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July 20, 2019
Newport, Rhode Island
STAN SMITH: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Stan Smith, president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Thank you for joining us for the Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend. It's a pleasure to be here this afternoon to celebrate the greatest champions of our sport by presenting them with tennis' ultimate honor, induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Please welcome class of 2019, Mary Pierce, Li Na and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
We have three great champions here. This year the Hall of Fame class, they're incredibly hard-working athletes and achieve goals of tennis' highest levels. I'd like to tell you a little bit about their stories, then open it up to your questions.
Mary Pierce won her first major in 1995, the Australian Open. Five years later at her nation's home slam, Mary won both singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros. She reached a career high in No. 3 in both singles and doubles, and won 18 singles titles and 10 doubles titles.
Mary was an integral part of the two championship Fed Cup teams. Mary will be introduced this afternoon by her coach, Nick Bollettieri, who is also a Hall of Famer.
This year it's our pleasure to welcome the first-ever Chinese Hall of Famer, Li Na. The trailblazer for tennis in her nation, Li Na won two Grand Slam titles in singles, first a French Open in 2011, later the Australian Open in 2014. She reached a career high ranking of No. 2, and won nine titles. Li Na's accomplishments resulted in a transformation of popularity of tennis in China.
More than 116 million people tuned in to watch her win the French Open final and participation interest in her sport as soared since her playing days.
Li Na will be presented at the induction ceremony by a long time agent Max Eisenbud from IMG.
Last but not least we welcome Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the great Russian player. Yevgeny is a former No. 1 in the world. He won the French Open in singles and doubles, becoming Russia's first-ever Grand Slam singles champion.
Yevgeny was also singles champion in the 1999 Australian Open, and won four major doubles titles. He's an Olympic gold medalist and Davis Cup champion for Russia. Yevgeny will be introduced today by his coach, Larry Stefanki.
It's interesting that all three of these players won the French and Australian Opens.
Congratulations to you. I'd just like to start off this press conference by having you say to the folks what this means to you, what this honor here, being inducted into the Hall of Fame means.
MARY PIERCE: Thank you, Stan. Thank you for those wonderful words and introduction. Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming.
It's very difficult to put into words. I found out the course of the last months and weeks as I'm preparing my speech this afternoon. It's such a great honor. Obviously an incredible privilege to be in the same group with the players that I watched and admired growing up. Today to think that I'm part of this group, to be a Hall of Famer, is absolutely incredible.
It's overwhelming at times. I'm just so grateful and so thankful. It's truly like a reward for everything I've been through in my whole life and tennis, the difficult moments, the adversity, the blood, sweat and tears to now be rewarded for all of those efforts, be recognized as one of the greatest players in the history of tennis is amazing for me. It means a lot. Very special.
STAN SMITH: Li Na.
LI NA: Yeah, I think it's big inspiration for my whole tennis career, yeah. Proud I can be, like, a lot of tennis agents to be in the same room, yeah. It means everything, yeah.
STAN SMITH: Yevgeny.
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Thank you, Stan, for the kind words.
I think Mary got it right on the point. We were very thankful that we will be recognized by the tennis community in such a way that our names will be in this wonderful place forever.
That's all I have to add right now. I know I will be very emotional for my speech tonight and I'm getting ready. But it's really big honor, I'm sure, for all three of us who is sitting right in front of you.
STAN SMITH: It's a very select few that have been selected, nominated, voted into the Hall of Fame. These three players will join the rest of the greatest players that have ever played the game. We've gone back all the way to the ancients, back in 1890, early 1900s, and have selected those players in the Hall of Fame. We're not going to have any others from that era. Anything going forward will be players that have retired for five years, and be selected by the voting group.
It's a very small little fraternity of players. You all deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
I'd just like to maybe start with one question to Mary. I know that you won the Australian Open, then you had some injuries along the way. You came back and came to Paris to win the French Open singles and doubles. What was that like after being injured and having played at the highest level at the Australian Open and other tournaments during that time, actually to win the French Open?
MARY PIERCE: That's a good question (laughter). It was my dream in tennis to hopefully one day play the French Open, watching it as a young girl on TV. Then to actually win it was my dream come true.
That was I think the fuel that motivated me through those difficult moments that I had in my career, be it ups and downs in results or with injuries, having to come back and really work hard, sometimes feel like I'm starting all over again, have to get back in shape. It takes a while. You need to be really patient to persevere. No matter what things look like around you, but to always believe. I think I what helped me the most is my dream, that's what motivated me, reminded myself why I'm playing, what am I doing this for, always believe in myself.
I knew in my heart there were great things to accomplish and I wasn't finished. That's what I held onto, no matter what anybody else thought or said. I knew there were great things still to do. That's what continued to fuel me.
STAN SMITH: That's special.
Li Na, China has not had a tradition of having great tennis players. You kind of started a surge. A lot of good players now in China, both men and women. What do you see as the future in China for tennis?
LI NA: Especially right now you can see after US Open there's a lot of, lot of tournaments in China. Also WTA Final, 10 years in Shenzhen. I think it's very good for the athletes and also for the fans.
For Chinese tennis future, I will guess maybe five to 10 years, I wish they have another Grand Slam champion, yeah.
STAN SMITH: I wouldn't be surprised.
Yevgeny, I know you played well on clay, but also on hard, all surfaces. You played singles and doubles. Not many players are playing singles and doubles these days. What was it like for you to play on singles and doubles and do well on all those surfaces?
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Another good question.
I think playing doubles, it really helps to develop my singles game in such a way where I learn how to serve and volley, I learn how to return against big servers. Doubles game, I don't know what you guys think, but I think it's a very interesting game for the fans to watch because the skills which are required to play doubles game are so needed. You can transfer it into the singles so quickly, so necessary.
STAN SMITH: I'd like to open it up to all of you, questions you have for any of these three.
Q. How has Li Na's success on the tennis court help her be more successful in the future?
LI NA: (Through translation.) She's saying there's hard work behind every success for every athlete. There's no secret to that. That's basically her secret. She will continue to use that as a fuel for her future.
STAN SMITH: Can't substitute hard work.
Q. On your plaque, it says you're one of the most dominant Russian players of your generation. That will always be up there. How do you feel about that?
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: If I can summarize that. It means that I did it because of the hard work. I was not even close to be gifted as John McEnroe. I was not gifted as I name Marcelo Rios. I was not gifted as, for example, Nick Kyrgios who nowadays is playing. All my success came because I did work hard.
That's how I always be remembered.
Q. For all of you, y'all had coaches that helped you along the way. What were the most significant things they helped you with that might not have happened if you didn't have those coaches?
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Larry is getting ready for tonight (laughter).
There is three people I'm going to mention tonight who played significant role into my accomplishment in my career. One was the junior days, the other one told me how to really be successful, how to become a mature person on the court and off the court, as well. Of course, Larry is a great motivator.
I worked three years of work. We had a wonderful time. We started when I was really lacking some motivation. He helped me out for that stretch of time for three years to win the Australian Open '99, to win Olympic gold and become No. 1.
So three persons in my life are going to be mentioned today on the speech.
STAN SMITH: Li Na.
LI NA: I have to say thanks for all the coaches. I especially have one when I start play tennis. She was teach me for 10 years. She never say I was good, yeah. This is very tough for my during the time. But really thanks how tough she was. Otherwise I can't imagine in the future how tough I was on the court, yeah, a lot of coaches.
MARY PIERCE: Good question, Stan.
I worked with a lot of different coaches through my tennis career. They all brought something different and something special, so it was like the pieces of the puzzle being put together or building, which each time there was another brick added that helped build me as a person and as a player.
From the beginning in the early days, I had coaches that worked with me. My father was one of them. I learned really what it is to work hard, that nothing comes easy. If you want something, you've got to be ready and willing to do whatever it takes and then some.
Coaches that helped me, like we heard from Yevgeny and Li Na, that motivated me. There were moments where I was doubting, I didn't feel ready, I wasn't sure if I was ready. They would help me. I think that's one of the most important things throughout my career, that I had people on my team that I felt like always believed in me, that loved and cared about me not only as a tennis player but as a person, helped me to grow as a player and person. They believed in me and gave me that confidence, as well, in myself to achieve my dreams basically, to not limit myself, to always try to be the best that I could be, not look at the other players, but myself, just try to improve and learn and grow every day.
Q. I imagine this is your first trip to Newport.
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Yes.
Q. What did you expect? In your vision, what did you expect? What did you see?
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Unless you see yourself for the first time, you have no idea. I was really stunned yesterday as I'm walking up the stairs to see the museum. All the items from, you know, first tennis racquets to the medals from the Olympics. I mean, I cannot really describe how emotional I was yesterday, and I'm still is, I will be till the leave this place.
It's hard to describe. I mean, I'm sure you'll see my emotions better at 6:00 tonight when the time comes for my speech.
Q. Li Na and Mary, there's a lot of young athletes that sometimes have confidence issues. I want to thank you both for what you've done for tennis. What would you say to young female tennis players that are lacking confidence at some point? What advice?
LI NA: Very good question. Don't think too much. Just keep going, hard work. If you lose the match, next day try to back to the court. Think about yourself, yeah. That's it.
MARY PIERCE: That's a good question because I think we all struggle with that in life, no matter what we do. Am I good enough? Am I going to make it? Those are questions that we don't always have the answers to. I think the only thing that we can do is surround ourselves with good people, the right people. I think that's really important who you surround yourself with, in your team, your coaches. Like I said, I always felt like I worked with people that believed in me. That's really important.
Then also to have that self-confidence in yourself that sometimes you lack. To know if you work hard, that's the only thing you can do, is give 100% of yourself. You can't do more than that. That's one of the things that I think I'm proud of, I can look back and say I have any regrets. Because I always gave 100%. I wasn't perfect and I did mess up and make mistakes. Even when those things happened, I learned from them so that I could grow and get better and apply it to the next time.
I think just knowing you give 100%, work as hard as you can, try to be the best that you can be, and know that hard work always pays off in the end.
Q. What were some of the things that were challenging to you when you made the transition from being an athlete to once you stopped playing?
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Very good question.
Honestly, what I have been struggling with, just in the back of our mind we think that we're still athletes, even though I'm retired 16 years ago. To see on the TV tennis match played by greatest players like Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, you almost feel like, Ooh, I wish I could turn back time and give myself a chance to be on the court, to playing those guys.
I think that's the hardest part. We are getting older, unfortunately. I really wish that I could turn the clock once and be in front of the wonderful 15,000 people crowd, give myself 100% like I always did.
MARY PIERCE: Yeah, I think for me, it's a little bit similar to Li Na because I already had my faith in my life, that was the most important thing. So when I couldn't play tennis any more because of an injury, I didn't choose to stop, it wasn't when I wanted to stop, I had an injury that stopped my career.
My mom always said something to me growing up, Everything always happens for a reason and it's always for the best. Sometimes you look at things, you think, Why did that happen? How can that be for the best? I know in my life everything has always been that way.
For me it was just then I couldn't play tennis anymore, it was time to do other things. I had other things I wanted to do but I didn't have time because I was playing tennis. I just had the opportunity to do other things that I wanted to do, that I've been doing since I haven't been able to play in 2006. Other projects that I have in my heart that I would like to do in the future.
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Didn't you want to give yourself a chance to play the French Open?
MARY PIERCE: I share the sentiment with Yevgeny 100%. When you watch players today, tournaments, especially if I'm at a tournament, you see the center court, full of 15,000 people, a big match, the best players, that's what we loved, that's what we thrived on. That was what we loved to do.
Obviously when we see that, I would still obviously love to be able to do that, too. Time goes on.
Q. Never happened before, three players won the same Grand Slams. Li Na and Mary Pierce played each other only once.
MARY PIERCE: I remember that match. Do you remember that match (laughter)?
LI NA: Yes.
Q. What kind of feeling was there?
LI NA: 2006, yeah. Only can say time running so fast. Already 20 years past. Now I'm feeling much better. At least we don't have to fight on the court (laughter).
MARY PIERCE: So I very clearly remember that match. It was my last Grand Slam match. I won the first set 6-4. Tough first set. I was coming back from an injury - I tore a tendon in my foot that February and I was out for six months. I started coming back and competing again. I wasn't yet feeling at the top of my game in every way, but I was obviously able to compete.
In the first set, things were going okay. I lost the second set 6-Love. I thought, What is happening? I didn't know Li Na before. I was like, Who is this player from China?
Then she played amazing, like super solid, really well. I lost the third set 6-Love. I came off the court. I was like, Oh, my gosh, I can't believe I just lost to this player. You weren't known at that time. I thought that was a bad loss for me. Now look where we are today, both being inducted in the Hall of Fame, which is incredible. Of course, it wasn't a bad loss, and she's an amazing champion.
Q. You were the first male player that beat Roger Federer, carpet, grass and hard court. Talk about that.
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: What you just mentioned, I think it's a good one. You have no idea how difficult is to play singles and doubles in a Grand Slam. To win it is mind-boggling. I still don't understand how I did it, how I beat Ken Rosewall's record, which has stood for 28 years. Before me, if I'm not mistaken, correct me if I'm wrong, was Stefan Edberg in 1987 who won singles and doubles in Melbourne.
23 years ago I did it. Still a mystery to me that none of the top players are giving themselves a chance to do that. I know that it's going to be done again sooner rather than later. I'm very proud that I've done that.
To say about Roger, Roger was very young when we played against each other. I was very mature. I was winning majors already. Roger was 19 years old, kid, if I can say that.
I remember Roger very well, how we played it. He wasn't as good at the time like he is right now. But to have that record against Roger is big thing. I honestly did not know that I beat him three different surfaces.
STAN SMITH: Impressive. I don't think that's ever going to be done again, certainly in the men's game of winning the singles and the doubles in a Grand Slam.
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Mary did it. You are the last female that did it or so.
Q. There is a contingent of journalists from China, so many people watching the French Open. Do you realize the impact?
LI NA: For numbers in China, still not so much. Yeah, at least is lucky. I didn't know the number before I come to the court. I think otherwise that would make me much nervous when I was playing matches.
Yeah, but I am so happy right now. Tennis in China grow up a lot. Especially right now you can see a lot of athletes play on the tour. I don't know in top 50. Three in top 50 in the women's tour. I think is much, much better, yeah. I believe they have even better in the future.
Q. Do you think you've had an impact with that?
LI NA: You know, if you say that, make me so happy. But I'm not sure. Maybe little help, yeah.
STAN SMITH: All right. I'd like to say congratulations again for the class of 2019. You're not inducted yet, but at 6:00. Never know what might happen (laughter).
It's a real honor to be able to help you in this whole induction process. Welcome to Newport. We'll see you tonight for the real thing. And you'll get a coat like this. Hope it will fit you nicely. We'll see.
Thank you for coming out, everybody.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports