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January 20, 2015

Paul Annacone

Patrick Rafter


DARREN PEARCE: Pat Rafter will be filling the role of Director of Performance for Tennis Australia as of the 1st of February, and Paul Annacone will be advising Pat in the role. Obviously has a lot of experience in that field. Questions?

Q. Pat, are you as excited about last night's events as the rest of Australia tennis?
PATRICK RAFTER: Last night or the whole results for the day?

Q. Both.
PATRICK RAFTER: I think it was really good day for Australian tennis. We can't get ahead of ourselves either. We have got good numbers coming back into it. Just want to keep it all in perspective too and just keep all the guys down to earth and grounded. Guys and girls for that matter. And just try and keep going forward. I am, yeah, maybe being a little conservative in that answer, but I think it's important for these guys to understand it's just a first round and we're building towards something in the next five or ten years.

Q. Is part of that driven by what we've seen in the past with young players, the hype and expectations, it becomes almost crippling for them as they advance?
PATRICK RAFTER: Hit the nail right in the head there. You said the words better than I did there. (Laughter.) Just have to agree with what you said there. Just important to keep everything pretty level and not get too excited with where we're at right now.

Q. Based on your knowledge of the players, are you fearful of that? How do you keep these guys, in general terms, how will they handle what they achieved?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think sometimes they can get a little bit affected by a lot of hype and media. That's why we want to keep it very level. There probably are some players who get more attention than others. Just want to try to keep them as grounded as they can. It's only the second round. A lot of those guys have great potential to go on. With the girls as well. I think there is good potential there. But if we get affected by all the stuff around you, media and social media, I think it can have a negative effect.

Q. What do you think is the key to getting where we are with a new excitement about Australian tennis?
PATRICK RAFTER: I put that down to the last seven or eight years of what the program has been in place. Done a terrific job of getting a lot more players in there and been a lot more conscious of player development, where I think we were pretty slack 15, 20 years ago. Now we're starting to see the rewards. It's not a quick process. We always said it's going to take 5 to 10 years to produce players. That's what's happening now.

Q. How important has it been to engage people like yourself and Lleyton is getting on board and I guess some of the older guard of Australian tennis on board?
PATRICK RAFTER: Incredibly important to get people like me on board. (Laughter.) No, I think as I said, the last seven or eight years we've done a terrific job. I'm coming off the back, put a little spin on it my way and we'll see how it goes.

Q. With Paul's fresh eyes, a different view, what are your thoughts in terms of where it goes from now, the program?
PAUL ANNACONE: I think Pat hit the nail on the head. There has been a lot of good work done. Last July kind of started the review process for Tennis Australia, did that for five months. A lot of positive stuff came out of that. So the foundation is great. All kidding aside, to have someone like Pat involved now at this level is terrific. It's about building on a good foundation now and putting some philosophies in place and tweaking a couple little things. But you're reaping the benefits now. As Pat said, the biggest thing is to keep it in perspective and understand, for lack of a better cliche, it actually is a journey; it's not a destination. The idea is to keep the kids aware of that. As exciting as these two weeks are and a first-round win is, that's great, but there is more work to do. Enjoy it, but just keep going.

Q. You worked obviously with a couple extraordinary talents. They had difficulties as well. What is the message you give?
PAUL ANNACONE: My biggest message is there are some things you can't teach, and talent is one of them. If you look at all successful people, I found there are a lot of attributes they have that make them successful other than the talent. I think that's what Pat brings to the table; the discipline, the ability to deal with adversity, big picture perspective. Understanding there is no magic pill and there are going to be some ups and downs. It's a matter of managing that so you can go through the journey in the most likely equation to reach your potential, whatever that potential is. I wish there was like, Take two of these pills and it'll be great. It doesn't work like that. Like Pat said, it's generational. As much as we all want all of our results to happen yesterday, doesn't really happen that way. Now with a lot of good work that's been done over the last six, seven, eight years, you're seeing some benefit of it. The message is, keep going, keep pushing and get some more racquets in younger kids' hands and keep them there.

Q. How much the producing champions is done by a system and how much by individual's parents, coaches?
PATRICK RAFTER: Paul I think said it really well there. You can't produce talent. You can put a system in place that allows the to grow and mature. I think Tennis Australia has some great infrastructure all around Australia now. You know, we're going to try and grow on that and build on that and make it more inclusive for a lot more kids to have access to that without giving them too much too early. That's one of our key principles is being more inclusive with the coaches as well and work with them. Because they're producing the players at a young age and they come in the academy space and how do we work best together. As I said, just trying to keep the kids grounded as much as we can without giving them too much.

Q. Have there been instances of kids being given too much too soon?
PATRICK RAFTER: I have a different philosophy on how to spend that money, yeah. I like to properly use that money for a lot more people than give it directly to a lot of kids at a too young age. Spending too much on that. One of the big philosophies I have is also back to school. If you're not back to school, you can't be part of a program and not part of any funding. So schooling I think is a very, very important part of our education. And that's not home schooling. That's attending school and reaping the benefits of what school can provide for all our kids socially and academically. Percentage of people actually making a living out of tennis is not high. I think we are back to the kids and their families, that we also give them an education, another pathway. Whether that's an American college system or going back into another educational phase of their life. So that will all link in quite tightly together, so when you're back at school you won't be traveling as much as a 12, 13, 14 year old, which I don't see the benefit in doing. Then hopefully they come through the system, 15, 16, 17 and they're still in love with the sport because they haven't been smashed by training three, four hours a day at the courts. Then we can start investing in them that age a lot more. I think that's a bit more of an indicator of where the kids are and where kids are at at that age. It's very hard if you got a best 12 or 13 year old in the world, doesn't mean they're going to be a great player.

Q. When you look at the system and what you're asked to do in this job, what do you think are the most important attributes you have to bring to the role yourself?
PATRICK RAFTER: Well, I don't necessarily have a huge criteria of what I have to do. I think it's imprinting part of my philosophies on it, and that is, as I said, education. That's the one thing I feel very, very strongly about. Discipline. Not that real self-entitlement side of things. Getting the kids into a group environment, enjoying themselves, enjoying the game for what it is at such a young age. Not make it a job for them too early, and hopefully produce in mass numbers at 16, 17, 18. Hopefully you have a talent pool there that pushes everyone through and that cream will rise there as well. Setting a good standard, a good culture is very important as well.

Q. You talk about five or ten years. It's probably taken ten years to build the sort of depth we have at the moment. You talk about another five or ten years. Do you really think the Australian fans will have to wait another five, ten years to get another Grand Slam champion?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think we have potential. There are some kids out there, both the men's and women's side of things, that have potential to do some great things. Girls are starting to build some depth. The 15, 16, 17 year olds are starting to come through now, but they'll be another three, four years away. Don't really know exactly how they're going to go. It's really hard to tell at that age. On the men's side of things we're also seeing potential with a lot of these kids, but that's all it is is potential. I can't tell you if they're going to be Grand Slam champions or not, but they certainly have an X factor that puts them in the mix of being great champions.

Q. Why do the girls fall behind, do you think?
PATRICK RAFTER: That's a good question, Linda. I don't know. We're going to put more time and focus into the women. We've got Nicole Pratt now running head of the women's very close aligned with Alicia Molik. They are going to make some academy space here in Melbourne a lot more exciting, and with Stoltzy on board. I just see some really big things, and we want it grow it and get more kids involved. Maybe we just dropped the ball a little bit with the women. As I said, I'm still getting my head around what's happened. Same formula can be for the men and women. Can be the same thing: Make it more inclusive, and hopefully they enjoy themselves and get them through those teenage years and come out other side.

Q. Talking about educational aspect and making sure the young ones are still at school. Two things: First, you got to get the kids interested in the sport. Are you going to have any sort of association with certain schools that you work directly with? How important then is the whole concept of Fast Four and the Hot Shots to get the kids encouraged and bring them into the sport?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think most schools take on the Hot Shots program. I think that's one of the great revelations we've incorporated into tennis here in Australia. We're seeing numbers just rapidly grow. I know just at our schools on the Sunshine Coast I think has 150 kids playing already out of 800 kids. So a lot of kids are playing. I know a lot of schools are becoming more active in that. So the schools are doing the Hot Shots program, and hopefully they get the love of tennis. With the school programs, what we're mainly looking at Sydney at this stage, how we can implement tennis in the school system. Sydney has a bit more of an geological issue. Homebush, there is a great setup out there, but some kids just can physically get there after school. So we're trying to tie in different systems in different states and what works in those areas. When I get my head around each state and how it all operates, we'll have a better picture probably next few months, Craig. But trying to get schools more active and involved with tennis as well. They're doing it anyway, just want to try and take that to the next level. And some good schools as well. But it doesn't have to be a top school, Craig. Could be state schools. I went to state schools and look how rounded I am. (Smiling.) I trained before school from 6:30 to 8:00 and then went to school and came back and trained 3:30 to 5:00. That's how I did, and I loved tennis because I was so excited to be there. It can happen any school you go to.

Q. Is it common for kids to stop going to school so they could focus on their tennis?
PATRICK RAFTER: We had -- probably when I was coming through not so much, but there was a system in place where the best kids in Australia would go to in Canberra where they would go to school and then leave early, like 1:30 or something like that. That's still a great system. Probably did a fair bit of travel too at a young age, which I don't think is necessarily important. So there was a system in place. When I look at Americans and Europeans, they all go to school. It's a big part of their culture, and they produce the best players in the world. Why can't we do the same?
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