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USTA MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 23, 2006
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this conference call featuring U.S. Davis Cup Captain, Patrick McEnroe, to announce the site for the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal match with the U.S. facing Chile.
One of the best-kept secrets in sports, the tie will be played at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California on grass, April 7th through 9th. This will be the first time the U.S. has played a Davis Cup home tie on grass since Houston 2002 when we beat Spain.
My understanding is that Captain McEnroe has until March 28th to name the American squad. So without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to Captain McEnroe. Patrick?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Chris, thank you. Thanks, everyone, for being on the call.
We're certainly looking forward to heading back to southern California. Obviously, playing on grass was the primary concern of myself and the majority of the team. We had some other very good options out there, but we felt that in this particular match against Chile, obviously they've got a couple of great players, but we felt that the grass gives us the best possible chance to win the match.
So my decision was based on, obviously, talking to our players and sort of taking a roll call of what they wanted and doing what I thought was in the best interest of the entire team.
So I will open it up to any questions from anybody. Thanks.
Q. This will be only the fourth time in Davis Cup that matches are at home on grass. Are you happy with having it on grass?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: We're happy, that's why we picked it. It's my decision, generally, where we're going to play the match, or at least on what surface. I think it's worthwhile pointing out that the USTA has been great as far as answering to the wishes of myself, which the wishes of myself basically come from the team. They've been very good over the years in understanding that it's not always about the bottom line. There were probably some other places we could have gone where we could have sold more tickets and, quite frankly, probably could have made more money, but the USTA listened to me and to the players specifically. I'm a conduit between the players and the USTA and want to do what's in the best interest of the team and what we think gives us the best chance to win the match.
We certainly thought we do have an advantage on other surfaces, but I think on a grass court, gives us the best possible advantage. By no means does that guarantee a win, but I think it gives us the best chance to beat Chile.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Just for clarification, that was the fourth time since 1959.
Q. I'm just wondering, too, a follow-up, how does the grass help your cause? You have a lot of players with hard court success.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I mean, obviously, Andy Roddick has a great record on grass. The last couple years he's been in the Wimbledon final, he's won the Queen's Club event, I believe, three years in a row, which is a big warm-up tournament for Wimbledon. He's extremely confident on that surface. He's our No. 1 player, so I certainly listen to him.
I certainly listen to the Bryan brothers, who made the Wimbledon final last year, have also won a couple of titles on grass, our doubles, which is extremely important in how well we do.
The rest of the guys, I think you're probably right in that probably a Robby Ginepri, a James Blake, an Andre Agassi would probably prefer hard court, but they're also very competent grass court players. I think, quite frankly, it makes things a little trickier for the Chilean team. I think they, obviously, are great players on a clay court. Even hard court surfaces, they've both had excellent results. We know Gonzalez played quite well at Wimbledon last year, so he can play on grass. But, as I said, we think that it's not always about just what's best for our team, sometimes it's also about what makes it most difficult for the opposing team.
Q. I know you came out and saw the grass back in 2002 when you were making a decision on where to play. Did you get a chance to see it again this year, and can you give us your evaluation of the grass at Mission Hills?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: I did not get a chance to see it this year with, you know, the turnaround so quick between this last match we played out in La Jolla and making a decision on this one. But having been there in 2002 and hit on the grass, I thought it was in excellent condition. I mean, it was extremely good. I'm sure that we and they will do everything we can to make the grass as good as possible.
I've hit on a lot of grass on the east coast over the years, and I felt like the grass out there in Mission Hills was excellent. Will it be as good as Wimbledon? I mean, that's hard to do, but I think it will be very playable, and I think it will work out well. It's a beautiful setting. It's a great site.
I know we've got a big event coming up that I'll be at in a couple weeks in the desert, and tennis has always been very well supported out there. We're certainly hoping that the Davis Cup will bring a lot more people back into the area and get a home-court advantage like the one we had in La Jolla.
Q. As a follow-up, your brother played there the one other Davis Cup at Mission Hills. Do you remember anything from that match?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Who was that against?
Q. It was against Great Britain.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, I think I was there for that. I think, you know, I kind of remember it. I think he played John Lloyd and Buster Mottram.
So, as I said, it's a beautiful place to go. There's a lot of tradition out there in that part of the country and that club particularly. There used to be quite a few USTA camps that were held out there. I even participated, I think, in a couple on my way to Australia a couple of times.
The guys are excited about it. The conditions, we hope, will favor us. Hopefully, it will make for a great event. I mean, obviously in Davis Cup the primary goal is to win and, as I said before, the USTA has been supportive in that goal. But it's also a big goal of ours to put on a great event, put on a great show for the fans, and I think we'll be able to do that out there.
Q. You said that in Rancho Mirage tennis has always been very well supported out there, but you also said earlier you could have gone and sold more tickets and, quite frankly, probably could have made more money someplace else. What's the limiting factor in Rancho Mirage?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: I think it's just the amount of seats we could get in. I think we could have gone to a few places where we could have probably had 10,000 people. That's really all I was referring to.
Out there, when you're building a stadium from scratch, a temporary stadium as we did in La Jolla, generally you're between five and six thousand. We like to make sure the place is filled. Look, if we can sell a few more seats and it looks like the ticket demand is high, we might be able to push that up to, you know, six and a half, seven thousand. But when you're building an outdoor stadium as opposed to going to an indoor facility where, you know, you've obviously got the facility built, you've got to take that into account when you put it up.
That's really all I was referring to as far as that goes.
Q. Follow-up question. Over time, I'm sure you probably read about it, southern California was a huge tennis mecca. It's not as popular as it was in its heyday. What do you guys do to keep Davis Cup and tennis in general relevant to as many people as possible?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, we try to move it around. Obviously, southern California has been lucky the last couple years in that we've gone there a number of times now. We obviously like to move to different parts of the country. We've been to Oklahoma City, we've been to Delray Beach, we've been to Winston-Salem since I've been captain. We've been to Houston. So that's one thing. There are some things we can't control, which is what you're referring to, which is the relevance of Davis Cup in the overall sports landscape.
Really, our job is to go out and perform well. Obviously, winning helps. We've got young guys that are passionate about playing for their country that place a high priority on Davis Cup. The USTA has really upped the ante in the last couple years in putting on a great event around the Davis Cup with music, with a lot of festivities that go around.
So to be honest, I feel like we do what we can. We're limited in some way by the format of Davis Cup which, you know, now is not the appropriate time to go into that, but that's something that's out of our control. I feel like what we have within our control, which is getting players that are enthusiastic, that are great players, that have a desire to play for their country and put on a great event in venues that, you know, will welcome the Davis Cup, I think we do a pretty darn good job at that.
Q. What's the biggest selling point you think tennis has for the sporting public, and what would you change if you could change one thing?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think, I mean, obviously the Grand Slams overall are the markers in the game. I certainly would like to see Davis Cup have more prominence in the schedule. I think that's the one thing in particular that's undervalued overall in tennis.
But in saying that, it's a lot easier said than done to come up with exactly the proposal, the structure that would make it better. It's still a great event. People who come realize that. It's when you play for your country, for your teammates, for your captain, for your friends. So it's a different environment. It's a unique environment.
I think people that were in La Jolla a few weeks ago realized that, and that's why there's a buzz about Davis Cup. And, look, if we do well, if we get to the semis, finals, and have a chance to win it, maybe nationally people will take notice a bit more. But that's something that is a little bit out of our control.
Q. Patrick, do your guys get so fired up for the Davis Cup that they have a let-down afterwards? I ask this question because I notice that Roddick and James haven't exactly been burning up the circuit since they left La Jolla.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, well, that's true. Particularly James has lost two straight first rounds. Andy at least made the semifinals in San Jose and has won his first two matches in Memphis, so he's still very much alive there.
I think there's always a bit of a let-down after the week of Davis Cup. There's not so much the physical aspect of it, but certainly for James, I mean, he had a couple of, relatively speaking, routine matches physically, but I think mentally it's very hard to come down off of that high, you know. You come out and you play in a regular tour event and the atmosphere is completely different.
You know, the Davis Cup week, I mean, I can guarantee you, Jerry, that as soon as the guys knew they were playing in that first-round match, they're thinking about it from the moment they get off the plane in Australia when they come home. I mean, that's the way you sort of gear up for a Davis Cup match. The few times I was lucky enough to play, and I obviously only played doubles, even doing that, it's a bit of a mental let-down.
I still expect that James is going to have a very good spring. I love the way he played in Davis Cup. I've been as surprised as anyone to see him lose two first rounds in a row. At the same time, you know, Andy lost in the semis and he's still winning some matches this week. Even when Andy is struggling a little bit, he still manages to win matches. I think it's just a matter of time for him to win a couple of tough matches and get his confidence back again and win one of these tournaments. The big tournaments are coming up in a few weeks in Indian Wells and Miami. Those will obviously be big markers for all of these guys.
Q. Patrick, could you talk about Winston-Salem's bid and your thoughts on maybe coming back to Winston in the future some time?
PATRICK McENROE: I can say that Winston-Salem had an outstanding bid. Part of me feels bad for them because they did put in a great bid, you know, was obviously seriously in the running for this match. Certainly, the grass was a key aspect in what we wanted to do.
But I certainly can tell you that come the time when we're looking to play in an indoor situation, that Winston-Salem is going to be the top of the list. I actually spoke to the boys on the team about it. They were all very excited about going back there, because we remember how well we did back there in 2001 when Roddick and Blake were real young-uns, just coming in, just really starting their Davis Cup careers. They're still young, but they're more veterans in the Davis Cup department.
So we're looking forward to the right matchup and the right situation to come back to Winston-Salem, and we hope that you guys there keep your interest in the Davis Cup because we certainly still have a lot of interest in coming to Winston-Salem again.
Q. Other than Winston-Salem, what other venues did you consider?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: I know Delray Beach was in the mix. There was a smaller facility in Arizona that had a grass court there. I'm not going to say the name because I'm not sure it's correct. It was in the running, but it was kind of -- it was a little small. I think it was just not quite the size we needed to put on an event like this.
Delray Beach, we had a great match there a couple years ago against Sweden. Winston-Salem, as I said, put in a very strong bid as well. I think those are sort of the main four. If I'm leaving something out, someone at the USTA could correct me, but those are the main four that come to my mind as far as serious bids.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: That's correct, Patrick.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Thank you, Chris.
Q. What eventually tipped the scale as far as Rancho? Do you have sort of a team in place in your head as of now?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, obviously, what tipped it was the grass court in Mission Hills. The facility is up to par. We think we can have a great event there on excellent courts and hopefully advance to the semifinals.
I mean, certainly Roddick and the Bryans, unless anything major happens in the next month, are essentially locks for the team. James certainly made a major statement in La Jolla. I wouldn't say that that's a lock, but between James and I've spoken to Andre Agassi a couple of times and under the right circumstances I think he would be interested in coming back. Robby Ginepri certainly has got a chance. Taylor Dent, certainly on grass you have to look at him with his serve-volley game although he did just pull out of a match with a back injury over in Europe. I have to find out exactly how his health is.
Certainly, it's the same sort of group of guys that will be in the mix for that second spot. And, knock on wood, we've been extremely lucky in that the guys have supported the team and wanted to play when called upon. I hope that that's the case again.
But, you know, the guys are so close for that second spot that, you know, the next month's tournaments - there are some big ones coming up - will certainly be a factor but not the only factor because they will be playing on grass so that puts another twist into it.
Q. It seems that Blake is the odd man out here. He really stepped up with two wins in La Jolla. I remember you saying in your post match after you had clinched the tie that Blake had shown you so much and that he was really the frontrunner. But you mention Agassi now. Is it going to be the most recent results for those guys, and Andre's health leading up to Mission Hills? What are the factors in determining that second guy?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I have to say it's all of the above. As I said at the beginning of the call, I have to make the decision that I feel is in the best interest of the entire team and what gives us the best chance to win the overall match.
I mean, James knows that he's a serious part of the team both now and in the future, whether or not he plays this particular match. Certainly, he's got a great chance of playing it. I would be remiss to not listen to Andre Agassi and talk to him and see where he is, and obviously he needs to see where he is physically in the next few weeks. Robby Ginepri has played very well on grass in his day; I think he won Newport one year. He played well at Wimbledon a couple years ago. James' best results are certainly on hard court. But you could make the same case for, as I said, a couple of the other guys. Taylor Dent, I think we have to consider him as well with his grass court game.
So it's going to come down to certainly if one guy gets extremely hot and I feel has a lot of confidence coming into the match, you like to go with the hot hand. But at the same time, we are playing on grass, so you have to take that into account as well. So, you know, that's the long answer to the short answer which is all of the above, as I said at the beginning of my comment.
Q. Still talking grass here, I think you and a lot of people feel that Fernando Gonzalez, Nicholas Massu's games are sort of neutralized on grass. Can you explain how their games are neutralized.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I mean, look, obviously Gonzalez had a very good run at Wimbledon last year. I think the courts at Wimbledon are playing, you know, a lot more like hard courts than they ever have. I think the grass that we'll play on will be probably a little bit softer, a little tougher to play baseline tennis on. Both Gonzalez and Massu take big swings at the ball. We'd like the ball to stay low and to make it more difficult for them to play that sort of aggressive, baseline game. Gonzalez makes huge cuts at the ball, but he needs a little time. Quite honestly, both guys like the ball up high. Gonzalez has played very well on indoor courts where the ball does get up. Like in Basel, he won that last use. He beat Roddick at the Olympics a couple years ago. I saw that match, and that was a fast court, but it was a high-bouncing court.
We're hoping that not so much the speed of the court but the bounce of the court, that the ball stays low and shorter backswings and, you know, just ability to sort of block the ball will pay off for us. At the same time, best laid plans.
But, as I said, I feel like this gives us the best advantage against this particular team with the guys that we have and the guys that they have. And also in the doubles match, those guys, I don't know if you've ever seen them play doubles, but they like to serve and stay back, Gonzalez and Massu. They can serve and then they both try to rip forehands, which they both can do well. But on grass, I feel like that's going to be a little trickier for them to do that consistently.
Q. I was just thinking about that doubles match. It's a tantalizing matchup, the possible matchup between the Bryans and Massu and Gonzalez especially after what happened at the Olympics.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, I was there for that match and that was a tight match, but that was one of those matches where those guys were swinging away and able to take really big swings at the ball and pound forehands and pound serves. They know their way around the net, they're not terrible volleyers, but they don't rely on that to win matches. So we hope that this doubles match is more of a volleying match. I think on a grass court that's more likely to happen. We feel good about our chances if that's the way it plays out.
Q. Of course, Roddick has the big serve, but his volleys have often been suspect. Would you look for the Chileans to try to pick on that?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I mean, it's easier said than done. He volleys, his volleys aren't spectacular, but on grass they're competent. You look at his record on grass the last couple years, and it's pretty sparkling. Sure, they'll try to take advantage of it, and we'll try to take advantage of what little things are lacking in their game as well.
But I think Andy will be extremely confident. Hopefully, he'll have a good run here in the next month and get some wins under his belt. But certainly going into a grass court match, there's only one guy in the world against that he wouldn't be the favorite, and we all know who that is.
Q. That's right. Last question, again, about Roddick. You had said after Roddick's first match in La Jolla that in retrospect you wished you were able to sort of calm him down a little bit, and maybe that contributed to his sickness. Do you plan to continue to, you know, nurture him that way, sort of have him play within himself and at the same time stay aggressive?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, definitely. I think we both learned something from that match in that he doesn't need to play with sort of that much emotion every point, you know, from the first point of the match. Obviously, you pace yourself. If you hit a great shot to get a break at 5-All in the first, you get pumped up. That's natural for him.
So without taking away his natural enthusiasm and passion for playing Davis Cup and for playing in competitive matches, you know, hopefully I can do a little better job of just, you know, managing the way he paces himself. I think that will help him overall. That's certainly something that I feel like I've learned from this last match and will try to use that to help him down the road.
Q. I just want to ask a follow-up. You guys are going to be out here for the Pacific Life Open. Do you have plans to take some time out and come to Mission Hills and give it a trial run?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, I will definitely come out there to check it out. Obviously, the boys will be busy and they've got, at that moment, other priorities with the tournament going on and then however well they do moving on and getting ready for Miami.
I will certainly make an appearance there and hit on the court and check it out. My guess is that, you know, they probably wouldn't just because they're not really going to be thinking about it too much at that point. That's my job, and that's my job to go over and check the court out and if there's any, you know, slight adjustments we need to make, we'll try to make them. But, again, with grass, there's not a whole lot we can do. I'm sure that out in Mission Hills the crew will do a great job to keep the court in as good a condition as we can have it. I just have to make sure I get the right hotel rooms for the boys, that's all.
Q. What about practice? Have you guys decided on what you're going to do in terms of practice?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, we'll probably show up there -- we generally show up there the weekend before the match. Whether that's Saturday or Sunday night, we usually get in and then have a full practice week.
So some of that will depend on how well the guys do in Miami, which is the week right before. And, you know, at that point, the guys are in pretty good match shape. They've played quite a bit of tournaments. So I'm not as concerned with sort of their fitness. I'm just really more concerned with them getting used to the court and getting as much hitting on the court as they can. We'll probably get there the Saturday, Sunday before the actual match.
Q. Could you please, from a player's perspective, describe for me the atmosphere at different tennis venues around the world, not just Davis Cup sites. Describe for me how the Coachella Valley venues, Mission Hills and Indian Wells, the Tennis Garden, how those fit in on the big scale.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Well, they're right up there. I mean, the Tennis Garden is one of the premier tennis facilities in the world, certainly. Is it the second biggest in the U.S., it's certainly up there. It's certainly one of the biggest. It's a great setting for tennis.
The Coachella Valley, obviously, I mean, I remember playing back at the old Hyatt, back in those days. That was a great facility. Quite honestly, it just outgrew that. The success of the event and the jobs that Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore have done over the years, I mean, it's one of the premier events in tennis.
Mission Hills has obviously hosted other tournaments that go on, not necessarily professional tournaments, but USTA tournaments, and obviously the Davis Cup a number of years ago. It's a more intimate atmosphere there. You know, that's what we like in Davis Cup, we like the place to be packed, whether it's 5,000 people or 12,000. We want to create that kind of environment that is exciting for the fans and for the players.
You know, Davis Cup is different. I mean, Davis Cup is just a whole different type of atmosphere. Our guys thrive in that. They enjoy it. We want the fans to enjoy it. The USTA does a great job in helping create that atmosphere with, as I said earlier, music and flag-waving and different things that go on.
We try to keep it fair. We try to keep it clean, as they say. We try to have a good time and encourage people to participate more than they normally would in sort of a regular tennis match.
Q. In your opinion as a tennis player, what makes atmosphere for a tennis event?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Atmosphere is crowd being into it. That's it. If you're a player, I mean, there's nothing like walking out and being introduced on the court and seeing a packed house. I mean, there's just nothing like it. We had that every day in La Jolla from the moment that we stepped out on the court. There's no late-arriving crowd, people are there, and they're there a half hour before the match and they're pumping themselves up. That's the kind of energy that we want and, you know, that you get in Davis Cup. You certainly get that at the premier events in tennis. Sometimes you get them at places you'd never imagine, where you come out and maybe you're playing in a qualifying match at the US Open and there's 200 people standing around an outside court. That can be pretty darn exciting, too.
Q. Does the heat make a difference? Does it wear on people?
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: It can. I mean, obviously, super hot conditions are no fun for anybody, you know - the players or the fans.
So if you can do anything to keep it a relatively nice temperature, we'd appreciate it.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I'd like to thank everybody for joining us today and extend a gracious thank you to Captain McEnroe as well. We appreciate you taking the time, Patrick, and giving us your thoughts.
CAPTAIN PATRICK McENROE: Thank you, Chris, and thank you for your help.
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