April 27, 2003
CZECH REPUBLIC vs. USA, LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS
THE MODERATOR: We have Billie Jean King, Serena Williams and Venus Williams for an interview.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, don't be so shy.
Q. Any thought of playing the other two girls? If not, why the Williams sisters?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: They wanted to play. When your No. 1 and 2 players want to play, they play. They've earned it. It's real simple. If they didn't want to play, then I would have put the others in.
Q. What was the reaction of the other two players?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: They were fine. They asked me. I told them. They said, "Fair enough. We have to earn it."
Q. Doesn't get much better than the ten sets that were played, except for the one 7-5.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: I'm just thrilled even with the 7-5. I'm thrilled with anything that's a win. They just were fantastic. The crowd was great. It was just a fantastic week all in all.
Q. Petra said she was kind of hoping to trip up Serena by bringing Klara in. It didn't seem to make much of a difference.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: I don't think it was going to make any difference. They play the ball anyway. We have our little, you know, "We play the ball," then "We don't play the person," and that sort of thing. I thought their intensity was really high. They kept up their intensity even in the doubles. I was really ticked off we didn't win love and love. No, I'm kidding (laughing). Wanted a couple bagels there!
Q. I know the most important thing was the win, but what else were you trying to accomplish? Were there other things you were trying to accomplish?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: We try to accomplish a lot. What we try to do is not just win Fed Cup, but also for them, to help. Anything we can do with their game and their life, so when they leave here, it just continues to get better and better, their quality of life and their quality of play. And to understand, you know, their self-awareness as young people, and they've changed quite a bit since Ancona when they were rookies. They're much more mature. Their rankings are huge. They've won a lot of Grand Slams since then. They hadn't won anything yet. Well, I don't mean that, but you know what I mean, as far as just since then. I remember Serena won her first tournament right after Ancona, it was the Manhattan Beach tournament, then she went on to win the US Open that summer, after that summer. So we try to just help them build their games and their lives, you know. It's a continuation. This isn't an end result. This is just a continuation.
Q. How important is it to have them play Fed Cup down the road?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, it's huge because they transcend tennis, I mean they transcend sports. It's just amazing. They're just so popular. Everybody loves them so much. When they play, it's just very extra special.
Q. Serena and Venus, during your singles matches today did you notice Billie Jean's emotions when you would go to the net and volley?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It was only when we were at the net (laughter).
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: That's not true!
VENUS WILLIAMS: I knew ones we got in, she was proud for sure. Even if the volley wasn't a win or we didn't win the point, I know that was her focus this week and the weeks before and the weeks that are coming. So it was a high point in the match, for sure.
Q. Billie Jean, you're in the quarterfinals now. If you should win that, four teams gather for the semifinals and finals in a place that's not been named. What about Lowell?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: Why not? I mean, we're just into Italy right now, so we haven't gotten beyond that. Also, the ITF probably is going to have to make that decision.
Q. Wouldn't it be a good decision?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: It would be a great decision. I mean, it sold out in an hour. The way we go, now they have a little better understanding of it as well so they get more out of it.
Q. Do you think the States should get the finals back given 2000 was a bit of a mess?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: I think they have to do it because the Championships -- that's right, we have a week between the Championships now, don't we? They keep changing. Well... if you did play in the finals, ever - forget we have to earn it - but... I mean, we've earned it. I mean, if we have Serena and Venus, then we should get the nod for sure. If we don't, I think it's up for more speculation because you have Clijsters and Henin, you have those other players involved. But we've won the most. I think by supporting Fed Cup, it's huge, especially with these two players, there's no question. Our players, Lindsay, Monica, all these other players who have been really supporting it all along, I'm just so blessed that we have such depth. I mean, can you imagine? Most coaches in other countries... Phew. There's nothing like this. This is an all-time high in the history of our sport.
Q. What factored into your decision to go ahead and play doubles today?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, we just always play together as a team and, you know, we wanted to for the fans as well. Not everyone often gets a chance to see both Venus and I compete in the doubles. It was a good opportunity for not only myself and Venus to get a wonderful practice, but as well for the fans.
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think it was important, too, in a case that for some reason it was 2-all, it was important for Serena and I to be named to the doubles. We're used to playing with each other and we're used to dealing with the pressure in doubles also. Since we were already on the roster, we thought, "Let's stay with that."
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: They actually called . Actually, their agent called a few weeks ago and said, "What do you think about the doubles?" I said, "It's really up to them." Carlos Fleming, the agent, just said, "They really do want to play doubles." I said, "If they want to play, they've earned the right to play. It's a done deal." And I agree with Serena that that's what the fans want. Don't you think? Okay. We're in the entertainment business, hello.
Q. So you weren't surprised then about the crowd that stayed around for the "meaningless doubles"?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: No, I wasn't surprised. Our job is to put the best team we can out there and play. If they didn't want to play, then the other two are ready. You know, let's just say Venus didn't want to play singles even in the fourth match, Shaughnessy was ready. I mean, we left at 7:45 this morning to go practice. They're killing us, but I love it. It's like... it's the way it is every day. We just leave early and finish late.
Q. Venus, can you talk about maybe not the pressure, but the fact that when you come to a place such as this, where there hasn't been much pro tennis at all, the need to sort of put on a show and entertain as well as win the matches, and how well both of you sort of carried that off this weekend?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Definitely, I think throughout the whole weekend there was some wonderful, wonderful points in the singles and the doubles from both sides, the U.S. and the Czechs. I think everyone was very happy. The crowd seemed involved. I was involved. Both teams were involved. So it was nice.
Q. Does it wear on you after a while? There's the clinics, the appearances. There's a lot of roles that you have to perform in this sort of position. Do you take it in stride?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, if I get tired, then I step back. I'm not sure about the other players, but after a while, there is only so many people that you can deal with until you need some quiet time and some alone time and some time to just be normal. If I ever get to that point, then I do slow down my schedule. But otherwise, I enjoy it tremendously.
Q. Billie, can I switch subjects for a second. Annika Sorenstam is going to be playing a PGA event in May. I just want to get your thoughts on that and the pressure she is going to be facing.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: Annika is going to be under tremendous pressure. No matter how much she practices, you can't rehearse for that kind of occasion, just like when I played Bobby Riggs or when Martina Navratilova played Jimmy Connors or when Babe Didrickson played in 1945, I think, in the LA Open. She shot a 79, didn't do very well. It's very, very difficult. I think if she makes the cut, that would be just a tremendous thing. I do think it brings a lot of attention to the game of golf. I think it elevates the LPGA. I think more people know her name now than they ever have, and I think it's sad that you have to go and play a men's tournament to get your name known and to have that recognition on her accomplishments. That's what gets me upset. As I said earlier, we only get 8.7 percent of the sports page, women's sports. Forget women's tennis, women's sports. That's why it's very hard for women's sports to be known and be household names very often, like the men. It's sad. But we need more people to cover women's sports is what we need, all of them, and allow them to be the sheroes and heroes that the guys get to be. The only way it happens is when people see your face enough and hear your name enough. It has to be covered; it has to be seen. I told you, I looked at the "Chicago Tribune" three days in a row in March during the NCAAs both men and women, and I counted the men's photos in the sports page and the women's photos. And two days, it was 42 men, and I also counted the photos of the men columnist or women columnist, if they were in there - 42 men's photos, none of women for two days, with 42, 41 for two days. The third day was 40 men's photos and one woman, and it was - what's her name - Taurasi. Tiny little photo up there. I thought that was just ... That's shocking. That's shocking.
Q. How does she manage not to choke? When you played Riggs, you were obviously a better player.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: He did beat Margaret Court. He did beat Margaret Court Mother's Day that day and she was ranked No. 1 that year.
Q. She didn't play her best tennis.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: She played shocking, but that's the point. You can't rehearse for it. See, I love those occasions. I mean, I'm just built differently than she was. I would be great in those situations because I just love it. You know, not that I wasn't scared to death, but I just knew what I had to do to do the best I could. I wasn't -- I think knowing history helped. I knew Bobby Riggs' history. Both of us were from southern California. I'd heard Bobby Riggs' story when I was a baby. I used to sit out at the public parks. In the old days, they wouldn't let juniors play on the public parks unless you were with an adult. So I was sitting around a lot as well and just socializing and listening to older people. They talked about Bobby Riggs. Eleanor Tennant was his -- he was taught by a woman. I knew that he was a hustler. I just heard all kinds of stories. So I had a sense of who he was, his personality. So because I knew that, I was able to cope better. But what happens with young people today, they don't know any history, so the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself. That really helped me, I think, just knowing his history and appreciating him. I knew he was the No. 1 player in the world, he wasn't just a 55-year-old guy going around, you know, like a guy who couldn't play. I think that's very, very important to understand all that. And I did. But I also knew the significance from a social point of view. I knew it was about social change. I knew it was historical. I knew it was very important, even though, you know, you just say "it's a little tennis match." But I knew, psychologically and emotionally, I was very clear that it was touching people's hearts and minds. They had feelings. Everybody had a feeling about that match if you asked them, you know? It really questioned how they felt about themselves, it questioned how they felt about the opposite gender. It triggered so much stuff in people, it was incredible. So it's very important to have a sense of history because it really does help you play better, I think. I was ready. I don't mind someone who changes variety and all that, they can do that to me. I don't mind that. That's enjoyable to me. That didn't bother me, he was going to hit spins. That's fine. I don't have any trouble with that stuff. But I also knew I could lose. I was scared to death. I was shaking.
Q. Venus, Serena, you are loved by millions of fans, adored by people and everything. It was not always the case. In the beginning of your career, there was some issues and, you know... Now, looking back, did you change something? Did you have an advisor who guided you through the tour?
SERENA WILLIAMS: No.
VENUS WILLIAMS: We didn't have any issues, it was just a lot of people just talking and talking and talking.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: What are you talking about?
Q. Some people perceived you as (inaudible), something like that?
VENUS WILLIAMS: No, it was just people talking.
SERENA WILLIAMS: It was more rumors in press than anything.
VENUS WILLIAMS: She dumped me, and that was clear.
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: She did.
VENUS WILLIAMS: I was young and innocent and vulnerable. It was hard (smiling).
Q. Will this be the team against Italy?
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: Don't know.
Q. A team, are you?
VENUS WILLIAMS: USA.
Q. Will we see you in wherever...?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I want to be there.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I would like to be there as well.
Q. That's a yes?
VENUS WILLIAMS: (Laughing).
CAPTAIN BILLIE JEAN KING: It's not a yes, you guys. We're gonna go one at a time here. They don't know. It's their schedule. Everybody's pulling and pushing on them. I understand that. I've been there. So we'll go -- we'll just let them just enjoy this win, okay.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
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