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August 2, 1996

Billie Jean King


Q. Billie, Lindsay Davenport had said that you gave Lindsay a lot of confidence and that whatever you said to her really pumped her up, and I was wondering if you could sort of talk to us about why you thought she had such a good chance to win this and what you were able to say to her.

BILLIE JEAN KING: I think it's been a long process. It probably started about a year ago when we played Fed Cup against France. And that's when I really started to nudge her, to be quite frank. Because there's a fine line when you overwhelm a player. I just wanted to start laying some groundwork in her brain, how good she could really be. But you have to go slowly with players, otherwise you totally overwhelm them. And I started to talk to her about what a great athlete she is, because she has unbelievable court sense. She's very competitive when she has a positive attitude, and all in all she's a great athlete. Everybody kept telling her you're too slow and you're too heavy. And I said, well, I don't want you to listen to that anymore, if you can and why don't you just start thinking of yourself in a different way, starting now. And then we've been talking off and on, just little bits and pieces. I kind of torture all the players in different ways with trying to stretch them. And try to figure out what their real strengths are, personality, in their tennis abilities. And I also knew coming into the Olympics that Lindsay had started to pay a huge price. She and Robert Van't Hof, her coach, he's done a great job, he's been here the last three days, that helped. Our hitting partner, Jane Bailey, who we got locally, has been helpful. The Fed Cup are very bonded, which has been really wonderful and real supportive. So there's so many little ingredients. Also I thought about the culture that Lindsay grew up, her dad was in the '68 Olympics, just the same as it was important for Andre. When you grow up in a culture where a family member has been in the Olympics, I think it gives them more of a sense of what it can mean and the depth of meaning. So I started with all of that stuff a long time ago before the Olympics came up. But she's really paid the price the last six or seven months and it really shows. And she started to flicker with the idea that she could really win anything. And she's really started believing in herself as a person. I think she can be a great role model, particularly for tall women, tall girls growing up, as well as for small ones. But I think in our society it's tough to be tall for girls. It's getting less and less, and the more role models we have that are successful in sports, where they have to learn their craft, I think that's really good. The only thing we talked about is what a turning point this could be for her in her life. And sometimes you don't realize it when you're in them and that you'll look back at my age and go, wow, that was such a huge turning point in my career that I was able to win that match. And I tried to give her that sense. We talked two days ago, and that was the one thing I really stressed that this is really a moment of truth and a really unbelievable opportunity for her. And to go ahead and go for it, that you can win. You can do it. And she's been really practicing hard and staying focused and we stress that all the time in our team practices, just how important each ball is. I've always been big on that. She's pretty funny. She's very honest. Like before matches she'll say what she's feeling. She's really funny. I can't tell you. It's just, like, she's so honest how she's feeling. She had a match, I don't know, six months ago, she just looked at me, I'm so nervous, I don't think I can win a point. I said, fine. But she's honest. And by talking about it and laughing about it, it just diffuses her feeling and then she's able to focus. But she's a great competitor. And I'd like to see her go to net more often. She went to net a couple of crucial times and it paid off. She has really great hands. She's a really great doubles player. She basically won Fed Cup for us against France a year ago. It's really nice to see this progress in her life. Forget tennis, just about herself. That's really the most important thing, I think, that a coach can do is create a great environment for them. To be a great coach you have to have great horses. And I've got the horses, all of them. And they're very bonded. The team has been doing well. Since I became coach over the last year and a half, I'd say that the players are much closer, what I've seen. Because I don't have any frame of reference before that point in time. But even Mary Joe is more aggressive the way she plays now. Mary Joe's strengths are her forehand and her volley. And I say, "Why haven't you been to net, you have a great volley. The volley is almost extinct and you have a volley." I think she's starting to get it. She's starting to understand it's okay to be aggressive. If you get passed you only lose one point. They keep thinking it's worth 30 points, groundstrokes. So I just keep stressing it's only one point, keep going, keep going, instead of having 30 rallies and losing the point, hitting it one inch wide, and they think that's okay? That's only one point, as well. So it's really been interesting. It would have been nice to see Mary Joe standing up for the bronze. But we have doubles tomorrow, which we've already had a meeting on that. Andre's dad being in the Olympics, I think that all helps to have a sense of purpose.

Q. For Leander, too, Billie Jean?

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yes, that's true for him, too. He's got some tremendous potential. He just needs to get it all collected.

Q. What did you do to bring Gigi back into the fold?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I just got on with it, it's a new ballgame. That's easy for me, it's not hard for me. And even when the incident happened in Japan, everybody was saying, what about the Olympics? I said, what, that's apples and oranges, she's already playing in the Olympics, let's go. That's not a question. I just keep going, start over. She's been really good. And the team is very close. It's nice. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling. It's nice. It's good to see our players bonding and being there for each other. They watched each others' matches and I like that. I think that's very important. I tell them how important it is to be together in all this stuff.

Q. There's been a lot of talk among all the players, not just the American players, about disappointment in the format with the tournament for them. They would look forward to something that would make them feel more of a team competing against other teams. Do you see any changes by 2000?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I would love to see world team tennis format. I think it's an unbelievable format for this type of thing. I would start lobbying for it. I've been pretty quiet with the establishment about it, but I'm going to go for it for you. Can you imagine a team tennis match out here, with the best players in the world playing? It would be awesome. What's disappointing at Fed Cup and Davis cup, if we win 3-0, the next two matches don't count. We have been talking about different formats. I'd like to see them do something different this time, just really step up and be counted and have enough courage to do what's right for the game, instead of getting so nervous and staying in their comfort zone. I know I've talked to you about it. Whatever works. But I know that we've laid the foundation for a very good format for the Olympics. And with the smaller countries you can do with two players, if you want, although I don't think it adds a dimension, because we have a set of everything, which I think is important. But I think it's a perfect format for the Olympics. And I know that Monica's told me she and Mary Joe would support it. I haven't talked to the guys yet.

Q. Lindsay was saying that she feels more fit, that she wasn't getting as tired on the court today, for example. Do you know how much weight she's dropped in the last year?

BILLIE JEAN KING: I don't know. It's more about fitness than weight, especially the women, they get this body image so much, we have to stop that. It really hurts girls growing up, that's why we have so many eating disorders. There's so many reasons we need to look at her fitness, not just her weight. I think she's probably lost 15 or 20, I don't know. The biggest difference is that she's in the gym and she's done her aerobic and anaerobic work. Also the differences in last year, practices she's always doing running drills at the end of every day. And I could not get her to do that as much as I would have liked. I'm still on them. I still wish they'd practice a little differently, quite frankly.

Q. You mentioned Lindsay being a role model for taller women. Has she ever discussed being uncomfortable being tall?

BILLIE JEAN KING: No, she has not. She's not discussed that with me. I just brought that up two days ago. She's never discussed it with me. But two days ago, I felt that she could be a role model for so many young girls growing up. She's very bright. Lindsay is very bright. She's very articulate when she wants to be and when she doesn't want to be -- when she wants to act like she's not here, she's very good at that, as well. But she gets it, she hears you. And like four months later something will come up and you know that she got it four months before. She remembers. I'm learning about each one of their personalities. We're just hoping that everybody can get healthy, like Chanda with her wrist and Monica wants to get in better shape. We've got to get Mary Joe so she doesn't get as tired. But I think Mary Joe is playing better, actually. I don't know what your thoughts are.

Q. Played an awful good aggressive first set.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Yes, she did. She's not used to going up that much.

Q. I wish she'd play more like that.

BILLIE JEAN KING: I think she will be, hopefully. You guys are surviving this as well as we are, so congratulations.

End of FastScripts...

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