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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 25, 2011
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you, everybody, for joining us on fairly short notice here. The purpose of today's conference call will be for Patrick McEnroe to provide an overview of our wildcard playoff as well as address the comments that Donald Young featured on Twitter on Friday of last week and to give a brief overview of the USTA Player Development strategy and philosophy.
Before we go into the Q&A, Patrick has a few remarks. I'll turn it over to our General Manager of Player Development at the USTA, Patrick McEnroe.
PATRICK McENROE: Thank you, Chris. Thank you, everyone, for jumping on this call after a holiday weekend.
First off, I want to talk about our wildcard strategy when it comes not just to the French Open but obviously the Australian Open exchange that we do and also even now we're going to implement this year with some of the US Open wildcards.
We want to send a message to our players that we would like them to earn their way into every step along the way. Obviously playing in a Grand Slam is a huge step. So we're trying to do that at every level starting with playing our own little wildcard playoffs, even with our 14-, 15-year-old kids at our training center.
This is a program-wide emphasis that we're continuing to try to implement in the three years since I've been here as the GM of Player Development.
To give you just a little background on this latest playoff that we had down in Boca West, which is just about a five-minute drive from our center in Boca Raton, we had a playoff of six men and six women. In the past we've had amen and eight women. This time we elected to go with six quite frankly because we thought that was the right number for the group of players we were considering for this particular playoff. So we elected to go with a six-person playoff. We actually had some discussion internally before we invited the six players of considering doing a two-man playoff on the men's side between Donald Young and Ryan Harrison. That was because those two had posted the best results certainly in the last six months. But really it was more because both of them had indicated they were possibly going to play in Europe for a long stretch leading into the French Open. So we didn't want to leave out our two best players on the men's side if that were going to be the case.
It turned out that both of them decided to stick with their schedule of playing some challenger events and other events in the U.S. At that point we went with the original plan, which was to conduct the playoff. So we did that.
We invited Donald and five other players. After Donald won the Tallahassee challenger, which was the week just before the playoff, about three days before the competition was to take place, we received at Player Development an email from Donald Young, Sr. asking us to give Donald a wildcard for the playoff.
We, of course, elected not to do that because that would be going against the principles of what we have established: having the players earn it. Despite the fact that Donald had made a jump up into the top 100 on the latest rankings, those of you in the tennis world know that his ranking wasn't high enough to get him directly into the French Open. So we went ahead with the playoff as we felt obviously was the right decision for us.
So when Donald made his comments on Twitter, I was obviously taken quite aback by the language and also by the intent of what he said in his comments. His subsequent comment came before he took down his Twitter account that he apologized for his language, but not for the message behind it.
When I read that, I thought a lot about the time and effort that our team at Player Development has put into Donald in trying to help him reach his potential. This call isn't to debate necessarily what it means to help a player, et cetera. I can just tell you that we have worked hard and long to try to help him. And I think he was making quite a bit of progress based on the amount of time he spent with our team in the last six months at a couple of our centers, including Carson and Boca.
I want to just for the record let you people on this call know some of the actual help that Donald Young has received from the USTA over the years. This predates my term as the General Manager of Player Development.
I can go back to 2005 when one of our coaches, Mike Sell, spent about six months on the road traveling with Donald to the Australian Open juniors, to the Easter Bowl, to the Italian Open juniors, to the French Open, et cetera.
I can go to 2006 where he periodically spent time with some various coaches on the staff.
In 2007 David Nainkin was essentially exclusively Donald's coach for basically the entire year. David spent 20 weeks on the road that year working exclusively with Donald. He didn't work with any other players at that time. This was before we had a full-time program that was dedicated to helping our pro players and our juniors out in Carson, which is a little bit different than it is now. That year, at the end of that year, Donald reached a career high in his ranking.
Starting in 2008, Donald spent the first few months of the year again with Mike Sell who wrote some detailed reports of Donald and what he thought that he could do to reach his potential, one of which was something that I repeated in a letter that I wrote to Donald about a year and a half ago. It's funny because I was reading Michael's notes from three years ago, and he essentially used some of the exact same language, which was that we felt Donald should be in a competitive training environment as much as possible. We didn't think that was happening on a regular basis.
After that, Ricardo Acuña spent about the next four months working exclusively with Donald. This is again in 2008.
In 2009, Donald spent a few weeks training with Jose Higueras, who at that point had just recently been appointed Director of Coaching. Jose took a personal interest in Donald, working with him and his parents, trying to help him and set up a plan and a routine for him.
In 2010 Donald spent quite a bit of time on the road with Hugo Armando, a coach no longer with our program, and also received a wildcard that year into the Houston event, which was a USTA event, into the US Open for the fourth time in singles. He received a wild card into Atlanta, into Cincinnati, and into New Haven.
Just for the record, Donald Young has received 13 US Open wildcards in his career, four of which were in singles, main draw singles, two of which he won because he won the junior championships, one of which in doubles he won because he won the doubles championships. So he's received a total of six doubles wildcards, two mixed wildcards, four singles, and one in the qualifying of singles.
In the past year, we felt that Donald made some significant strides. He spent two and a half weeks with our team out in Carson, including with David Nainkin, who has gone on to have a very successful coaching run in the last couple years with Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish, and also our strength and conditioning man out there, Rodney Marshall, who spent quite a bit of time with Donald in December and also throughout the beginning of this year where we had David helping him in Australia, we had Rodney helping him there, we had David again leaving the tournament in San Jose early where Sam Querrey was still in doubles to go be at the qualifying for Donald in Memphis. Donald also, when he came back from Australia, spent about eight days at our center in Boca training with Jay Berger, our head of men's coaching.
That is really just a snapshot of some of the help that Donald has received in the last six years. Again, quite a bit of this predates my start here as the GM of Player Development.
Overall when you look, for instance, at a couple of the players that did well at our last wildcard playoff, Irina Falconi spent a couple years in college, Tim Smyczek, a couple years on the tour, decent results, plenty of time ahead of him. Those are players we helped, but we don't solely coach them. We've have people like them at our centers. We want to help them. We don't need to coach players through and through, though we're certainly willing to do that. We want to be accountable and do that whatever possible.
That's really part of our strategic vision, which is when a Mardy Fish says, I'd like you guys to coach me and train me, we step up to the plate and do that. We've done that with Sam Querrey, CoCo Vandeweghe, Christina McHale. When John Isner says, I'm happy with my coaching situation, but I'd love it if you could help me in the fitness department, we've tried to do that, attempt to do that.
We try to be flexible. There needs to be a middle ground when it comes to coaching players. We understand the individual aspect of tennis, that's important. But at the same time we need to be responsible for the players that we work with and we want to be responsible and we want to be held accountable to those players that we work with.
Those are just some of the facts that I wanted to lay out for you so people have an understanding of what actually the USTA has done over the last six years and what our goals for right now and what the future are. We realize this is a long road. We've got a lot of work to do. We're open to ideas and criticism. It happens almost daily in my line of work.
But I can only say that we're looking out for the best interest of tennis and American tennis and trying to do everything we can with the resources that the USTA has given us to help our players.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you, Patrick. At this point we can open it up for questions for Patrick McEnroe.
Q. Are you going to withdraw your assistance to Donald Young? I don't know if you can read into his motives or his anger, but since he had been a USTA guy kind of, that maybe the USTA should be protecting him in a case like this. I don't know if that's what he was feeling there or if you have any insight into that.
PATRICK McENROE: I can only answer the first part of your question there because I can't read anybody's mind and I'm not really sure what the question was.
I can only tell you that we're not withdrawing our support. We want our players to do well. Quite frankly, I'm offended. I'm offended for the people on our team that have worked very hard to try to help Donald because when he said what he said about them, I think it was taken quite personally by a lot of members of the Player Development team. I think that Donald should apologize for what he said. I think at that point we can move on.
But we certainly wish him all the luck in the world. We want him to do well, just like we want all the players that we've worked with, whether it's full-time, part-time or no time. You know, Ryan Harrison decided not to go to play the wildcard tournament because he wanted to go and play the qualifying. More power to him. That's his decision.
We helped Ryan Harrison a lot with coaching last year, throughout the entire year. He's also decided somewhat recently to go his own way and do his own thing. We'll support that. We have no problem with that.
So the answer to your question is, no, I'm not going to say we're going to withdraw support. But I'm going to say a lot of things are going to have to happen for us to reconsider.
Q. What does Donald Young at this point have to do to get back into your good graces and become a part of the program again?
PATRICK McENROE: It's not even my good graces. This isn't personal. This is about apologizing, number one, okay? We deal with a lot of different scenarios. Most of the time, if not all the time, we keep it internal, we try to deal with it. We understand there's coaches involved, whether they're personal coaches, whether they're parents, et cetera. We want to do the best we can for there to be a two-way street.
We're not going to sit here and dictate everything that has to be done. At the same time we're not going to be dictated to either.
You can't come to me and tell me, Here is what I want and here is what you need to do for me. Unfortunately, I think there's way too many people out there that think that's what we're here to do. We're not here to do that.
We're here to help our players with the resources that the USTA has given Player Development, which is a part of the USTA. We want to be accountable for our program and for what we're doing. For us to be accountable, obviously the more influence and the more control we have over what the player's doing, the better we feel about where we're going with that player.
Again, that doesn't mean we have all the answers, that there's not another way to do it. Sure, there are plenty other ways to do it. But we want to be working in a relationship that's a two-way street.
Q. How much slack do you cut a 21-year-old who in a moment of lack of clarity and temper might tweet something stupid like Donald did? The other side, after the scenario you laid out about all the help you've given him, at this point why would you give him any more help?
PATRICK McENROE: Yes, you take into account someone is ticked off after losing a match. I've been there. We have a lot of people on our staff that understand that and that get that.
At the same time, we feel like we've really gone above and beyond to try to help him in what has always been a tricky situation. We would like to at least feel like, Hey, thanks for helping me out, thank you. Unfortunately, we haven't heard that enough if at all, okay?
My directive to my team, which is to try to help a particular player, and when that happens consistently, I'm not going to go into details, but suffice to say this wasn't just one tweet that a youngster made in being ticked off. This is the tip of the iceberg basically.
Q. Can you maybe talk a little bit over the last couple years your relationship with his parents, teaching pros heavily involved in his career. There's been a lot of back and forth. They still have a lot of influence over him. I would think it would be difficult to deal with your own coaches telling Donald what to do and having his parents tell him something different.
PATRICK McENROE: Look, as I said earlier, we run into that with individual coaches, okay? It's not just specific towards Donald or his situation. We run into this all the time. We understand that. That's part of what our charge is.
Obviously in certain situations it works well, and it works seamlessly. We had Jamie Hampton come down to Boca a month ago with her own coach. We worked with them. We'll do that. We want to help the player, period, end of story.
But when we are in charge of the player at a tournament, and we set the schedule, we set the practice schedule, and someone else comes in and says, No, that's not how it goes, when that happens repeatedly, at some point we have to say, What more can we do?
We're trying to help the player. We understand that we can all have differing views on how to get that done. We think we know what we're doing, okay? I know some people don't think we know what we're doing. We think we do. We're proud of what we're doing. We see the players we're working with are getting better. We're going to continue to do that. We're going to continue to make decisions that are best for our program.
If someone is coming in and saying, No, you guys make Donald practice too much, at some point that becomes troubling, yes.
Q. This happened on Friday. We're about three days in. Has Donald or his parents contacted either you or any of the coaches he worked with? Up until recently he was praising you up and down all year.
PATRICK McENROE: He has not contacted me. I don't expect that to happen. Jay Berger did reach out to him and spoke to him. But Jay had to reach out and call him, you see. That's always the way it's been.
Q. The conversation with Jay, do you think there's a future there or is Donald just being stubborn?
PATRICK McENROE: I don't have the answer to that.
Q. In your mind Donald was absolutely clear on the whole playoff thing, how it was going to work? It wasn't like he thought one thing and another thing happened? There was no way he could have been confused about these other guys being involved in a playoff, and it wasn't his spot to take or not take?
PATRICK McENROE: Absolutely no way. We had some internal discussions that we talked to both Harrison and Donald at one point that this was a possibility, that we were thinking about doing this. If you guys were going to have a European-based schedule for the next six weeks, whatever it was, leading up to the French. They both decided not to do that. Jay Berger called both of them and said, This is what we're going to do. There was no issue.
Q. So he didn't at that point express any hesitancy or say, I'm owed it or I should have it?
PATRICK McENROE: No. He may have felt like he 'deserved' it. By the way, the whole idea that somebody actually deserves a wildcard, we could have a whole conversation about that, whether that's a positive or a negative, which we also do internally. We discuss that. We also discuss the fact that, by the way, this is for the French Open. The only reason we, the USTA, has it is because we happen to have a Grand Slam in our country. We have a reciprocal arrangement. This whole idea is that we're just owed a wildcard is absurd.
I don't know if I answered your question, but...
Q. Did he participate in the playoff then?
PATRICK McENROE: Yeah, he participated and lost in the final. He's participated in numerous playoffs.
Q. And how soon after he lost did that Twitter tweet get out there?
PATRICK McENROE: Very soon. But from my reports, he was already making comments on the court during the match about the USTA, using some of the language he used on Twitter.
Q. All other things aside with Donald's behavior, his history with the USTA, this is a very unfortunate situation in that the kid was playing well, built up momentum. One way or another in his own mind he was thinking he deserved this thing. Does this make you rethink the playoff system, given the fact that a guy can get hot and win the thing?
PATRICK McENROE: No, it doesn't. Let me cut you off, which I rarely do. But absolutely not, okay? You need consistency. What's wrong with going and earning it again? If we gave it to Donald Young this time... John Isner played in the wildcard playoff a couple years ago. He was ranked like 70 in the world. What did he do? He showed up and he won the playoff. Then he got mono and had to pull out of the French.
Why is that so demanding, to ask him to go and keep doing it? You weren't ranked high enough when the cutoff came out. That's not our rules. That's the ATP rules. It's six weeks before the event. Every time someone happens to get hot, the ranking changes 10 or 20 spots, we're supposed to call off what we feel is principally the right thing to do, and to send messages to our players, more importantly our young players, the players coming up, that you have to earn your way to get something. You take the proper steps to get there. This is a golden opportunity for these players. Now they don't have to go play the French Open qualifying.
So absolutely it doesn't make me rethink it for one second.
Q. This question may be overreaching. But listening to you speak, I can't help but wonder if this incident doesn't reflect kind of a broader culture of entitlement among young Americans, families, a very gifted kid that might have something to do with the struggle of Americans to keep up with players who seem a bit more hungry and determined and self-motivated at the moment. Does it speak to something larger, I guess?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think it absolutely does. I'm not saying at all that that's the reason why I'm having this call, because it's not. The reason why I'm having this call is, as I said at the beginning, to set the record straight, to give you people the facts of what the USTA has done to help, what our overall goal is to deal with the country.
But you are absolutely onto something. We're trying in our own way to effect some change in the culture amongst our players, our young players, the parents that are out there, everybody that's out there involved in junior tennis. This is our little world. We're passionate about it. We've got people that care. We've got people that show up on weekends to work with the kids because we care.
Yes, that is definitely something that I've come across in my three years in this position that I've seen. We're doing our part. This is a small way, not this call, but this playoff for the wildcard, et cetera, to try to send a message to our players and to everybody out there that you need to earn what you get. Trust me, that's the only way you're going to make it in professional tennis.
Take it from someone, myself, who got more wildcards than anyone. That didn't help me, I can tell you that. I'm speaking from some personal experience on that front. But overall, from the objective of the program, I definitely think that you're onto something.
Q. It sounds from your voice that this has sort of hurt you or cut you to the core. Can you address how you personally feel about this? And what is the lesson to be learned here?
PATRICK McENROE: My personal feelings I'm attempting to put aside. My emotion is not coming from my personal opinions, okay? It's coming from the people on my staff, our team, that have gone above and beyond to try to help Donald Young, and not just him, but all the players we try to help.
Again, we can go back and debate whether you like our program. You can do a referendum on me and my run in another two, three years. Kick me out the door if you don't like the results. I get that. I understand the position. I understand the responsibility.
But I also understand what my team is doing on a daily basis, and I don't like what I heard. I don't like my team being put in that situation based on all they've done.
I do take it personally, but I take it personally because of who I am in my position in this team.
Q. Is there a lesson that can make this right down the road?
PATRICK McENROE: I hope so. I mean, I'm a pretty positive person. I'm a pretty positive guy. To some comments earlier, Donald has made a lot of strides. Let me say something also. Every time Donald has come and worked with our team, he's been an absolute delight. He's been an absolute pleasure for our guys to work with. When he comes, he does what we tell him to do. He goes with the program. He's gotten better and stronger. There's no doubt in my mind that he can get a lot better and become a top-50, top-30, maybe even a top-20 player.
But you can't go halfway. You need to be all in. He's not totally all in. Again, if he doesn't want to be with us, if he wants to keep his parents as his coaches, go in with someone else, we wish him all the luck in the world and we'll try to help him. But what he did publicly is unacceptable to me and to our program.
Q. The USTA can't censure him or punish him in any way, even if you wanted to, can you?
PATRICK McENROE: The thought never crossed my mind.
Q. This is an editor question asking. Can the USTA do stuff to players other than not work with them, I guess?
PATRICK McENROE: In my knowledge, no. But it's not really my expertise to give a definitive answer to that. I have absolutely no desire to do that.
Q. As far as you know, was Donald going to try to qualify for the French?
PATRICK McENROE: As far as I know. I know he's playing in a challenger this week I believe in Sarasota. Hopefully he will try to qualify, and hopefully he will qualify.
By the way, even when he's been at tournaments, when he hasn't been receiving USTA official support, where we haven't sent him to one of our centers where we paid for him to go there and stay there in the hotel for the weeks that he went to Boca and to Carson, which we have done, our staff still will go and help him and ask him if he needs anything, if there's any way we can help, just like we do with all the players in a similar situation that he's in. He's in the main draw, playing the qualifying, et cetera, et cetera.
Q. Just to clarify. All the coaching you mentioned he got, he didn't have to pay for that?
PATRICK McENROE: Not for one dime.
Q. Listening to your very detailed list of all the things that Donald has gotten as far as resources from the USTA whether you don't look back on that, not just given this situation, but for any reason, and just say that maybe there's a little bit too much centered on one particular person and the resources might be better spent on a larger cross-section of junior tennis players or upcoming tennis players?
PATRICK McENROE: There's not a day that goes by when I don't think about things like that. The answer to your question is, yes, I do think about it.
The other part, to answer your question, is as the players get older, obviously we think we have a better idea of who's going to be the potential top-100 player in the world.
I didn't mention the amount of grant money that Donald Young has received just in pure dollars, but let me tell you that it's substantial. I'm not going to give you the number because I don't think that's appropriate. The amount of pure grant money, above and beyond everything else I've already mentioned, has been substantial.
As the kids are growing, we try to spread it out a little bit more to help kids go to tournaments. We're never going to be 100% right on how we handle that. But what I've tried to do with the additional resources that the USTA board has given to Player Development in the last three, four years, is use those resources to build our program and to build what we do and to be accountable for what we do.
Now, there's some out there that think the USTA shouldn't even have a program, just blow it up, take all the money and give it out. I don't believe that. I believe that we can make a difference. I believe that we are making a difference. We have a systematic approach to do what we're attempting to do with our regional training centers and making real progress there. There's no one way to do it that says, This is right and this is the be all, end all.
I can only say that myself, Jose, Jay Berger, Ola Malmquist, Martin Blackman, all the people in leadership roles, all the coaches that are out there, are very passionate about helping American tennis and doing what's best for American tennis.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I think that's the perfect line to end on, Patrick. We appreciate everybody taking the time. Thank you.
PATRICK McENROE: Thank you.
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