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September 1, 1999

Mary Joe Fernandez

U.S. OPEN, Flushing Meadows, New York City

WTA: Questions for Mary Joe.

Q. Arantxa said the other day that she kind of felt it was funny that people were calling you veterans when you're in your mid 20s, and old ladies or whatever. Do you feel like one of those, too, you can't believe it?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I can't believe the time has passed so fast. You know, we were not really in our mid 20s, we're in our late 20s. We definitely are, according to today's standards, some of the veterans. It's also nice.

Q. How is it nice?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Well, it's just nice to know that you've lasted a long time. The sport is getting tougher and tougher. I think it's just a great thing to say that you've played on the Tour for over ten years. I mean, this is my 14th year. I think Arantxa more or less the same. It's a long, healthy career. I feel fortunate about that. It's fun to play against the youngsters. It's fun to have that challenge. I mean, I remember when I was coming up, when things were the other way around. You have someone who doesn't have any pressure, they're going out, swinging away. You're the one that's been around and has the experience. It's definitely a challenge and it's definitely fun.

Q. How is it different now playing the young women compared to when you guys were younger? Has it changed a lot, besides the pace of the ball? How is it different?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Besides the younger girls hitting the ball a lot harder, I think there's a lot more of them. There's a lot more good ones. I think when I came up, when Arantxa came up, Gaby, a few others, there were a few that were good and solid, but you could count them. Now, you could pretty much say there's a lot of them. A lot of them, you don't know who they are yet. They come up, they give you a scare. You realize, "Wow, the new guard is here, they're coming, they're pushing hard to make a name for themselves."

Q. What's your impression of Lucic, especially in the last year?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I think she's turned it around nicely. She's persevered, practiced hard. She had an injury to her arm which set her back for a while. The last few months, she's been hitting the ball really well. I've seen her practice. She's out there a lot. She's tough. She hits the ball as hard and as clean as anybody out there. She's very dangerous.

Q. She's somewhere in the 40's, 46 or something like that. Do you see her being able to jump into the Top 10 anytime soon?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I think it's harder now than it used to be in the Top 10. I think she has the potential, definitely, to break through. I'm sure you've seen her play. She hits the ball extremely hard off both sides. She can pretty much out-hit anyone. I think she has to learn to play a bit smarter and wait for the shots, not to go for her shots all the time. She definitely has the game, the kind of game that can hurt the top players.

Q. Talk about your match today. Did you know much about your competitor?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: No, I did not. I'd never seen her before. My coach had gone out to watch her play her first match. I knew a little bit how she played. She was good. She was a solid player. She had a really good backhand, moved well. A little streaky at times. She went through streaks where she was consistent, other times where she made a few too many mistakes, but solid.

Q. As a Tour veteran, you've probably seen a lot of stuff go on, weird stuff go on. I wonder what your impression was of what was happening with Patty Schnyder this year.

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I don't know her that way. I think she's a nice girl. She's another one that's very, very talented. I lost to her here last year. She beat Graf in the following round. She definitely has a game that can also break through and challenge at the top. I think she's coming out of, you know, whatever problems she had nicely, too. She's a good girl, she's a nice girl.

Q. When you play a player like today, does this bring you back there?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: A little bit. I knew she was a youngster from Russia. It's tough when you don't know anything about them, when you haven't seen them hit the ball. It takes a while to find out their patterns, find out what they like to do best. Fortunately, you know, she was the kind of player I could rally with, try to figure that out fast. She didn't come out and blow me off in the first few games, which is good. Some of these youngsters come out, swing away, you're down 3-Love before you know it. I like the way she hit the ball.

Q. Have you given thought to the next five, six years, whenever you decide to leave the Tour, what you might do?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I think about it every once in a while. I don't know. I'm getting married next year. Hopefully start a family, you know, stay in tennis for sure. I love the game. I love to watch it. I've done a little commentating, which I really enjoy. I'll do some of that. We'll see from there.

Q. How is your health right now? You've had some injuries off and on here. We talked about it not too long ago. How do you feel coming into The Open? Do you feel you're a hundred percent or close to it?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I'm getting there. I've had a tough summer with my wrist. It started to flare up again out in Stanford, California, a few weeks ago. Didn't really get a chance to play any more tournaments. A little rusty, but fortunate to get through my first two matches. Today I felt better than the first day. So hopefully each day will get a little better. My wrist is feeling better. It's tough for me on these courts, they're pretty quick. When you have a sore wrist, you really want to try to hit the ball early. It's a little tougher when it's playing fast.

Q. Playing doubles?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Yes, with Monica.

Q. This type of match seemed like you kind of had a lot of resolve when you were down, then when you broke her. Looked like she was getting increasingly frustrated. Was that something you more or less think you drew on your experience?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: Oh, definitely. I mean, I think it helps to have played a lot of matches, just to know when you're down to hang in there, try to play the tough points smart. I tried to play as consistently as I could. My first match, I made a lot of mistakes. Today I still made a few too many unforced errors, but I thought overall it was a lot better. You know, I tried to move her as much as I could and attack her forehand a little bit more. Her backhand was pretty solid. It helps. It helps to have been there a lot of times. When you're young, I think she was trying to be aggressive. You miss one, you think, "Gee, I should have made that one." At times she got frustrated, but she kept fighting. I broke a couple times in the second set. She broke right back. She was a good fighter out there.

Q. When you look back over your career, when you were to summarize it, you've had all these wonderful Olympic experiences, these types of things. How would you define your career?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: That's a good question. If I have to look back and say highlight, I would definitely say the Olympics. I think just participating was thrilling enough. But being able to come out with three medals was a big bonus. Being up on that podium listening to your anthem is really something you can't describe and forget. That definitely sticks out in my mind. All the Grand Slams, all the semis. I reached three finals. You remember those. A match that always will stick in my mind was my comeback against Sabatini at the French, which is the year I got to the finals, in '93. I have great memories. Like I said earlier, it's been a long career. I turned pro when I was 14. It's been good.

Q. Do you think the restrictions are good for tennis, for the young girls not being able to play all the tournaments?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I think in theory they're good. I think it's good to pace yourself. I think I was very fortunate because even though I turned pro at 14, I stayed in high school. I didn't start playing a full schedule until I was 17. That kept me grounded and balanced. I think it gave me a chance to grow up a little bit. You know, everybody's different. Everybody matures and grows at different times. It's hard to say who is ready and who is not. I think it's an individual thing.

Q. Were you surprised Steffi Graf's announcement of retirement? What are your thoughts of Steffi's career, about her retiring?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: I think she felt she had enough. I think she's had a great year. I think she probably wanted to play here. She went to San Diego and I think pulled a hamstring. I don't know what she got injured with. But I think that was probably one too many injuries to deal with. I can definitely sympathize with her on that. I know how tough it is to always try to come back and rehab and be at the top of your game. I wasn't surprised that she was retiring this year. I think it was a little surprising she did it before the US Open or before the end of the year. But her career, I mean, what can you not say about it? She's had an awesome career. She dominated for a few years, was a great champion. She went through tough times, bounced back all the time, just persevered.

Q. Is it scary playing a qualifier? Is it more of a break in terms of the scheduling?

MARY JOE FERNANDEZ: It's funny. It could go either way. I think nowadays when you play a qualifier, you're playing someone who has won three matches at least. You know they're good players. I was looking through the qualifying draw, there's tough competitors in there, people I played in the main draw last year who are in there this year. This girl, I saw her draw, and she won three matches straight sets, first round straight sets. Sometimes that can go against you. I think nowadays it's tough when someone has come through qualifying.

End of FastScripts…

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