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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE


December 5, 2013


Jim Courier

Mary Joe Fernandez


TIM CURRY:¬† Thanks for joining us today for the call.¬† As you know, we have consecutive events following the Australian Open where the U.S. Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams will be hosting their first‑round matches.
We will get right to it with questions for Mary Joe and Jim.

Q.  Mary Joe, about Sloane Stephens coming off what was a huge year for her in 2013.  Wondering if you've been in touch with her at all about the year and Fed Cup coming up, what is expected of her having to back up a lot of big results for the first time in her career.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Yeah, Sloane had an amazing year, especially at the majors.  She's up to 12 in the world, which is fantastic.  Her consistency did falter a little bit the rest of the year during the regular tour season.
But to me she still has so much upside and places to improve.  You're just seeing her develop into a complete player.
She's got all the tools, she has the weapons, she's got the speed.  I think she's got the desire now.  She's tasted a little bit of success.  She wants more.  She's been working with Paul Annacone the last few weeks.  I think that's going to be good for her.
As of now, everybody has made themselves available for Fed Cup.  I'm hoping everybody is going to be healthy and having good Down Under tournaments, especially in Melbourne.  I'm excited about her potential and how far she can go.

Q.  What do you think held her back in 2013 to give the consistent performances week in, week out?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I think Sloane still gets a little bit confused about how she should play, constructing her points.  I think she relies on her speed and doesn't play as aggressively as she could.  She does it very well when she does.
So it's just a matter of the big points, big moments, playing to her strengths.  She has options.  Sometimes that hurts you.  You tend to fall back on what's safe and secure, and to her that's getting a lot of balls back and playing more defensively.
I think now she's more aware of when she wins why she wins.  I think that's something we'll see more of in 2014, more consistency.

Q.  Jim, the decision to put the U.S. back on clay for the first time in decades, explain how that whole process to reach that decision went.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  The process was a team decision where Jay Berger and I, who is the coach of the Davis Cup team.  We talked to our key players right now, which are John, Sam, Mike and Bob, looking at the matchup with Great Britain, what they thought would be to our advantage as a team.
Clay was what we came to as a best chance against those guys, knowing full well they're going to be tough on any surface we play them on.
So it was a group decision.  Our guys, unlike a lot of American teams in the past, are quite comfortable on clay, have good results on clay, so that's what we're going to go with in SanDiego.

Q.  What do you think made this generation more comfortable on it as opposed to four or five years ago when it would be unheard of?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I wish I knew that.  A lot of people in player development, Patrick and Jay, the guys at the USTA are involved with, they would love to see our players be more adept on all surfaces.  Thankfully this generation is.  That is what we are going to go with for the first time since 1992 in Minneapolis when we played Sweden in the semifinals.

Q.  Mary Joe, I wanted to get your thoughts on the USA versus Italy, which is a familiar opponent at this point.  You said that Serena has made herself available.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Yeah.

Q.  And your reaction to the Russian situation in the final, as far as the whole competition is concerned.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I'm excited.  Right now, like I said, all the top players have made themselves available.  Having Serena would be a huge bonus.  We have never played Italy with Serena on the team.
They've been our big nemesis the last few years.  They've won Fed Cup the four of the last eight years, I believe.
They have a lot of depth.  They have great singles.  They have the No.1 doubles team in the world.  They figure things out.
We came close last year.  It was the first time we were in a position when we could have beat them away.  I'm hoping this will be the time.
Again, if Serena plays, it obviously makes it that much more likely.
The final, it was unfortunate that Russia could not field their best team for whatever reasons, injuries or not wanting to play.  That happens.
But we're hoping hopefully to have a good start here and finally get a win over Italy.  It's been a bit of a thorn in our sides for the last few years.

Q.  Jim, you mentioned John, Sam, Mike and Bob.  It's early to know who is going to be the team at this point, but it sounds like that is who you're leaning towards.  Murray is the big wild card in all this.  We don't know if he's going to show up, what his condition is going to be.  For the U.S., have you written off Mardy Fish?  Could we see Harrison, Kudla, Sock, someone like that in the mix?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think fitness is going to be a key factor here.  Our team by and large the last years has been John, Sam, Mike and Bob, and that's what I expect for the foreseeable future if everyone is healthy.
Can't speak to Mardy, as to what he's going to be doing.  Of course, if we have an injury issue, we'll reevaluate.  I don't think anyone would expect anything different other than the guys we've been playing recently, myself included.

Q.  Have you been in touch with Sam much?  He's been sort of quiet the last few months.  Curious as to what's going on with him.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Sam has been nursing an abdominal injury.  I spoke to him yesterday.  He's out training in California, targeting his first tournament, which is Brisbane, so he's moving in the right direction.

Q.  Mary Joe, could you tell us about your relationship with Cleveland, how much you helped bring the Fed Cup to Cleveland, what you are expecting from its appearance here.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I'm really excited.  I've been living in Cleveland it's going to be 12 years the beginning of next year.  It's my home now.  I've raised my children here.  I'm really thrilled that it's actually a really big tennis community.
When the opportunity came up to have Fed Cup tennis here, of course I lobbied for it, went to talk to everybody.
I really think we're going to have a good turnout.  I think we're hopefully going to fill up the stadium downtown there.
It's been good.  I'm getting calls every day about people wanting to buy tickets, how can we help, how can we support.  I think hopefully it's going to showcase Cleveland in a better light.  People have some misconceptions about our city.  It's going to be good for Cleveland.  It's going to be good for the Fed Cup.

Q.¬† Mary Joe, break down a few of the players you haven't talked about yet:¬† Jamie, Madison and Christina.¬† Look at their seasons this year, then sort of moving forward, what you expect them to end the year ranking‑wise.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Well, a little bit in order there.  Jamie is around 28 in the world.  Madison is about 10 spots behind her.  They both had good, solid seasons.  I thought Jamie had a bit of a breakthrough season, started to play more to her strengths, mentally got stronger.
Unfortunately for Jamie, she wasn't able to play after the US Open.  She had a few injuries.  Her left heel.  I think she was in a boot for four to six weeks.  She's just starting to get on the court and practice.  Hopefully she'll get to Australia, but we'll see how she's doing there.
Madison, she's a work in progress.  She's working really hard.  I was speaking to Ola Malmqvist yesterday.  He told me how hard she's been working out physically as well as on the court.
I continue to believe that she's going to keep rising in the rankings.  She's got the weapons.  When she starts to use them the right way, be a little bit more consistent, I think she's going to do a lot of damage.
For Christina, it was a big breakthrough at the US Open, get her ranking back in the top 100.  She played pretty strong.  She played well in Québec, getting to the semis there.  She's back in the top 70.
With Christina, I've had her many times on Fed Cup.  You know what you're going to get.  She works very hard.  She's committed.  She's dedicated.  She's the kind of player you love having on the team.
Bethanie Mattek had a good year.  She is in the top 50.  Hopefully Venus is going to healthy.  She finished strong, as well.  Played a couple tournaments after the US Open.  I believe she's playing a warmup tournament before Melbourne, which is a good sign.
Lepchenko struggled a little bit I think the last three or four months, but she played well for me last year in Italy.
It's been good.  I think we have 11 players in the top 100, which when I started I think we only had three.  So there's more choices, for sure.

Q.  Jim, talk about John and Sam, then maybe a couple of the younger guys like Ryan and Jack, quick assessment of their seasons, what you'd like to see from them next year.
CAPTAIN COURIER:¬† I think John and Sam could both use a full year of good health.¬† Both of them suffered at various times in the year.¬† John has a really good chance in the early part of the season to put some points on the board, get his ranking up, inside the top 10, which would be obviously beneficial going into tournaments like Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, have a higher seed, stay away from the top guys earlier on.¬† He's having a smooth off‑season so far, which is good.
Sam is going to come out hopefully hot in the early part of the year.¬† These guys are both dangerous players, and hopefully they can tie everything up together and play at the level that they're capable of.¬† If they do, they're both top‑10 players.
From there, ranking‑wise, if you look at it, there is a pretty big drop, there's a big gap.¬† But you look at Jack.¬† The word I'm hearing from Boca is he's having a really great off‑season with Jay Berger down there.¬† Pat Etcheberry is involved.¬† He's getting very fit and focused, working very hard.
Jack Sock is out in California doing the same.
Those guys both have nice potential.  I'd like to see them realize that they've had some issues.  Physically they've both suffered a little bit as well.
You have to do everything right to really excel in the sport right now.  It's become so physical and so challenging.  You can't really skate by on anything.  You have to be ready to go day in, day out.
Hopefully our guys will have a healthy year that will allow them the chance to show what they're made of.

Q.  The Davis Cup, the strength of your team, understanding that both John and Sam have played very well on clay, clearly the Bryans play well on everything.  Was the move essentially to negate Murray or Evans to a degree?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think if you look at their results versus our team's comfort zone, their results tend to come more on the firm surfaces, and our results come on firm surfaces and on the clay.
You have to assume that Murray is going to be very, very difficult to play no matter what surface you play him on.  So you look to the other elements there, the doubles, the second singles.  On paper we have a big advantage in those slots.
We're certainly going to be underdogs against Murray no matter where we play him.  But clay is a surface that all four of our guys wanted to play this tie on, so that's why we're doing it.

Q.  Off subject a little bit.  I'm covering the Orange Bowl juniors.  You both had amazing success there.  How did this help your careers or give you confidence to get into your pro careers?  Do you still think it holds the same relevance?  It seems these guys aren't getting good on the pros until eight, nine years later.  Do you still feel like it's relevant in the tennis world today?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  For me it was a huge steppingstone, that's for sure.  I just remember a lot of my peers, once we won the 18s, they turned pro, whether it was Sabatini, Graf, a few others.
I believe now there's more opportunities to play against the international field than there was back then.  So maybe it doesn't hold as much of an importance as it did when we were growing up.  But it's still big.  It's still important.  It still showcases the best of the best.
I remember when I was playing, a lot of the Europeans, Eastern Europeans, weren't professionals, even though they were playing in the juniors.  You had a really good group of players coming through that ended up becoming professional.  I remember playing the Maleeva sisters, a bunch of others.  They all ended up going pro.
I think it changed a little bit, but it's still an important tournament.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I don't think I can add much more to Mary Joe's statement.  I would concur with her.

Q.¬† The last really relevant male to win the Orange Bowl is Baghdatis 10 years ago.¬† Wozniacki six, seven years ago.¬† Do you think because now the game is so tough on the body, you need that strength, that man and woman strength, is that why it's taking them longer to jump from the Orange Bowl championship to being a top‑50 player?
CAPTAIN COURIER:¬† Seems like for a bulk of the players, there's a bigger gap between the juniors and the pros.¬† It takes them a couple more seasons to bulk up physically and be ready to withstand the rigors of the day‑in, day‑out grind.
I still believe when a special player comes through, they're sweep the Orange Bowl and be in the top 50 on the tour in no time.  We just haven't seen any of those players lately.

Q.  Mary Joe, I'd like to know if you really think that Serena will be in Cleveland.  Who would you rate favorite between Italy and the United States if Serena wasn't there?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  Well, from past experiences, you know when Serena's not there, Italy has been the favorite.  They have Sara Errani in the top 10.  Vinci is bordering the top 10.  No.1 doubles in the world.  Pennetta and Schiavone, a couple juniors behind them, Karin Knapp and Giorgi, who played well at the US Open.
So they're very well‑rounded, the Italian team.¬† They're very experienced as well as different game styles.¬† They're very capable of altering who needs to play when and against which opponent.¬† It's been a big challenge for us for the last five years when we play against the Italian teams.
Obviously, if Serena plays, which I'm counting on her playing, then we become the favorites.

Q.  Jim, I'd like to know if you consider Great Britain or the United States favorite.  Who do you consider favorite between Argentina, without del Potro playing, on clay in Mar del Plata versus Italy, since the winners will play one against the other?
CAPTAIN COURIER:¬† I think the United States is favored in three‑out‑of‑five matches, so we would be the favorites.¬† I think it's a little bit closer when you remove del Potro from the Argentinian equation.¬† I would consider them slight favorites with the home‑field advantage, even though Italy is comfortable playing on whatever surface they can play on.¬† Clay or indoors, doesn't really matter.¬† I think Argentina would, again, be a slight favorite in that match.

Q.  A lot of players spent substantial and formative years in the U.S. from Sharapova to Azarenka, Tommy Haas, Kei Nishikori, Tursunov.  Have you ever had serious conversations with any of those players about competing for the U.S.?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  No.  I remember a few years ago rumor having it about Sharapova at one time becoming American.  I don't think that's ever going to happen.  So, no, not really.  Not that I can think of.
Tommy Haas I guess tried it for a little bit.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I'll jump in.
Maria Sharapova is an American tennis player, even though she was born in Russia.  All of her formative years were in America.  But she doesn't play for America.  That's fine.  It is what it is.
But there's several players that have come and spent a lot of time here in the States that you named that basically are American‑based tennis players.¬† But it's not really for us to say who they play for.¬† It's their bloodline.¬† They get the choice.¬† I'm not going to be in the business of recruiting them, that's for sure.

Q.  Mary Joe, you mentioned point construction.  What does that exactly mean to you?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  It means setting up the point to make it look the way you want it to look, to look the way you want to get to your strengths.  If you have a big forehand, looking for that middle shot, to run around.  Depending on what your style of game is, have those points look the way you want them to look for you to have success.
So, you know, for me that one shot, going for that one shot, is not constructing a point.  Being patient and waiting for that right opportunity to make the point look the way you need it to look for you to have success.

Q.  Jim, anything to add?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  No.  I think Mary Joe nailed it.
I think point construction is just about playing to your strengths and figuring out what it is you need to do to win the points.
If someone like Gilles Simon is trying to draw an error, trying to put them in an awkward spot...  That's what Bernard Tomic does, as well.  There's other players that are looking to set up shots that they can finish the point with.
It's case by case.  At the end of the day, if you talk about point construction, you're talking about maximizing and being the most efficient you can be as a player.

Q.  Jim, this year we saw only Novak of the very top players playing Davis Cup, plus there are a bunch of other problems with Davis Cup.  If you could change it in one or two ways, how would you address that?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I'm really broad on the record on that topic.  It's an easy Google search to find my thoughts on that.
The broad strokes are simple.  I think the competition is a beautiful competition between nations.  It's special when we play it.  I think it certainly could be a little bit more popular than it currently is.  If management took a hard look at it, McKinsey came in and did a survey and decided what they wanted to do to maximize the power of Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
They're powerful events, but they could always be stronger.

Q.  Here in America, we've had a long history of players who were fierce competitors.  You said you were a believer of when things get tough, you were up to putting up a street fighter front.  Can you talk about that aspect of the game.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  Now you're starting to get into personal psychology, which is probably above my pay grade.
Every player attacks stressful situations in different ways.  Some players attack it head on.  Some players attack it a little bit more sideways.  You have to figure out how to move through those challenging moments the best way possible.  It's not going to be for me to say there's one way to do it because there isn't.  There are multiple ways.
You can look at the way someone like Rafa competes under pressure, the way someone like Connors competes under pressure, Serena, Martina, all the greats.  They all have different ways of approaching those moments.

Q.  Jim, playing on clay for the first time, can you talk about setting up about Petco Park, playing in a baseball stadium, something new for Davis Cup.
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think it's going to be a special site.  I think the players and the fans are going to really enjoy that environment.  I've only seen a tennis court set up in a baseball stadium one time back in Toronto, in 1990, an indoor tournament there.
It's going to be special.  To play outside in nice weather in SanDiego in February against a great team like Great Britain, with all the history with the U.S. playing against Great Britain in Davis Cup, I think it's going to be a special moment for everyone involved.

Q.¬† The host cities in general, Cleveland and SanDiego, much bigger cities than Davis and Fed Cup have been in recently.¬† Is that the shift you would like to see more of?¬† There's a lot of big U.S. cities that don't get a lot of tennis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas.¬† Previous cities have been more middle‑sized cities.¬† What difference does that make to you in terms of playing the events?
CAPTAIN COURIER:  I think one of the key things that most observers don't know about Davis Cup is the requirements that the ITF puts on the host nations is that you have to secure a site for seven days.
Given the uncertainty of Davis Cup and Fed Cup, where you're going to play your next rounds, you lose the opportunity to play in a place like Madison Square Garden, the United Center, the Staples Center, because those buildings are full and expensive on a per‑day basis.¬† To block those out for seven days, you're going to lose money.
One of the problems with the way Davis Cup is, it was formed in 1900.  The rules haven't changed much since then.  They don't understand the way the sport's economy works any more.  So you're handicapped.  You have to find creative solutions.  The USTA has been amazing, incredible, top class at finding creating solutions, like we find in Petco Park for a first round against Great Britain.
But you're literally in a straightjacket in the sports economy with this event these days.

Q.  In terms of picking players, going for the future instead of the present.  Jim, for example, if you had a situation where one of your top two singles guys wasn't available, your next two ranked guys might be like Smyczek or Mike Russell, not necessarily considered the future of tennis, would you rely on what would win that tie more or setting up getting who you think will be best in the future?
CAPTAIN COURIER:¬† My preference is to build for the future if you get into a situation like that.¬† We've had it before.¬† Monte‑Carlo is a prime example where Mardy Fish had an issue, wasn't able to play.¬† We called Ryan Harrison to play in that match.¬† We knew it was going to be tough for Ryan, but we wanted to get him some experience.¬† You have to look to the future for these things.
That's tough on the veterans who have earned their right to get in there from some perspectives.  My belief is you have to build for the future and build for the players who are going to be your team down the line.
It's a little bit like the philosophy of you're either trading for a player today or you're building your farm league, and I believe more in building your farm league.

Q.  Mary Joe?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  I totally agree with Jim.  It's about the future generation, trying to work with them, having them have the experience so they're prepared when it's their time to shine.  There's no better way than starting as soon as you can.  I'm always looking to bring the younger generation on to Fed Cup.  I'm hoping to continue.
Hopefully someone like Taylor Townsend, Vicky Duval, players like that that are having success coming out of the juniors, will slowly get on the teams.

Q.  We talked about Sloane Stephens.  People forget what a great doubles players she is.  Is that going to come to play at all in Cleveland?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ:  It could.  You quite never know, depending who's on the team, who's going to play that last match, especially if it comes down to it.
Sloane does play very good doubles.  Jamie Hampton plays very good doubles.  That's something I'd like to do in the next year or two, is develop that next doubles team.  We've have Venus and Serena at the top, Liezel Huber, Lisa Raymond.
Now it's time for the next generation to combine together to make good, strong doubles team.  Taylor Townsend is a great doubles player.  Finding that formula, that chemistry that works.  But Sloane is definitely at the top of the list.
TIM CURRY:  Thanks, everyone.  Mary Joe, Jim, appreciate your time.

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