USTA MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 25, 2003
MODERATOR: On the line with us this morning in addition to Team Captain Billie Jean King is Fed Cup chair Carol Graebner, Arlen Kantarian, and lastly the managing director of tournament operations and U.S. team events, Jim Curley.
JIM CURLEY: Thanks to everyone for joining us today for this teleconference call with Billie Jean King. As most of you know, the United States is going to face the Czech Republic in Lowell, Mass. April 26-27 in what we hope will be the start of a very successful 2003 U.S. Fed Cup team campaign. The return of professional tennis to the greater Boston area after more than five years has been extremely well received, punctuated by the fastest sellout for a home team in U.S. Fed Cup team history. Without any further delay, it is my pleasure and honor to introduce a sporting legend, our U.S. Fed Cup team captain, Billie Jean king.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Thanks, Jim, and welcome everybody. I'm very excited. I think this is the first time we may let everybody know what Fed Cup actually is because we have sold out, there has been so much excitement and I think this will really help us get in the forefront of who we really are; that we are an international team play for women. The two people who I've added besides -- you know that Serena and Venus Williams are on the team. The other two are Meghann Shaughnessy, who had a big win over Venus Williams last night actually at the NASDAQ 100, and Alexandra Stevenson. Those are the two that now round out our the four players and I'm very thrilled. We have an unbelievable team. And as Jim mentioned, because the Williams -- we announced the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, I don't know about three or four weeks ago, we did sell out right away and we are thrilled. Another thing we are going to do is make sure that we do things in the community, particularly on the draw on Friday. And then we are also going to be doing clinics, as well, during the week for children with the Sportsman's Club and Kids Club (phonetic) in the greater Boston area. We are thrilled and going to do as much as we can for the community while we are there. I know we have talked to the players and they are very excited.
Q. Chanda Rubin, was she offered an opportunity to play Fed Cup? Did she decline; and if so, why?
BILLIE JEAN KING: She declined. I'm not sure why, but I know that she's doing a lot better, and I know that Betty Simms (ph) and her coach definitely have a game plan for her. I think some of the players decided not to play because when they saw that Serena and Venus were going to play, they thought maybe this would be a good time for them to take a break because most likely they would not be playing. But everyone has told me if I ever really need them, to please tell them. So it's more of they are available, but just would rather pass on this knowing we have such a strong team this particular time. But when I need them, please tell them.
Q. Does it trouble you that players, if they can't start, they have to be on the bench, they don't want to participate?
BILLIE JEAN KING: No, it doesn't. Because it depends on the person and where they are at in their career, how much they have played up to this point in time. We are always in constant communication. I am in constant communication all year long with these players. It's not like I just start talking to them because Fed Cup is coming up. I keep up with them. When Chanda was going through her knee operation, I would be calling her and talking to her. So having a good rapport and knowing where they are doesn't bother me at all. Sometimes I think it's better if they take this week off and rest, if they can, and we need them, though, I want them to step up.
Q. As far as the team concept is concerned with your other two players, very good players in their own right, but when you have the No. 1 and 2 player in the world on the team, does that affect the team chemistry to make sure that the other players know they are still vital and doing something good for their country?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Absolutely. Meghann Shaughnessy has played two times now. This will be her third. She's just rearing to go. She just feels it's great to be around Fed Cup for the week; that good things spill over her and that it helps her to be a better player. Alexandra Stevenson, I can tell you for the last three years has begged me to be on the team, and I keep telling her, it has everything to do with you, it's your ranking. I go by the rankings. I go right down that ranking list usually. The only variable I have, usually, is if it's a doubles consideration. But it's funny, Alexandra has just been praying for this for so long. She'll be hopping around and she's ready to go and have this experience as a rookie. You have to remember, though, practicing together, we eat dinners together, we are together the whole week. We have meetings, player meetings. We do clinics for the children together. It's a real bonding experience that I hope will be very far-reaching in their lives and that once as they get older they will realize how important and how important relationships are; that relationships are everything, and that's what Fed Cup allows these players to do. And we fell very honored that we can represent their country and I think that will come through with the four of them. It's going to be wild and it's going to be crazy, but it's going to be the way we want it. They know that they are the supporting role, but that's part of being a team.
Q. Now, your part has obviously got a lot of publicity having the No. 1 and 2 players in the world on your team, and it's happened before, but from a historical perspective, compared to the rest of the talent you will face, how much of an advantage is it over the rest of the field compared to the other situations where 1 and 2 have been on the team?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Are you saying because we have the No. 1 and 2 player in the world, is that the question?
Q. That's happened before, obviously?
BILLIE JEAN KING: You never know. And I must tell you, in every single time that I've been captain, I have never had four players that are totally healthy, ever. Meghann, for instance, and Alexandra, may have to play, but you just never know. Because in team play, as you know, in sports, the human element is so strong, the heart and soul, and just wherever you are when you wake up that morning, like all of us, like when you have to write your article and your mind is blank sometimes and nothing happens, it's a terrible feeling. So you never ever know. It looked like last night Meghann Shaughnessy beat Venus. Who knows? So you just have to be ready.
Q. You've worked with Serena and Venus in Fed Cup, Olympics past and they have improved tremendously. How much better can they get and what specifically can they do to get better?
BILLIE JEAN KING: You can always get better. One thing that top players in the world, they love to be challenged and get better. I know that I've got some ideas, for sure. I haven't been able to work with them. Zena Garrison is my assistant coach, and she and I and the whole support team spend a lot of time with all of the players trying to make a difference in their game and in their lives. We will be working on certain things. I stayed up until 3:00 -- I'm in Chicago. I stayed up till 3:00 to watch the match last night with Meghann and Venus because I have to do my homework every time. I really do try to watch every match I can, and it's quiet and I can truly take mental notes. I think one thing I would like to do is help Venus with her serve, just ask her how she's doing. Also, I did spend two days with Meghann last December out in Phoenix, two and a half days out there, she asked me to help her. I'm available to any of the Fed Cup players or any of the American players. Another wonderful thing that's going to happen is we are going to have Jamea Jackson, a young junior, 16 years old, and also Ally Baker are going to be joining us for the first time. So we will have two young players from our player development that are going to be a part of the team, as well. So that's a very exciting thing for us. This is a first for us. And Jay Berger (ph) going to come up and be there, as well. He's one of our national coaches. He is a terrific person and looking forward to working with them. We're going to be working with them on the Monday while the other players arrive, the team. We are going to spend a whole day with them with Jamea Jackson and Ally Baker. That's exciting, as well. A new addition, we have been wanting to do this as well, I talked to Lynn Rally (ph) who heads up women's tennis for the USTA, and we have been talking about this for a long time and we are finally able to do this particular time, she will be up there as well.
Q. You've been a big proponent of the team concept in tennis with world team tennis and Fed Cup, what do you think, how important is the team concept in tennis in terms of growth of the game, player development and having a big sellout like this one that's coming up?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I'm very excited because we are sold out and I think it's really going to help put Fed Cup on the map in the country and let people know who we are and what we are doing. I am a big proponent of it because I think most people relate to team sports because most people are into football, baseball, basketball, now soccer, obviously in this country. And I think it's very important that players -- it's a great sport but sometimes it's really wonderful if they can be on a team and people can rally around the team. Also, players' personalities do change. The dynamics of a player change a lot when they are on a team. They tend to think about giving more than they take. They are more into thinking of others. Sometime they are in a supporting role and sometimes they are in a leadership role and it's very interchangeable. Also, more importantly, to spend time with each other and they are not having to compete against each other and they are actually helping each other. So the dynamics really shift when they are on a team together, and it's very nice to see how sometimes friendships -- and also I think mutual respect happens, when you're on a team together. You start to respect each other as a human being, and I think that's really important lesson in life. These are some of the dynamics this change. Also, I find that they really do pull together. For instance, they get much more excited about doing a clinic for young people as a team, when they are on a team, than when they are at a tournament. I find that they really do get behind the sense of community when they are on a team. So I think this is going to be an unbelievable happening. I am so thrilled we are going back to Lowell and to the Boston area because it has such a rich history of tennis and they had the 100th Davis Cup -- 100th year of Davis Cup there in the Boston area and they really are getting behind this. So I really appreciate their enthusiasm. Players are just different when they are on a team.
Q. What are some of your thoughts on the possible players on the opposing team?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I have no thoughts on that. I only worry about getting our own act together.
Q. Just them as players, I don't mean how to beat them --
BILLIE JEAN KING: What I usually do, to tell you the truth, because I don't play against them. What I do is I have a meeting with the players -- this is how I do it every Fed Cup. I ask, okay, which of you have played these players. And then we go around the table and I have the players share what the other players, what their strengths and weaknesses are. And also, during the week, I watch them hit and then I pretty much remember quickly how they play. If I haven't seen them play, or if no one has played against them, I have practice partners coming in like Raj Chaudari and Jonathan Stark. Jonathan used to be a Davis Cup player and Raj is a coach for Jill Cravis right at this point in time. Raj has been fantastic, too. They are good at being scouts because I have to usually be with the players, and they do, too. But we work it out pretty well. That's what I do. I am a huge believer in playing your game and then noticing things as you go and adapting. That's the way we've worked it. I feel they know more than I do about how these players play because they have played them and I'm a big believer in that. When I played Fed Cup we would always help our captain and. I just know I always end up -- and I know when Carol or whoever was on the team, used to tell the captain when we played this person and let me tell you, this the way it is, and I'm a big believer in that. I always trust the people who are in the trenches, and that, in this case, is the players.
Q. Is there anything that impresses you about some of the problem-solving abilities of your players? Are there things behind the scenes, does Meghann have a lot of thinking about that stuff?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Definitely. Meghann right now is trying to learn to be more aggressive. Also, not to play the score. She tends to get into a retrieval mode when she's ahead instead of staying aggressive. There's all kind of things she's working on. Venus and Serena are always working on things, too, and Alexandra. Alexandra, I've asked -- what I usually do with players is I ask them, what is the one thing you would like to get out of this week as far as your game, and then I have them also discuss what they would like to see for the team, as well as their own personal goals. Team goals, personal goals, those types of things.
Q. Is it known when the Czech players are going to be or is it going to be announced?
BILLIE JEAN KING: They haven't announced their teams but it's pretty obvious who is going to be available, probably -- (inaudible) -- all of the 'ovas, you know.
Q. I know it's a different cast of character, but last year's experience, is that a motivational factor for you?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah, it's a motivational factor for all of us. Every single player has come up to me and said: Well, we've got to bring back the Cup next year, this is ridiculous and let's just make it happen.
Q. How important is it for you to come into Lowell and not have to sell tickets; it sold out in a matter of hours?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I cannot tell you how excited we are. To be frank, most people don't seen know what Fed Cup is. So this is our chance to put it on the map, get people interested. It's wonderful because it's the first time, it's great we are back in the Boston area, we are thrilled to be at the Tsongas Arena, 6,000 people, sold out, and it's going to be great for us. It's a fantastic beginning for this year and I can tell you that everyone is super excited.
Q. I'm unfamiliar with the roles of the players. Is it possible these two girls won't get to play or might play doubles?
BILLIE JEAN KING: They will probably play singles and doubles. It depends.
Q. Depends on how the first day goes?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I can tell you that the girls do want to play doubles, very much. They already told me.
Q. You mean Meghann?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I mean Venus and Serena want to play everything. They are like let's go, let's rock, let's go do it. There will be a draw on Friday which will be real helpful for you to see us go through that and explain how it works. Because on the first day, the No. 1 player plays against the No. 2 player and then on Sunday, it's 1 versus 1. And then we go, the doubles is the fifth match, so if it's tied 2-all, that can get really exciting. I certainly hope we are not tied 2-all.
Q. Do you have to pick your doubles team on Friday?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Yes, but we are also allowed to change the doubles team up to 15 minutes before the match. So at the last second, up to 15 minutes before we play the fifth match, I can change that. You come to the draw; that will help explain it. We are going to try to do something really wonderful for the community on that Friday in Lowell.
Q. Did you talk to Lindsay at all and/or Lisa ,and I'm curious as to what their reaction was, were they interested in playing?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Oh, yeah. Lisa had something personally come up, she said and then Lindsay said, "If you want me, I'm there, but I've played a lot of tennis so far this year and if I could take a rest that week. And if you need me and we win, the next time." It's been flexible. The women have been very good about being flexible and helping out.
Q. How long ago did you talk to Lindsay?
BILLIE JEAN KING: These are through e-mails.
Q. Is it basically that you are overloaded on talent because you've got 1 and 2 in the world?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah, that's exactly right. I think Lindsay and Lisa and Monica and all of these women have always played. I think it's great that they get a rest for a week. It's fine.
Q. So you don't rule out the fact that they would play in future times?
BILLIE JEAN KING: No, no, they will play. They told me. They said, look, if you need me now, tell me. They have absolutely been fantastic. They just said, isn't it great that Venus and Serena are going to play. It's great that we are sold out, and if you need me, I'll be there. But it would be great if I could take a rest this week and if we win this one, then we would play in July and they said -- you know, for so long now, we've had a long-term relationship that you just try to discuss it with them and they are fine. They are thrilled. They are thrilled that we are sold out. I think that's the big deal for everybody. We are just thrilled. The players know that Venus and Serena are the reason for that and they don't make any bones about it, and they are really good about it and they are great. It's fantastic for the sport.
Q. You said that two hitting partners were Jonathan Stark and who?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Chauduri.
Q. And then you said that you went down by the rankings. What happens when you got to Jennifer Capriatti, what happened, did you talk to her?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I didn't talk to her, but I talked to her agent. She's got a new agent and we talked for a long time. I thought probably wouldn't choose her because she wouldn't probably get to play singles. We had a good talk and I said just make sure she's available and she said she's available. So that's working out pretty well right now. Really happy about it.
Q. I'm in Key Biscayne where one of your players, Meghann Shaughnessy, beat another one of your players, Venus Williams, last night and I wonder if that figures into you choosing the singles lineup; might Meghann play instead of Venus?
BILLIE JEAN KING: No, I don't think so. I watched that match. In fact, I stayed up till 3:00 to watch it on TV. I saw the whole thing. It was a fantastic match. It just shows you how strong the USA women are. It's such a privilege for me to be around in this time of women's tennis because we definitely are the best we have ever been in the history of our sport. As a Fed Cup captain, you could not ask for anything better. I just think Meghann is improving. She's trying to stay more aggressive, what did she have, 8 match points? You saw when they got too tentative -- she knows she needs to go for it on those. You could see her getting upset with herself but she worked through. I thought that was huge for her.
Q. But she doesn't have any chance to play?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Who knows? You know, on the beginning of this, I said I've never had four healthy players yet. So anything could happen. I may have to ask you to come out if things get really --
Q. I have a skirt somewhere, I can manage in.
BILLIE JEAN KING: And you have to play barefoot.
Q. When are you going to get to Lowell?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I'm really excited to be back in the Lowell and Boston area. It's going to be unreal.
Q. We are excited about it. I hope the kids will be given some sort of a Boston Tour if they have time.
BILLIE JEAN KING: We are not going to have a lot of time because on Wednesday we are going to be doing a lot of stuff like with the Sportsmans Club. We are going to have the kids watch a press conference and me may do a clinic and things. We think it would be really good for the young people to experience what these players go through with a press conference. We have some great ideas. We are going to be doing stuff for Lowell, as well. This is going to be a very difficult, arduous week up to the days we play the matches, so I hope the media is understanding if I do say no. I'm not going to say no very often but we have a lot planned to really be a part of the fabric of the community.
Q. Could you give me a few lines on Meghann? I know last year she had a match point against Austria and she did have a tentative point as you put it and that could have perhaps won the Cup for you.
BILLIE JEAN KING: We probably would have won the Cup but I think it really got the team much closer because of losing. I think that it got even the players that were not there against Austria -- it got their attention. I think that everybody is really behind it. I talked to Meghann after that and I said, "Look, you can either look at this as a disaster or as an opportunity. It could be a new beginning for you." I think she as done unbelievably well since Austria. She has gotten more aggressive. Her work out ethic -- her work ethic is just incredible. If you see her work out --
Q. She told us.
BILLIE JEAN KING: I went and watched her and it was just -- exhausting. But it's also good. It's my job to try to stay in the 21st Century as a coach too, and I went and watched he work out in Phoenix and it's just amazing. She pays the price. She's starting to believe in herself, which is major. Her serves could be very, very wicked when it's going in. It's really a great serve. Just needs a little more consistency. Needs to play each point. She plays the score too much. She knows. She knows. She understands herself very well.
Q. Will we see you at Key Biscayne?
BILLIE JEAN KING: No. I would like to thank everybody and also I'd like to thank our team at the USTA. Everybody is absolutely fantastic. I really appreciate everybody's efforts, Arlen, Michelle, Carol, just to mention a few, and also I'd like to thank everybody in New England that has been so helpful to make this a great Fed Cup. We are all very, very excited. Hopefully this will be the beginning of us bringing the Fed Cup back to the United States of America.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much for your time and to the media.
End of FastScripts….