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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 2, 2008
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us on the call today. For those journalists in Key Biscayne, we appreciate you being on the call before what we know is going to be a busy day down at the tournament. For our friends on the West Coast, we appreciate you joining us so early in the morning.
We have with us Jane Brown Grimes, Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA, and Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive Officer of Tennis. Jane will open the call, to be followed by Arlen, who will make today's formal announcement. We will then hear from our special guest before going to a Q&A portion of the call.
Without further ado, I will turn the call over to Jane Brown Grimes.
JANE BROWN GRIMES: Thank you, Chris. Thanks to all of you for joining us on the call today for what I consider to be a very special announcement.
With regards to elite player development, the USTA is at a real turning point. We're changing our strategic direction and approach for developing future American champions. After a comprehensive search, we are today here to announce our new Head of Elite Player Development. This position is going to report to Arlen Kantarian, CEO of Pro Tennis. I'd like him now to give you a quick look at the challenge that we have ahead of us, then to make the formal announcement.
So, Arlen, do you want to step in at this point?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: Sure. Thanks, Jane. Again, thanks to all for joining us. This is certainly an important day for American tennis and for the USTA. We're here to talk about a new vision, new leadership, a new unified approach for elite player development and one with a very, very specific goal, and that is to create the next generation of American champions.
Before making some important announcements, just a few comments as Jane mentioned on the challenges we think lie ahead. I know everyone on this call recognizes that sports are more global and more globally competitive than maybe ever before. We understand today's international competition that tennis faces, which of course might be the most global of all sports.
We live in a new hypercompetitive sports world, which has made it a much more challenging environment for American champions, and it's one that's not just affecting tennis but certainly all sports.
Since the Open era, close to a hundred more nations are now competing in the Olympic Games, 150 more foreign-born players are on Major League Baseball rosters this spring, over 75 international players are now playing in the NBA, and in golf we've seen a 20% decrease in the number of American players in the top hundred.
I know you're all aware that in tennis we're seeing the emergence of players from all over the globe, countries that include Serbia, Croatia, Cyprus, China, India, in a sport that now is even more global than ever before. Of course, we're feeling the impact. Last year's Open was the second time in 20 years that an American was not in the singles final of the US Open. Of course, on the other hand, you could look at that and say Americans have reached the finals of the US Open in 18 of the last 20 years. I think both of those statements say something about American tennis.
Bottom line, it's a new world. We recognize the reality and we're committed to change. So today marks the beginning of a completely new direction for the USTA. We're here to announce the first three steps in that plan.
First we're announcing the launch of an elite player development initiative, one that we feel will provide a more focused pathway, a more focused effort for our top American juniors and young pros to become American champions.
Second, we wanted to build a broad coalition, a more unified approach, that will soon include the formation of a Champions Advisory Board and a Coaches Commission that will help bring together the best in American tennis.
And third, and maybe most importantly, we're here to name a proven leader who we think is best suited to take on this new world and this new initiative.
Over the past few months, I think you all know we've conducted a worldwide search. We've talked to over 30 people looking for the right leader. I can certainly tell you when it comes to developing players, there are probably as many different opinions as there are people. But there were three very consistent thoughts that came through as we listened to the type of leader that everybody felt we needed:
First, it was someone with demonstrated leadership and proven success across several different areas of the sport.
Second, someone who has the respect, credibility and support of top players, coaches and industry leaders.
And third, and maybe most importantly, someone who has a sense of inclusiveness who can help unify our past champions, top coaches, top academies behind this effort, yet somebody who is inclusive yet decisive.
After hearing all that, our decision became pretty clear. Today we are very pleased to announce that Patrick McEnroe will be named the new General Manager of Elite Player Development for the USTA and will continue as the U.S. Davis Cup captain. Patrick will begin his new role and join the USTA full-time on May 12th.
As I am sure many of you on today's call might agree, Patrick is one of the most respected and forward-thinking leaders in tennis today. We're confident that we have the right man for the job.
At this point, I'd like to just congratulate Patrick and turn it over to him for his comments before taking any questions.
PATRICK McENROE: Arlen, thank you. Personally I'd like to thank both Arlen and Jane for really supporting me and for believing that I could get this done and that I'm the right person for the job.
I think it's really three quick reasons why I felt like this is the perfect time for me to take on this role:
Number one, my passion for tennis, my passion for the sport is there. I feel like in this position I can really do something positive for tennis and positive for American tennis.
By the way, these aren't in any particular order.
Number two is the support of my wife and my family because this is going to take a lot of commitment from me and a lot of time. My wife has been incredibly supportive in helping me make this decision.
Also to the USTA in general for realizing the commitment that needs to be made for developing players with additional resources aimed at our top prospects all over the country.
The goal is obvious: it's to get more Americans winning major titles, winning Davis Cup, winning Fed Cup. I've worked now for this is my eighth year with the Davis Cup. I really look at this job as sort of an offshoot of what I've tried to do in Davis Cup, which is be very inclusive, set some guidelines, but be able to work with people and be able to get the best ideas from the best people.
I haven't been a guy that's coached full-time, but I've been someone that has been around great coaches. I've certainly coached my fair share on the bench in Davis Cup. But I think my ability to bring people together and to listen and to take in a lot of different ideas. At the end of the day, I'll be making the decisions as to the vision and where we think this program should go.
The USTA has stepped up in a big way. We've opened our own training center in Boca. Excellent people there running that. Excellent coaching staff. I fully intend to work with them and continue this pathway to success.
We need to give the kids that want to work with the USTA the best possible coaches, best possible resources, best environment so that they can achieve success.
As Arlen said, we're very aware how global the sport has become. I think overall it's been great for tennis, but it's sort of a new era in sports and certainly in tennis. I think the USTA has realized that.
By no means does this mean that the USTA is necessarily going to be the only one responsible. I mean, we know there's great academies out there, there are great parents out there, there are great coaches out there. My goal with this role with the USTA is to bring everybody together to try to do this as a team.
I think the USTA realizes that in stepping up their efforts, they can help everybody and help the entire team of American tennis.
Bottom line is we're going to give our top prospects the best that we can in coaching, training facilities, environment, best resources, period.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you, Patrick. At this point we'd like to open it up to media questions.
Q. Patrick, your opinion, what do you think is the biggest reason? Some people think it's just not even necessarily resources but, A, we're just looking to the wrong places for our best athletes, and B, that American teenagers or kids are just kind of spoiled, not as hungry, not as willing to work as some of the kids around the world. Can you address philosophically where you think you have to start with finding the next champions.
PATRICK McENROE: Obviously, identifying talent is going to be a huge part of my job and a huge part of what we try to do at the USTA because we all know that you've got to look around and you've got to look all over the country.
All the things you said are true. The world has caught up in some ways. But that's okay. Again, having resources I think shouldn't be looked at as a negative. We want to give our kids the best. At the same time, when you give them the best, you expect the best from them. I don't mean they're going to be great; I mean, they're going to give you their best.
That's going to be a big part of my job, is to not only find the kids that have the ability but that have the desire and have the drive. We know they come from Compton, California; from Douglaston, Queens; from Las Vegas, Nevada; from California; from Florida. They come from all over.
I think there's no easy answer to any of this. But, as I said, using the resources we have, I think should only help what we're trying to do, not hurt.
Q. How is this different, this particular job, this new initiative, from the high performance training center that's down here in South Florida? You had coaches working for that who were supposed to be scouting the next generation. How is this different?
PATRICK McENROE: You're talking about our training center in Boca?
PATRICK McENROE: It's not different. That was a big first step for the USTA, which was to start our own training center and be responsible for the kids that come there that have the desire to come and work with the USTA.
My vision, my idea is if you build it, they will come. If you build a great center, which we're doing, which we have, you have great coaches, which we have, great facilities, you will get kids that want to come.
That doesn't mean there aren't going to be kids that will go somewhere else or who will stay home, like myself and my brother did when we were growing up in New York. And that's fine. We're going to encourage all of that.
At the same time I think the reason I'm taking this job is that the USTA feels like, you know what, it's time for us to step up and be accountable and make our system accountable to creating great players.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I'm going to ask Arlen Kantarian to add to that.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: At the beginning, we mentioned and announced the creation of an Elite Player Development Unit, which really is a much more focused effort and providing a much more focused pathway for our top American juniors and young pros, surrounding them with the best of the best in coaching, fitness, nutrition, strength and condition, media training, for them to have a clearer and more focused pathway to get from 110th ranked in the world to the top 20.
So we are going to provide a much clearer and focused attempt at those to be juniors and young pros in addition to what we've been doing in the past, but a much more focused effort and a narrower net to capture those up-and-coming young pros to get to the top 20.
JANE BROWN GRIMES: I just would also like to add, for the first time this position will report directly to the CEO of Pro Tennis, Arlen Kantarian, who of course will be the end-user of having these champions at Flushing Meadows in the final weekend. That is a new development, having these elite players under the pro tennis umbrella.
Q. What do you see as the biggest change that needs to be made?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think I've always felt in my years playing and in television and as a captain, there's been sort of an us-against-them attitude from the tennis world and the USTA. My goal is to say, You know what, the USTA is taking a different direction here. We're really serious about putting our resources into developing players. As Jane just said, you know, reporting to Arlen and reporting to pro tennis is something new and something that was needed for this particular job.
So my job is really going to be to work within the tennis community, to find those elite players that we think can become champions, to give them that pathway, to give them the opportunities to become great players.
My goal is to find those players, but it's also to be able to say, You know what, the USTA is doing it right. That doesn't mean it's the only way to do it, because we all know, as I've said, that there are plenty of ways to create champions, but that the USTA is doing it the right way, and that's the message we want to put out there. That's a huge part of my job, is to be able to bridge that gap.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: One other comment. One of the biggest changes is this development of a broader coalition, as announced earlier. The creation of a Champions Advisory Board, which will be named later, as well as the creation of a Coaches Commission, as well. That's something that we have not had in the past.
Q. How quickly do you think you can see the benefits of the new ideas you're bringing to the table? Is this something that's going to take years or do you think you'll see improvement in the top hundred fairly quickly?
PATRICK McENROE: No, this is a long-term plan, and I'm with the USTA for the long-term on this. We all know that developing players does not happen overnight. A lot more of my focus will be with the young kids coming up, with the boys and the girls, and getting myself up to speed on all the young kids that are out there.
Obviously my main focus over the last few years has been with the pro game. So I will be paying a lot of attention to the young kids coming up, to the coaches working with those young kids. So this is a long-term plan, and we're in it for the long haul.
Q. What are your thoughts on the college players, having gone to college yourself? A lot of the guys, it is mostly guys as opposed to women, coming out of the college ranks, whether they were there for one or four years, have felt left out of the system. They felt like once they made the decision to go to college, they were sort of cast aside as guys that weren't going to be able to make it as top pros. Is there something you can do to address that mentality? Do you think for the core of guys that are sort of hanging around the top hundred, Amer Delic, Bobby Reynolds, is there something you can do for them now at this point in their careers to be better pros?
PATRICK McENROE: Those are a couple of very good questions. Let me say I agree with a lot of those guys, that they've been sort of left out in some sense. I've been extremely happy over the last year, year and a half, to see John Isner come through. I'm not that happy about the foreign kids, but it's great for the college system. And I think we - "we" meaning the tennis world - have rushed some of our kids to the pros too quickly.
Obviously if you're talking about an Andy Roddick, you're talking about a Sam Querrey, a Donald Young, those players, particularly Andy, went straight to the top 10, those guys I think have the potential to get there. So there are certain instances where young players are probably better off going to the pros.
And certainly on the female side, most of the time the top players in the women's game start a bit younger than the men. There's certainly a place for women to go to college for a bit and then come into the tour. But there's no question that the college system can help male players who develop a little bit later. Because of the physical nature of the game, it's a bit different.
So what I'm going to do is to say, Absolutely we should support these college players. By the way, Amer Delic, Bobby Reynolds and other players have certainly gotten support from the USTA. It's not like they've been completely not thought of. He's been a practice partner for us. He's gotten some coaching from the USTA.
I certainly think that the attitude needs to change. The attitude is, You know what, you can go to college and you can still be a very, very good pro player. The other side of it, which we all recognize, is that when you're talking about elite players, top 10, top 20 type players, you know, many times they go straight to the pros. You have James Blake, obviously, who has been a solid top 10 player, and it's certainly extremely possible that players can go to college if not for four years for a couple of years and still be great pros.
Q. Your personal situation as Davis Cup captain, does this job impact how much longer you'll be able to continue in that job?
PATRICK McENROE: No. To me, they work together. They work together quite well. As I said in my opening remarks, to me, this is the same kind of thing but obviously there will be more on my plate. I'll be dealing with the women and the girls as well.
But, no, I certainly intend on staying as Davis Cup captain. I love what I've done, my experience there, how great the guys have been, supporting the team. I've mentioned to them that I'm going to take over this position. I think these guys are very supportive of that.
So the answer is I will continue and I'll also continue in my role at ESPN during the Grand Slams, which I'm extremely happy about. ESPN has been great in understanding what I'm taking on here. So I'll be jumping on a few more planes here and there, but I'll also be continuing the things I've been doing.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: It's important to note that decision to name Patrick as GM of this new initiative, we have also extended his term as the U.S. Davis Cup captain.
Q. For how long?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: For at least three more years.
Q. What is your feeling about home schooling?
PATRICK McENROE: My feeling about home schooling? I'm not that really well-versed in it. I've heard of a lot of people that do it, but I can't say that I'm an expert on it at this point.
Q. I ask because here in Southern California we're finding a great many promising young players are opting for home schooling in order to have more time to practice tennis, which would seem to diminish their opportunities for attending college.
PATRICK McENROE: I'm not going to speculate on whether that's true or not. Certainly there seem to be a lot of people that home school that have nothing to do with sports. But I'm not going to get into a discussion on that with you because I'm not really abreast of all the numbers and the information on that.
Q. We've been talking about college tennis, how it can abet tennis players. It seems to me that it abets a lot of tennis players, and most of them are from Czechoslovakia (sic), Germany, all the countries which send their players to be educated in the United States, which doesn't do anything at all for the betterment of tennis in our country, tennis by our players. Might you try to influence colleges to welcome more U.S.-oriented players than we're seeing at the moment?
PATRICK McENROE: First of all, I think competition is good. I think that's the way to create champions, which is have them compete against other great players, whether they're American or not. If you go to many of these tennis academies in this country, which have helped create a lot of great players, there's players from all over the world. I think that's a good thing, to have competition.
I would certainly love to see more American players come out of the college system, and I think we're starting to see that. We've seen some real good players come out in the last couple years. We're also seeing some come from other countries.
I don't think they necessarily have to be against each other, that concept. I think there's plenty of room for some foreign players and I think there's also plenty of room for our American players.
Q. A lot of the leading coaches in America have a rough edge. You can argue their focus hasn't exactly been on developing American talent. Lansdorp's major work was Sharapova, Bollettieri had Haas and others, Gilbert worked for the LTA for a good stretch. How can we get these guys involved and turn 'em loose to develop talent?
PATRICK McENROE: I think first of all the USTA has stepped up to the plate and said they're going to give more resources to creating great players. That's number one. Number two is to get them excited about where we're headed with the USTA. That's going to be a big part of my job. And, as you said, there's a lot of coaches that are great personalities, and there are a lot of players that are great personalities. That's what creates champions, is people like that, passionate people, people that care.
I feel like my passion is there. My passion is to help bring those people together. Certainly let's hope we have some heated discussions with some of these coaches. That's my job. That's going to be my job. It's certainly going to be my goal to bring people like that into what we're trying to do, which doesn't mean they're necessarily going to work full-time for the USTA, but it means that they're going to see what we're doing and they're going to be proud of what we're doing and trying to help create great U.S. players.
At the same time what they've done in their life, the Lansdorps of the world, the Bollettieris of the world, I can learn a lot from those people and I'll certainly plan on trying to do that.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: I think that also lends itself to the Coaches Commission that we're going to be creating, as well.
Q. Will any of those guys be on the commission?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: To be named at a later date.
Q. On the culture front, we have the situation where these players emerging from basement apartments in Moscow, swimming pools in Belgrade, we know where we're living we're fortunate to live in a world of Beamers and YouTube. Your brothers, Connors, Agassi, all had this ferocity, determination. The guys and gals now are determined, but it seem it is like it's a problem.
PATRICK McENROE: I think, as I said earlier, it's passion. Obviously you need players that have the ability, the physical ability, but you need that X factor, that desire. That's not something you can teach; that's something you've got to find and you're got to mold and you've got to create that pathway for them. You've got to help them.
Oftentimes it's a parent, it's a coach from a young age, it's a mentor, something. What we're going to try to do is create the best possible environment. That doesn't mean it's going to be swimming pools and let's hang out and not work. We're going to create the environment where players can make the most of the ability they have. Obviously, you've got to find those players that have that X factor and that ability to fight and scrap and claw.
Q. What do you see as the most important thing, if you favor one or the other, in terms of identifying talent and how talent is trained, or do you think both things sort of need some work in terms of how you identify people and how people are actually trained in terms of style of play? Game has changed a lot in the last 10 or 15 years. Things you'd like to implement.
PATRICK McENROE: There's no doubt that both are crucially important. I can't sit here and say that one outweighs the other. Certainly players, number one, need the ability to hit the ball, time the ball. You can say you need a great athlete, but you can have a great athlete, means they can run and do certain things, but they can't time a tennis ball, it doesn't translate on the tennis court. You need the players that have the great timing, number one.
Obviously the speed of the game has increased over the years. So movement is increasingly important. And developing them. I've always said, when people ask me, Would you create a serve-and-volley player, would you give someone a two-handed backhand or one-handed backhand? I say, I'd throw them the ball, see what they do, take it from there.
You have to be malleable as a coach. You have to be able to work with what your player has. Brad Gilbert has always been someone that has talked about that in working with great players. And that's key, the ability to take what your player has and use it to the best of their ability.
There are many ways to become a great player, many styles of play that can become great. But certainly you need both. You need to find that talent and then you need to be able to create that pathway for success for those kids and give them the opportunity.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the resources being devoted to this. Is there a new chunk of money going into this? Are things being rearranged in a way?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: I think, as Patrick mentioned, we're prepared to invest in whatever it takes to surround these top juniors and young pros in an effort for them to become champions. The plan is to surround them with the best in coaching, best in fitness, nutrition, media training. That does translate to extra dollars. Starting next year we have upped our budget in this area by 50%. Not going to get into specific numbers, but that is a significant increased commitment by the USTA and its board in order to give Patrick everything necessary to succeed.
Q. That's starting in '09?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: We'll be up for the remainder of this year as well. But for our first full year, we'll be up 50%, correct.
Q. You're a father now. Would you want your kid playing pro tennis today? If so, how would you handle it? Would you do it the way you were brought up by playing at home or would you consider one of these elite academies, say down in Boca?
PATRICK McENROE: If my daughter has a passion for tennis and playing, absolutely, I would support that. I think that's a big part of my job, your second question, which is figuring out and dealing with parents, dealing with coaches, what's the best for their kid.
If someone said, Hey, I think it's better for my kid to stay at home, to stay close to home. Is there another way that the USTA can help you as opposed to coming to Boca? You have to be open to all of that.
There's no right answer to that particular question. But, again, what we're going to do, we've already started to do with what the USTA has done at Boca, is gotten a great training center up and running with excellent coaches, excellent facilities. The option is there. I think what we're trying to do is create some more options for our best players out there and work with them and work with their coaches and work with everybody in the tennis world and say, Hey, we're stepping up to the plate, we're willing to do more, and here are the options available. There's no one way to do this.
Q. Is that your greatest challenge, the kids or the parents?
PATRICK McENROE: You know what, it's everything. It's a great challenge. We've been talking about this for a long time. My passion is there to do it. I have tremendous support from the USTA, as I said. Tremendous support from my wife, which is hugely important to me, that she's behind it. So my passion is there.
It's going to be that challenge with the kids, with the parents, with their coaches, with academies, with everybody. And that's where I think I can be effective.
Q. I've been listening for 10 or 15 minutes and I'm trying to figure out why is this different from what we had a year ago or six months ago? Your job title is new, but why are we doing this if what we were doing was not successful? If it was not successful, why are we keeping all these people on staff for something that wasn't successful? What's changed other than you coming in with a new job title? I'm confused by this.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think I'm going to have a couple of months to get up and running and see exactly what's going on on a day-to-day basis.
What's new about this is that the USTA is committing more resources to this, that I'm going to be going around the country and communicating with people and listening to people and taking advice from people, then making decisions about the overall direction of the USTA program and the fact that we've got more resources.
Certainly there are some things that will stay the same. Why shouldn't they? We've had a lot of great players come out of the USA, not solely because of the USTA, but certainly they've been part of it. But the USTA is now going to step up and be more accountable with what we can control. And that's what's different about this. That's where this is changing.
So we'll see. The proof will be in the pudding. I haven't started on the job yet, so maybe give me a little time to figure out what is really working and what we can tweak.
Q. So your job will be a little greater than what Elliott Telscher's was at the time he resigned?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: This is a very, very different job than what any of our people in player development had in the past. As I mentioned at the earlier part of the call, this is a new focus on elite player development. We have new leadership. We have a new budget. We are going to have a new Champions Advisory Board. We're going to have a new Coaches Commission. We're developing players from a hands-on standpoint for the first time ever in Boca Raton in our facility. We have a new inclusive effort.
So this job does not compare to any of those previous jobs. In our view, it's a new day. So hopefully that helps answer the question.
Q. You mentioned the Davis Cup contract has been extended by three years. Obviously this position is really going to need a couple years to get into it, set out a plan, implement it before you see any results. Can you tell us what the length of this contract is.
ARLEN KANTARIAN: We're not going to get into contract terms. As Patrick mentioned, he and we have made a long-term commitment. We don't expect results near-term. There might be some short-term results from the guys and the women that are already our top young pros. This is a five- to eight-year project in terms of creating the next generation of champions, and we fully expect Patrick to be here long-term with this.
Short of that, we're not going to comment on the specific contract terms.
Q. Can you also comment on Patrick's character. He's a very diplomatic guy, is connected to all parts of the industry. Do you feel your whole tennis experience has groomed you for this position?
PATRICK McENROE: Was that for me or Arlen?
PATRICK McENROE: Let me lead off.
I feel like I've been through a lot of different scenarios in the tennis world from being a top junior, from being the 'brother of', from being a college player, from being a pretty decent pro, being on television, being on the board of the USTA which I was before I became the captain.
So tennis has been obviously a huge part of my life and has given me tremendous opportunities and tremendous joy in my life. I feel like, yes, all my experiences have groomed me for this. I've been around a lot of great players. I've lived with some. I've coached them on the bench.
As I said, there are many players that are a lot better than me. There are other coaches that are probably better coaches than I am. But I feel like I can take a little bit from a lot of different places and use my experience to try to bring people together.
Going back to the previous question, this is something that I'm really passionate about and I feel like I can make a difference. I feel like I can make a difference with what the USTA is doing and make a lot more positive things happen by really getting out there and working with people that are respected and that have done a lot in the tennis world. That's what I intend to do.
Q. Arlen, did you want to say anything about the character it would take to do this job?
ARLEN KANTARIAN: I think first and foremost we wanted somebody that already had proven success in this sport. Whether it's his role as Davis Cup captain, broadcaster, player, in the boardroom, in the locker room, I think Patrick has had proven success in virtually every area that he hasp been involved in this sport.
We needed somebody who was credible and respected amongst players, top coaches and industry leaders. I think, as I mentioned earlier, one of the most important attributes in this job, I think Patrick has proven, is to be inclusive yet decisive. I think those are really the attributes that led us as much as anything to Patrick.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you very much. I appreciate everybody joining on this very special call today. Thank you, Jane, Patrick and Arlen.
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