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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 31, 2007
TIM CURRY: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today for our media conference call with U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe who will announce the team that will face the Czech Republic next weekend in the first round of the 2007 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas at the CEZ Arena in Ostrava. A press release and transcript of this call will be sent out after today's call.
With that being said, here is Captain McEnroe to announce the U.S. roster.
PATRICK McENROE: Thank you, Tim. The team for our first round match in the Czech Republic will be Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob and Mike Bryan. And now we will open it up for any questions.
Q. Not much suspense in announcing the team these days.
PATRICK McENROE: Oh, no, definitely not at the moment.
Q. On paper it is one of the most powerful squads we have seen in years. You've got the top doubles team. You've got the fourth and sixth players in the world. And, yet, you sort of tie as a slight favorite, I would say. Can you talk a little bit about that?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, look, I think we're certainly lucky that we have our best players that are committed to Davis Cup. I said my goal coming in as a captain now about seven years ago was to try to be -- to try to be in the hunt every year. Obviously, we've had some disappointing first-round losses since I have been the captain; but we have also, I think, been in the hunt.
We have been in a couple semifinals. We have been in a final. We are certainly in the hunt again this year. I think when you look at the most recent past in Davis Cup, it is very difficult to dominate. It is just difficult for any country to dominate. That tells you about the depth in the men's game. It tells you about smaller countries that are now big factors in Davis Cup, like Croatia, like the Slovak Republic. Argentina certainly has come up in the last couple years particularly. And for us, I think we're in the hunt.
But we all know that playing away on clay has been tough for us, and we are playing away on clay against a good team with one very good player in Tomas Berdych. So I think that's why -- I don't think you can say that any team is a heavy favorite. Look at Spain the last couple years, they have lost in the first round.
PATRICK McENROE: So that's just the nature of the beast, the nature of Davis Cup now which makes it, I think, so exciting and makes the journey difficult.
But I think once we do get there and win a Davis Cup, I think we'll all appreciate it and the players particularly have been very committed to playing every year.
I mean, since I have been the captain, Andy Roddick has missed one time because he was injured back when we played Croatia, which I believe was 2002, I think it was. So we have been pretty lucky that our best guys have been there. And now with James certainly in the top ten in the number one doubles team, I think I can say that we're in the hunt and we're one of the favorites to go all the way.
Q. Patrick, what kind of pressure is on you either internal or external because of the drought? Obviously, you have been the captain six or seven years. You just had a contract extension. But I'm wondering what you're feeling as a captain?
PATRICK McENROE: I am always feeling pressure as a captain. It is my job to put the best team out there and to try to make a difference during the matches. So that's -- sure, I feel that pressure, but it is a pleasurable pressure to have because it is an honor to be there. It is an honor to be -- obviously to represent the country and to be there representing the players as well and to try to help them.
So, yeah, there is pressure from me. There is obviously just as much pressure for the players, but I think we enjoy it. We enjoy the process, and there should be pressure on us. We got a great team and we've got guys that have proven their worth year in and year out. As you said, in the rankings, we are right up there.
When you first came on, obviously, we were sort of scrambling to find the next players that could take us to the next level; and we found those players now. Now it is a question of getting them to play their best in the Davis Cup situation.
So, yes, there is certainly pressure on me to help make that happen.
Q. Have you ever been to Ostrava?
PATRICK McENROE: I have not. I have been to Prague. I actually played there the last time we played the Davis Cup there. I played the doubles. I am hoping that we have a little more success than I did on the court.
Q. Just wanted to get your thoughts on this force. Have they ever gone into a tie playing individually as well as they are playing right now with Andy's run at the Australian and the Bryan brothers and Blake obviously just an into a buzz saw in Melbourne but they all seem to be playing as well as they have going into a tie.
PATRICK McENROE: I am really happy with where all the guys are, particularly James and Andy would say they finished with a disappointing match in Australia. To me that doesn't take away the great progress I saw in Andy's game and two of the best matches I have seen him play in a long time, beating Safin and beating Ancic and then winning quite easily against Mardy Fish in the quarter. I really saw Andy playing the best tennis I have seen him play.
Hopefully we can build on that and not worry about the fact that, you know, he took a tough beating in the semifinals.
James, you know, I think it is the same kind of thing. He had a great start, winning in Sydney and looked very good in the Australian and had a disappointing match against Gonzales. Obviously as it turns out, with Gonzales getting in the finals, clearly the guy was hot. So, yeah, I think all the guys are playing about as well as they've played. And, obviously, with the Bryans winning the Australian again, they are certainly proving they are the best doubles team in the world consistently.
I think we feel very good about where we are. I know as a captain I feel the guys will be coming in really feeling good about a lot of the things they've done in the last couple months.
Q. You mentioned that you played in Prague, I think it was, in '96. What do you remember from that match and how will it help you prepare the team for the match in Ostrava?
PATRICK McENROE: I will try to erase everything about that match, because I played in the doubles and we were one apiece going into the doubles and we just got blitzed. I was nursing sort of a bad shoulder actually, ended up having surgery soon thereafter.
But we had two great matches in from Todd Martin who won both his singles matches, and we lost doubles, and [ck] Nawasha lost the fifth match. It was disappointing.
As I said, to play Davis Cup the four times I've played was a huge honor; but I have certainly learned a lot more being the captain than for the many years I have been the captain than as a player. I won't really think about that too much other than to know that the Czechs have a great history in tennis and have had a lot of great players over the years.
So it is a big deal for them to play us. It was a big deal for them to play us back in '96. And we're expecting that same type of environment in Ostrava, which is obviously a different city and most of us haven't been there. So we are looking forward to the trip and, obviously, just taking on another challenge.
But I will attempt to erase the way I performed in that doubles match from anything I bring to this match.
Q. If there was ever a chance for you guys to get off the snide and win on clay, this seems to be it, right?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, we've won a couple of matches on clay. Since I have been around, we haven't won one in the world group. We have won a couple to requalify.
PATRICK McENROE: So we have beaten some good teams. We beat the Slovak Republic. We beat Belgium, which has some good players.
Yes, this is a great opportunity for us and I think it was one of the guys said to me last year right after we lost to the Russians in the semifinals, Hey, it would be nice to get a match away on clay maybe earlier on in the competition instead of playing in the semis and finals. The two years we reached the semis and the year we reached a finals, we were all playing away on clay against very, very strong countries.
Yes, it is a great opportunity and if we can get through this one, we know that our next match would be at home. So we would certainly relish that opportunity. But we got to go over there and play well and go in with the right mind-set to be successful on clay. That's a big part of my job for the next week and a half.
Q. Piggybacking on the Australian question, what do you think Andy and James' mood is going to be like in Ostrava?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's going to have to be positive because as I said earlier, they both have a lot of positives to draw on and sometimes you play a great tournament and you lose a match and you can let that sit there.
But my job is to reiterate with them, which -- what I saw which is a lot of great tennis from both of them. They always get excited to play Davis Cup, and I think it is a positive thing for them to have Davis Cup to look forward to so soon after the Australian and they always come in with a great attitude and eager to play well.
So I'm expecting that to happen and certainly expecting us to get out of there with a win.
Q. Do you think Andy's newfound style of really attacking the net is going to suit him well for clay or is he going to have to change it up a little bit?
PATRICK McENROE: I would like to see him still be aggressive. I like his court position, the way he was playing in Australia. I think he can play that same kind of way on clay. Look, he is not going to be ten feet behind the baseline on any surface, particularly on clay, is not going to be the best place for him.
Yes, I would like to continue to see him do what he's doing and his improved ability at the net, why not come in a little bit more. I think he can be successful playing that kind of tennis on clay.
Q. He certainly showed that in Belgium against Rochus
, that's for sure.
PATRICK McENROE: Exactly.
Q. Obviously being a Davis Cup captain is a unique position. I know no one has really written a book on how to do it. How have you learned to adapt to sitting on the court and relating to players in matches, manage the input you give them and those kinds of things?
PATRICK McENROE: It is a very good question, and it's still a work in progress. But I think I know the guys well enough to know that sometimes less is more and sometimes more is less. So it really -- it is a feeling-out process of sort of knowing the players and sometimes Andy doesn't want to hear much at all. Sometimes he wants to hear a lot. So you really have to just read off of his emotions and what he's going through on the court.
And James, you know, is pretty quiet on the court, but he is someone that you can say a couple of things to but you don't want to overload him. Whereas, Andy is sort of in the mood to have a conversation. And like I said, sometimes he doesn't want to talk at all.
You have to be aware it is about the player and it is about what they need at that particular time. It's sort of a reading out -- a feel process to try to read what they need and sometimes they might need something that they don't want. But you have to take that chance.
Then you get in with the Bryan brothers, and they're just pumped up from the time they get on the court for the warmup. So it's really a dynamic that has to be catered to the particular players and the particular situation and I'm sure I've made mistakes and that's part of the deal, though, is when you are out there in the heat of the battle, it is a lot different, even than sitting in the crowd as a coach watching.
Q. Will you be -- obviously you also have to juggle the outside coaches as well. Would Jimmy Connors be part of an entourage with Andy or other coaches? How do you juggle outside coaches with your responsibilities?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, Jimmy at least as far as I know at this point is not coming. I have allowed the coaches to come in the last couple years. I didn't early on because I felt it was getting in the way of some of what was going on with the players. In the last couple years, I have allowed the coaches mostly because my relationship with them and with the players is pretty good. So I think you have to be realistic to understand that the Davis Cup only comes around a couple weeks a year and these guys have full-time coaches.
A big part of my job is communicating with the coaches and talking to Brian Barker, James' coach, and an understanding here's re the things James has been working on and these are the things we want to do in this particular match.
So I have learned a lot from the coaches themselves, and I think that's really important in the role as a captain. As I said, I don't think it makes sense to not have -- not let the players bring their full-time coaches if that's what they want to do. As long as we are all on the same page and we are all trying to reach the same goal and understand that, then it works pretty well.
Q. Berdych, he's got a nice winning record on clay. Blake and Roddick had losing records on clay. As a captain, it must be hard to make tactical changes or tactical advice in the middle of a match. How much of that kind of thing can you do? It seems Roddick and Blake sort of bring a hard-court game on to clay court. And I think it is strong enough to beat a lot of players. Are there times when you can somehow tweak that at all to give them some ideas or input that can, perhaps, alter their tactics to make it more after winning formula for them?
PATRICK McENROE: I think for our guys, it is more of a mind-set than anything else. I think our guys just have to come in with the mentality of be willing to pay the price physically and mentally to win a tough five-set match on clay. I really think -- I have seen from both of them really good clay court tennis in spurts and in patches.
I would really like to see them just have the mind-set that, hey, you know what, there is going to be some bad bounces and some things I did on hard courts maybe aren't going to have the same effect as they do on clay but that's okay.
Because I think they both have a lot of weaponry and a lot of strengths in their game that can work and do work on clay. My job, I think, is to get them to just go out there with a positive attitude and an attitude that they're willing to understand that it might take one or two extra shots to win a lot of points. When they go in with that attitude, there is no doubt in my mind that we can be successful on clay.
Q. I want to ask you, with a relatively short turnaround time, have the guys been able to do anything as far as practicing on clay court? Or will your practice be confined to just the week that you're there? Can you do something?
PATRICK McENROE: Andy is already down in Florida. He got to Florida last night. He is practicing on clay this week. And Jay Berger who is going to come over as my assistant again for this match has been helping him get some practice down there.
James, I think as you know, is playing in Delray. He is playing some matches there on hard court. And the Bryan brothers are also down in Florida practicing on clay.
So we will meet up in the Czech Republic on Sunday morning, and that will be when our practice over there gets underway. And James, you know, we hope will be arriving Monday after he wins the title in Delray.
Q. Do you think Blake's five-set struggle is more mental, physical or just the experience of winning one?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I certainly think we would all love to see him win one. I think physically he is a lot stronger now than he has ever been. I think he hasn't had -- Most of his losses in five sets, to be honest, came earlier in his career. He had a disappointing one certainly at Wimbledon last year and at the French. I think those certainly weren't physical.
I think it is just something that he has just got to fight through, and I think he will. He is too good of a player not to.
If we get to a fifth set in the Czech Republic in one of his matches, I will feel good and it will be a great time to break that string.
Q. I remember your first tie was against Switzerland. You said before that tie you thought Federer could be number one, that he had the talent to be number one. Is there anything at that time that when you look back now that surprised you about his progression as a player, just technical areas of his game that you didn't think would develop as they did?
PATRICK McENROE: I think technically his backhand has gotten so much better over the last couple years. You can see his movement, and the forehand and sort of the fluidity on the court. His backhand has become such a weapon as well. His serve, I think he has gotten more consistent. Obviously, what he has done in the last couple years has just been nothing short of remarkable as far as his numbers and his consistency.
Back then, you know, he would shank quite a few balls and he would not lose interest but maybe lose focus, lose concentration. And now I think what's most impressive about him in addition to just his overall game, is just how mentally solid he is throughout the course of a match and a tournament. He never really gives his opponents any room, you know, doesn't give them a free cheap point here or there. And that's something that I don't think any of us could have predicted when I saw him when I think he was 18 or 19 at the time.
He has just become so much more predictable in a way that you know he is not going to give you anything.
Q. Do you give Switzerland any -- or how much of a shot do you give them without Federer against Spain?
PATRICK McENROE: I give them a chance because they have got a couple of pretty good players. Wawrinka is good and so is -- Chiudinelli is not a bad player, and they are playing indoors in what I assume will be fairly quick courts. It is the same kind of thing.
You look at it on paper and you look, well, Spain is -- should win this, and the reality is they are going away and playing on a surface that is a little uncomfortable for them.
That's the situation we're in. We're going to a place where on paper we certainly should win the match, but we are not playing it on paper. That's sort of the beauty of Davis Cup. You get thrown into these environments and depending -- with the depth in the men's game and different services, et cetera, a lot of things can happen.
Q. The fact that the second round site has already been announced, how bold a move is that, in your opinion?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, we haven't -- we're obviously well aware that we need to take care of the first round; but I think from a logistics standpoint, it's helpful to everyone to know when you have such -- you know, one of the real challenges of Davis Cup is the incredibly quick turnaround. So I think setting up a place -- most of the time that's done any way. But I think it was just announced in your neck of the country just to help out with promoting the event, which I think is one of the challenges of Davis Cup.
So I think if you can do that in the right circumstances -- we all know we need to win the first round. And it is sort of irrelevant to how we do in the first round.
I will say if we do get through the first round, then all the guys are very much looking forward to going back there. As you remember, of course, the last time we played there was my first tie as a captain at home and who did we have playing singles but Roddick and Blake. They have grown up quite a bit in the years, and I'm sure they would love to come back there again.
Q. Does that have any psychological impact on the team or any kind of impact for next week at all?
PATRICK McENROE: No, absolutely. We are well aware as I have told the guys, and they have told me, in fact, that we need to take care of the first round first. And we are well aware of how dangerous the Czechs are and what good players they have. That's in no way indicative of anything other than a way to help promote the event and plan because if you finish the first round, you have got basically two months to get ready for the next one. That's not a lot of time.
Q. Patrick, just following up, is Ryan Sweeting going to be a practice partner?
PATRICK McENROE: Ryan Sweeting and Michael Russell.
Q. They just played each other in Delray?
PATRICK McENROE: They did. Sweeting won. Michael got a little bit of a flu that he had gotten. He had just flown in from Hawaii where he won the Challenger there and he was a little bit under the weather and retired. Sweeting had another win today. He is doing well.
Q. Talking about other Americans, is Mardy Fish back on your Davis Cup radar? I know it will be tough to crack the big two.
PATRICK McENROE: He definitely is. We spoke quite a bit down in Australia. I am hopeful to get him to come on board for a match that would work for our schedules. He is definitely someone that is certainly on the radar screen, yes.
Q. Another part of Roddick's game, he seems to have flattened out and is driving that two-hander. That might not work as well, though, on clay, right?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it can under certain conditions but, yeah, I would certainly like to see him -- as I said, if he's standing closer to the baseline, I think good things happen. So he gets a lot of spin on the forehand. He can get a little more spin on the backhand if he needs it. If he is driving that ball and hitting it deep, it will be successful on clay as well.
Q. In your mind, if you get one win out of Roddick or Blake against Berdych, do you feel pretty good about your chances?
PATRICK McENROE: I really look at it as getting three points, and whatever way we get three points we get three points. Obviously, Berdych is a serious factor for them. He has beaten Roddick before. In fact, he has beaten Roddick on fast courts. So he is the guy that can play.
James has beaten him, but I believe that was a couple times on hard court. I would say if we can get a win over him, we're certainly in good shape, yes.
Q. Patrick, start with the surface choice for a second. It seems it is more of a decision to hurt you than to help them.
PATRICK McENROE: I don't think there is any question about that. But I think that's part of Davis Cup. You could have made the argument that the Russians were better on fast courts than on clay, and they decided to play on clay and were able to use that to their advantage.
So I think that's an accurate assessment. I think Berdych is better on fast courts, but I think he has also had some good results on clay. I think it was the fourth round in the French last year and he can play on clay.
But if you are playing against us and two of the best hard court players in the world in Roddick and Blake, it is certainly understandable that they would go away what they are most comfortable on in thinking maybe they are just a little less comfortable than we are. But that's a challenge for us, and, as I said, we are going to have to win -- we are going to have to win one of these matches sometime. You would love to be able to play every Davis Cup match at home. It is just not likely.
Q. What's been the most stinging loss of your captaincy?
PATRICK McENROE: I would say probably the most surprising one when we lost to Croatia at home. That's the only match we have lost at home since I have been captain. Having Andre and Andy there, I think that was certainly a tough one to stomach, and me feeling like I made the court a little bit too slow didn't help me being able to deal with it and my responsibility there in making the court maybe too slow for Andre.
But that happened. I think certainly going to Spain and having a chance to win it and losing in the final there was disappointing.
But probably the one -- the home loss to Croatia probably stung the most.
Q. Just a couple things, were you down in Australia through the end of the tournament?
PATRICK McENROE: I had to come home early.
Q. Have you heard any more news about the reasons for Stepanek not being part of the team? I think obviously you were probably delighted to see that he wasn't playing. Obviously, they are a combination that could be very tough. Without him on the team, I think there is a little more light.
PATRICK McENROE: All I've heard is what I have seen in the paper which is -- on the Internet which was that he has had some problems with the Czech Federation. That's all I have seen.
I will say from the broader scope of the Davis Cup, I would like to see all the best players play all the time, and that's what Davis Cup should be about. In the larger scheme of things, I would love to see everybody play. I would love to see Federer playing against Spain, but the reality of the situation is the reality.
All I really care about for us is to win the match, so not having him there, I think, certainly helps our chances. In no way would I think it's an unwinnable match or that much tougher of a match if he did play. You have got to go out there and win. They have got a guy there in Dlouhy who played third round in the French last year and beat Acasuso. They have got some guys that can play other than Berdych and Stepanek.
TIM CURRY: If there are no further questions, we'll conclude the call. Just one point of fact I wanted to clarify, the only match that Andy Roddick has missed since making his debut in 2001 was the 2003 World Group first round against Croatia in Zagreb. That came after Roddick's semifinal run at the Australia Open which included the five-hour quarterfinal match against El Aynaoui. Roddick has played in the 15 of the 16 ties since the 2001 first round.
If there are no other questions in queue, thanks again everyone for joining the call. We will send out the transcript and press release shortly.
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