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October 22, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us. We have quite the panel for you today. We have four former World No. 1s, four Hall of Famers. Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, and Monica Seles have all been here in Singapore before. And making her debut this year, Jennifer Capriati.
We are going to open it up to questions, but I'm going to start it off, and I want to start with you, Jennifer, what's it like for you to be here in Singapore and I imagine to see a lot of faces you haven't seen in a while?
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, it's great. I'm really excited to be here. I have actually been to Singapore before a long, long time ago when I first started, but we won't count that.
It's great to be back amongst everyone and see everyone and it's really beautiful here. I'm just really happy to be back here.
THE MODERATOR: As someone who has watched all of you guys play, I remember some absolute epic battles between you and Monica, so if you can pass the microphone to Monica, I have a question.
What did you have to tell yourself before you walked out on the court to play a match against Jennifer?
MONICA SELES: Well, in that era, we were kind of the two youngest players on tour, really. Jennifer is two years younger. Everybody else was quite a few years older than us. We definitely were, like, the first two that would hit the ball very hard on both sides.
We had some amazing matches. Some went her way; some went my way. Essentially we were teenagers navigating the professional tour. I have some fond memories.
THE MODERATOR: What was it like as teenagers? We now look at Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka who have had incredible breakthroughs at 20 years old. You guys were so much younger than that. How tough was it to navigate all of what we see here at that age?
MONICA SELES: Well, I think Jennifer was 13 when she came on tour. I was 14, I think. So a very different era, that generation. We didn't have the age eligibility rule.
And really, you kind of grow up on tour. That's kind of your school, both on and off the court. But I think we loved what we did. Tennis was our passion, our life. That era, you didn't have the social media that you have now, so we were much more removed, much harder to really have a life outside of tennis. Didn't have that maybe balance that the ladies now are able to achieve a lot more. It's a shorter schedule on tour. Our tour finished like in the first week of December way back then.
But essentially I look back, now that I'm a lot older, personally I look back at that time with some great joy.
THE MODERATOR: I want to shift the conversation down to this end of the table. Lindsay, take us back to WTA Finals 2001, semifinal --
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Oh, God.
THE MODERATOR: -- and 7-6 in the third. Tell us about that against Kim.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: There is a couple funny stories in that match. I don't know if you remember. There was one overrule, which -- a completely different story. I got an apology note from the umpire the next day, which is the only time it ever happened, and I apologized to her, as well. And also the point before the last point, I blew my knee out and didn't play again for eight months.
You know, this tournament has always been very special for everybody and all the players. It's always the goal at the beginning of the year to try and qualify for this tournament.
For the majority of my career it was 16 players, single elimination, and it shifted in the early 2000 years to eight players, round robin. With that, it seemed like it became even more prestigious and a bigger deal to try and qualify for this tournament. A lot of great battles throughout the years. A lot of great memories. That just wasn't one of them for me. (Laughter.)
KIM CLIJSTERS: I remember now.
THE MODERATOR: It's all coming back.
Kim, if you could just give us some comments on the format we have now, the round robin and the fact that you can lose a match and still win the title.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, which is obviously a great chance for everybody. Like Lindsay said, I never played the WTA Finals where it was 16 players. Yeah, so it was very prestigious to get to that last tournament of the year if you were able to make it to the top eight. And for me to sit here amongst these women, who I admired when I was younger and watched most of their matches and to be able to play against them was, yeah, great and why I love doing these kind of things, doing these legends events.
But, yeah, I mean, to see how the younger generation is playing now, how they prepare themselves, I enjoy looking at everything and seeing how the details have maybe changed a little bit and learn from that, as well.
THE MODERATOR: I'm going to turn it over here in one second. I have one trivia question for you guys. I will cover up my notes here.
Who do you think has played most in this group? Anyone?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Did you ever play Monica?
THE MODERATOR: One time. Which matchup here has played the most times?
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Oh, gosh.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I played all three of you.
THE MODERATOR: You guys all had marathon matches. It was Lindsay and Kim who played 18 times. 10 of those were three-setters. I was very impressed by that.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Many more went to Kim.
THE MODERATOR: So setting the record straight.
We are going to turn it over to questions. Thank you all so much.
Q. I don't know who to pose this to, so I will pose it to the panel and see how it goes. If, at the start of the year, I would have said this is what the eight players who would qualify for Singapore would be after this season, back on January 1st, who of this field are you most surprised to see in Singapore?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Obviously more disappointed not to see Halep here, but I would have to say Kiki, and what a great year, Bertens, that she had. And also the improvements that she made and being able to transfer her game across all surfaces, on the faster surfaces, getting that belief in you. Saw it start to develop in the spring, and she really ran with it.
One thing that I loved about watching her compete all year was how she embraced it. Even when she had some great success, she kept building on it. We haven't always seen that from players in the last five or six years.
And I would imagine, I haven't seen her yet here, but I would imagine that it means the world to her to be here in Singapore, to have qualified. It was great to see her improvement.
Osaka I think everyone obviously was surprised she came to win the US Open, but if you watched her play the last few years and you watched her progression and saw her ability, you knew she was going to end up here one day. Maybe in August we weren't so sure, but it's pretty awesome to see her here.
MONICA SELES: Well, I think Lindsay summed it up perfectly. I think it's very hard to say.
I think it's great to see a player like Sloane Stephens, not starting off as well but then winning in Miami and then qualifying for here.
I mean, it's an open draw this year, as usual. That's what's so exciting. I think that the players and the fans can see some of the best players play against each other and face each other potentially two times in the tournament.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, what I like is that every player kind of has their own story. Seeing Petra Kvitova playing the Championships, or the Finals, yeah, to me the story is incredible for her to be playing such a consistent year after what she went through.
Seeing Caroline Wozniacki winning her first Grand Slam is a great moment. So every player has their moment and why they made it here. Every road is special on their own.
Q. Lindsay and Kim are already involved in coaching and mentoring. Monica and Jennifer, if you could coach somebody on the tour nowadays, who would it be? Is there a player or several players you're watching and thinking, oh, I could help or I would like to talk to that person?
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah. Interesting question. I have definitely thought about it. Maybe I'm here to kind of see for myself (smiling) and start scouting.
But, you know, it's a very diverse field. I'm just getting back into watching it quite a bit more because it's really exciting. You know, all the players that are here I think have enormous potential and could have so much room to grow and so much, you know, potential. You know, it shows here, you know, this is why you make it here because, you know, it reflects the year that you have played. That's why you're here.
They have obviously, you know, done very well. You just can't get here, making it to here without results.
We'll see. I mean, might be something that I'm interested in. I don't know. We'll just kind of go with it, go with the flow.
MONICA SELES: A couple of the young ladies have my phone number. They know if any time they have any questions for training, tournament schedules and stuff like that, you know, I'm there to help them out.
The day-to-day, I really, for me, I like my life right now without that portion (smiling). And I think my game was so unorthodox, two hands on both sides, it's really -- if there would be a player that played kind of like a Bartoli, I could relate to, but otherwise, it would be hard for me, to be really frank, to add to anybody's game at this stage.
Q. Jen, you're one of the former players who kind of went off to a more private life away from tennis. I was wondering what inspired you to come out here. Also, if you can give us an idea of kind of what keeps you busy since we don't see you very often.
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, I mean, obviously -- I mean, so much of my life has been so public, so, you know, I think all of us really like to be private. You know, when you can't participate as much as playing, you know, through injuries, it's a little bit difficult to be part of it when you can't do as much as physicalness.
But, you know, I still always -- I love it. I love tennis. I miss it. I think about it. You know, it's just part of me. So I just -- you know, I have always want to come back in some way, you know, different stages of life. You know, I think it's been a long time and I do miss it. So I'm interested in, you know, getting back a little bit into it.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: We're trying to get both these two, Monica and Jennifer, around much more. I'm going to make it my mission the next few days.
I have tried already. I'm going to keep trying.
Q. And if maybe Lindsay and Kim, talk about any of your kids inspiring to play or are you hoping they don't?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Was that Jack on court the other day? I saw that.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah. So our oldest, Jada, who is now ten, she thinks tennis is just the most boring sport in the world. She chose my husband's sport, basketball. Loves it.
Jack, he likes to play a little bit. And then the little guy is too small still.
Yeah, whatever. They're happy and enjoying life, but because I'm obviously at the academy a lot, I bring them along and it's very easy for them to go in on court when there's kids playing and kind of learn while they're playing a little bit.
Yeah, so not really pushing it. Just letting it grow naturally.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: My son plays a lot, so my husband had to spend the summer going to clay courts nationals, all of those. He's, like, I can't believe I'm back here 35 years later or whatever.
And my three girls are in and out of it. Not very much. Similar to Jada. They don't find tons of joy in striking the tennis ball. So looking for other avenues.
Q. Kim and Lindsay, when you see the top eight here, what does that say for the evolution of the game compared to when you were playing? Do you see a major shift or not?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: You know, I see more of a shift in the athleticism. There has always been tremendous athletes that have played women's tennis, but now I think it takes up a high percentage of the players' day to work on, whether it's strength or fitness or quickness.
But I feel there is that really nice mix right now of offensive players but also defensive players. It's been great to see the defensive players the last couple years develop weapons, as well. And the biggest improvements I saw this year was Osaka becoming more of a defensive player when needed.
So it's been an interesting mix to see those players trying to add all the different facets to their game. I think that's why this period is so exciting. I think throughout history we have always had both, and there has been great defenders in the '90s, there was great defenders in the early 2000 years, but typically, not always, typically the more offensive players were winning the bigger matches.
Now that's not the case. These players that are also playing defensively are also developing weapons. It's been great to see that mix of players really develop.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, what I like, and it's been something that's been going on I think for a couple of years now, is not knowing who will get through. You look at the two groups here, and I think I predicted the opposite two of last night. And I like that. I like that every match has to be played and can be really close. Whereas I think in the past, a while ago, it was a little bit easier to kind of predict, and most of the time it would kind of -- you would be right if you made a prediction.
But that's different now, I think. That's something why, at the start of the Grand Slams, too, you have matchups where you think, oh, this can be really tricky already. And there is a lot more of those than there used to be in the past. I think that's the key here or one of the things I enjoy about the WTA Finals is not knowing, like, who will be the last two standing in each group.
Q. Is there anything that was better back when you played in comparison to now?
KIM CLIJSTERS: All right. Let's start (laughter).
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Better? Huh. Game-wise?
Q. Just in terms of the level.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Well, I feel you can argue it both ways. I feel the consistency was there more for the top players. Let's say you take a top 5 player or top 6 player, you might get one or two tournaments where they lost first round. It wasn't, like, out of 16 or 18 tournaments, it wasn't like 8 times or 7 times they didn't get past the second round.
You see that more often now. There is a lot of arguments, oh, there is more depth or the players, you know, have big success and then they don't have another good tournament for a while.
So I don't really know the reasons for that. But it always seemed if I wanted to do well at a major, I had to go through one of the Williamses and Jennifer and Monica, and then she came along with Justine. It was, like, there was going to be, from the round of 16 on, there was -- it was really, really tough.
I'm not saying it's not tough now. You don't necessarily face the names or the players with maybe that have 25 Grand Slam quarterfinals or semis or whatever on a consistent basis, but doesn't mean the level is different. It just seemed like it was tough to go through and win a major.
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: No, you said it. Sometimes watching it's a little frustrating. You see the players play, some of these girls play so good at certain tournaments, and then they just have a letdown or don't follow through and you can see that they have that potential to keep going and it's -- you know, it's frustrating, because there could be that toughness and that level there.
But I think, yeah, I mean, Lindsay said it perfectly. I mean, back then it was -- you just, the consistency was there. You know, it wasn't so random.
So it's good because it's so diverse, but at the same time, too, you never know who's kind of gonna show up or not.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I like the fact that there was no social media back in the day. It came on I think towards the end of my career, but we are in the middle of it, but I'm happy I played without all that stuff. The focus was very much on tennis and just on tennis.
MONICA SELES: But don't you think it's a little bit of less pressure now? Because I think our generation, if you lost a match, you took it much harder? Now it's a little bit easier, I think, the losses. The expectations are you don't have to enter every tournament that you enter to win. And just from the little that I'm around the tour, when the players lose, they're not as -- not depressed, but they don't take the losses as hard as our generation, which I think is much healthier in the long run. I think they seem to have a better balance in general in life with tennis and media sponsors than I think we did. For us there was a lot more one-dimensional, much more towards tennis-tennis.
I don't know in our generation how many of us wore heels during the two-week Grand Slam tournament (smiling). So little things like that which hopefully will keep the current stars in the game longer because they have that balance.
Q. Kim, just wondering what were your thoughts when you saw Naomi play the final in New York, what kind of eventually happened there? Because you had a similar experience with her in a final there.
KIM CLIJSTERS: My experience was years ago, and, you know, I think we are here at a new event and I think enough has been talked about that. So I really don't have anything to say about that anymore.
Q. The new way now is everybody has their, quote unquote, team, and it's more than just a coach. It's the physio, it's the nutritionist, it's the whatever. Do you think back when you guys played because your teams were smaller or nonexistent possibly that there was more intermingling between the players? You got to know the other players more? Do you think because you have your team you don't really kind of talk that much?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Well, being around it, it seems pretty friendly right now. I think there is a really nice environment and a great atmosphere, especially between some of the veteran players helping some of the younger players out. It's a very pleasant atmosphere, I'd have to say, around the locker rooms.
I felt like the best weeks that I had to get to know players when I was playing were the Fed Cup weeks or the Olympic weeks, not necessarily during the tournaments. And even though maybe we had smaller teams, I still think we kept to ourselves quite a bit. Not always, but I really feel like in the mid-2000 years there was a huge shift of the attitudes of the top players and being more friendly and being more giving, and a lot of that had to do with players like Roger coming up, and Kim is always so friendly.
I just felt like it really kind of changed where people were a little bit, definitely in the '90s, a lot more quiet, into themselves, and then it started to become better, no? I hope?
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: I mean, I haven't been around, so I don't know too much about it.
MONICA SELES: I would have to say I think the top players, when I came on the tour, were much more reserved, so I figured they're the top players, they know best, so I'm going to follow that example and I kind of followed that. I was always an introvert, so I kind of stayed within my team.
Just what I see now, I don't know if it's superficial or real, I don't know, but at least there is more interaction between the top players.
Q. The four of you all have some experience either coaching or commentating. Curious for those who have done both, how is it different to watch a match as a coach versus as a commentator? And those who just watch matches, is there anything you look for? A shot, a strategy, mentality, or a style of play?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I only just started doing the commentating thing, but I had a moment at the Australian Open last year where you sit on center court right behind, like on the bottom, and just to be able to see some of the players' body language when they turn around, as an opponent that you don't see, I was, like, This would have been really helpful if I saw some of these moments, you know, if you're standing on the opposite side of the court of these players.
So that was nice to pick up a few things here and there that you don't expect from a player, players who you think are cold, you know, not influenced by certain moments, and you actually saw them be, you know, be a little bit negative or at times talking to themselves. Those are things that I have enjoyed about commentating.
And I have sat next to Lindsay and listened to her commentate. I love it. I enjoy listening to the past players who have been there actually and who know what it's like to be under pressure and that it's not that easy to, you know, sit in the commentating booth and say, Oh, they should have done this or they should have done that. It's not that easy. I like listening to the past players who have actually been there.
Q. This is a question for the four of you guys. On-court coaching is a very, very hot topic now. And we talked with a lot of coaches yesterday. And they said they like to let their players solve the puzzles. What's your opinion on that? You agree with the coach or let the coach coach more?
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: Yeah, I saw that yesterday. I don't know. I'm kind of on the fence about it. You know, part of it is like when you're there, I mean, how much can a coach do at that point? If you need a coach at that point, I mean, I think you're kind of lost.
You know, and then I thought about times where, you know, myself and playing, it could have maybe made all the difference in the world. I don't know. I don't know. It's kind of just, kind of want to see how it pans out. I mean, I don't know.
If it's going to be allowed, might as well do it so it takes out the worry of the coaching from the stands and the cheating and all that. As long as it doesn't disrupt the pattern of the game, I think it might be fine.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I think another topic to that whole conversation is is that like another advantage to the top players? What about all the players maybe ranked -- I don't know where that number is, 60 and below, that can't afford a coach every week? So are you giving another advantage to the players that can bring a coach around?
So I think when you're a coach and you're actively involved and seeing it from a lot of different sides, of course you want to make a difference. It's very hard if you're going through practices to then see something go on in a match and not be able to go out there and say something to a player. I think that's why a lot of times you'll see subtle exchanges between players and coaches when coaches are on the sidelines, and technically that's illegal, but you care and so you want to make a difference.
Once a set, I think it's a great initiative by the WTA to try out. The people that are so against it I think -- I just don't think that it's necessary to be that against it. I think every other sport has some manner of conversing between either a trainer or a coach or the caddie or whoever.
Now, every changeover, maybe that's too much, but I don't see a reason why not to have it, except that it could possibly be unfair for some of the other players that don't have a coach.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I'm also kind of in between. I have moments where I think -- me, personally, I didn't like it, as a player. I didn't ever call my coach on court, because I liked that feeling of trying to figure it out and feeling it for yourself.
I mean, but then I have moments where I'm listening to, let's say what we saw in Moscow, Philippe de Haes did a great job with the way that he brought a message across and the timing where it really worked and a couple times during the tournament. That's when I say, Okay, that's a great example. But then I have also seen other sides of it where I think, oh, that probably shouldn't have been on TV.
You know, I mean, last night there was a moment where I was watching, and I think both Rennae and Caroline's father, they were on court and you hear one where you understand every word and it's nice to hear what they're saying and how they are trying to change and approach it, but on the other hand, I wish I spoke Polish and could hear what he was saying to her.
It's kind of like, hmm, when it's out there, it should be maybe translated on the spot so everybody kind of knows what is being said? So I think the language, also, maybe we should make it all English then?
MONICA SELES: My feeling is, as a former player, I personally don't like the on-court coaching. I think as a player at the highest level in your profession, and the sport is individual sport, you should be able to think for yourself. My dad always used to say, before I stepped on the court, were two things: Move your feet and think.
Pretty much I think one of the things I love when I watch matches, seeing how the players figure out if there are patterns going on, what changes they have to do, and rely upon their own skills to do that.
But it is here on the WTA Tour. One thing, just as a person who is a little bit removed from the sport, when I talk to a lot of my friends who watch the game and if you're not an everyday person in the sport, it's very confusing that throughout the tour it's allowed but at the Grand Slams it isn't. So I think one way or the other, there should be consistency there for an average person who is not an everyday tennis fan and could follow what's going on.
I think probably picking a language or two languages that are universal, I don't know how you would pick a language, if you do allow on-court coaching. Yeah, you'd hopefully want to understand what's going on, what's being said between the player and coach or player and a parent, things like that.
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: That's a great point. On-court coaching, is it for the players or is it for the fans? In other sports, you don't get to hear every single word. There has been more access in other sports, but having to wear a microphone and be aware of what's being heard in the locker room and being heard across every TV all over the world, the players are well aware of that. So it's not the same as maybe when a manager goes to the mound and starts talking to a pitcher or whatever.
So I don't know. Coaching and coaching for TV are probably two different things.
Q. The season has been a lot about resiliency. I think this field probably proves that out, whether it's Halep and bouncing back and learning from last year or Osaka doing what she's been doing since everything that happened in New York, Wozniacki finally winning. What has been maybe the story that struck you the most this year in 2018?
LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Okay, so, three times this year -- you know Mary. So Mary will tell you that I'm a crier in the booth. Three times this year, when Wozniacki won, when Halep won, and Osaka won, I couldn't speak because I was crying. I just feel like there was a lot of great stories this year.
To me, I love players winning their first major. It's what every single player grows up dreaming to do. It could be a different one for every player, but that's what you dream about when you're out there hitting balls at six, eight, ten or whatever, it's winning a Grand Slam.
Then you have players that it's taken so long for it to happen and other players where it's such a complete surprise. All three of those stories, to me, were phenomenal this year, and how hard Wozniacki fought the whole Australian Open, everything Halep went through to finally raise the trophy in Paris, even just what Naomi had to go through in the final, all of that.
Listen, equal, all three of those for me. There was a lot of great stories. It was a wonderful year, in my opinion, for women's tennis.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I'm the same. I'm a crier. I remember, at the Australian Open when Caroline won, I was actually cooking. I stopped everything and just cried. I sent her a message and just to show how happy I was for her.
Yeah, and then with Simona, I was there actually doing commentary. I talked to her a little bit already in the past when she lost her finals, because kind of we could relate through a few moments like that. Just to be able to see them -- I wasn't in New York, but those two moments definitely were, to me, very touching and I think to me the highlights of this season.
MONICA SELES: I think, as Lindsay said, for all of us at this table, you can remember your first Grand Slam. There will never be that natural joy when you win it, no matter, you know, that belief that you actually, all that hard work really paid off.
And, too, for the ladies, Caroline and Simona, to happen at a stage where they were so close yet so far away, and to keep that belief and to keep that hunger that I really want to do this, I really -- it's gonna happen sooner or later.
And then for somebody like Naomi who had a great start to the year and then to play somebody like Serena or the expectations and the fans were all rooting for Serena, to keep that composure and that focus at that age and at that stage of her career, for me, was super impressive to watch.
JENNIFER CAPRIATI: It's a lot of first-timers this year, and just really happy for them and great to watch. Yeah, the first time, I will never forget the first one. It's so special. At any time it's great, so it was quite a year this year for that, really three first-timers. It's pretty remarkable.
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