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US OLYMPIC TENNIS PRESS CONFERENCE
May 17, 2004
RANDY WALKER: The tennis venue in Athens is the closest venue to the main press center, so we are looking forward to seeing all of you there since it's such an easy walk over to the tennis center. The tennis competition begins August 15, it concludes on Sunday August 22, eight days before the start of the U.S. Open Championships here in New York. Teams will comprise of no more than six men and no more than six women on the U.S. team, with no more than four players in the singles competition, and two teams in the doubles competition. Teams will be selected by U.S. Women's Coach, Zina Garrison and U.S. Men's Coach Patrick McEnroe by June 28. I'd like to also remind everyone that tennis was one of the original Olympic sports at the 1896 games in Athens, the first modern Olympiad. Tennis was taken off the Olympic program after the 1924 games and did not return as a full medal sport until the 1988 games in Seoul. At the Seoul games, one day after Steffi Graf of Germany completed her golden Grand Slam in women's singles, a 24-year-old Houstonian named Zina Garrison paired with Pam Shriver to defeat Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova to win Olympic gold and women's doubles. Zina and Pam's gold medal performance seems to have inspired American women's tennis players at the Olympic games as the United States has won all gold medal opportunities in the Olympics since Zina and Pam's Olympic triumph in 1988. With that, it's my pleasure to introduce on the phone, Zina Garrison, our Olympic Women's Coach. Zina, tell us about the 1988 games and the thrill of competing and the thrill of winning that gold medal in the '88 Olympics, it was like no other event that I've been able to play in. It was something about playing for my country, also being able to watch on television that night and knowing that I was one of the gold medalists. And the fact that Pam and I had the opportunity to come from two different backgrounds, to still stands on the podium together was just truly amazing, and it was truly great for ourselves, as well as for the United States.
Q. How difficult is it going to be to make that decision this summer with so many injuries among the women?
ZINA GARRISON: I don't think it's going to be overly hard to actually make the decision. I have thought processes in place as far as using the rankings, Grand Slams and actually everybody being healthy going in, and I also have a committee that's going to help me make some decisions, as well. But I think the fact that I've had to deal with injuries just overall, it's just kind of been part of the way that I was brought into this, and it's part of the way that I kind of look at my process of choosing.
Q. Which players are most likely at this stage and which players, if there are any, have said they do not want to play in the Olympic games?
ZINA GARRISON: I've been very fortunate that I have some players that I am definitely looking at, starting with Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Venus and Serena Williams, Chandra Rubin, and Martina Navratilova and Meghann Shaughnessy. And basically each player that I've talked about, every player I've talked about is looking to go over and play, and they are looking forward to playing in the Olympics.
Q. What do you need to see from Martina for her to be a part of one of the doubles teams?
ZINA GARRISON: I think basically just to have a good summer. They have kind had a slow start, but they are starting to pretty much gel together. I think it's pretty exciting, even though -- to know that Martina and Lisa are very much in the running to make it for the doubles and Martina, being 47 years old.
Q. If Martina and Lisa partnered in doubles and the Williams sisters are not able to play doubles, who would you possibly pair Lindsay Davenport up with?
ZINA GARRISON: Actually, right now I'm really just focusing on all of those players that I mentioned before. I'm not really -- haven't quite figured out who I would pair up who with if that actually happens, and I'm just kind of going up into the date until I have to make the decision.
Q. On the issue of injuries, I would ask your view of the current schedule for women, if you have any views about whether it's a bit too much, and to what extent, if any, that makes your job harder on finding a group of women healthy to compete for the Olympics?
ZINA GARRISON: I have a huge view on that, and I have spoken on it before. I am truly an advocate of finding a way to for the shorten the schedule. I think in any sport they actually have maybe not golf, but golf and tennis are very, very similar, but other sports, they have a schedule where they play. And I think that it also will help the players be able to work physically and mentally be prepared if they knew that they had a schedule I think it's a big factor, if they have a year-long schedule sometimes they can float around and not actually get in the shape they need to get in in order to make themselves ready. I mean, because of the injuries we are starting to see, there's obviously a problem with playing too much. I mean, a lot of tweaking maybe with the equipment that needs to be tweaked, a lot of these girls are getting wrist injuries left and right. So I am a very big advocate of trying to find a way to shorten the schedule for them.
Q. How does competing in an Olympic competition differ from the Slams?
ZINA GARRISON: I think the biggest thing is, and the fact that I have been on both sides, it's amazing because you get so used to just being singled out when you go to a tournament and all of the focus is just on you to being an individual sport. And when you go into the Olympics, you're lumped in with a lot of great athletes and you just become a part of the event and not the actual event. A lot of players, top-calibre players are used going in there being the top seed and all of the focus being focused in on them. It doesn't necessarily happen like that. It's kind of interesting because some people can handle it and some people can't. You don't really kind of know if you can handle it until you actually get there.
Q. I'm very intrigued with Martina's plan to play singles in the French Open, and given that you know her game and her current fitness level, I was just hoping you could comment on kind of what you envision, what's the challenge that she's going to face there in the singles side?
ZINA GARRISON: Well, I think that first and foremost, I actually talked to Martina about that. Martina actually understands that in order for her to play her top doubles, she needed to play some singles matches to get herself physically ready and be able to be physically and mentally prepared. So I think that's why, I know that's why she's actually playing. You know, I think that anybody that Martina plays, she's always going to be a great competitor. She's going to go out there, but physically, there's still not too many people out there that are in better shape than she is. I was totally amazed with her in Slovania, just the way that Martina goes about everything at 100 miles an hour, and she's going about being in the top shape for doubles. And she still eats extremely well and she still works out really hard. And actually I was teasing her about helping other people know all of the great stuff that she knows about it, about physical -- getting in the best shape you can possibly get in. Her body looks like a 25-year-old, easily.
Q. Do you see yourself waiting till the June 28 deadline or before that?
ZINA GARRISON: I see myself waiting right up until that time, I actually do. Because I have been unfortunately strained with a lot of young women having injuries, I think that I'm going to have to wait up until then to make sure that everybody is healthy.
Q. You see young prodigies in other sports, how much do you attribute the increasing number of these prodigies to like the IMG camps in Florida and similar places?
ZINA GARRISON: Yeah, people want to see prodigies. My thing is that people that come out early, look how many don't make it. And sometimes it adds so much pressure on to that young kid that just wants to play the sport and grow to love it. Fortunately, I think that tennis was kind of one of those first things that started the whole prodigy thing in the first place. You know, it grew a lot of attention, especially on the women's side. They mature a lot quicker, a lot earlier, play better tennis sometimes at an earlier age. I still think we have to look at the longevity of the players mentally and physically. I think sometimes that's still a strain, but are we going to get Freddie playing by, what, by the time he's 40 years old, probably not.
Q. Clijsters said she was not going to go because of fears of security, and partly because it was so close to the US Open. What are the players saying to you about the reasons they want to be and how strong is their commitment?
ZINA GARRISON: I've been really fortunate, because each and every one of them have just been excited to be able to go and excited to be able to have the opportunity. I have been lucky in a lot of respects, because a lot of them have gone before and know what it means and know what it feels like and want to go back and contribute, as well. I think just basically, for the fear, I mean, naturally, everybody thinks about their security. But, I mean, we are really fortunate enough have the USTA, the USOC, and also the Greek organizations doing everything possible to make sure that we are okay while we are over there.
Q. Since Meghann has played Fed Cup a couple of years, if you do select her, do you have some confidence she can perform at this level for you?
ZINA GARRISON: I think the biggest thing with Meghann is I have confidence in Meghann, just period. I'm one of Meghann's biggest fans and just waiting for her to break out, because Meghann has a lot of heart. I'm kind of the non-traditional coach in that respect. Sometimes it isn't just about your athletic ability or your ability, but your heart, being able to stick it out, and Meghann has a lot of heart. She's growing up right now.
Q. Do you think Jennifer Capriati has overcome the difficulties she's placed coming back from her back injury this year, and how much do you attribute that to the change in her coach?
ZINA GARRISON: Well, I think the biggest thing with Jennifer, like I mentioned again, about heart. She's like the epitome of being able to tough it out even when people think that she's out, and I think that's what made Jennifer -- Jennifer is -- every time you think she's down, she comes back. She's always finding a way to do something when people think that she's out of it. The new coach, I didn't see her match the other day, but I heard she's thinner. She's fit again and she's looking well. It's just that's the thing about Jennifer. Jennifer is a tough cookie, is what I always call her. You can't count her out.
Q. Do you think because of the timing of the US Open and the Olympics, do you think it's more of a boost for the players heading into the US Open, or it might be sort of an emotional and mental drain coming out of the event and going to New York?
ZINA GARRISON: I think it can definitely be a boost. One thing about it, coming out of the Olympics, having all of that spirit of playing for your country and then coming back to your country's Grand Slam tournament where all eyes are on you, I think each and every one of these players actually should rise to the occasion, because it's one of those things that doesn't happen too often. And when it does, just to have that much support behind you should be amazing. Even when you're feeling tired and feeling out of it, you can have a whole country that can pull you through.
Q. If we can go back to the issue of the schedule and the injuries that seem to keep popping up as the result of there not being one, could you just kind of put some meat on the bones of what a better solution would look like and whose responsibility is it to make that happen?
ZINA GARRISON: I would love to put some meat on the bones. I think there's a lot of people trying to figure it out from the WTA to even ATP and to the United States Tennis Federation, ITP, other federations. There's a lot, because you don't want to take away tournaments from people, but you've got to try to figure a way to make the schedule slimmer. I was talking to a trainer recently, just you have to give the -- the players have to have time to rest their body in order to get their body ready to go into, basically, a fight. And a lot of times they are going from tournament to tournament, and the ones that are getting to the finals, it just makes it very tough. So I don't have the answer, I guess I'm saying, but we have to find a way to make the schedule shorter.
Q. With the French Open coming up next week, who do you think stands the best chance to take the title there?
ZINA GARRISON: Whoever is healthy. I mean, I'm saying that jokingly, but, you know, it's one of those things, I think it will be the first -- one of those many Grand Slams, not the first Grand Slam, where the French is always very tough on your body mentally and physically. There's just been so many injuries in women's tennis, whoever is literally healthy and in the best shape will win the tournament. That's kind of where I am.
RANDY WALKER: Now we'll turn it over to the men's. We had Andy Roddick with us. Andy, where does the Olympic games fit into your career plans as far as competing and possibly winning a medal?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, it's something that I've dreamed about forever and a day. I'm super-excited. It's definitely right up there with the Slams for me this year.
Q. A lot of people in other sports are backing out, concerned about the season and wear and tear, and obviously your situation is very unique, but can you just talk about having the US Open so close, and obviously it's very important for you to compete in Athens?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, it's a packed, it's no doubt. It's every four years; it's the Olympic games. Someone is going to have to drag me off the court not to play there.
RANDY WALKER: Also just called in is Mardy Fish, a member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team from Slovakia from the playoff round last September. Mardy, tell us about the thrill of representing the United States and international team competition, and then what it would be like to represent the United States in Athens.
MARDY FISH: Well, it should be great. One of the things I'm looking forward to is the opening ceremonies, walking out there with all of the guys from the United States and with my teammates, as well. It should be exciting. It should be closer to the Davis Cup than what we're normally used to on Tour.
Q. What kind of plans do you have to get to New York right way? Have you already looked into travel situations? And if you could talk about your experience with the fire in the hotel and what you learned from it, and if you'd do that again?
ANDY RODDICK: I have not made travel plans yet. I'm not sure what I'm doing tomorrow, much less two months down the road. As far as the fire goes, the story's been told. I'm trying to -- I'm not drying to dwell on it too much. Hopefully I can avoid those situations.
Q. How would it rank in your career, would it be sweeter than a Grand Slam?
ANDY RODDICK: You know, like I said it's definitely right up there with a Grand Slam in my eyes. Obviously my ultimate goal in tennis was the US Open, but I want that gold medal, and I would definitely cherish it as much just as a Grand Slam title.
Q. It's expected to be very hot in Athens, what's the hottest tournament you guys have both played in and how do you prepare for those conditions?
MARDY FISH: I'd probably say Cincinnati is the hottest. It's really hot in Cincinnati and in Washington, D.C. both of us growing up from Florida and me moving to Tampa now, and Andy in Boca and Austin, we're really used to the heat, especially in the summertime in Tampa. It's extremely hot, hot and humid so we definitely get used to me practicing here at Saddlebrook, and him practicing wherever he practices. (Laughter).
ANDY RODDICK: I definitely have to echo Mardy on that one. We are probably more used to it than probably 90 percent of the other players on Tour. Obviously, being in Florida and Texas, and all that good stuff, you know, I don't really mind the heat too much. I'd like to think that it affects my opponents more than it affects me.
Q. How is your hip and give us an update on that.
MARDY FISH: It's getting better. I am instructed to stay off of it for two weeks, and it will be two weeks tomorrow. So I'm going to start in tomorrow and see how it feels. They just diagnose it as tendinitis, hip tendinitis, and with a lot of rest and a lot of rehab, it should be fun.
Q. I know don't really want to talk much about it, but it seems like what you did with the fire was pretty courageous. Are you embarrassed by the attention it received?
ANDY RODDICK: A little bit, because you don't do stuff like that to garner attention. Out of respect for the people who did not survive, I've chosen kind to talk about it once and then try to pay my respects.
Q. I just want to follow up with that briefly. How do you feel, though, personally, has it changed you at all, that experience, did it help you re-evaluate priorities, or are you just the same Andy?
ANDY RODDICK: Trying to be the same Andy. It's easier said than done, obviously. In the aftermath of it, kind of next couple of days, the more I thought about it, it shook me a little bit. But I had some good time at home to kind of regroup and coming over here, and my focus is definitely on tennis.
Q. Mardy, as it gets closer to the deadlines, the cutoff on the rankings, with your injury, are you concerned at all about possibly not being able to play, and also your ranking not being a good consideration that one of these other guys might make a jump in the meantime?
MARDY FISH: I don't really know when the cutoff is for the four singles spots. I'd say I'm sitting pretty good right now, though. I don't have any points to defend since I haven't won any matches on the clay in about six years. I don't have anything coming up and I'm looking forward to the grass, and if the Olympics cutoff is after the grass, then, you know, that only helps me a little bit more, I guess, being my favorite surface is on grass.
Q. The cutoff is June 14th, by the way.
RANDY WALKER: The cutoff, the rankings from June 14 will be used for determining direct entry into the Olympic games. Those rankings will be used as a consideration for Coach Garrison and Coach McEnroe to name the teams. They are, however, not bound to go directly by the rankings, but those rankings will be a large consideration on the teams. Patrick McEnroe is going to be calling in short Patrick is here, so we'll introduce Patrick McEnroe who is a resident of New York, in addition to being the Olympic Men's Coach, he is the Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team and is right now in the country of the 2006 winter Olympic games, Italy. If you could give us a little bit of your thoughts on the 2004 Olympics and a little bit about where the American men stand.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, obviously, I think I've been excited about the Olympics, mostly because of how excited the players are. The guys seem very much to be looking forward to the Olympic Games, Andy Roddick in singles and the Bryan brothers in doubles, certainly we go in with an excellent chance to win the gold. And certainly with our other players like Mardy Fish and the other two slots are up for grabs a little bit at the moment, but between James Blake, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent and Vince Spadea, we have guys that love to play in hard courts and it's in the middle of a big summer, and the guys are very much looking forward to it. It's going to be hot over there and fitness will be a key factor for the team and hopefully we can be ready.
ANDY RODDICK: -- inaudible -- as far as match play goes, but by the same token, I've played a bunch of tennis so far. You know, that's a big reason why I'm over here early. I'm already in Paris and training every day on the courts at Roland Garros. So there's no real excuse if I don't perform up to what I feel is necessary.
Q. For Patrick, first of all, do you have a preference, would you rather have Olympic or Davis Cup staffs, and do you have a concern about the time you get to the Davis Cup in September, you might have a burned out Andy Roddick or Bryan brothers, are you concerned about that at all?
PATRICK McENROE: The first part of your question is I'd rather have both. Obviously, we're doing pretty well this year so far in the Davis Cup, and we have bigger goals as far as trying to advance a couple more rounds. That's a big goal. It's separate. If you asked Andy, I'm sure if would you prefer to win Wimbledon or the US Open, you'd like to do both. We'd like to have success in both and I think we can. I'm not worried about the guys being burned out. I think they have taken care of their bodies well. Obviously Andy had some time off now, which will probably help for the rest of the year, looking ahead because it's going to be certainly a very busy couple of months. As I said, what's really inspired me about being in the Olympics is how inspired the guys are. They have been talking about it all year, and I think it's something that they have really been looking forward to for a while. So for me, that's enough excitement to get me going and to try to help them in whatever way I can to have them do their best, and I think we'll do that over there. I think Andy certainly played a lot in that last summer, and it didn't hurt him going into the US Open at all. You know, with his type of game and his style, he can win quite a few matches pretty comfortably. I think we'll be in good shape and I think the Bryan brothers thrive on playing a lot of matches and constantly being out there. You know, there certainly will be no lacking in motivation to do well at the Olympics.
Q. Back in 1988 some people questioned the status of tennis in the Olympics because it was not the biggest sport in the other tournaments, US Open, etc., Now that we've played four Olympic tournaments, how would you suggest tennis has countered that initial opinion?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's changed. I agree that was initially the assessment of a lot of us, certainly myself, I didn't grow up with tennis as part of the Olympics. I have my reservations at that point, but I think now, it's such a worldwide sport, and obviously with the Olympics being really professional, essentially these days you want to have the best of the best, and that's what you have in tennis now. I, for one would like to see the Olympics move to a little more of a team concept. And I know that's something that's being discussed for four years down the road, more of like a team against team, and maybe you have individual medals going along with that, as well. I think that would be better for the Olympics, but that's just my opinion. Sure, I think the players now that are playing the Olympics have grown up with tennis back in the Olympics. So to them, it might be bigger than the Slams. You ask a lot of the players, I think they might say they would want to win the Olympics this year more than any other tournament. So, you know, that's great that that's happened, and I think tennis deserves to be in the Olympics as the premiere sporting event in the world. Tennis is such an international sport, I think it is just helping the game overall that it's part of the Olympic games.
ANDY RODDICK: For me it's just a matter of being consistent on clay. When I'm not playing my best tennis, it shows a little bit more on the dirty stuff. But, you know, some things need to go my way. Obviously, if it's dry and the court plays a little bit faster, if it's sunny out the whole two weeks, that's preferable. But at the same time, you know, I choose to believe that I do have a chance.
Q. Coming on the 15-year anniversary of Michael Chang's landmark victory at the French Open, I was wondering Patrick or anyone else, can you reflect back on Michael's impact on the game, a guy who was not the biggest?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, Michael was a guy who got every single ounce out of his ability that anyone possibly could. He was the ultimate competitor. And that French is still one of the most remarkable wins I've ever seen in Grand Slam tennis of what he was able to do. He was No. 2 in the world, he was in multiple other Grand Slams Finals and a match away from becoming No. 1, and I think he lost to Rafter in the semis. He had a remarkable career and just the ultimate competitor. I don't think there's any better way to describe Chang than he literally squeezed every ounce possible out of what he had and put it on to the tennis court.
Q. Andy and Mardy, if you are selected to the Davis Cup team, would you like to be on the other doubles team?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I've already made it known to Patrick that I would love to be on -- I would love to play doubles in the Olympics.
MARDY FISH: I think, yeah, that would be great, obviously to, play with Andy. He's a really good friend of mine, growing up with him and thinking about playing the Olympic, playing doubles. I've played some doubles with him, so hopefully I'll be able to play with Andy.
Q. There's been a lot of talk this week from a lot of athletes about the whole against-the-Americans thing, this and that; and you of course being in such a fine player, already a lot of places root against you because you're so good. Is it going to feel like a Davis Cup situation on the road where your opponent, the crowd gets behind them a lot?
ANDY RODDICK: I'm going to cheer for the Americans; that could just be me. I'm not too concerned. I've had enough experience. I played Davis Cup in France. Obviously, playing players like Federer in Switzerland and Rusedski in England and stuff like that, I've kind of already been in most situations, so I'm not too concerned. I'll be so happy to be playing there. I won't let it affect me too much.
Q. Regarding Mardy, two questions. First, you and Mardy, can you talk about your friendship and how that helped you guys? And secondly, can you provide any kind of funny stories about Mardy about maybe times you guys have had together?
ANDY RODDICK: I have plenty of stories about Mardy, but I don't know if they would be suited to this phone call. (Laughter). I mean, it's obviously nice to have a familiar face on Tour and someone that I've known before we got into the whole professional tennis era, and it's kind of fun to have someone to measure ourselves against. We talked about all of these things when we were 15 and 16 years old, and it's fun to share with him as we're going through these experiences.
Q. If you don't mind, could you sort of speak as a tennis analyst on the handicap of the men's field at the French, if you don't mind?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, briefly, I think Coria is one of the favorites, from Argentina, he has had a tremendous season, I think you'd have to throw Federer in there now obviously. To me, he was one of the contenders and now maybe he's one of the favorites; he just won at Hamburg. Ferrero, the defending champ, has got to be in there. Despite the fact that like Andy says, he has not played a lot in the last few weeks, but certainly clay is his favorite surface and he dominated at the French. It's a tremendous tournament. So to me, I think those three guys would be the favorites. I think Andy is certainly in contention. I wouldn't -- no offense to him, but I wouldn't put him as one of the favorites like I would any of the other Grand Slams. This is definitely a tougher surface for him, but in saying that, he's won multiple tournaments on clay in his career. I think it's just a matter of time before he puts it together and plays well in Paris. And as he said, his goal it to get through the first round. I think he's going to have a great French Open, and certainly, if he gets to the second week, he knows how to win in the Grand Slam. But you certainly, you know, the Ferrero and Federer guys, it's hard to say that they don't come in as favorites. But it's pretty tough to say that one guy is clearly the guy. There's just too much depth at the top of the game and there's great young players that are winning the big tournaments. To me, that's what makes it such an exciting time in men's tennis with Federer and Andy with Ferrero, Coria, these guys are all under 22 and playing their best tennis in the world and winning at the big tournaments. It should be just a hell of a year with the French, Wimbledon, Olympics, the Open, Davis Cup, for men's tennis.
Q. If you have one of the top guys, you're starting to look at three, four, five and six, Spadea is in there, James Blake, Taylor Dent, would doubles have any -- would the second doubles team other than the Bryan brothers, potentially being the first would that have any influence --
PATRICK McENROE: I envision that happening. As I said before, and I'll say it again, my intention is to go directly by the rankings for the four single spots for the Olympic team. I think that's the fairest way to do it, unless there's a serious injury or there's some extenuating circumstances that are related to what's happening. That's my intention. I feel like the Olympics is too important. It's every four years. It's not a Davis Cup type situation where obviously I haven't always gone by the rankings based on matchups and based on court surface and based on who is hot, etc. I feel like the Olympics, it makes the most sense. It is the fairest; I'm going to go straight by the rankings. Bryan brothers are going to be a team, and then we'll get a doubles team out of the four singles players. I'm pretty confident that amongst those four singles players, whoever they may be, we'll be on the field with an excellent doubles team.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, he's played an a Davis Cup team before in Spain, not when I was a captain. I was playing a match in Davis Cup. That's a real possibility, yeah.
Q. Will you be looking closely at how they play during the French Open to assess, you mentioned you wanted a slower surface for the semifinals, will you be looking at that closely?
PATRICK McENROE: The first we are going to play on will be a slow hard court. That's been decided by us, by the team members, and that's what we are going to go with. It will be an outdoors, slow hard court.
RANDY WALKER: And we will be announcing that venue probably in the next 24 to 48 hours. Thank you for joining us today, and we wish Andy luck at the French Open and we'll wish Mardy a speedy recovery good luck on the grass season. You can hear Patrick provide his excellent commentary for the French on ESPN.
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