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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 1, 2011
TIM CURRY: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today for this media conference call with Mary Joe and Jim. We want to talk both about the upcoming 2012 Fed Cup and Davis Cup seasons which may seem to be in the distant future but we're only nine and ten weeks away. With the holidays and the Australian Open in between, it will be on us quickly.
Tickets go on sale next week for the Fed Cup season opener against Belarus in Worcester, Mass, February 4th and 5th. And the Davis Cup team will travel to Switzerland for their first‑round match the following week.
We also wanted to give Mary Joe and Jim the opportunity to talk about the past year, including many of the successes young Americans have enjoyed.
With that in mind, Mary Joe, we'll start with you. After playing both ties on the road this year, you begin 2012 at home with Serena Williams on your team. Talk about looking ahead to the first‑round match in February.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, first of all, very thankful that we're playing a home tie. Last year was definitely a challenge and difficult to be on the road. We played very good teams. We started off with Belgium with Kim Clijsters on that team. Our next round was in Germany. They had a tough team, as well, with Petkovic.
Coming home and playing in a familiar setting, near Boston in Worcester, Massachusetts, is exciting for everybody.
Serena is scheduled to play. Right now she's practicing. I think she just played an XO in South America. I haven't had her on a team yet, so I'm looking forward to that. Her comeback this season was pretty remarkable, how fast she got back to the top of her level.
Venus is still a bit of a question mark with her health. She's taking it a week at a time. Hopefully if she's healthy she'll be on the team as well. As many of you know, I've had young players on the team throughout the last three years. Christina McHale has done a wonderful job getting her ranking up. She's in the top 50, at 43, and had a great win over the world's No.1 Wozniacki this season. It's nice to see the young players having breakthroughs and coming through.
There's a big potential. All the young Americans are very gung‑ho. They love Fed Cup. We're lucky on the doubles side. Huber is back at No.1 in the world. Raymond and Huber won the Open and the Championships. They're in the top five of the game.
We have a tough first round, playing Belarus with Azarenka leading the way, No.3 in the world. It will be a challenge, that's for sure. But I think it's definitely a big advantage to be at home.
TIM CURRY: We'll take some comments from Jim about his first year as captain and the road trip to Switzerland.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Well, this was my first year in 2011 as Davis Cup captain. It was a learning year for me and also for the team, a well‑established team that we have, to integrate a new captain into their midsts.
I thought it went very smoothly. The players were very easy to work with, very eager to be a part of Davis Cup, which is certainly a welcome to me, something that teams that I played on in the past faced as a challenge in getting the top players to be available constantly. I feel very lucky that in this time period all of our players are very anxious and eager to be a part of Davis Cup.
We have a lot of weapons at our disposal from our singles players led right now by Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick, John Isner, going down the line to the world's top doubles team with Bob and Mike Bryan.
It was fun being on the bench with those guys. It wasn't without its challenges and a learning curve for me where to insert myself into the process and where not to. Overall I think we learned a lot.
We certainly had an interesting year. A tough road trip down to Chile, while not on paper a tough team, certainly a difficult challenge playing them on red clay at altitude. It was definitely a challenging match in reality. We came through 3‑1 in that one. Then we came up against the current best team in Davis Cup tennis, Spain, in a home tie. Even without Rafael Nadal, a very deep and talented squad. They were able to tough us out 3 matches to 1. Really, all four of those matches could have gone any which way. That's the way Davis Cup goes, like every other match: it seems to come down to a couple points here and there.
Very proud of the guys for our efforts this year. It could very easily be us in the finals this week. But that's something for us to shoot for next year when we start off with an even tougher first round. We're going up against Switzerland in Fribourg, which is a slight altitude city about 2,000 feet high, which will be helpful for us. Indoor red clay is the surface. The indoor component will be helpful for our servers.
I don't have any information for anyone yet as to who will be on the team. That will be determined as we get a little bit closer to the tie. We'll see who is going to be healthy and playing the best as we get closer to it.
The Swiss team, they have Stanislas Wawrinka, who is a great player, very solid in singles and doubles. They have one other guy, I keep forgetting who it is. Federer, that's who it is, a very talented player in his own right. If he chooses to make himself available, which I expect he will, and I'm expecting Mary Joe Fernandez, whose husband manages him, to tell us whether or not he.
As of now, MJ, I'm operating under the assumption with Roger Federer playing the week after in Rotterdam, he'll be available for Davis Cup. Any light there?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Not 100% sure. But I know he loves Davis Cup and went all the way to Australia after the US Open.
CAPTAIN COURIER: I'm not sure I could concede he loves Davis Cup. Based on the fact he hasn't attended a first round since 2004, I think that's a question.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: He loves it. I think he's attended every year, if I'm correct.
Anyway, he does love it and I'm assuming he will be there, but you have to call the hubby for that one.
TIM CURRY: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Jim, do you have player commitments from basically the whole crew at this point for next year, Fish, Roddick, Isner, Sam Querrey?
CAPTAIN COURIER: I have commitments from everyone right now with the exception of Andy who I expect to speak to this week. He's been out playing some golf this week and not available to be on the phone. I'll know in short order what his schedule is for next year.
Q. Obviously we're coming into the finals weekend here. There's been a little bit of grumbling at the World Tour Finals in London from Nadal and the likes about the format. Any new thoughts or insights on where that should go or where it could go at this point?
CAPTAIN COURIER: I'm sure we've had this discussion before. I'm pretty clear on the record as to what I think should take place. Do you want me to regurgitate that?
CAPTAIN COURIER: I think it's pretty clear that the Davis Cup format, which was built quite a while ago, is no longer as popular or as powerful as it could be. It certainly should be condensed into, in my opinion, a two‑week format for at least the big boys. I think it should be combined with the Fed Cup, for that matter, so it becomes in effect the fifth Grand Slam, not only from an attention standpoint, but a player‑attendance standpoint.
The system is broken, clearly, from my standpoint. It's not broken from the ITF's standpoint, because they still make money. What I would contend is they could make a lot more money than they currently do and that would allow them to help spread the growth of the game with the extra funds they would receive.
Let's be clear. Compared to what the Grand Slams make, taking two weeks out of the calendar each year individually, that dwarfs clearly what the ITF would make on the Davis Cup.
So it's simple economics from that standpoint. If you want to grow the game, you need money. You get more money if you have a powerful event. It's better for the sport if it gets more attention.
Give you a clear example. I don't care one bit about women's soccer. Never watched a women's soccer game outside of the Olympics and the World Cup. When the World Cup took place last year, I actually tuned in because it was building over a couple‑week period. That's what the Davis Cup and Fed Cup can do if they're put in that scenario. They can build interest outside of the core base. No one in America is going to be aware that great tennis players are playing in Spain this week, outside of us on the phone. That's a shame. It should be building into something.
When we played in March in the first round, now we're in December, two ties in between, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that that doesn't make sense as far as building interest.
It's nothing new. I've been taking about it for years. I'm not the only one. I don't have ownership of the idea. It's clear they're leaving a lot of money and interest on the table and that Davis Cup and Fed Cup are two of the most under‑valued assets in the sport.
That was a lot and may I never have to share that again with anyone. Please don't make me say it again. Someone record it and push the button next time.
TIM CURRY: We have a transcript of the call so it will be in writing.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Thank you (laughter).
Q. I have an off‑beat question. I'm writing an advance for the Orange Bowl junior tournament next weekend. They've switched to clay after all the years in Key Biscayne. The USTA say they want the American young players to get a little more experience on clay. I want to ask you your memories of the Orange Bowl and what do you think of the idea of moving it back to clay, is that a good idea?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I have very fond memories of the Orange Bowl, growing up in Miami, having it in my backyard. My memories are from Flamingo Park, so I only know it on the clay. It was strange to see it played there on the site of the professional tournament on Key Biscayne.
I think it's great. I think clay is the way to go with the juniors. I think that's how you develop your game better, you learn a more complete game. You learn defense and offense, court positioning, so many more things.
For me I think it's a good move. Again, my memories are fantastic. I had a lot of success at the Orange Bowl. It was sort of my springboard into professional tennis. It's the 50th anniversary this year so it's a special year. A lot of people have gone through the Orange Bowl that have made it into professional tennis. It's a worthwhile event.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Did you win 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s there?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I did.
CAPTAIN COURIER: That's great.
I would echo everything that Mary Joe has said about the Orange Bowl as far as my memories go. I played at Flamingo Park on the clay. I actually remember the 12s and the 14s being on hard courts.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Biltmore or something.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Biltmore for the 12s, University of Miami for the 14s, and then Flamingo on the green clay. That's my memory of the event. I did attend it at Key Biscayne one year about six years ago.
As far as clay goes, my feeling is that it's fantastic that tournament is on clay because you should have at least a few major junior events in the United States on clay per season. If you have a National Clay Court Championship, you have an Orange Bowl, which is international, those are good carrots for your top players to be proficient in the language of clay court tennis. I don't think you want to train them exclusively on clay. I'm a proponent of mixing it up and having them play on slow and extremely fast surfaces so they develop a game that's bulletproof, a game that like Federer's plays well on all surfaces. You don't want to be too extreme one way or the other these days. I think it's really ideal to have that variety in your game and speak both languages fluently.
Q. Mary Joe, this is the first time that the Fed Cup has had to go down to the secondary grouping. I'm wondering if it has any psychological effect on you or you're determination to bring the team back up, and what you will say to your players?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: It's the first time ever that the Fed Cup has gone down to the second group. It's more of a challenge. I think it's something to motivate us to get back into the World Group. It was unfortunate that we dropped out last year.
Having said that, all the women worked so hard. They fought so hard. I was very proud of all of them for their effort. We continue to do the same.
Each tie is big no matter what round it is. We take it one match at a time and try to get through it. The focus is just on winning that first match and getting three matches with a W so we can move on to the second round in April. We have to win both ties to get back into the World Group. Not an easy task, but we're up for the challenge and motivated, which is the key.
Q. Jim, can you talk a little bit about the impact that Serena has had on the game over her career and where you think she might be in 2012.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Serena has been an interesting case from day one because she came up through the shadow of her sister, then surpassed her, which is psychologically a hard thing to do and to deal with. That's been one of the great disappointments for me as a fan, is that I haven't really seen Serena have a clear rival that you could really get behind one way or the other because her sister really has been her biggest rival. It's always been a muted response when they've played.
She's been certainly an evolutionary change to the sport because she's not only big and strong but she's also fast, much in the same way that I think Marat Safin really changed the athleticism in men's tennis, and has really been the leader as far as how it's developed since then with the taller players also being quick, really just being more athletic than their predecessors. Serena has been on the cutting edge of that.
I think it's been a catch‑up for a lot of the other women to not only be strong and hit the ball big but also move the way she does.
2012 and the foreseeable future, as far as I'm concerned with Serena, as long as she's healthy, she's the woman to beat. There's no clear‑cut player out there that plays well under the hottest of pressure moments the way that Serena does at this point.
I'd love for her to have someone that could stand up to her in those moments. That's when I think women's tennis would really catch fire again. Right now it's a little bit of a fog because there's no clear‑cut rivalry, no clear‑cut champion there. It's a little bit jumbled.
Q. Mary Joe, have you ever been to Worcester and seen the center? What are your feelings on the location and setup and what are you going to have to do to play there?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I've actually played there many times. Virginia Slims used to have a tournament there. When I first started, I played there quite often. So I remember it being very cold, very dark. It's about 40 minutes from Boston. My niece goes to Holy Cross, so I'm hoping to have a lot of support there from that college.
But we're looking forward to it. Again, it's just huge we're playing at home. I think that makes a big difference. Boston has always been a great community for tennis. We don't have a lot of tennis there anymore so it's nice to be back in that area.
Q. Does it give you any extra ammo to motivate your team after you were relegated after last season?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I mentioned earlier, we're always motivated. You always want to win. Obviously getting demoted to the next group wasn't something we wished for. It's the first time it happened.
So we go out there, back to work, back to the drawing board, and try to get the wins. It's not easy. This is going to be my fourth year as Fed Cup captain. Each year has been challenging and rewarding in its own way. I'm excited. I'm excited to see the new generation and how they're progressing and improving. I love the fact that they love playing for their country, that they want to achieve big things.
Yeah, we're motivated. We're always motivated. You're right, we have a little bit more incentive to try to get back into the World Group.
Q. Since you've both worked and seen and analyzed a lot of the younger players, could you talk about what you'd like to see with them.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I'll start with Melanie. She had the toughest season I think of all. She dropped out of the top 150, really struggled with her confidence. I'd like to see her get back to basics, get back to what she does well, which is move around the court, throw in the variety, use her forehand. I think sometimes you get to a certain level and you think, Okay, what do I need to do for the next one? I think Melanie tried to do a little bit too much and played outside what comes naturally to her.
She's a hard worker. Winning the US Open mixed doubles with Jack Sock did a lot for her and her motivation. I think she's going to have a good year for her, so I'm excited for her.
The other players, McHale, works very hard. She's very intense. She wants to keep moving up. She's currently ranked 43. She needs to keep developing. She needs to get a little quicker. Her backhand has been the weaker wing. The forehand is a heavy shot. The serve improved a lot. I think that's one of the reasons she did so well this season. That's the good news with her, there's still a lot of room to improve and she has the right mentality for the game.
Falconi, I was excited to see her have a breakthrough at the Open. She has so much passion. You can see it in her face. I've never had her on Fed Cup, so I'm hoping to have her this next coming season because she always writes me just to let me know her results because she can't wait to be on the team. That's obviously something you love, being captain.
Sloane to me has always been someone with a ton of talent. It was also nice to see her have some breakthroughs this season. She has to stay healthy. For me with her it's attitude. If she has the right attitude and stays positive she can move up because she has weapons, great serve, forehand, great athlete. I think we can see a lot of great things from her.
I actually saw CoCo a few weeks ago. She came to Cleveland for the Billie Jean and Elton John charity event. She has a great upswing as well. She's dropped in the rankings. For her I think it's a concentration issue. When she's focused and deliberate with her tactics, not just trying to swing away, she plays well. The match I saw her beat Zvonareva a year ago in the summer, she was great. That kind of tennis is going to win a lot of matches. If she can get back to that disciplined sort of style, she's got the power and weapons. She could still get in better shape and get quicker around the court. But she should definitely be in the top 60 in the world, in my opinion.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Going down the line, Isner had a great second half of the season. He's basically in my view in the same spot that Mardy Fish was in this time last year. He has a great shot at the top 10 in the first half of the year. If he plays the way he's been playing, he'll get there.
This time last year I went down to see John in Tampa where my family is, and he wasn't practicing much. He was really fighting off an injury. I talked to him yesterday. He's already working out physically. He's getting geared up to start bashing some balls and really get a running start into the season. He really came in under‑cooked last year.
Upside potential is big with John. He's probably the most disruptive force in the men's game. His serve is just a monster. No one from the top down likes to deal with it. He's not the best player in the world by any means, but he's probably the player that's least enjoyable to play. There's something to be said for that. If he keeps getting better, top ten is where he should live with that serve.
Next, Donald Young had a major move last year and has a big opportunity in the first half of the season, like Isner, as far as ranking points go. He doesn't have much to defend. He's going to be playing all the big tournaments rather than playing quallies and challengers, which he was doing in early 2011. If he can string some wins together, his ranking is only going to climb in the first half of the year until he has to defend some points.
For me it's a new beginning for Donald Young because he's now established on the tour and now is his chance to really prove that not only is he going to be a tour player but he can move forward and maximize the potential we all know he has. We'll see where Donald starts off the year.
I'm hoping to get together with Donald, with Ryan, with Jack Sock, we're trying to put together a three‑day camp before Christmas down in Florida, to get those guys together, the future of Davis Cup here in America in a couple years, get them together playing against each other. Hopefully that will prove to be a good three days together if we can make that happen.
Ryan had a good year last year, broke into the top hundred for the first time. He's hard at work in Austin, Texas, both on his fitness as well as rounding out his game. He's still a raw tennis player, in my view. He still has a lot of upside potential. When I say he's a raw tennis player, I mean that as a compliment. He's 79 in the world with a lot of stuff to work on. He's got that attitude of being someone who wants to work hard and wants to get there and is impatient in some ways to get there. That's not a bad quality to have.
Ryan, again, now is going to have a lot more opportunity because he's in the top hundred. He's going to have a lot more looks at the basket as far as main draws in these events and hopefully he'll break into the top 50 in the first half of the year and get himself into the Masters 1000s going forward.
Sam is a different guy. He's a guy who has been in the top 20. He's a guy who should be in the top 20. He's coming off of that surgery. I have a lot of respect for Sam dipping down and deciding to go play some minor league tournaments to get his confidence back in his body. He played some challengers in the fall after the US Open and played some tour events. He didn't stand behind a protected ranking. He said, I'm good enough to get up there. I'm going to get back there in due time as long as I feel healthy.
It's going to be a big year for Sam Querrey. If he stays healthy, I expect to see him back pretty quickly inside the top 50. At 93 he's a very dangerous floater. As long as he's healthy, Sam is going to be just fine.
Q. Mary Joe, you talked before about how much you were hoping some of the younger girls could learn from Serena and Venus being on the team. What kind of a benefit will hopefully the two of them have in Worcester?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think it would be a huge benefit for the young generation to be around Serena and Venus, to be around their work ethic, their mentality. Venus came to Germany. She didn't play. But having her there I thought was very valuable. She did practice a couple times, not for long because she was coming off injury. But for them to watch the way she trains. I think it was like 20 minutes. It was the most intense 20 minutes that I think all the players had ever seen just from the very first ball. There was no wasting time. It was getting right to business. I thought that was very good for the young players to capture.
Same thing with Serena. Being able to be around a champion like Serena can only be positive.
I'm hoping that that is going to mesh well. It's always different chemistry, but I think it will be very valuable for everybody else.
Q. Jim, what do you think in terms of your playing so much on the senior tour in the fall, does that help you in terms of analyzing the game or does that make it harder to do? Mary Joe could answer that, too, maybe.
CAPTAIN COURIER: I think that staying close to the competitive aspect of tennis, for me playing on the Champions Series, in those 12 one‑night tournaments is invaluable because I remember how difficult it is, I remember what pressure feels like. I experience it myself when you're playing in front of 7,000 people. When you miss the ball, you realize it's not as easy as it looks.
I think it's valuable from a coaching standpoint, a relate‑ability standpoint. It's easy to distance yourself from the competitive aspect of the sport and forget what it feels like in the fire.
Q. In terms of how the game has evolved technically or tactically, hitting the ball at speeds of today, does that make a difference?
CAPTAIN COURIER: Look, I'm playing with some technology now, current technology, as opposed to what I used to play with. I recognize what the speed looks like. I get a chance to hit with our Davis Cup players when I'm with them. I see the speed they bring to the court. There's a consistency to it that certainly continues to grow. Seems like the average speeds are growing every year as these athletes get bigger and better. It definitely keeps you closer to it.
It's impressive also to see just how fast everyone has to be. Now I understand why everyone has to slide on a hard court. They have to move that fast and stop that fast to catch up to the next ball.
Q. Mary Joe, does it help you when you're out there hitting the ball, seeing the speed?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Totally. Like Jim, when I'm at Fed Cup, sometimes I get out there and hit a few balls with the women, the young ones. It's changed a lot. I say every five years it gets faster, stronger. It does. You appreciate it that much more because you can get a little distanced from it at times. You do realize how difficult it is. When it's 4‑All, 30‑All, there's no shot that's really a given. It makes you take it a little bit less for granted and just see how the speed has changed, the power has changed.
Gosh, everyone hits the ball so hard now. I was never big on coming into the net too much. I try not to go to the net when I'm playing with these girls, they can take the racquet out of my hand they hit the ball so hard. It's good to be around, especially as a coach, to be aware of.
Q. Mary Joe, Jim mentioned the fact of Serena's upside, no rival for her. Watching Kvitova, when she's playing her best, she's taking it to a new level.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: When Jim was talking about Serena, I think Kvitova could get to that level. She has the serve, the groundstrokes. The movement is not quite there yet but she keeps getting better and better. So I can see that maybe in this coming year being something interesting to watch. A little similar because they have a lot of power. But having the lefty factor with Kvitova could make it quite a nice rivalry. I do think that's probably the biggest challenge that Serena could face next year.
Q. Jim, I don't know if you saw today that Alex Bogomolov was approved to play for Russia. He would be the fourth ranked American after Isner. Do you have any thoughts on that?
CAPTAIN COURIER: I do. I've known Alex a long time and I like him. I'm really happy for him that he's having this time in his career when he's in the top 50 and he's really a factor now. He's right in there. It's exciting for him.
He hasn't factored into my thoughts for what our team is and will be. I don't really see a scenario where he would be playing for the United States. So I wish him well.
Having said that, I can't speak exactly to the legality of whether he'll be allowed to play. Tim can probably elaborate on that. I think there's also some outstanding issues as far as assistance he's received from the USTA both from a coaching and monetary standpoint that probably should be rectified prior to him playing for another nation. That probably will be done behind closed doors, as it should be.
The USTA has definitely gone out of their way to help him. I know Alex appreciates that. I know he's getting an opportunity here he wouldn't get. I don't begrudge him that. I think we should recognize what the USTA has done for him, not because I'm Davis Cup captain, but because fair is fair.
Q. Did he come and talk to you about it?
CAPTAIN COURIER: He didn't talk to me about it. He talked to Jay Berger. He knows Jay very well. He talked to Patrick. There's really nothing for Alex and I to discuss directly as far as Davis Cup goes unless I asked him to play for us.
TIM CURRY: I want to thank everybody for joining us on the call. Thanks to Mary Joe and Jim for taking the time out of their schedules. Happy holidays. Thank you.
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