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August 26, 1996

Alex O'Brien


Q. Alex, are you getting bored giving press conferences?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Never. No way. This is a good thing right now.

Q. How many had you done before New Haven?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Well, probably just a few here and there, if I had a big win. When I was first starting, people would talk to me, but not too many, I'll tell you that.

Q. Now you have to fit it into your schedule?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yeah. But it's something that I don't mind fitting into my schedule at all. I'm not Courier. I'll just go with it.

Q. With the way you've been playing in the seeding controversy, did you expect actually to be seeded coming in here?

ALEX O'BRIEN: That's pretty funny.

Q. Can you tell us what this last month's roller coaster has been like?

ALEX O'BRIEN: It's been great. It's been a lot of fun. My confidence has grown a lot. It's a long, long way from where I've been about two months ago, where I was 280 and nothing really seemed to be going my way. Now it seems like I'm getting the breaks. I think I'm really kind of making my own breaks now. I'm competing hard and I'm having a lot more fun. I'd say the roller coaster ride and all the traveling and all the late night flights and everything has been well worthwhile for me.

Q. How do you account for this turnaround?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Well, I was telling -- actually, I was talking to somebody about it. I think I won a few matches in Aptos, in the quarterfinals in the Challenger I played in, I choked, played a really tight match, lost to a guy named Albert Chang. I went to LA the next morning, fought through a few matches in qualifying. I was playing bad tennis, but I fought hard and got through them. Then I actually played a good match in my first round against Nicolas Pereira, who had just come off a win in Newport. I played a smart, solid match. I tried to get tight in the second. I got up 4-2, was serving. I was thinking, "Here we go again." I got through it. Then I beat Enqvist. I started saying, "Hey, I'm a player and I can beat these guys." I stopped getting so tight, actually started enjoying playing and having fun. When it got to 5-4 and I tried to serve out the match, I didn't throw in three doubles or stand 15 feet behind the baseline. I stepped up to the plate and did the best I could. If they broke me, I said, "Hey, great game they played, I'm coming back at them the next game." I think that's kind of what happened. Same thing after LA. I played, got through the qualifying, then I started winning some matches in Cincy, took a set off Agassi. I said, "Gosh, you know, I'm not that good, I shouldn't be beating Andre." He puts a lot of pressure on you. I checked out a little bit mentally. I went to New Haven, got a wildcard. I just kept playing one match at a time, tried to battle through it. I did battle through it.

Q. Was it difficult getting that wildcard?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yeah. Well, I think that a few people helped me out like Weller Evans at the ATP, put in a good word for me with Jim Westhall. I've played that tournament a lot and done well there before. Also I don't know if there are that many people they had to give wildcards to. That was fortunate for me as well.

Q. When you make a leap like this, how much does it change your life? I mean, not just confidence, but are you suddenly getting phone calls?


Q. Does it really change things or you're playing better but things are the same?

ALEX O'BRIEN: It is pretty funny. All of a sudden when you're walking through the locker room, a lot more people seem to know who you are. "Hi, how you doing?" I'm not complaining about it at all. It's nice. It's a great feeling to be. A lot of people are genuinely happy for me. They say, "I've seen what you've gone through, I've seen how hard you worked, what you've done." I've had so many people come up to me and say, "I'm really happy for you." That means a lot to me. Then there's also the people who come up and shake your hand, "Great job." They didn't know who you were three weeks before, didn't ever look at you. Like Bud has always supported me, even when I was a scrub playing only doubles. It's nice. You remember the people who were there and who think about you. It is tough, but it's a problem I like having.

Q. Was part of the problem that you were such a great player in the college ranks and everybody expected so much of you when you came out here, and you were trying to live up to their expectations, too, too much pressure?

ALEX O'BRIEN: No, I didn't feel any pressure. The pressure thing for winning, how well I did in college, because I don't think college tennis is even comparable to pro tennis. It's great if you do well in college tennis, if you do what I did. I didn't feel like because I did this well in college, I should go out and take the pros by storm. I knew it was a whole new process, and I'd have to go in there and do battle. That's the way I've attacked everything, just going in there and battle these guys and give it the best I can. I didn't really think that I have so much pressure on me to perform here.

Q. Has Robert Lansdorf helped you in this comeback, the success you've enjoyed recently?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I've had a lot of people helping me. I took a lesson when I was in LA. He helped me with my forehand, my game. He also has helped me a little bit with my attitude. I'm pretty hard on myself as a person. I can be a little negative saying, "I stink, that volley stinks." He talked to me one time and said, "You have to be your own best friend." Keith dePalmer, Tom Gullickson, Jose Higueras, I've had a lot of quality people who have been around me, always believed in me, kept saying, "Stay positive, stay focused." He's one of them.

Q. When you were down 3-1 in the third set, were you thinking maybe your little run of luck might temporarily be over here?

ALEX O'BRIEN: No. I was thinking, "Come on, get it together. Let's keep fighting out here." I wasn't feeling very comfortable at all. I didn't feel very comfortable. I thought it was kind of a sloppy match that I played. I was really proud of myself for competing hard. He's a talented player. You know, I don't want to take anything away from him, because he's got a heavy forehand, got a different kind of game. He makes you try to play his game more. I just was trying to really stay focused, take care of business. I was happy because I turned it around. I got a little momentum. The crowd also helped me a lot because they really seemed like they wanted me to win. I think maybe that wore on him a little bit.

Q. Hard not to get caught up in his game, wasn't it, for you?

ALEX O'BRIEN: He hits such heavy balls, hits all these different spins, kind of jump balls. I was a little nervous, too. Because coming into the Open, there's so many people around, I have my parents here.

Q. Had they watched you before as a pro?

ALEX O'BRIEN: They've seen me before. It's just different. All these people come up to you and talk to you and tell you you've done this, you've done that. I had my brother there. My brother is always like, "You should have hit this serve on this point." I'm out there thinking, "What serve would he have me hit?" You can kind of get a little caught up in the whole thing. I just tried to step back and remember what I had been doing when I was playing well, do that.

Q. You were here in '94. Were you here last year at all?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I've played here actually every year since I started.

Q. But it's completely different this year, the feeling?

ALEX O'BRIEN: It's really different because I feel like I'm a legitimate player now and I have a chance to do some damage. Doesn't mean that I'm going to do any damage.

Q. But feeling that way is half the battle, isn't it?

ALEX O'BRIEN: It is, yeah. It is. It's nice.

Q. Are you a different person? You're Alex O'Brien, you're not a different person. You're a different person in facing the US Open? Suddenly you can walk in. Somebody said, there's an ice cream vendor, looks familiar. Now you are known. Is that an adjustment to deal with?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yes, it's a small adjustment. Like I said before, it's something that I'm happy dealing with because it's much better than saying I made it to the doubles here last year. I don't think anyone could have picked me out of a one-man lineup (laughter). It's nice to be recognized, have people say, "There's a good player. We're happy for him." People in the crowd today were even kind -- they seemed like they really wanted me to win. It's fun.

Q. You like it?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yeah, yeah. It's a lot better than being on the bottom of the heap.

Q. How low was the low?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Well, I got to 280 in the world. Also, mentally I just felt like I had so many chances to beat so many good players. I would lose 7-6 in the third, 7-5 in the third. Every time it would get to crunch time, I would gag. Bottom line is I just choked, they would end up winning. I was pretty disheartened. I'm pretty good about trying to persevere. I'm not there yet. It's still a battle. I'm trying to work on this and keep an even keel, not get too happy or complacent. People, now they're after me more.

Q. You were feeling like you gagged against Agassi a little bit, correct?

ALEX O'BRIEN: No, no, not that I gagged. He put so much pressure on me. Mentally I checked out because I knew I had to play every single point. If you let up your concentration, even that match, don't think about your ball toss being in the right place, don't think about every little thing. His return of serve is so good, puts so much pressure on you, I mean, I'm not going to be out there just kind of knocking off winners against him. I felt like mentally I just had a small up. He's obviously one of the greatest players in the game. I don't think I gagged.

Q. I just wanted to be sure I understood it. But you did say to yourself, "I shouldn't be meeting this guy"?

ALEX O'BRIEN: A little bit, yeah. I had done that the year before against Chang. I was kind of like, "I just won the first set, that's a good accomplishment."

Q. It seems to me that you said that happened, then you went to LA, forgive me if I didn't get the sequence correct, and you said you feel like things started to turn around for you then?

ALEX O'BRIEN: That happened and then I went to New Haven.

Q. I'm sorry, New Haven.

ALEX O'BRIEN: Then I said, "I am playing --" I had some people after that Agassi match say, "You played Top 10 tennis that first set, you can beat any of these guys. I've seen you play over the last three years and you can play the game and beat these guys." There's also a lot of people that will tell you, "You stink, that Enqvist was in a slump when you beat him." You get a lot of different angles.

Q. But you took something really positive out of that loss, is what I'm saying.


Q. A good start for you there?


Q. But the Enqvist match perhaps is one that you center on?


Q. Turned a corner?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yes. I beat him. After the match he said, "You played a great match." That's a class guy. Obviously made me feel good about myself. He just said, "I got beat by you today; you played a better match than me." It made me feel like, "Gosh, maybe I am playing some good tennis out here."

Q. Alex, with as long as it took you to break through as a single's player and a guy like Woodruff who had a good French Open this year, should kids start rethinking whether they should enter college tennis if they have pro prospects?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I've talked about this a few times, about Richey Reneberg. He's playing I think some of the best tennis he's played in his career and he's 31 years old. It's definitely a process. I've looked at guys like Todd Martin, he's a quality player. It took him I think maybe two or three years to get through, Courier the same. I think it is something that is a learning process, like anything else in life. College was great for me because there's no chance I was ready to go pro out of high school. I just didn't have the game to do it. I think it's also good to get a well-rounded education. However, guys like Philippoussis and those guys are so talented, such great players, Kafelnikov, I think what they're doing is also a positive thing. It would be nice if everyone could go to college and did an education, but that's not realistic I don't think.

Q. How many weeks straight have you played now? You must have played seven out of the last eight weeks?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I played quite a few weeks. I was thinking about maybe taking off last week, but that would be ridiculous. You don't play this well all the time. I just felt like I should really take advantage of my confidence and play. I have played quite a few weeks in a row.

Q. Is it taking its toll on you? Do you feel it or do you feel great?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Today I felt a little strange on the court. I don't know if it was maybe because I was a little nervous. I just never felt real comfortable on the court. He also hit some great shots. He hits a lot of heavy balls, different style of game. I never felt comfortable on the court. I don't think it's taking its toll. I'm pretty tough. I'm trying to hang in there and take care of my body.

Q. Where are you staying? In Manhattan?


Q. Not distracting you at all?

ALEX O'BRIEN: No. I love New York. I think it's great just to walk around.

Q. It's not Amarillo?

ALEX O'BRIEN: No. It's far from Amarillo. That's why I love it, got so many different people, it's fun. It's a great city. It can be distracting if you let it be distracting. It's fine. Thank you.

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