USTA MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 25, 2004
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you. This is Chris Widmaier, I'm senior director of public relations, professional tennis, for the USTA. I am privileged to be joined by Zina Garrison who will be speaking shortly about the announcement of the Fed Cup team selection for the first round tie versus Slovenia that will take place April 24 and 25 in the town of Portoroz, Slovenia. As many of you know the USTA named Zina Garrison Fed Cup captain in December. We can tell you there are few people more dedicated to the game of tennis than she is. Zina's coaching and leadership skills are what makes it possible for her to attract and field such a competitive team. When you hear details of the team selection, I'll sure you'll agree that few teams in history can match the marquee combination of international recognition and on-court success. To tell you more details about this team selection, I'm going to turn it over to Zina Garrison.
ZINA GARRISON: This is Zina Garrison. I'd like to welcome all you guys on the phone. I'd like to present my team that will be playing in Portoroz, Slovenia. It will be Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond for the tie April 24th through the 25th in Slovenia. Are there any questions?
Q. Could you run over the team once again?
ZINA GARRISON: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond.
Q. Can you tell me your thought process in going into this and making these team assignments? What were you thinking? What was the criteria? What were you looking for?
ZINA GARRISON: I actually literally went down the rankings and asked each and every player. You know, they all were very happy to possibly play for their country. They looked at their schedules to see if it was possible. Serena and Venus accepted for this tie. We've been a little unfortunate with a lot of injuries and people just coming back and working their schedule out. Then Martina and Lisa were excited to play, as well.
Q. What will be the likely pairings in terms of doubles?
ZINA GARRISON: As far as the doubles is concerned, I mean, all of us are just excited to be a part of the team. I mean, they're all excited to be a part of the team, are willing to do whatever it takes when we're over there to bring back the cup. I won't make that decision as of today.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your captaincy, since you were named captain of the team back in December, just speak about all the duties that go into it, the responsibilities, all of that?
ZINA GARRISON: Well, the funniest thing is that Billie Jean King used to always say to me, "You have no idea all the stuff that I do." Just being the coach, I knew a little bit. But really, it's trying to work with the players and getting them to play, dealing with the media, working with as far as figuring where we're going to play, when we're going to play, studying the players that we have to play, and keeping up with what's going on as far as the US players are concerned. You have to not just look at the top players, you have to look at all 12 players that we have in the United States.
Q. Can you tell me about the Slovenian team as you know it today, the kind of challenge they'll present to you?
ZINA GARRISON: Any time anyone is playing for their country, they have a possibility to play well because they're excited to play for their country. But as far as I know, it will be probably Srebotnik and Pisnik and I don't know the other two that they will possibly name. They're competitors, tough players, somebody that we can't just think they're going to roll over to us.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: The Slovenian captain, Mima Jausovec, has until April 14th to name the team members.
Q. Obviously, Chanda and Meghann were instrumental and key members of the team last year. How difficult was it for you not to have them involved this team? What is the likelihood of their being named to the team down the road? Can you give us a little bit of your conversations with them as you were making this decision?
ZINA GARRISON: Yeah. You know, Chanda right now is really dealing with just making sure these healthy to come back and actually play. She's dealing with an injury. She just basically told me that, "Zina, I'm very supportive of you. Right now, just wouldn't be a good time." She's just trying to figure out what's going on with her, her body. As far as Meghann, Meghann has been extremely supportive of Fed Cup, still wants to be a part of the team. She's starting to play better. She was, "Zina, I know you're going to do the right decisions and make the right decisions." She's just working hard, you know, to put herself in a position to play maybe the next tie.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: A last piece of housekeeping from me, we had an earlier press briefing here in Key Biscayne at the Nasdaq-100 where several of the reporters referred to this team as tennis' Dream Team. The team in total has 28 Grand Slam singles titles, 61 Grand Slam doubles titles, 456 WTA Tour titles, and a combined Fed Cup record of 54-6.
Q. I didn't hear the team. Venus, Serena, Jennifer, Monica, is that the guess?
ZINA GARRISON: No. I won't beep you off right now. It's Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond.
Q. Last year Venus played Massachusetts, went to Warsaw and got injured, it was kind of a cold on clay. Did she express any concerns about that, the possibility of going over to Europe too early?
ZINA GARRISON: No. They're really just supportive. They are very patriotic. They are true Americans. You know, they just wanted to support Fed Cup and support me and the rest of the staff, as well. You know, try to bring the cup back. Playing the first tie is something that, you know, worked out in their schedule.
Q. Looking further down the road, I'm sure you talked to them about this, they will be the heavy favorites going into this tie. Assuming a win, have you talked to them about July and the rest of the year, meaning, maybe why not split up the team?
ZINA GARRISON: It's interesting. I talked to all the players about that because I realize in order to bring the cup back, we have to work together. Some are going to be able to play, some are not going to be able to play. My main focus was just to field this tie, and after that tie is over, I'll worry about July, and then I'll go for November. I'm thinking overall as trying to, you, know have -- also be good for the players, as far as their health is concerned, but field the team and bring the cup back. There's got some strategy going into.
Q. Talk about Martina and Lisa who played well last year, but struggled this year on tour. Do you think that's a little bit of illness or injury? Are those two trying to find a way to click together?
ZINA GARRISON: I like to say that they're just, you know, the gel is waiting to gel completely. They're working hard on it. Both of them are true champions. I have a lot of faith that they will gel and get things working together. Sometimes teams just go through a little bit of that before they hit their stride.
Q. I was curious as to the nature of your conversations with Jennifer Capriati, whether expressed interest?
ZINA GARRISON: I've actually gotten messages through Jennifer's agent. I talked to Stefano when I was here. She's very aware of it. Her dad said she was excited that I was Fed Cup captain. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking to her.
Q. As for yourself, what sort of reaction have you gotten from your friends, people you run into in your daily life about you being Fed Cup captain?
ZINA GARRISON: That's an interesting one. Everyone's extremely excited and actually, believe it or not, I've gotten e-mails, started getting fan -- I get fan mail, but fan mail from people who are very excited, felt that I always had the leadership capabilities and are excited I am getting the opportunity. I'd like to say, the USTA, Alan Schwartz, Frank, Arlen actually believed that I could do this job, as well as my mentor Billie Jean.
Q. If you could wave a magic wand, come up with a formula that would make Fed Cup of interest to people.
ZINA GARRISON: That's the $110 million question. I've always thought they should just be one week like they used to have it, just kind of go with it there. They definitely have been struggling with trying to figure out a way. I think overall tennis should be a shorter -- we should have a shorter period where people are playing to give themselves time to heal. I'm a firm believer that we need to cut the schedule down.
Q. You discussed this over the years. How important is it for the competition overall that all the top players in the world commit to it, meaning not just Venus and Serena, but players like Justine and Kim, so fans can actually see in the semifinals or the finals, the best players are actually competing and maybe getting a little more excited about it?
ZINA GARRISON: Yeah, you know, I think that -- I understand their point about feeling like they play too much, but they also have to realize they do have a responsibility to the sport, to the fans. You're not just actually taking away from the game; you're giving something back. But I also think that we as the fans and the tournament directors and all that, we should come together and work together, as well, at shortening the schedule for these guys. I think if you have a schedule, just like baseball or football, a timed season you know you have to play, you're more apt to get yourself in shape, keep yourself in shape, and have you those time periods where those tournaments are there and then you have the break.
Q. You have seen Venus and Serena play over the years. Serena has been out for almost nine months now. Venus came back to the tour. Do you think, given how well Justine is playing, the Williamses have some catching up to do now?
ZINA GARRISON: You know, you can never say what's going to happen. I think overall the game keeps going, people keep getting stronger, the confidence gets stronger. Venus and Serena are going to have to play -- you know, stay healthy, play some tournaments, and when that challenge comes, it comes. I think it's kind of hard to say until they actually get there and have that challenge because you don't know exactly what's going to happen. I do know they're getting more confidence because they're winning.
Q. How much have you seen Henin improve since Wimbledon last summer?
ZINA GARRISON: Oh, I mean, she's definitely about an 80% stronger player mentally and physically. She's always right on the cusp. Winning those Grand Slams, her confidence has gone up. She believes that no one should beat her now.
Q. I wanted to get your opinion, in the last few years, Houston has really kind of gotten itself on the tennis map with the Masters Cup, clay courts. All that has been on the men's side. How much would you love to see a women's tournament here in Houston to try and get in on this kind of rebirth here of tennis in the southwest?
ZINA GARRISON: I'd always love to. It's always been a dream of mine to bring one back there. I don't have the money like Mack. I can't up and say I want a tournament there (laughter). But that's where we started. That was our first professional tournament, Rosie Casal won for $1. Billie Jean and the seven that were there. To not have a tournament there, I mean, it's kind of like deterring away from our history. Definitely know where you came from, where we're trying to go.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I appreciate everybody taking the time to speak with Zina Garrison today and learn about the team selection for the start of the 2004 Fed Cup. If you have any other questions later on before you file, please feel free to call Chris Whitmire. I'm here in Key Biscayne. My cell phone number would be the most appropriate.
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