USTA MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 5, 2002
MODERATOR: Thank you, media. Good morning, good afternoon. Thanks for waiting for a couple minutes while we connected Boris from Europe and John from Los Angeles. Thank you for joining us today for this exciting announcement about a major addition to the US Open Super Saturday on September 7th. On the call, along with John and Boris, is Arlen Kantarian, the chief executive of professional tennis here at the USTA, and of course two of the greatest names in tennis, John and Boris. All of us at the USTA are most excited about this announcement. At this point I'd like to turn it over to Arlen.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Thanks, David. Thanks, everybody, for joining us on this call today. We now have 20 days left for the start of the US Open. We are continuing in our efforts for a very special year in New York. As I said before, our goal is to make The Open one of the top sports and entertainment events in the world and also help serve as a center point of the sport. As part of this effort, we recently announced many new initiatives, including a continuation of the women's singles finals, which will again be played in prime time on Saturday night, September 7th, with a new start time of 8:30 p.m. Today we're announcing another new entertainment event and an added attraction to what I think will become known now as Super Saturday Night. Two of the game's greatest champions and personalities, John McEnroe and Boris Becker, will play a winner-take-all challenge match at 7 p.m., immediately preceding this year's women's singles final. The match will be a best-of-three sets with a third set consists of a 10-point super tiebreak, if necessary. The winner will receive $50,000 to benefit the charity of his choice. As some of you may recall, last year this match was scheduled to take place after the women's final. Mr. Becker did show up on Saturday night, but unfortunately was unable to play due to injury. Boris has indicated his interest in another shot at playing John. Both John and the USTA have agreed and we're pleased to report that they tell us they're in great shape and ready to go. It's an event that we feel will be both competitive and entertaining. I think more importantly, we'll welcome back two of the game's greatest champions for their first-ever appearance together at the National Tennis Center. We are confident the women's prime time final, preceded by this challenge match on Saturday night, under the lights in New York, will make for one of the biggest days on the calendar this year. I want to turn it over to our good friends John and Boris to take some questions. John, we'll start with you.
JOHN McENROE: (Audio difficulties.)
BORIS BECKER: I was so disappointed last year, physically I was there, but I twisted my ankle, broke my ankle the week before. I came out there and I came with my son. We had a great women's final. In the meantime, I got back into shape. I played a number of tournaments, a number of exhibitions the last six or seven months. I'm really looking forward to playing John for the first time for me at the new National Tennis Center. Let's start with the questions. I wanted to let you know we can't hear John. I don't know what it is, but we can hear Boris very well but not John.
Q. One of the things I wanted to ask, when was the last time, Boris and John, you played each other?
MODERATOR: We'll have John call back in for a better connection.
BORIS BECKER: John and myself, we played each other in Tampa in early April. John beat me 6-3, 7-6, on the clay there. It's still something I'm not very proud of. It's about time I get back on the court and show the real Boris.
Q. It's interesting, you guys have a similar style of play. You had the big serve. John had that sort of well-placed serve. Both of you guys came to the net. A lot has changed since you sort of dominated the game. What can fans expect on September the 7th from two serve-and-volleyers like yourself?
BORIS BECKER: You're not going to see a lot of baseline rallies, that's for sure. We still play with the same strategy and tactics. Our legs may have slowed down over the years, but we're still able to play very good ball.
Q. When you guys were back in your heyday, men's tennis was so exciting. I guess in the last few years, there's been kind of a charge to find out who is No. 1, who is going to stick. What do you think needs to happen for the game to get back like when you guys were playing and made it so exciting?
BORIS BECKER: John, do you want to go ahead?
MODERATOR: John is still calling back in.
BORIS BECKER: First of all, you're talking about two extreme characters here on the phone. We have our good and bad parts. We definitely put everything on the line on the tennis court and all the time. Secondly, the schedule right now is so full that these young players don't really have a time to breathe, they don't have an off-season, and they're really in this system where they have to play constantly every week. Therefore, it's very hard to let their heart and soul out on the court every single time they go out. Plus you do have young players like Lleyton Hewitt, who is a very strong character, who is a tough young player, who is going to be one of the dominant players of this next couple years. You've got to give the new young players more credit than they have.
Q. You have to give them a little more time, too?
BORIS BECKER: A little more time. Lleyton Hewitt is only 21 years old. He had a fantastic run last year at The Open. He was a bit difficult in his match with James Blake, because he made some comments to a linesman, then he won the tournament. Obviously, he turned out to be the best player in the world right now. Then again, he's only 21 years old. You have to give them more time.
Q. I don't know if John is on yet, but, Boris, what do you think of Pete Sampras' chances in the US Open? If you were him, would you retire at this point?
BORIS BECKER: I sincerely hope he's going to have another great run like last year because he's one of the greatest players of all time. You know, he's a super guy. But obviously he's gotten older. His performance is not the way it used to be. But I hope he's going to have another big run. I don't know whether he's physically capable to do that.
Q. What about the retirement issue?
BORIS BECKER: This is something that should be completely left to him, you know. He's a smart guy. He knows when to call it quits. He's not satisfied with the way he's playing right now. He's going to call it quits when he thinks it's right.
JOHN McENROE: We need him for the senior's tour. Mack is back (laughter).
Q. What do you think about Pete's chance in this The Open?
JOHN McENROE: I don't know if Pete's chances are great based on what happened last year. He had a great run. At his age, to play a couple days in a row, especially the semis and finals, particularly those two matches would be difficult for him to pull out. I'm not one of those guys that believes he's totally finished. I just can't see a guy, as great a player as he was, to write him off. But clearly he's at a point now where if this continues much longer, he's going to do some serious thinking. I still don't think he's going to stop real soon.
Q. For John or Boris. Americans have been a little bit spoiled over the last couple decades with the run of Americans in the Top 5. Do you think we have to get used to this lag time right now between the wave of Andre and Pete until the wave of maybe Roddick and Blake?
JOHN McENROE: We've had an incredible run with Chang, Courier, Agassi and Sampras, all in that period of time. Then there was -- certainly, because the sport is international, there's been opportunities in other areas like Sweden, Germany, other places in Europe, Australia has always had a great history. It's a bit of cycle. It's clearly a very strong cycle on the women's side. don't see why, if they give people more opportunities, which is something - I'm not the only one - everyone talks about the need to give players more of a chance to play like they do in other countries. If you do that, you'll see more American players, I believe. But having said that, I think Roddick is certainly our best chance right now to do something major and to make an impact on the men's side.
BORIS BECKER: Yeah, I mean, on the other hand, I wouldn't underestimate Andre's chances at this year's Open. He was definitely disappointed with last year's performance. He's getting ready. He won a tournament a week ago. He had a subpar performance at Wimbledon. I think he's going to get ready for a major run at The Open. In general, yes, it's true, tennis is more international, more countries play it. Thanks that you mentioned Germany. We have one guy, Tommy Haas, he's a Top 5 player right now. But you've got countries like Spain, Russia, Sweden, who produce every year a couple Top 10 players every year. The competition's gotten tougher.
Q. John, I'm doing a story about TV analysts in various sports, NFL, baseball, tennis. Do you think networks are wise in paying them the big money and investing a lot of money in them or do you think people would watch the sports regardless of who was calling the games?
JOHN McENROE: I think people would watch the sports. I look at it like -- the comparison I always make is that when I grew up, my mom used to always bake me these great chocolate cakes. I noticed that the cake was a little bit better with some icing on it than it was without. That's the only thing an analyst can hope to do, is add that bit by adding a little flavor and hopefully some interest, a little bit of fun, some serious analyzation of the tennis, perhaps, as well, whatever sport it is. There's no question in my mind that if you kept it blank, there was no one talking, that the people would still watch. But at the same time, what I've done the last 10 years, tried to do at least, is not take it too seriously, recognizing that at the end of the day it's the people out there performing that the people have come to watch.
Q. The more casual fan that comes in, getting a feel (inaudible)?
JOHN McENROE: I think in that case, sometimes the casual fan wants to have -- it's entertainment, after all. They're not hard-core tennis fans or whatever, basketball, baseball. But at the same time even some of the people that are fanatics that really like the game, they like to discuss it. That's why baseball has so many stats, and other sports, as well. People get interested in that and it pumps them up. Sports is a release. It's a form of people just not having to think about the difficulties in their own lives at times. It's an incredible way to make a living, and so is talking about it. It's even easier.
Q. That's why the popularity of someone like Madden appeals to both a casual fan and experts?
JOHN McENROE: That's what I think, yeah.
Q. John, I hear a lot about what's wrong with Pete Sampras' game. What is he doing well?
JOHN McENROE: He always serves huge. His confidence is low and his movement isn't quite the same. Some of that comes with confidence. It's difficult to tell if he's not fit enough. I mean, there's been question marks about his fitness for a while. He's talked about working hard. I mean, I don't know that because I have been around him. When you see him play, the difficulty is he can certainly play a good match or two, but the recovery, to be able to recover mentally and physically, to go through five matches in a smaller tournament, seven at the US Open, that's extremely difficult. I don't think people can underestimate the fact that he's won 13 Grand Slams, and because of that it's taken its toll. But he's only 31. So it leads me to believe that he's still got something left in the tank. But he's going to have to sort of hope that it's right at this Open, because it's been very disappointing for him this year.
Q. How good is Lleyton Hewitt? What impresses the two of you the most about his game?
JOHN McENROE: I'll answer it real quick. Just the speed and his intensity, the effort level is so high. He's the fastest guy I've perhaps ever seen. I'm not even sure Borg was faster than him. He covers so much ground, he plays with such -- his energy level is so high that it intimidates people. He's not a real big guy. It's very intimidating to deal with that type of speed. It makes up for the lack of power that he has, that some of the other players have.
BORIS BECKER: For a young guy, his mental attitude is amazing. He's so serious on it. He knows when the big points are coming. He knows when they're points he can let loose a little bit. He really knows when to push it and when to play hard.
Q. Boris, do you have any plans to join the senior tour?
BORIS BECKER: Well, I'm desperately trying to take part in it. I'm playing one week on grass where a couple of the big names are showing up. I was entered last year in two, and I started, but I got hurt. Obviously, I wasn't fit enough for the seniors. But I've gotten six months of good practice, lots of exhibitions under my belt. Hopefully I can now finish a tournament.
Q. John, the Tennis Masters Cup left New York in 1989. How nice is it to see it return to the United States?
JOHN McENROE: Well, I'll take New York. Houston is a good start, better. But I think, once again, the ladies, they're playing at the Staples Center. Some of the decisions they've made have been very strong. That's the type of mentality we need in the men's game. I understand that the promoters in Houston, they're very eager to try to promote the sport. They're going to -- they're not "tennis promoters," and that could be a good thing. I'm hopeful that will start sparking some more interest. It was really because of Boris that they moved to Germany in the first place. Now at this stage, it was a great event at the Garden. Certainly as an American, it's nice to see it back here. Maybe someday it will be back even in the Garden or perhaps in Los Angeles.
Q. You talked a little bit about the run in the '90s of Sampras and Agassi and Courier and Chang. There didn't seem to be the interest in tennis in this country as there was back in the '80s when y'all were playing. Do you think the ATP should have or could have done more to promote those players in the United States?
JOHN McENROE: I think they could have and should have, and they should and could now. The players, whether they're international or otherwise. I mean, Boris was extremely well-known in America. So it can translate with players that grew up in other countries. But that's certainly something that I've talked about and a lot of other people have talked about for a long time. That's one of the shortcomings of the ATP. I think people like Arlen, for example, they're trying to do something, add a spark, us playing this match, getting other forms of entertainment at the US Open, trying to make that a better and better event. This is the type of thing the sport needs to do in general, much more of.
Q. You played a lot of Davis Cup matches, including one in Fort Worth. What were your memories of that Fort Worth match?
JOHN McENROE: That's an incredible memory because it was my last Davis Cup match. It was very emotional for me. You should get my book, then you can see how emotional it was. I'm plugging my book (laughter). It was a difficult period for me personally. All my family and friends rallied together. It was very important for me. It was a great way to go out. I played doubles with Pete. Pete said he loved me after the match. I don't know if he'd be saying that to me now. It was great to come down from two sets to love, win the Davis Cup. It's a great way to go out. Something I'll never forget.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: For everyone's information, Boris and John played the second longest tennis match of all time in Davis Cup in Hartford in 1987, 6 hours, 21 minutes. Boris is obviously from Germany, John is from New York. John, I don't think a lot of people could hear your opening remarks. Could you talk about the New York crowd, the whole New York vibe, expand on that?
JOHN McENROE: I grew up in New York. I ball-boyed at the US Open. I played many, many years. Obviously for me it's an unbelievably important tournament. I think to have the chance to do what I do now, which is to commentate after having played, is fantastic. The tournament's getting bigger and bigger. Now to sort of come full circle, to be able to get out there and play Boris, like a seniors match in a sense, is quite exciting, something that I've been waiting for a year. So this is what it's all about. I mean, it's a very challenging match for me, but something I very much look forward to it.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: It will be in the press release we'll issue after our press conference. Boris, you beat John eight of 10 times against each other.
JOHN McENROE: You promised that wouldn't be brought up (laughter).
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Now you have him in his backyard.
JOHN McENROE: I need the hometown crowd now.
BORIS BECKER: It's something I actually regret, not having played John at the National Tennis Center. For some reason, you know, he was going far in the tournament, I was out early, vice versa. It's something I regret, not having played John at the US Open and Wimbledon. Now hopefully we have the chance to do it.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Any predictions?
BORIS BECKER: W for me (laughter).
JOHN McENROE: My prediction, despite the fact that Boris had sore feet and bad ankles, it was more case of having cold feet.
BORIS BECKER: Okay, okay, now we're talking (laughter).
JOHN McENROE: Just to pump things up a little bit.
BORIS BECKER: Okay, sure, sure.
Q. There was some mention about Pete Sampras, the fact that he's not doing as well. Since you guys are both serve-and-volleyers, he is, too, can you talk a little about the kind of loss of movement you might experience around the age of 30.
JOHN McENROE: I wish it was 30.
BORIS BECKER: No, but for a serve and volley player, the game is easier in many senses. You need a lot of confidence to play it. You risk a lot on your serve, especially on the second serve. Therefore, you need to play a lot of matches and win a lot of matches. Pete obviously hasn't done that this year, especially. And therefore, you know, whenever there's a crucial time in the second serve, he is doubtful, he doesn't really go for it. That's the biggest problem he has.
Q. I used to be a serve and volleyer. I seemed to lose around the age of 30 lateral motion.
JOHN McENROE: The middle area of your body, your hips, where you can torque, the quick burst you need, it slows down a little. That's why for a serve and volleyer it's more difficult to maintain as long. While you're feeling good, it's great. But when you start -- your body starts giving out on you, all of a sudden the balls that you were volleying and hopefully putting away are the ones you watch go by.
Q. Boris, you're going to be up for the Hall of Fame perhaps in a year or two. Do you know when you're eligible, how you feel about the possibility of joining John in the Hall of Fame?
BORIS BECKER: I don't know how old you got to be to be included. I would be very honored. It would be something I really look forward to. But I don't know the age.
JOHN McENROE: There is no age.
Q. It's five years after active.
BORIS BECKER: That's another year.
Q. Could you give your impression of both your game and Boris' the last time you played in Sarasota?
JOHN McENROE: The last time that we played would be different because we played on clay. I felt like I was very prepared. I felt like -- I'll let Boris speak for his own game. My game, I feel like I put a lot of time and effort the past six, seven years to try to be as prepared as possible for the matches I play, particularly if I play Boris, because he's like the biggest challenge when I play on the seniors tour now to me. I try to be particularly prepared, to mix it up. I can't serve-volley on both serves, but I still like to attack and play the same game. I feel like I'm playing as well as I played the last six, eight, even 10 years. Playing on a hard court surface is preferable to me. It will allow me to sort of do the things -- I still like to be aggressive, I still feel my movement is pretty good. I'm still optimistic. On that note, I'll leave to it Boris, say good-bye to everyone, and thank you very much.
BORIS BECKER: See you in a week or so.
JOHN McENROE: Take care.
Q. Boris, what you did feel your game was at that point?
BORIS BECKER: The problem I had last year, late stage of last year, and I took a complete break from the sport for like two and a half years completely. It was a lot harder for me to come back than I imagined. Therefore, I needed a couple exhibitions to get going. That's what I had the last six months. I played at least 20, 25 matches now. I'm match tough. On the other hand, John is by far the toughest competitor out there. I've played with him, you know, one or two times. I played with the likes of Leconte, Cash and others. Obviously, he's in his own league. He's been the dominant figure on the seniors tour the last six, eight years. Therefore, I really have to play my best, even now, to make it a good match and to actually win. Playing the US Open, it's probably going to be the most important match of the year. He's going to show up his best. I really have to put everything I have into that match.
Q. You mentioned the fire and drive, that's kind of lacking perhaps in some of the men who are playing now. When you look on the women's side, there's so much rivalry, character. Is that one of the reasons why the women's side is perhaps so popular right now?
BORIS BECKER: This is one of the reasons, you have very clear rivalries. The Williams sisters, you have Capriati, Davenport, hopefully Kournikova one day. On the other hand, they play 14 tournaments a year, 14 or 15. They gear for the Slams, maybe another handful where they really want to win. On the men's side, top guys play 20, 25 events. It's impossible to play that many tournaments in your top form. We talked about the issue for years and years. Obviously, there needs to be a change of schedule. There needs to be less tournaments. You see top guys playing more each other, and that's the way you start with the rivalries in competition.
Q. Do you think the training process that the men go through today, if that's playing any role, the training process in the United States as opposed to the international player?
BORIS BECKER: I didn't get the question. The training?
Q. Right. Just the development of the younger players, do you see that happening as much?
BORIS BECKER: America has, fortunately, many options for young guys. They can play basketball, they can play hockey, even now soccer is very popular. You almost beat the Germans in the World Cup. Therefore, you know, it's harder for a young guy just to decide on tennis because you need the racquet, you need the courts, the gear, you need an organization. That's a bit easier in Europe. We don't have that many options. You don't have that many organized top leagues to choose. You have football and then you have tennis, maybe a bit of basketball, that's it. I think that's an important part of it.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Before we take one last question, a reminder, the McEnroe-Becker challenge match will take place Saturday, September 7th, USTA National Tennis Center, 7 p.m., preceding the women's singles final will be shown prime time 8:30 on CBS. That is the evening session at the US Open. The day session will start at 11 o'clock in the morning with the men's semifinal.
Q. We know what New York means to John. Can we see you taking this event to the German Open?
BORIS BECKER: You meaning that John and me are playing in the German Open in Hamburg?
Q. A showdown in Germany.
BORIS BECKER: Well, this is something that might happen next year, but right now we're talking about The Open. This is a really important game for both of us. I was so disappointed last year to be physically there, I had all my family, and I hurt my ankle like the week before. I don't want to go past the US Open. It's something I'm looking forward to, I prepare very seriously for. I don't want to talk about the German Open right now.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Everybody at the USTA thanks Boris and John as well as the media for this afternoon's conference call. We'll see everybody at the US Open on August 26th. Thank you very much, everybody.
BORIS BECKER: Thank you.
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