March 24, 1998
KEY BISCAYNE, FLORIDA
MIKI SINGH: Fire away for Jeff.
Q. I kind of recall, Jeff, last time you got this far in a Super 9er, Grand Slam event?
JEFF TARANGO: Never. I think this is the best I've done in a Super 9.
Q. Mr. Statistic?
MIKI SINGH: I'll have to check on that. We'll have it upstairs.
JEFF TARANGO: My wife considers traveling to be an Olympic sport with the baby now. I've got her at the beginning of the tournament that if I got to the quarterfinals, she'd have to fly to Miami. I just talked to her and she's making a reservation on United to fly out here.
Q. With the baby?
JEFF TARANGO: Yeah, with the baby. It's so much effort for her to fly. I had to do better at the beginning of the tournament.
Q. Do you have a sponsorship with United?
JEFF TARANGO: No. I just think they're the best airline.
Q. What is the feeling like?
JEFF TARANGO: I feel like I'm playing great. I mean, every single match I'm playing, I feel like I'm hitting the ball better and better, I'm serving better and better. Everything is just feeling really good. I'm getting more confident. Starting to move better every match. So I'm feeling really good.
Q. You talked about this a little the other day, Jeff, but could you expand a little bit on how the family has mellowed you a little bit?
JEFF TARANGO: Well, I think it's just taken my mind off the tennis a lot. Always before, tennis was the only thing on my mind. You know, my daughter now is my first priority, so tennis has been shoved to second or third on the list. I'm just going out and playing, you know, just like a boy in the park and I'm feeling a lot better on the court. Like it's not really a life or death matter where I make my forehand up the line or not. It's just a challenge to myself whether I can make it. I have the ability to make it, so it's going in now, without all the other distractions.
Q. You haven't exactly had a sort of calm time here always with the death threats last year; was it?
JEFF TARANGO: Last year, yeah.
Q. What made you come back here with that in mind and remembering that, knowing you have a daughter now and all?
JEFF TARANGO: I mean, Butch Buchholz runs a great event here. This is the best Super 9 tournament, I think. It's outdoor hardcourt. It's kind of hard for an American to stay away from outdoor hardcourt. So I came back here. I'm just enjoying it. I'm not going to let a couple bad incidents ruin a tournament for me. I mean, I go back to Wimbledon, too. Every day is a new adventure, I think. It can be a good adventure or bad adventure. Life's a roller coaster, and I'm not necessarily going to get off because it gets a little too scary.
Q. Back to the U.S. Open, the Draper match. I remember Scott Draper saying, I couldn't believe an American crowd cheering for an Aussie, because of the banana incident. Today, there was a lot of people calling, "Come on, Jeff."
JEFF TARANGO: I felt like I had the crowd behind me today. I think people are rooting for me to do well, to come back from all that happened to me in '95, show that I'm a good player. I think people want me to show my ability. It seems like every match I go out, I play better and better. People realize, "Gee, this guy really is a good tennis player." I think they now are rooting for me to see how high I can go. I've gone from 105 or 106 at the beginning of '96 up to now probably near my career high, maybe breaking through that this week. The sky's the limit, I think. I think people are getting behind me now and rooting me on. It's kind of like me against the world. A lot of people, I think, feel like it's them against the world. This is just my struggle. I think people come out and enjoy that.
Q. Would you like that? Would you rather have the crowd for you or do you get more pumped up when they're not?
JEFF TARANGO: I think the crowd can come and they can do whatever they want. I just ask the crowd to come with no preconceived ideas, just come and enjoy the match, enjoy the tennis, the day of tennis. There's more than one match. However they want to cheer -- if they want to cheer against me or for me, I don't care. That's not for me to make a decision. Either way, I play great. The bigger the crowd, the better. If I'm at the Australian Open playing against Rafter and there's 15,000 people against me, you know, I play great. If there's 15,000 people for me, I play great. It's just the more the merrier, I think.
Q. What's your incentive these days in tennis?
JEFF TARANGO: Well, right now it's just to prove that I've always been a great tennis player. I've made some decisions that have cost me, but I don't think that my ability should be looked at other than on the court. I'm trying to prove myself on the court now. Got a couple more years to do it.
Q. Did you give any thought to making the Davis Cup team for the first round?
JEFF TARANGO: Yeah. I mean, I was considered, you know. Tom Gullikson called me. He told me that I was on his list. It was a very short list. He explained to me what his thinking was, that he was going to talk to Jim and see how he was feeling. I mean, you can't really argue with Jim Courier, his Davis Cup record, or his record in general. I mean, it's great to have two No. 1's out there on the court in Davis Cup. I completely respect Tom Gullikson's decision every step of the way. For the last few years, I think he's been doing a great job. The USTA thinks that, too. He gave me consideration. I felt honored that he called me and said I was on his list, to be ready to go. I didn't make it this time. Maybe next time around I'll still be on that list and be fighting away. I mean, I think if I played this well at Indian Wells last week, where I didn't get the wildcard, didn't have a chance to play, maybe I would have been put on the list. You know, another guy got it, and that's the way it goes.
Q. Nina Rose, tell me what you like, what you do?
JEFF TARANGO: She's really cute. You're going to hopefully see her tomorrow. She's going to be hopefully in tomorrow night. Flight 761, the two o'clock direct.
Q. Seat number?
JEFF TARANGO: Should be 2A and 2B.
Q. Do you enjoy sitting there watching her stumble around the floor?
JEFF TARANGO: Yeah, she's really cute. Beautiful blue eyes. She's just so happy and has a lot of energy. I see a lot of myself in her. I see a lot of my wife in her. It's really fun to just watch a part of you grow up. It's really an interesting experience.
Q. Was her very first word "Bonjour?"
JEFF TARANGO: No. Her first word is going to be daddy or da-da, I'm sure of it.
Q. Thoughts on Stanford in the Final Four?
JEFF TARANGO: They're inspiring me. Gee, they're great. I get more nervous watching them play than when I play on the court. Maybe I'm getting all the nervosity out and that's why I'm playing so well. That last game, I almost peed my pants watching it. It was exciting. Those guys, what a courageous effort. That's the kind of thing I remember when I was playing for the tennis team at Stanford, just courageous efforts like that. Great to see it's moved over to the basketball program. We've always had great athletics there. But I never felt like the basketball or football team played with the same confidence. They always had the ability, but they never played with the confidence that the other teams always do. It's great to see it move over to the basketball, because I think the confidence at that school needs to be contagious. I think it proves that you can be smart and be an athlete, too.
Q. If it's Agassi in the next round?
JEFF TARANGO: No idea who it's going to be. Tough to say. Costa has a great game for Agassi on centre court, because it's slower. Andre is playing great. I don't know. I mean, it's been a week of changing fortunes for me. Let's hope it can keep going.
Q. How have you done with Agassi?
JEFF TARANGO: Never beaten him in the pros. Only time I beat him was first time we played, 7-6, 5-4 in the tiebreaker. I think he got overruled on match point and he started crying because he got overruled on match point.
Q. Crying, really?
JEFF TARANGO: Yeah. He told a different story before I turned pro in Livingston, he said that I made him cry. I didn't make him cry. He forgets that he got overruled on match point.
Q. How old were you then?
JEFF TARANGO: Over the years, Andre and I have always had a rocky relationship. But I consider him more a friend of battle, you know. I think without him I wouldn't be as good a tennis player. I think that without Michael Chang and Pete Sampras and myself, MaliVai, David Wheaton, Courier, that we all pushed each other through the years. I think we all owe a little bit of credit to each other for how well we've done. I mean, we're all self-made millionaires at this point and I think we should all give each other a little bit of credit.
Q. What do you mean by "Rocky relationship"?
JEFF TARANGO: When we're on the court, we both have pretty much the same personality on the court. Tennis is a big ego sport. I don't like to be pushed around on the court, he doesn't either. We've had some kind of mind battles on the court before. I know for sure this time there won't be any. He's a tough competitor. I'm going to go out and try my hardest to win.
Q. Where did you play that first match?
JEFF TARANGO: San Diego, I think. I was eight and he was seven years old. That was the first time we ever played.
Q. Have you teased him about crying after that match?
JEFF TARANGO: He told people that I made him cry. That was just to try to start a bad reputation for me, I think. I don't think he remembers it correctly because I have plenty of witnesses that saw him get overruled on that match point. That's just the way it goes. It's so long ago, who really cares. It was a tough match. I mean, I still remember it to this day. I think it lasted like four and a half hours. Back then, nobody could hit winners. You just kept moon-balling the ball back and forth. I remember like him hitting some lobs so well that I was scraping my racquet against the fence trying to get it back. I think it's a typical match for our two characters. We're just two really great fighters. You know, he's had a lot of success over the years. His career is very up-and-down. Mine has been very up-and-down. His has been on a different level. I mean, he's played some phenomenal, great Davis Cup matches, Wimbledon. I've always been watching him play. It's a little different. I'm feeling like I'm going to try to make up for some of that.
Q. Did it surprise you that Sampras went out yesterday?
JEFF TARANGO: Yeah, it really does. I mean, I think it's really not typical of him to double-fault on match point either. I don't know. A lot of people say you shoot for the moon and you might reach the stars. I think he's seen the light at the end of his tunnel and it's maybe making him a little bit nervous. You know, I think that Nike pushed him to make some comments that he probably shouldn't have made.
Q. Like what?
JEFF TARANGO: I think that commercial is a little premature that he did about history, I'm knocking on the door of history. All he can say is, What the hell is going on? That was a little premature. I'd like to see him win another Grand Slam before he made a commercial like that. I think it's too bad, because I think he's God's gift to tennis.
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