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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 13, 2011
TIM CURRY: Today we are here to announce that the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships, one of the premiere international tournaments in the world, second only to the US Open in the United States, will be moving back to its roots on clay and be moving to the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida. The event this year will be held December 5th through 7th. It will be the 65th edition of the tournament. It was founded by Eddie Herr in 1947 and is considered responsible for spurring the growth of international junior tennis at the time.
The list of past champions of Orange Bowl winners is a who's who of tennis, ranging from Chris Evert, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mary Joe Fernandez, Jim Courier. Since the event moved in 1998 to its current home in Key Biscayne and moved to hard courts, champions of the event on hard court include Roger Federer and Elena Dementieva the first year, and include Andy Roddick in '99, Zvonareva 2000 and 2001, and Marcos Baghdatis.
The move to clay is a significant change for the junior competition in the U.S. We have with us on the phone Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA Player Development Program, and Lew Brewer, director of Junior Competition for the USTA and also the tournament director for the Orange Bowl International.
That being said, we will open up the call for questions.
Q. I'm just wondering, obviously being a Miami person, were there any options in Dade County? 64 years of history in Dade County. I'm wondering if there were any facilities that had the clay courts or is that why you had to move to Broward?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, we certainly looked into some possibilities in Dade County. We did look into Flamingo Park, which is obviously the former site of the Orange Bowl. You know, there's some issues there with the amount of courts, particularly the amount of clay courts that they're going to have.
We wanted to be able to obviously find a place that was in South Florida and relatively close to the Miami area because it's got a great history, as does the Orange Bowl on a lot of levels.
So the answer is yes, we did look into some other possible venues. But we ended up with Plantation just because it is relatively close, does also have a great history of junior tennis, and it's really got I think the perfect setup for this particular event. We're very sorry to inconvenience you personally.
LEW BREWER: We did extensively explore opportunities in Dade County. I would say our first priority was to try to keep it in Dade County because of the history, but there was just not a facility with enough clay courts that could accommodate the event.
Q. Patrick, could you just talk about why it's so important for the development of U.S. tennis to switch to the clay, the way it was before?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's not just to make clay court players, obviously. It's to try to help make better players. I've been saying that for a number of years. I truly believe it. If you play more on clay as a youngster, you'll become a better all-around player. We've seen the European players and South Americans develop into great hard court and great grass court players developing on clay.
Obviously, there are a lot of junior tournaments in the country that are hard courts. That's the nature of where we live and our country, the way things are set up. But this was an opportunity to put one of our premiere events back on a clay court.
I think that opportunity to me was too important for us to pass up. I know both myself and Jose Higueras and the rest of our staff felt if we could do it we should try to do it to encourage our kids to play against the best in the world and to spend some more time developing on clay.
Obviously, as I said, we have the US Open juniors, we have our national championships which are on hard courts, and I thought that our national hard court events we have one national clay court event. But I think it's still skewed toward more hard court events overall. I thought this was a great opportunity for us to bring a tournament back that has a great tradition of being a clay court event and putting it back for a couple of reasons, number one being that we think it will help our players develop better.
Q. Will this be on red or green clay?
PATRICK McENROE: Green clay.
LEW BREWER: It's a Har-Tru surface.
Q. Patrick, could you describe why it is you say that playing more on clay as a youngster helps make players better all around?
PATRICK McENROE: I think the game is predominantly a baseline game now. I don't think that; I know that. I watch a lot of pro tennis, and I watch a lot of tennis, period.
Every single game that's out there is built from the groundstrokes moving forward basically. Obviously net play is still a big part of the game. But there's really no serve and volley kind of game that's out there that's successful at the highest level. That's because of the balls that are used, that's because of the technology, that's because of the surfaces, et cetera.
I don't need to tell you the difference in the grass at Wimbledon is extreme when you compare it to 15 or 20 years ago, even how the game is played on grass, which is generally considered the fastest surface out there. It's still predominantly played from the back of the court.
I also think that developmentally you learn how to use the court a lot better, you learn to move a lot better, you learn to hit more balls and construct points. It's a lot easier to go from a background of growing up on clay and adjusting your game to a faster surface than it is to go vice versa. So, in other words, if you grew up solely on a fast court, it's very difficult I think to make the transition to a slower court, even a slower hard court.
That doesn't mean you play only on clay. I think to have a balance and a mix is still important. But I think that there's no doubt that the players that we're spending a lot more time with now, that we're putting on clay courts, younger kids are developing more patience, more ability to play an all-court game, and also more stamina. I think all those things are absolutely necessary to make it in the professional game.
Q. I am interested in how this impacts the Eddie Herr.
PATRICK McENROE: I'll let Lew take that.
LEW BREWER: We've had extensive discussions with the ITF on this issue exactly. We have asked Rick Workman, who is the tournament director of the Eddie Herr tournament, to move to clay at least for the first year, the boys and girls 18 divisions to move to clay for 2011. Hopefully we could encourage them to move the boys and girls 16s, as well, to clay for future years. That is our plan and we're hoping that that will work.
Q. When will that be decided for certain?
LEW BREWER: Pretty soon. I've already spoken with Rick about this. I'm going to see him again in a couple of weeks. I fully expect that the boys and girls 18s of the Eddie Herr this year will be on clay.
Q. Patrick, I have a question about the USTA's push towards college tennis and whether you've contemplated putting any tournaments on clay in college.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I don't control what the NCAA does (laughter). I assumed you were aware of that based on the various issues we've had come up, we in the tennis world, with the NCAA.
I have absolutely no control over that.
Q. Would you encourage that? Is that something that you think would be worthwhile?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, let me just tell you this. I think you've seen in the futures that we have and the pro circuit events, both on the men's and women's, boys and girls side, that I am fully behind having more clay court events for the development of our players.
I think my answer, the proof lies in the pudding on that.
Again, I am not in any way instrumental in changing the opinion of the NCAA apparently.
Q. You're undoubtedly tired of this sort of question, Patrick. What is your best guess as to how many more Grand Slam tournaments will come and go until a U.S. man wins another major title?
PATRICK McENROE: Hopefully it's not that many. But, you know, I'm not going to certainly give you a number on that. I think you could make the argument how many Grand Slams are going to go by without a Nadal or a Djokovic at the moment, based on the way those two guys have played. Yes, I did leave out Federer, though I still think he's got a chance.
Clearly the game has been dominated by a couple of players, and clearly we have a lot of work to do. Clearly Andy Roddick has had a rough couple of months, but he's certainly capable of being in the mix again. Mardy Fish is a couple wins away from being in the top 10.
We're trying to control what we can control, which is improving our players, doing the job with the players that we have, and particularly the players we're working with on a full-time basis or part-time basis.
That's really our goal. The long-term goal of getting that done obviously is a question I just can't answer. I don't think anybody can.
Q. In terms of the young players that the USTA is working with, who are some of the names that people might want to keep an eye out for?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, Colette could answer that better than me. She's out at the tournament in California.
I try not to name names of kids that are not professionals yet. Suffice to say that Ryan Harrison, who is a professional, has certainly shown us a lot in the last year. I think he's capable of doing a lot of great things. Jack Sock, who played some at the pros, I'll mention him, is a great prospect for us. He's coming up on a difficult decision of whether or not he should go pro or go to college. Beyond that, I'm not going to mention the name of the younger kids because I don't think it's fair to do to them when they're 15, 16.
I will say this: we're very happy with the progress we're making with the kids that are under 18, particularly the ones that are 14, 15, 16. We feel like they're getting better. I just got off the phone with Jose, who is out at the tournament in Carson, the Easter Bowl next week, he feels the same way. He was out there watching the kids yesterday and today. He feels like the kids we're working with are getting better and that we're raising the bar for the whole country, and the kids we're not working with are getting better. So I think that's a positive.
When the kids start playing in the pros and start competing against the pros, that's when I usually will start naming actual names.
Q. Both boys and girls, how many are there that the USTA is working with who potentially - no names - could wind up as pros?
PATRICK McENROE: There's a lot. I think there's a lot. I mean, we've got 45 full-time kids in our facility in California. We've got in the mid 20s to 30s that we have full-time in Florida. We bring in a lot more than that through the course of a year through camps, et cetera. We have probably the mid 20s to 30s in New York. Those are full-time kids. There are hundreds that are kids that we don't work with on a full-time basis that come through camps. There's also a bunch of good kids that don't work with the USTA that are potentials.
We have to find that balance. It's a great question, because it's a question I ask my staff regularly, which is: Are we working with players that we think have a chance? Obviously the numbers say that a small percentage of even those will make it to the top hundred. But we ask ourselves that question often as far down to kids that are 11, 12 years old. We're certainly not always going to be right, but that's a question we ask ourselves on a daily basis.
Q. How long of a contract or agreement have you signed with Plantation? Is it for one year or several years? What sort of deal is there?
LEW BREWER: Right now we're just talking 2011. I think that we are looking for someplace where we can be at home for a number of years. But right now our agreement is for 2011.
Q. If Flamingo Park got fixed up, say a year from now the city stepped forward, is that an option?
LEW BREWER: I never like to box myself in on any of this. I think that it's safe to say that we would first do what's in the best interest of the event and the players. That would always determine what we do with the tournament.
Q. Did you look at Royal Palm Tennis Club and maybe a combo with them?
LEW BREWER: We did look at Royal Palm and Salvador Park. Those are nice facilities that are close to each other. Royal Palm is a special tennis club in Dade County. You might know that they've had some turnover in their leadership there. They're in the middle of a pretty significant renovation project of the club. They're building a nice, huge clubhouse. I think that they probably just were not in a position to consider hosting an event with all the other things that were happening at the club.
Q. Did you look at Boca West and the Evert Academy?
LEW BREWER: We looked at a bunch of different places. I mean, we made trips all over South Florida to visit facilities, look at the courts, see what sort of match there might be with facility and the kind of event that it is. We think we're at the right place for 2011.
Q. Will the tournament still be called the Orange Bowl?
LEW BREWER: It still will be called the Orange Bowl.
Q. Does the Orange Bowl committee put any money into the event anymore?
LEW BREWER: We have a long-term agreement with the Orange Bowl committee, which includes a naming rights agreement. They do contribute money to continue calling it the Orange Bowl.
Q. The dates, December 5 to 7.
LEW BREWER: He got the dates wrong. The dates are actually December 5 to 11.
Q. What size draw will it be?
LEW BREWER: All the main draws are 64 players, and the doubles are 32 teams, so 64 singles players, 32 teams. Qualifying is December 2 to 4. The boys 16 qualifying is a 128 draw, and all the other qualifying events are 64 draw.
Q. Any chance that the Sunshine Cup and the Continental Players Cup could ever be resurrected?
LEW BREWER: We could have a whole press conference just on that issue alone. Right now I think it's probably just safe to say that there is not really international interest in resuming that competition, although, like I said, I never say 'never.' But for now, that team format for that age of player doesn't seem to fit the needs of most countries.
Q. Just wanted to see if Patrick could elaborate a little on Jose's input into moving the tournament to clay, getting more kids on clay. Patrick, in the past you've talked about his focus on footwork. Talk about that a bit.
PATRICK McENROE: There's no doubt that Jose, I certainly wouldn't consider this move without his backing and approval, quite frankly, the rest of our coaching staff as well.
You know, people have somewhat of a wrong impression that Jose is what I call a clay court coach. Nothing could be further from the truth, believe me. When you spend time with him, watch the way he works, he's a coach and he's a teacher. He's a coach of how to play tennis and how to make the right decisions and to make the right shots at the right time. A lot of those shots are aggressive offensive shots.
We are all aware that the offensive mindset is certainly a mindset we've had as a country, and we want to continue to have as a country. Sort of that's the way we play. So I want people to understand that that certainly is something we're aware of and we want to teach our kids to play in that manner. But we also want to teach our kids to play smart and to be great competitors and to be great movers because if you're not those things, you really don't have much of a chance to make it at the highest level in the men's and women's game.
It doesn't mean you can't learn how to play that way on a hard court, on a slow hard court, it's possible, but I think clay sort of just naturally teaches you to a little bit better the right shots to hit at the right time, whether that's a neutral shot, a defensive shot or an offensive shot. Not to mention the fact that playing on clay, particularly with the amount of time that we spend on the court with our young kids, is a lot easier on the body. I think that's something that, particularly when you're developing kids as we're doing more of now that are from 8, 9, till they become professionals, that if you can get them more on clay, it's better for their bodies as well.
Q. Is it a big difference between the footwork of the Federers, Nadals and Djokovics, the Roddicks, Isners?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's really repetition and familiarity with the conditions. Obviously those guys that you mentioned, the non-Americans, have tremendous footwork. Djokovic is another guy who is more comfortable on a hard court, but is still an unbelievable mover on clay, really learned to play on clay. That doesn't mean that our bigger guys don't work on it and can't get better on it.
The more you can do it at a young age, there's a lot less teaching to do about moving. But I think maybe more importantly about shot selection, understanding which shot to hit at the right time. I think clay sort of forces you to do that naturally because you get the benefits from opening the court up from staying in the point longer, attacking at the right times.
If you play on a lightning fast hard court all the time, you don't have to create that many different shots to win a point. You can hit the same kind of shot and win a lot of points.
That's what we're trying to teach our kids, is that building and constructing points can be learned more naturally on a slower surface.
Q. Flamingo Park, when you read back on the votes or whatever, they have 17 courts. The whole discussion was whether all 17 would be clay, 12 clay and 5 hard court. If they were to be 17 clay, would you go there? How many do have to be clay in order for you to host an event of this size?
LEW BREWER: Well, we had a number of discussions with the city. We met with the city manager, with the commissioner, Ed Tobin, who was very helpful in our initial discussions about perhaps bringing the Orange Bowl back to Flamingo. Even if they were all clay, we would still need to use a second satellite facility for the event. So that adds a certain level of complexity to it that isn't great, but we might have been able to manage that.
They have their own internal issues, I think it's safe to say that, about how many courts will be hard, how many will be clay. They appear to have gone back and forth a couple of times. At the end of the day, the city needs to do what's right for their citizens, not be concerned about this event.
What's good about the Veltri Tennis Center is with 26 clay courts, soon to have 28, we can have the entire event at one facility. All the players feel like they're a part of the event because they're not bused off to a different site, plenty of match courts, plenty of practice courts. It's really best for the event.
Q. Lew, is this the only move anticipated on the junior landscape? In the past, the Easter Bowl has a possibility of moving to clay courts. What about its future?
LEW BREWER: Right now there are no plans to move the Easter Bowl to clay. Although you're right, we have talked about that. It wasn't that long ago it was a clay court event, at least a couple of the age divisions, when it was in Miami.
One of the things we did two years ago was to fashion a clay court circuit of ITF junior events in May because Patrick and Jose said we need more events on clay. We did make this clay court circuit, which the 2011 version of that starts at the end of this month in Daytona Beach, then goes to Plantation, Florida, then over to Delray Beach, three ITF junior tournaments in a row on clay. We've never had that before in the United States.
So we're building our clay court effort a little bit at a time. As I say, I don't think there's any real consideration now of moving the Easter Bowl to clay. It seems to fit in that segment of events just fine where it is now.
Q. Patrick, with the Easter Bowl next week, do you have a favorite memory from the past?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I remember the days when it was back in a bubble under the bridge in New York, way back when my brother was playing it. I believe I made the final one year and lost to Krickstein. I'm trying to remember when that was. Obviously it has an amazing history, much like the Orange Bowl does.
I'm just excited that we've got all our best kids out there, we get to see them go head-to-head. That's something we like to see more of, to be perfectly honest, is to see our kids competing against each other as often as we can. Obviously, one of the goals of what we've tried to do, in Boca where the kids can come and live, is get as many of the best kids as we can to get together and beat up on each other, to do that on a daily basis. But then it's a great opportunity for us to compete against not only the kids from our own program, but the kids from the whole country. That's what it's all about.
So the Easter Bowl is one of those huge events on the junior calendar. It's got a great history. I know that our coaches and the players are really looking forward to it. It should be some great matches, as always.
Q. I had a question regarding whether or not there's going to be any effort on the part of the USTA to change over existing hard courts to clay to sort of help kids especially in the northern states to develop on clay or is this going to be something that is happening in California, Florida, Texas, where it is warmer all the time?
PATRICK McENROE: I don't know if you've been to California lately, but there aren't too many clay courts out there.
I try to control the things that I can have some control over. Obviously, at our three USTA centers we have clay courts in all three of them, the National Tennis Center here in New York, our facility out in California in Carson, and obviously the center we use down in Florida in conjunction with the Evert Academy.
I'd like to say that it would be great that we could convince people to build more clay courts, but the reality is for most people it's an economic issue. Obviously, it's a lot cheaper to maintain hard courts than it is clay courts. So we have to do the best we can.
There's only so much that we can control, and we certainly can't force people that are in the private industry to do what they do. Certainly in the Northeast, where I live, in New York, there's quite a bit of indoor clay courts. I grew up playing on a lot of indoor clay. But certainly in other parts of the country it's quite difficult.
Again, as I said, I think you could certainly learn to play the game on a hard court, on a slow hard court, and develop an all-court game. But we certainly would encourage those that are considering it to do it, but we're certainly aware that there's an added expense of maintaining clay courts over hard courts.
Q. I'll definitely encourage kids that are off-ish about clay courts to pursue them more.
PATRICK McENROE: That's one of the reasons that we made the decision we thought it would be best for the Orange Bowl. We could sit there and say we want to play more on clay, we want our kids to play on clay, but unless we do it, unless we have more events on clay, then we're just speaking in tongue.
Again, we can't control everything, nor do we want to control everything. There's plenty of people that are doing what they do for the right reasons. As I said, on the pro circuit events that we have quite a bit of influence on, we have a lot more than the clay, for the players that we train on a full-time basis that come through our centers, we have a clay court for them. Here is an opportunity we have an opportunity to switch to clay and we did that. There's obviously a lot more hard court tournaments around the country that are junior events. And the US Open is a hard court tournament. To have more events and more practice done, more developmental practice done on clay I think is a good thing.
Q. I've heard some comments about the difference between red clay and Har-Tru, that there is a substantial difference, and that playing on Har-Tru doesn't provide the same benefits. How would you address that objection?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think it depends on how the green clay courts are maintained. There are certainly instances that I've experienced on green clay indoors that basically has very little clay on it where it almost plays like a hard court. I would agree. But I've also played on red clay courts that are like that, that are fast.
Yes, there is a difference. But I think if you maintain the courts, meaning you keep them relatively damp with a lot of clay on them, it does slow things down and it does get kids sliding and get used to shot selection. In an ideal world, I'd love to have a whole bunch of red clay courts, that's true. But the bottom line is that economically that's not feasible. I think green clay, it can do a very good job. Can certainly do a lot better job than a hard court, particularly a fast hard court.
Again, it's how you maintain them. I've hit on lots of red clay courts in this country. I can tell you that I've never hit on a red clay court in this country that plays like the European red clay or the Roland Garros red clay.
Even red clay can be a little bit different. I've had people come up to me and say, I can build a red clay court that's exactly like the Italian Open, and I've never seen it happen. If it can happen, great. But I believe firmly if you maintain green clay, Har-Tru, in an appropriate way, that it's a very good simulation of what you get on European or South American red clay.
LEW BREWER: At least the green clay comes off your shoes.
PATRICK McENROE: That's a good point. You don't get those red socks.
TIM CURRY: Thank you, everyone, for joining us on the call. Thanks, Patrick and Lew, for taking the time for today's announcement.
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