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April 9, 2003

Patrick McEnroe

United States Tennis Association

RANDY WALKER: Hello, everybody. Welcome to our Davis Cup conference call with US Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe. As you may know, the United States drew an away tie against the Slovak Republic earlier today in the Davis Cup Playoff Round to be played September 19 through 21 in 2003. Without any further delay, I'll turn it over to Captain McEnroe who will make an opening statement on our match against the Slovak Republic, and then we'll turn it over to a question and answer session. Patrick?

PATRICK McENROE: Thanks, Randy. Thanks, everybody, for being on the call. We're pretty happy with the draw. The Slovaks obviously came to play us I guess a little over a year ago in Oklahoma City. They were without a couple of their best players, so I'm assuming that Kucera and Hrbaty will be part of this team. It certainly will be a difficult match for us. Any time you play on the road, it's always tricky. But I certainly feel very good about where our guys are going and what direction we're headed in. To me, this sort of will be the first step into us being back as a legitimate contender every year in Davis Cup. I'll be happy to take any and all of your questions.

RANDY WALKER: I'll turn it over to Susan, our operator, who will give you instructions on how to ask questions on the call.

Q. I just had two quick questions. The first is, with Fish and Ginepri kind of making significant strides this year, what are the biggest adjustments and improvements each one of those guys have to make to be able to consistently compete? The second one is, over the years we've heard the players and captains express some need to revise the Davis Cup format or schedule. I wondered, is it your sense that there's any sort of change imminent or at least consideration of a possible change imminent?

PATRICK McENROE: Well, the first part, I'm obviously very happy with the progress of not just Mardy and Ginepri, but Taylor Dent and Vahaly and, obviously, where Andy and James are, they're sort of a notch above at the moment - certainly Andy a couple of notches. Mardy, I think basically needs to just mentally get a little bit tougher and not get as rattled. I'd like to see him improve his volleying because he's a very good volleyer, but I think he could get even better. I'd like to see him use his serve as more of a weapon. He's shored up his ground game, where his forehand is not really the liability that it was. I think for Mardy, it's more about competing every single match and not getting -- having those mental lapses that we've seen him have in a few matches. But he's made unbelievable progress in the last year. His coach, Kelly Jones, has done a great job with him. So I think he's really on a real good path. Robby Ginepri, I mean, his strides in just the last couple of months have been phenomenal. He took his game, I think, to a whole other level in Indian Wells and Miami. He's very tough to get the ball past at the baseline. He's very quick. I think what he's doing really well now is he's understood how to play with maybe a little more patience at times, and then when to step up his game and go for more winners. I think he's got the right balance now in that. Improvement-wise, obviously, I think he's got to continue to work on that determination of when to be patient and when to go for his shots. Technically, his serve can get a little better, his ability at the net can get better. He reminds me a lot of Jim Courier in the way he plays. Jim was able to improve his ability at the net as he got a little bit older. Robby is never going to be a Stefan Edberg-type volleyer, but he's going to be a guy that can come in and finish points at the net. I'm really happy with those guys and how they're progressing. They've just got to keep working hard. The better you get, the harder it gets to improve and to move up the rankings. The second part of your question, it's not really my job at this point to push, I think, for change in the format. I believe it should happen; I've said that numerous times. I believe it would be in the best interest of Davis Cup overall to make it more of maybe an every-other-year or at least have a Davis Cup season that's not so spread out. I'm not really focusing my energies on that because I'm focusing my energies on trying to get us back into the hunt of competing for the Davis Cup. But I do think there is discussion ongoing about it. I think with all the stuff that's going on recently with the players and the Grand Slams and all those talks, I hope that in the next couple years there's a real serious look at the calendar and a way to make the calendar better for everyone - for us as press people, for players, for fans. I think Davis Cup should be a more visible part of what that calendar should be. It's too good of an event to have it be what it is now, which is, "When is it? Who are you playing? What round is it?" People can't follow it. But in saying that, my work at the moment is to try and get our guys as good as they can get, or help them get there, and field the best team we have.

Q. The last quick one, if I could follow up, when you see Federer do what he's done in Davis Cup, is it sort of perplexing, why can't he sustain that in a Slam?

PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think it's just a matter of time before he will. I think in Davis Cup, there's so much on the line and there's so much pressure. I think he probably feels that sense of urgency when he plays Davis Cup, which I think he doesn't feel every time he steps out on the court in every other tournament. But I believe that he's starting to talk more about being No. 1, he's starting to talk more about wanting to do well in the Slams and majors. But you have to want it. You have to want it every time you go out there. Obviously, when he goes, plays Davis Cup, he wants it and he performs at his peak. Obviously, it's tougher to do that in a Slam over the course of two weeks, but talent-wise and game-wise, there's no doubt that he can. It's just a question of how badly he wants it.

Q. The U.S. hasn't won an away tie in a long time. I talked to Courier last week, and he said the young group has taken some tough lessons on the road. Can you talk about going on the road. It's right after the US Open where probably Andy and Blake will have played well into the Open, they'll have to turn around, go to Europe again. What are they going to have to do mentally to turn the tide for you guys?

PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think to have success in Davis Cup, you have to be able over the long haul, and that's what we're trying to build here, is to have success not just one year, but be a threat every year and do well every year. You have to be able to go on the road and win. You have to be able to go and play on different surfaces and win. You have to have versatility. Obviously, you need the maturity of going to another -- to outside your country and playing well and winning. So we haven't proven that we can do that yet with this team. Do I think we can, yeah, I know we can, and I know we will. But we have to go out there and do it and we have to prove it. We've had some tough losses on the road, we've had some experiences that should help us in detailing what we're going to face when we go to the Slovak Republic. Now it's just another year under our belt and another tough loss that we all had to swallow. So you hope that our guys are mature enough and have enough experience now that when we go into that situation it's not going to be a surprise that you're getting bad calls and that people are whistling when you're about to hit a serve. That's the way it is. It's hard to really be prepared for that, honestly, until you experience it. So we've had some experience with that, and this is a big test for us. It's a big test. We should win this match. They've got good players, though; they've got veteran players. But this is a match that we should win. So we need to go there and do whatever we have to do to do that. I think once we get a win on the road, I think that will really help us confidence-wise, and go into next year and say, "We can legitimately win it next year."

Q. Just a quick follow-up then. The team's been together a few years now and they're still relatively young. Assuming you beat the Slovak Republic in September, should next year be the "step-up year" for the team where we're all not sitting back saying, "The guys are 22, 23, they should take another loss"? Should next year be the year they actually have a legitimate shot to win the Davis Cup?

PATRICK McENROE: I think so. I really do. I said it and I honestly believe it, that we had a chance to do some real damage this year. But, yeah, I mean, it's time. It's put-up or shut-up time basically. It's enough of "we're young" and enough of "we're getting experience." That has to start from me and my expectations of the team. I told them that actually after we lost in Croatia. "It's time for us to perform. You guys are, yeah, you're young, but you've all been out there now for a couple of years, and it's time to enjoy what we're doing," we always want these guys to enjoy the Davis Cup experience, "but we've got to be professionals. This is tough. You don't go on the road and just have fun and think it's going to be all fun and games and you're going to win. You have to go out there with the toughness and an attitude." And what you're saying is right. Next year is the time for us to, you know -- the excuses that we're young and we're getting experience, I think we've used all them up.

Q. Could you just discuss a little bit about Taylor Dent like you did Mardy and Robby.

PATRICK McENROE: Well, Taylor has, you know, obviously got a huge game. The way he played in Memphis was obviously indicative of how he can play on fast courts, especially. He's improved his fitness. Along with that, the shot selection gets better, the decision-making about when to come in and when to stay back and allow the other guy to maybe make some mistakes rather than you having to hit winners. The serve has gotten more consistent. He's a great volleyer. I mean, in my mind, he's a legitimate threat to win Wimbledon. I mean, I believe that. I believe that if he uses -- obviously, coming up on the clay court season is going to be difficult for him. But I think if he uses the clay court season to, you know, bust his butt and get in great condition physically, I think he can win some matches on clay, but I think he has to not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is "I have to get in unbelievable shape and come into Wimbledon as a potential winner there." I believe it's possible with his game. So he's made a lot of -- I think Brad has gotten in his ear about the fitness thing, Brad Stine, his coach. It seems like they've hit it off and are getting along well. Taylor realizes that you do these things and you'll get the results. I think that's a key for him, because he's willing to do the work, and he wants to do the work, channelling his energy in the right direction. I think that's happening now.

Q. Back to the away and home ties, do you sense a different feeling amongst the team when you're at home and away? Is the atmosphere different?

PATRICK McENROE: I think we've gotten a little more rattled, yeah. I think we've gotten more rattled in the away matches. We've also played very good players. We've played at home and we haven't necessarily played as strong a team maybe as we played consistently on the road. Obviously, Croatia with Ljubicic just being on fire for the whole weekend, he was playing at sort of a Top 15, Top 10 level for that weekend. That can happen in Davis Cup. You have to be ready to deal with that. You have to be ready to deal with the fact that this guy's going to play the match of his life, the crowd's going to be going crazy, you're going to get bad calls, but you've got to fight through that. That's par for the course in Davis Cup. At home, obviously, you get the crowd on your side, the momentum and the support, so it's a different feeling especially for younger players. I think that they feed off of that. And I like that about our guys, that they feed on that, but they also have to be able to handle when it's against them. So that's the biggest difference.

Q. This is a question completely off of Davis Cup. I heard you got a chance to hit with a young player, Philip Simmons in Miami. I was just trying to get a sense of what your impression was of him as a player.

PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think he's obviously a very talented kid. I saw him play quite a few matches when I was in Australia, he was playing in the Juniors down there. He has a lot of raw athletic ability. I don't think he quite has an understanding maybe yet of how good he can be or what kind of game to play, but he's a very, very smooth, effortless-looking type player who moves very well. And he's just got a tremendous build, a great body. I don't know him personally that well. He seems like a very pleasant kid, a very nice kid. I've seen him hang his head a little bit in some matches, but I think that's probably normal for a 15-, 16-year-old. It certainly looks to me like he's got some major potential. Obviously, his balance is a little off. I think that's because he's probably still growing, so getting a little bit stronger. But certainly looks like there's a lot to work with there, there's a lot of natural ability. I was excited. I mean, I was excited hitting with him - very good demeanor, nice, good kid. So athletically, he certainly has a lot of gifts, and to sort of channel them in the right direction, I think he's got a real chance to be a very good player.

Q. First of all, a lot is being made of all the Americans moving into the Top 100. I just want to know kind of what would you attribute that kind of surge to? And, you had said earlier the better you get, the harder it gets to improve. Do you see the tendencies in these guys that they will continue to move into the Top 50 and move up there higher?

PATRICK McENROE: You know the reason they're getting there is all because of me (laughing)? You knew that, right?

Q. Of course.

PATRICK McENROE: No, these guys are talented. They're good players. They're good athletes. Every single one of them is a good athlete in their own way. That's what it takes, obviously, in the professional game right now more than ever, because the ball is being hit so hard. I certainly believe that the fact that they're pushing each other is part of the process; I honestly believe that, that they see one guy doing better and they say, "Why can't I do that?" Mardy Fish and James practice together down in Florida and they're good buddies. Mardy and he, James, practice every day. A year ago Mardy said, "Look at James, he's 30 in the world. Why am I 120? I can compete with him." It pushes these guys to train a little harder. Taylor Dent coming to the Davis Cup match in Croatia, you know, I believe that without him doing that, I don't think he would have won Memphis. I think he would tell you that himself. The experience of being there, obviously getting great practice, being around the other guys, you know... These guys are going to compete with each other in the same way that they sort of support each other. So that sort of group effort of pushing each other to get there, I think, is part of it. You realize that I said right off the top, "Because these guys are good." It doesn't matter how buddy-buddy they are if they don't have the ability and the talent. So they have that. As far as how far they can go, I think that, you know, that most of them have a legitimate chance to be Top 20 players, and a couple of them have chances to go higher. Certainly, when I look at a Taylor Dent, as I said, to me, he could win Wimbledon. Roddick is obviously a factor at the majors. James Blake, I think, is a Top 10 potential player. Now, the question is, how do you get there? How do you keep moving up? And you have to fine-tune your game, you have to fine-tune your training, you have to fine-tune your attitude, whatever it is. Andy Roddick right now is going through a little bit of a tough time since the Australian. He's got to fine-tune what he needs to work on. He needs to get better. He needs to improve his game to stay in the Top 10. Forget about getting from No. 6 to No. 2 and No. 1; he's got to continue to improve his game to stay where he is. So those guys have to be aware of that, and have to be aware that you've got to keep working; it doesn't just happen. And, you know, hopefully they'll continue to do that.

Q. Are you surprised by that camaraderie they seem to have? Is that unusual from the past?

PATRICK McENROE: I'm happily surprised. I mean, I'm happy about it. It's part of what I hoped would happen when I became captain. I believe that a rising tide helps everybody, and that if these guys get along with each other and support each other, that, number one, it will help us in Davis Cup, which is my selfish interest; but, number two, I really believe it will help them in their own careers. Have I seen it happen before with Americans? Not maybe in the same way as I've seen it with these guys. I've seen it with other countries. I've seen it with the Spaniards and with the French. I think it helps those players. I think to see these guys, you know, pushing and prodding each other along, and also able to play doubles with each other here and there, and to go to each other's matches, I mean, that's all part of the bigger picture, which I think is to get the most out of our American guys in the professional world, not just in Davis Cup.

Q. I'm just wondering, sort of related to Davis Cup, obviously, when we play ties in different countries, people bring out the dirt, the red clay. I'm wondering just what your thoughts are as far as development of our players on the surface. Is enough being done to create the types of players that can win on clay? If not, what needs to be done?

PATRICK McENROE: No, enough isn't being done, and we need more tournaments on clay, I believe, for Juniors. We have a few, but a lot of the national tournaments have moved away from clay into hard courts in the sectional tournaments. I grew up in New York, and I used to play on clay all the time, even indoor clay. So I certainly believe that more of an effort for our kids, because it's a different style, and it's a different type of movement and it's a different type of patience and point construction. I also happen to think it's easier to go from being a -- growing up on clay and then transitioning to hard than the other way around. Look at guys like, you know, obviously Courier, Agassi, Chang. I mean, these guys all have pretty successful careers on clay. They basically spend a lot of time playing on hard court, but they also practiced a lot on clay as kids. So I just think that we need to expose our kids at a younger age and in a competitive environment to playing on clay. I would like to see more of that happen. I certainly think with some of our guys right now, we could be a real factor on clay. James can play very well on clay, Andy, Robby Ginepri, you know, when he gets his movement comfortable on clay, I mean, you look at his game. He could be a serious factor on clay. So we've got some guys there. But I certainly think that we should do more. I know some of the talk with the USTA is about building some more courts at the Tennis Center in New York. We should put in a couple clay courts at the Tennis Center in New York? Why not?

Q. Will there be clay courts in Carson?

PATRICK McENROE: I don't know, but there should be.

Q. You still think we go into a Davis Cup tie on clay at a disadvantage as Americans, or is that changing?

PATRICK McENROE: Let's see what the future holds. At the moment, we're going in at a disadvantage, yeah. But that's not to say that -- you know, we went over there and gave the French a good match. We didn't win. But we certainly were in every match. We didn't get blown out. We've got some guys that, as I've mentioned, that, to me, can seriously play on clay. When you're talking about the long run and the long haul, I believe there's more we can do to help that. Now at the same time, you don't want to lose sight of the fact that we're Americans and we like to go for it. You know what I mean? Our mentality is to be attacking players. The guys I mentioned to you, Courier and Agassi, they played well on clay but they played an attacking style. You don't want to go against, I believe, what our core attitude is, which is, "We're going to win the point rather than wait till you lose it." I think there's a balance there of still saying, "We're going to play our game," but, "We think we can play our game and still be successful on clay."

Q. I was wondering, assuming Roddick is healthy and ready to play after the US Open, you're going to have a log jamb with Blake, Fish, Dent, Ginepri, all vying for the remaining spots. Obviously, this is a good dilemma for you to have. How do you plan to address that?

PATRICK McENROE: I plan to address it very carefully and with a lot of thought and a lot of communication because I've found that as long as you're up front with these guys and you tell them what you're thinking and you tell them, "This is the way it is, and this is my job as the captain," they respect that. I hope that I piss off a couple of guys. I hope that some of them are really disappointed, but they're disappointed for the right reason - that they wanted to play, and that when called upon down the road they will play. So it is a good problem to have, but it's also one that I think you have to -- you've got to respect these guys. I think all the guys you've mentioned, I believe, will be there and will show up if called upon. My job is to try to keep it that way.

Q. So this won't be an opportunity for you to bring in doubles specialists to play, like the Bryan brothers?

PATRICK McENROE: Look, I've always said if the Bryan brothers go and win Wimbledon and win the US Open and, to me, are a dominant doubles team, I'm going to give them even more consideration. I give them consideration now, but they're not a dominant doubles team. That's just the bottom line. They're a very good doubles team. I watched them again in Miami, I watched them in Palm Springs. They're doing well, they win matches every week. They don't dominate. To me, if there's a dominant team out there, whether it's the Bryans or whether it's anybody else, if they're not dominating and winning a major or two a year, it's too big a risk to take if they can't play singles. If Bob Bryan steps up and is playing good singles and is a Top 100 singles players, then maybe that changes the mix a little bit. But I can't tell these guys, you know, what they should do. They know the story. I love the Bryans. I think they're great kids. I think they've got a lot of spunk and they've got good game, and I think they've improved. But they're not dominating the doubles tour.

Q. Obviously, Blake and Fish played a phenomenal five-setter at Croatia. Would you feel comfortable going into battle with them again?

PATRICK McENROE: I feel comfortable with them. I feel comfortable getting Taylor Dent on the doubles court. I think he's got some serious game to play doubles. I've spoken to him about it. He's told me -- he has, since Croatia, played a couple more doubles tournaments. I think it's good for him . Forgetting about Davis Cup, I just think it's good for him to play anyway, to play some more matches and to play doubles matches. Out of those guys, I think we've got certainly some options. Even Andy Roddick potentially in doubles could play. But James Blake, in my mind, can dominate a doubles match. I mean, I've seen it happen. We lost a tough match that we should have won that we were two-sets-to-love-up and we got a little rattled and the crowd, etc., so on and so on. But, you know, we still lost 6-4 in the fifth, and everything went against us. And Mardy is a solid doubles player. Jeff Morrison is a solid doubles player. There's guys out there that give me plenty of options. Going into a match, you like to have options.

Q. I just wanted to ask you, Pete Sampras has asked for a wildcard at Queens. Is he such a superior player that after nine months of not playing he can go in there and compete at the level he has on grass, or is he taking a big risk?

PATRICK McENROE: What's the risk he's taking?

Q. The risk of not doing well.

PATRICK McENROE: Well, so what? After what I saw at Flushing Meadow last year, nothing will surprise me. I mean, he can show up at Queens and win two matches and then lose and play one exhibition, and he wins, you know, two rounds at Wimbledon and what do you think everyone's going to be thinking in the locker room? They're going to be shaking in their boots. So is it possible, yeah. Is it likely, it's hard to say. But I'm not going to discount him, no matter what. I mean, it's possible, yeah. If anybody can do it, he can do it.

Q. I guess, Patrick, that means your answer is you didn't expect Pete to play clay?

PATRICK McENROE: Not expecting that to happen, no.

Q. Really?

PATRICK McENROE: No, I don't think so. I'd be surprised. The only thing -- I spoke to him when I was out in Indian Wells. My feeling was that the only thing that could possibly happen is that he'll play Queens and Wimbledon. I mean, that's my feeling. But he doesn't know. So I don't think -- nobody knows. But he seems perfectly happy doing what he's doing right now.

Q. Don't you think he'll go in there, though, even though it will be ceremonial to some degree, he'll actually go in there with the intention of winning? He won't want to be embarrassed.

PATRICK McENROE: Yes, I do. There's no way he's going to show up if he's not ready. He's been practicing, and he's been working out regularly. And if he, like I said, if he shows up at Queens and he wins a round or two and plays some exhibition over there and gets a couple matches in and he gets through two rounds at Wimbledon, you know, trust me, I mean the guys in the locker room are going to be going, "Here we go again."

Q. Let me ask you one quick thing about Blake, and I'll let you go. It seems to me after Davis Cup this year, after he took the losses in Croatia, watching him in Indian Wells and his Miami result that he's lacking in a little bit of self-belief right now, that he doesn't necessarily know if he's a Top 10 player. Do you think that's fairly accurate?

PATRICK McENROE: I that's pretty close. But I think he is a Top 10 player. One of the reasons I think I sort of annoy him is because I always say it. One of the reasons I make a point of always saying it publicly is because I think he needs to deal with it and I think he needs to hear it and I think he needs to step up and say, "You know what, I can be a Top 10 player, and I've got to go out there with the attitude that I can." Because James is a great guy and James is sometimes too nice a guy. You could still be a nice guy and go out there and want to rip the heart out of your opponent if you can, and bury your opponent if you have the opportunity to do it. So I think James needs to get a little bit more of that. Obviously, his serve, we need to work on his serve a little bit and shore up his serve a little bit. But physically and athletically and game-wise, this guy is a Top 10 player. You know, he's got to set that bar for himself. He's got to set it for himself and say, "I can get there," instead of saying, "I'm going to work hard. If I get there, I'll get there." We all know that's what we do. If you look at yourself in the mirror and you say, "I did everything I could to get there," and, by the way, I think he's working very hard. I don't think he's slacking off. But I think he's got to have that little bit of strut, you know, when he goes out there. Because I think game-wise, he's got it. It's just a question now of having that belief and feeling like you can do it. I think he can. But that doesn't mean if he's ranked 20 at the end of the year I'm going to say he's a failure. I don't look at it that way. I look at it as saying, "Did you do everything you could do? Are you getting better? Are you working on your game?" Do those things that you can control on the practice court and training and etc., and then go out there and just let it fly, you know, know you did everything you could do to prepare. Then go out there and sort of have that attitude. But, yeah, I think there's a lit bit of -- the expectations are different now. The expectations, obviously, on him in Davis Cup were tough being sort of our go-to guy, after being sort of the "also guy," our "doubles guy" or the "second singles guy." So that was a lot on his plate, you know, pretty quickly. So I think there's dealing with that as well. But I think the more he gets comfortable with it and the more he gets comfortable hearing me say he should be in the Top 10, just like it's a normal thing, you know, then I think he can go out there and play.

RANDY WALKER: Okay. Well, I want to thank everyone for being with us today. We will have a transcript courtesy of ASAP Sports, which we will be e-mailing out. If you would like to get a copy of that, you can call me in the office or send me an e-mail. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you, Patrick. We'll talk to you all soon.

PATRICK McENROE: Thanks, everybody.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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