the first time they actually asked for what they wanted and needed, for the first time in their life they may have asked for a raise that they thought about for 10 years and never had the courage at their job to ask for, and they did ask. Most of them say they actually got the raise, things like that. I have men come up to me and tell me how it changed their life because they were very young. Most of the men in their late 30s or 40s, probably 40s now, will come up to me and tell me how it changed their life. I call these men the first generation of men of the Women's Movement. They come up to me and tell me how it changed their life for all time. Now they have daughters, and they're bringing up their daughters very differently than they would have otherwise. They said they really insist that their daughters have equal opportunities with their sons. So I call them the first generation of men of the Women's Movement. And they certainly are. They're a different breed from my generation or older generations.

Q. How did you deal with that many people watching the match, all the pressure on you?

BILLIE JEAN KING: There was a lot of pressure. But I thought about women's sports. Obviously Fed Cup is part of that when you think about it. We've been going about 10 years. We were only 10 years old at the time when I played Bobby Riggs. I think I felt a humongous amount of responsibility that I had to win that match to help further women, women's tennis, women's sports, to help women and to help men understand that we should be working together. I think it was important. I think -- I know it helped tennis. Men's and women's tennis got TV contracts the next year. In '74 we had an explosion of participation because of it. We had our biggest growth in '70s, because I think that match was -- I think the tours, the match, tennis -- we got to be about the eighth most popular sport in the '70s. It was a pretty exciting time, I must say.

Q. With the history of women's tennis in Houston and everything, with the Virginia Slims, the Masters Cup coming back. Jim always talks about wanting to bring a women's event back to Houston. Would you like to see that happen? Do you think it would be good to bring it back to Houston?

BILLIE JEAN KING: It's always good to have professional tennis, period, in communities. So the more professional tennis we can have in the community, the more we promote our sport, the more the young people can see it live, which I think is important. I think it's very important to take tennis to the people.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, everybody.


End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

About ASAP SportsFastScripts ArchiveRecent InterviewsCaptioningUpcoming EventsContact Us
FastScripts | Events Covered | Our Clients | Other Services | ASAP in the News | Site Map | Job Opportunities | Links
ASAP Sports, Inc. | T: 1.212 385 0297