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June 27, 2002

Billie Jean King

BRUCE LEVY: Welcome, everybody, to this conference call with our US Fed Cup Captain, Billie Jean King. As you know, Fed Cup is going to be played, United States versus Israel, the World Group qualifying round, July 20th and 21st at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield Missouri. We hope everybody gets to attend and cover the this exciting event. I am going to turn it over to Billie Jean King who is going to talk about the event and the team and also we have on the call Jeff Ryan, our Director of USA Tam events who is Springfield now and if there are any event-specific questions or things like that, Jeff can address those. Thank you, everybody. Billie. I welcome you.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Good morning, everybody. Actually I am in England so it's good afternoon to everybody that's in England on the line. So I'd just like to welcome you to this press conference so we can talk about this upcoming event at Springfield. Of course I am very familiar with Springfield, Missouri. I have been there on occasions. In fact, I got to christen this arena we play in which is the stadium court, it is a beautiful court at the Cooper Center there. It's absolutely beautiful, and one of the things, it is a private sector with the Cooper family and obviously the public park system in Springfield with Jody Adams and everybody have done such a great job. We actually have a World Team Tennis team there, the Springfield Lasers who got to the finals last year and lost to the Philadelphia Freedom. Many of our players are thrilled to be there because they do know the stadium and they know how nice the people are of Springfield and they are looking forward to it. I would like to open it up to questions. I will tell you our team first, it's Lindsay Davenport, she's not here at Wimbledon because most of you do know that she had a knee surgery in January, during the Australian Open, is fully recovered. Her doctor asked her not play Wimbledon because he didn't want her going from grass to hard courts therefore she will start playing again actually World Team Tennis and then will come to Fed Cup to represent her country again. She's very, very excited about this and she's so excited about playing tennis again, I cannot tell you, I have not heard Lindsay sound like this in a long, long time. So that's very exciting for her. Monica Seles is the other player who is right now playing on centre court. Then we have not Meghann Shaughnessy who played her first Fed Cup in Charlotte just a few weeks ago, and so she's our rookie, and she's looking forward to this tie as well against Israel. Then of course, our No. 1 doubles player in the world, Lisa Raymond, who has been just a great team player and really pleased. So we have a huge, strong field that's coming there and looking forward to wining because this is only the second time we've had to play to stay in the World Group, No. 1 World Group. So this is a tough -- very tough going for us. I'd like to open it to questions now.

Q. I'd like to ask you about Monica. First off, talk a little bit about how Monica has changed as a person in the time you have known her; then on the -- also talk a little bit about what Monica needs to do to her game to really contend for a Grand Slam again?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, Monica has always been a wonderful person, but I think after going through what she has been through being stabbed and her father passing away from cancer, it's been pretty rough for her. Obviously you can imagine how scared she was to come back. We always make sure that security stands behind her, obviously, and in front of her when she's playing and changing ends definitely have someone behind her. That was always a problem. She seems to be pretty comfortable now. But when she was first playing Fed Cup six years ago when I was captain she was pretty frightened about it. So she's come a long way. She knows tennis is just a game now. She's very clear on that and as far as she's a wonderful person, she's very high strung. She has her rituals which most champions do, not one of them is hitting against the wall for ten minutes after each practice. If you ever seen her hit against wall when she's three feet from the small and can smack the ball either side and everything, it's amazing. I wish -- I love watching her do that. Because I had never seen anybody ever in my life be able to do that. So it's pretty awesome. But she's a great person. She's been a great team player. She's been a go-to person for me to play Fed Cup and she gives it 100% she's a good team player. She's always on time and ready to go. I really appreciate that from her. Second part of your question about what it is going to take to win a major for her, I feel the one area that she needs to improve on is her movement area, her agility and her movement. She knows that. Mike Sell, her coach is a really great hitting partner with her because he's a grinder. He was really a quick player himself on the Tour, so I think that has been helpful for her to see that reflection from him. I mean, to see him, not reflection but to see him how quick he is and he's a good grinder. She's improved her volley through the years. She's willing to go to net and try to go forward more than she used to although it's not her natural inclination to do that, but I think Wimbledon is probably her toughest major to play because the ball does bounce low and it is harder on her psychologically than the others. I think her serve is a lot better than people think, and I think she's come along way.

Q. I wanted to ask it is at all frustrating to you --know you have Lindsay coming in and that has been really wonderful for the team, is it at all frustrating to know that Venus and Serena are so talented and so far they have selected at least right now not to play?

BILLIE JEAN KING: They kind of go in and out with whether they play Fed Cup or not. They have played two or three of them. Venus, I think if we had been in Europe she probably would have played, but because we lost we ended up playing in the States. I am not so sure she was going to go home after Wimbledon. I think she's staying, maybe because she talked to me about if it had been in Europe she probably would have played it. I am real big on freedom of choice. That's what makes our country stronger. I know when Jimmy Connors didn't play Davis Cup, I stood by him, although I always want the players to play for their country if I had my wish, but that's not the way it works. I would like them to play, yes, obviously. But I am big on whoever really want to play. Whoever really wants to come and play Fed Cup, that's who I want on the team. If you don't want to play you shouldn't come. So every tie I ask, I go right down the list by the rankings, that's how I choose, I go by those rankings, and ask those players if they are willing to play or not. They chose not to play. Serena is pretty tapped because she played so much this year and won so much; I think she think she needs a break.

Q. Did you have to do any convincing with Lindsay because she seems really exciting going after --

BILLIE JEAN KING: Just the opposite. She was saying: Please, please, put me on the team. (Laughs) Just the opposite. You have to remember also like Monica -- let's see, Lindsay and a lot of these girls have played in Springfield because of World Team Tennis, so they are very excited about the venue, because they know it already. Sometimes they go to new venues so they don't feel like they are having to rehearse. They like the fact that they feel comfortable and they really do like Springfield a lot because they have been there with World Team Tennis before.

Q. Could you talk about Meghann Shaughnessy for just a minute and her upside and what you think she needs to do to take it to the next -- a level up?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, Meghann was probably one of the greatest surprises this last year, I mean, this last tie against Austria. Meghann ended up -- I didn't know Meghann at all. I didn't know her that well. I have called her and said hello, but that's about it, and I got to know her over that week, and you will never -- she's such a great person. She's actually very funny and I didn't know that because she's very serious when she plays and that's one of things we are talking about is her to have a little bit more fun on the court, and because off the court she's very funny and has a great sense of humor, and she's working on her backhand right now and she's gone through a bad patch because I think she's trying a little bit too hard. We can try -- the intensity can be too much at times, and so she's trying to figure things out right now. She knows she needs to change a few things, and I think she will have a short-term loss or long-term gain in that trying to change a couple of things sometimes your results become more erratic; they are not as good sometimes, but in the long run, she will prevail because she wants to improve and make those changes. A lot of players don't have the courage to make those changes and she does. And she's really got guts. She just fights right to about bitter end no matter what the outcome, she really loves tennis. I think that's a huge factor. So I think she's working other her backhand volley as well; worked on that at Fed Cup, and if she keeps playing Fed Cup I promise you she will get a lot better and Rafael is doing a great job with her as well. She's got a really good serve. She's got a very deceptive serve - players have a hard time reading it. That's another thing I can add.

Q. Are there contingency plans in case Lindsay Davenport is not ready to go?

BILLIE JEAN KING: If she doesn't we have three other wonderful players. Believe me, she's ready, she's more than ready. She was ready to play at Wimbledon but her doctor thought it would be better and her coach too thought it would be better if she -- especially her doctor did not want her changing surfaces and if she went from the Wimbledon grass to World Team Tennis hard court, also Fed Cup hard court also the whole summer is on hard courts, the whole circuit, the WTA Tour is on the hard court, he recommended that a good thing to do is just be starting on hard courts, and so that's why she's doing this. She's been ready probably for almost a month to play. It's just she's just raring to go. She wants to play Fed Cup very badly. She loves representing her country. She will be coming in from Upstate New York where she will be playing for the New York Buzz. So she will be ready. I don't think there's going to be any problems with Lindsay.

Q. On the subject of World Team Tennis which of course is very dear to your hearts. We have a young lady from the Springfield Lasers who is playing over at Wimbledon Anastasia Myskina. Give us an update on her and your perception of her play?

BILLIE JEAN KING: She's doing great. I talked to her yesterday and she's thrilled to be here at Wimbledon, and she was asked -- she's getting ready to come to Springfield. She loves her team, it is a very tight team. I see them hanging out when any of them are near each other, they always want to hang out. She's a really good player. The only thing that she needs to do is get a little more consistent. She got to the Finals of Eastbourne, I think, and she's playing better each year and she's still very, very young, so you got a great player there in Myskina. I was in Russia trying to learn how to say her name right. It was hysterical. She's a great person. She just loves Springfield. She needs to be a little bit more consistent because she has got all the shots.

Q. Prior to the Fed Cup how long will you have the team here in Springfield practicing?

BILLIE JEAN KING: They will there be -- arrive Monday and begin practicing on Tuesday.

Q. I have another WTT question. Obviously we have the Fox Force here in Hartford and Meghann Shaughnessy is our marquis player, your comments about her. But my question is how is the league and you yourself been able to get good players that come out year after year after year, kind of a month out of their schedule, you have got people like Connors, McEnroe, Davenport, Seles, how have you been able --

BILLIE JEAN KING: We have Agassi this year too. I think because for them it's a break from individual tournaments just like Fed Cup is, and if you like team sports -- it brings -- Meghann Shaughnessy loves team sports as well. As a child she played a lot of different sports, and she said she really misses it when she isn't around a team, so she loves Fed Cup and she also is really looking forward to playing in Hartford. I have talked to her about it and she's, you know, very excited about being there, and she just likes team sports. She also played in our Smash Hits event, our Elton John Smash Hits event we do every year to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. We do a World Team Tennis match, and the last one we did was in Sacramento. Elton thought it would be fun to invite Meghann so we did. She had a taste of the format and she said, oh, my goodness, I really love this. So she's I want to play next year. We are very happy that she's playing World Team Tennis. Obviously as a rookie in Fed Cup this year, I am just absolutely delighted with her as a human being and that she's got a lot of character.

Q. You are saying that even the veteran players like a McEnroe and Connors, they enjoy the team atmosphere?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah, they do. Well, John McEnroe loves Davis Cup. He loves anything to do with the team. Patrick McEnroe owns part of that team, the New York Hamptons, so he also --we'll have the brothers - the brothers, and the others. (Laughs) So it's pretty nice, of course Patrick McEnroe is the Davis Cup captain, so he and I are always checking in. We check in with each other. He has been great. He will call thinks I need something, I will do the same for him. When Davis Cup is on I call every night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and leave messages for him.

Q. When this league first began did you ever foresee -- were you confident you would be able to continue year in and year out to be able to get these players to come out?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah, we are 22 years old this year, yeah, I think so.

Q. Plan on coming to Hartford at all?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yes, I am. I will be in Hartford one night.

Q. You know which one?

BILLIE JEAN KING: This Friday night, I think. I will -- I think -- is that the 12th? I am on my way up to the International Tennis Hall of Fame for Pam Shriver. I think Lindsay and Meghann are playing that night, the 12th. It worked with my schedule, to go that night. I didn't even though they were playing that night, but that's what is happening.

Q. On Monday Jennifer Capriati said that she had no regrets about what happened in Fed Cup and that if anyone should have regrets it's the other side which, you know, would seem to be you and wondering if you have any response to that?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I have no regrets. My regrets is that I have had a long-term relationship with the family. I played doubles with Jennifer in her first pro tournament at the Polo Club there, and always had a great relationship. In fact when she was 12 years old the USTA, Lynn Rolley had become coach, Jennifer, Meredith McGrath, and Lisa Raymond for a weekend when Jennifer was 12. That is when I first met her. I really hit it off with the family with Denise and Steven, and Stephano, Forsa (phonetic). I call him Forsa. And I think that's my biggest regret because life is about relationships. And I certainly did offer to talk to her and she's decided not up to this time. But I think time hopefully will heal and that we'll be able to at least start talking again. That would be nice.

Q. I was sort of wondering that's a surprise to us because she sort of given us the impression that it's all on you guys, it's what you have not done as opposed to, you know, the overtures you have made that she's refused. I was just wondering if it's at all frustrating to have this be such a one-sided affair where you have kept -- you haven't said much about it and she seems to be getting her side of it out there?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I pretty much got my side out. I have talked to a few people about it, but I just want to make it very clear that I asked for closed practice and they would not stick with it. Also I think you need to know that twice she left the team on the Sunday before the week and on the Wednesday and she kept breaking rules all the time. And she was late and would change her mind and would not travel with the team when she should. I will always get a player extra practice. I think that has been one of the misconceptions - it's been pretty clear to me - that media has not quite understood that I did not want her not to go practice some more. That was not the issue at all. The issue was that the coaches could not practice with the players because it's a team event that week and I can't have four coaches and four players on the court. That would be like Phil Jackson having every one of their past coaches or friends come out and coach each one of them like Shaq or whoever or Bryant or Koby or those guys. The other players understood that clearly and were very good about it. It's not easy for players who are used to individual plays to shift into a team player, but that's what I asked for. They just couldn't seem to do that. So I was very ready to get Jennifer practice on Friday night. See, a lot of the media have asked me how could you not want her to practice more if she wanted it. I said, I did, if she wanted more practice I offered her who would you like to hit with? We had Jonathan Stark who is a past Davis Cup player, playing for actually the Philadelphia Freedoms this year, in that he was available. Players said they would hit if she needed any hitting. I also had two kids from the Gold Medal camp come over and help, a couple of lefties because Monica wanted to hit against lefties because she is a lefty. I had a couple of those kids but I had Monica as a lefty if someone needed to hit against her. So I thought about that. A lot of them thought, well, you didn't think about it. I said, I did think about it because Barbara Schwartz is lefthanded. So it was just a lot of confusion and misconception of what went on. But I am very patient with these things and I don't think people understood that I was very happy to get her more practice if she wanted it. So that wasn't an issue even though people said don't you want her to play more and practice more if she wanted to. I'd say, yeah, I was willing to give her any practice she needed. I hope I have cleared that up a little.

Q. You have thank you. Some people have a feeling that the Williams sisters are going to dominate the Grand Slams for years to come. Do you see that?

BILLIE JEAN KING: It is interesting because whenever a great player comes along everybody says. Just like I am 58 now so I have heard this a few thousand times, you know, when a new player, man or woman comes along, they are going to dominate and sometimes it comes to fruition and sometimes it doesn't. If you look at what is going on right now you could easily say that -- you could say well, Davenport hasn't been around lately, so I think that's hurt. I think they are definitely No. 1 and 2 right now, there's no question. But I think what happens when young people see them play like this, it raises their expectations as well. And each generation pushes that older generation out eventually. But right now you would think that, but they have many interests. I don't know how long they will play tennis. They love design, sometimes Serena talks about being an actress, they are going back to school, so there's a lot of things. Of course Venus goes to school every fall at the Fashion Institute, I think, of Ft. Lauderdale, I think it's called. She goes to school. So they are very interested in a lot of things. So I don't know how long they would first want to play and secondly, right now you would think so on current form that they should dominate. But as you know, you never know. Look what happened to yesterday at Wimbledon, I think there were seven men seeds went out and five women seeds went out yesterday. It was quite a day. It was a sad day for America, actually. Very sad. I had a stomachache last night. I was sick so many Americans went out.

Q. Going back in your history a little bit do you remember very much about playing in an indoor tournament in Oklahoma City?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Sure, 1971 at the Field House at Oklahoma City College, I sure do. 1917 was the first year the Virginia Slims Tour. We just started it that year, and Joyce Turley (phonetic) and I forget the other, a banker name, what was the bank that was one of our sponsors as well, so I remember it one of my fondest memories, and I had my cowboy dress. I know exactly what dress I was wearing, and it was a fantastic feeling to play there and the people were always so nice to us.

Q. That gym was always pretty dark and hot. Do you remember that?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Oh, yeah, but that's 1971, the players don't play in that now, that kind -- I hear they have a new one.

Q. Yes.


Q. That's right.

BILLIE JEAN KING: And so that's great. Say hi to everybody. It's a great city.

Q. I haven't seen the roster yet for the Israeli team. I wanted to know if you could let us know some of the potential players they may have. What do you expect over the weekend there?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I tell you the truth, I don't know what to expect except for one player and that's Anna Smashnova who is having her best year ever. She's ranked 17 in the world right now. She captured her third title of the year in Vienna. She's gone over the one hundred million mark for the first time so she's had an unbelievable year for her. And it's amazing that she could even concentrate with all the turmoil in her country. I think it's a real tribute to her and maybe she's trying to help lift the spirits of the people in Israel when she plays. Another player, Obziler, she's an older one. To be honest, I don't know her. She's played Fed Cup from '94 to 202. Lately she has been playing mostly doubles with the other Israeli and that's Hila Rosen. She's going to be 25 in September and she's played on Fed Cups '94 true 202 and she plays mostly doubles as well. That's probably going to be the doubles team. I would guess -- but you'd think they would keep Smashnova in every match they could, I would think. Then they have a really young person, a 16 year old coming over who, I am very anxious to see, that's Shahar Peer, she's played one career doubles, Fed Cup doubles match that was in 202 with Rosen, I think they lost. But she doesn't have a ranking yet but she won a huge junior tournament, 14 and under, in 2001. She is a very young inexperienced player but she's won three ITF junior tournaments. That's the big deal, international tournaments the kids play in the world and she's won three of those this year. So she sounds like their up-and-coming star to me, so we have got to be ready for anything and of course, when you play for your country people play differently. Some people play better. Some people play worse, just like any team event. You can't go all the time in how they play in tournaments when they play a team event, whether it be Fed Cup, Davis Cup, or World Team Tennis. So it's interesting, takes a certain type of person to play better when it is a team event or for your country.

BRUCE LEVY: Thank you, Billie Jean. Thank you everybody for participating. Transcript will be emailed to everybody later. Again, the Fed Cup is being played just to reiterate in Springfield, Missouri July 20th, 21st at the Cooper Tennis Complex. We hope you come and cover this event.


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