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September 5, 1995

Byron Black


Q. Byron, Michael thought he got overconfident in the fifth set and that is why he played that one loose game when you broke him. Did you sense that you were able to turn things around from there?

BYRON BLACK: Right. You know, I won the first two sets pretty comfortably and I was rolling and he came back good in the third and fourth. After I sort OF had a bit of a lapse, but I knew it could get a bit tight in the fifth. I wanted to hold my serve as long as possible, and, you know, let him serve it out. I was able to break him because I was pretty close breaking him just about every time he served. So, I was getting the confidence and, you know, I just wanted to come down to it in the fifth.

Q. Does it take a lot mentally after the fourth set to not get too dishearted about the fact that you were up two sets and now it is even?

BYRON BLACK: Yeah, I sort of realized I was going to lose the fourth. I was down 5-1 and I just wanted to start hitting the ball again. I had lost a bit of confidence. I wanted to get really ready for the fifth. That is what I did. I started serving better. And, you know, he was chipping and charging and sort of dominating the net, and I wasn't passing that well. In the fifth, I really wanted to go for it and I just picked my spots and either crosscourt or down the line and I didn't try too many lobs. I'd go straight at him. It seemed to work better in the fifth.

Q. This should be big news back home, no Zimbabwean and Rhodesian ever made the quarters U.S. Open?

BYRON BLACK: I think Harare is going to be pumped up parents are going to be pumped up at home.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about growing up in Rhodesia then Zimbabwe and making the transition to playing at U.S.C.?

BYRON BLACK: Growing up in Zimbabwe, tennis is not a big sport. It is kind of a rich man's sport there. Soccer is the main sport. My father is the one who brought tennis to myself and my brother and my sister. He came back from Wimbledon. He played Wimbledon in the '50s, and came back and he built a couple of grass tennis courts. He is a farmer. That is how it sort of got going. You know, didn't have too much experience outside Zimbabwe. I was always playing up in age groups and got a chance to go to John Newcombe's Tennis Academy. That is where I sort of started improving my technique, and because I wanted to go to college in the states. That is basically how I start.

Q. How did USC find you?

BYRON BLACK: I actually applied to them. I was playing at John Newcombe. I really did well in Davis Cup beat Odizor and Tony Mmoh from Nigeria when they were in the top 100. That is how the college coaches got interested in me.

Q. People have described your style as limiting. Do you feel like you have surpassed your expectations and proven that theory a little bit?

BYRON BLACK: It is limiting, for sure. I have to do a hell of a lot more running than a lot of the other guys, and I have done that this tournament. But it is two hands, both sides good for returns. I can disguise my shots a little better, so it does have its advantages too. But, you know, I still think I can go further.

Q. Why do you play that way; how did it start?

BYRON BLACK: I just grew up that way. My dad really never coached me. He just sort of motivated me and I hit thousands of balls, and I just picked up the racket and, obviously, I was pretty small and I couldn't hold it too well and I just started playing two hands and he never really changed me. And that is how I started.

Q. How old were you when you picked up a racket?

BYRON BLACK: 3, actually.

Q. Where is the farm and how far is it from a major city?

BYRON BLACK: Just outside the capital, Harare. It is about 235 acres. My dad started growing avocados; then got into tennis.

Q. The way you play, are you conscious whether you are hitting forehand or a backhand?

BYRON BLACK: Am I conscious?

Q. Yeah, when you swing from one side...

BYRON BLACK: Yeah, definitely. I prefer playing backhand, but, sure, I am conscious about that. I prefer it.

Q. What was it that persuaded you to contact SC, the weather?

BYRON BLACK: Well, at the time USC was the top-ranked tennis school in the nation, you know. I remember they were 32 and 0 going into the NCAA; that is the kind of school I dreamed about going to when I was in Zimbabwe. I never thought I would have a chance to go there.

Q. Were you a contemporary of O. J. Simpson or you were much after him?

BYRON BLACK: I think so.

Q. When you first picked up a racket were the grass courts that your father built already there?

BYRON BLACK: Yeah, he started off with one grass court, you know, long before I was born and then he built the second, third and then fourth. We have four grass courts.

Q. You would play against your brother or were there other kids who would come in?

BYRON BLACK: Basically he would feed me balls. There wasn't too much competition back home and he would feed me balls and I would just kind of groove my strokes, so I was pretty limited back then, and the only way I could get out is once a year. We used to have an ITF Tour and that was the way I got out of the country and started playing because we weren't allowed to play in South Africa at the time so we had to go to Europe to play.

Q. You always played barefoot when you were a kid?

BYRON BLACK: I played a lot of barefoot, yeah.

Q. How hard was it when you started playing with shoes?

BYRON BLACK: Well, it is funny, I played barefoot. I have very high arches; started getting a very bad heal and then I had to play shoes; although, my dad didn't like me tearing up his court too much. It was a trade off.

Q. Did you have friends that played also or were you the only family that you knew that played tennis?

BYRON BLACK: No, there was a lot of older guys that I could play against, you know, some have come to college in the states, but I always used to, you know, I used to play best of five set match everyday. I can remember when I was between 6 and 12, you know, against different guys, you know, so played some guy Monday another guy Tuesday, so on, so...

Q. What was the process, did you contact USC or did somebody know about you?

BYRON BLACK: When I was at John Newcombe's I applied to just about every university that I could think of, and no one was really interested, but as the year progressed I won all the junior tournaments in Texas; then I beat, I forget a member of my Davis Cup team, we beat Nigeria, beat Odizor who was top 70 at the time and that is when they started getting back to me and showing some interest in me.

Q. When was the first time you won a match of any consequence at all?

BYRON BLACK: What do you mean out of Africa?

Q. As a kid.

BYRON BLACK: I think the one that started me off was the All African Championships when I was 15. I went to the Ivory Coast and I won that, under 18, I won that tournament. That enabled me to get on this ITF team when I was 16, 17, 18. I was allowed to go to Europe with some of the other players from Africa, select few, and, you know, that is how I got a chance to go to John Newcombe Tennis Academy. That really triggered it all.

Q. Did you beat an 18 year old there in that tournament?

BYRON BLACK: Beat a couple, yeah.

Q. Everybody knows you first as a doubles player. From the beginning, was it your goal to be a top singles player doubles just happened, or...

BYRON BLACK: Well, first few years when I got out of school I shot up in the rankings to about 100 in singles and, you know, basically been hovering around it for the last couple of years and last year I really wanted to try -- I started winning a couple of doubles tournaments. I really wanted to try and be No. 1 in doubles. I really tried to focus on that last year, and I did it. I achieved that goal. This year I really wanted to try to get my ranking first insides the top 50 which I think I have done now. And, you know, top 30. So...

Q. Likelihood is that you will play Sampras next. Your thoughts on that and have you played him before?

BYRON BLACK: I have played him two or three times now. And I haven't done too well against Pete. It has been on fast surfaces and yeah, he has got a tremendous serve - even bigger than Stich's, so I am really going to have to return well.

Q. Have you surprised yourself with your performance with these upsets?

BYRON BLACK: It has been a slow process all summer. I have been playing better and better, and, you know, I like the courts here. The U.S. Open, they don't bounce up to high and it is good for my groundstrokes, and, you know, I just came with the attitude that I want to be relaxed and I thought I had a pretty tough draw playing Boetsch in the first round. I cruised through that. I played Enqvist a couple of times in the last year or two and I have beaten him, so I really was pretty confident about that, and it sort of just gone on from there. Got more and more confident.

Q. Are you in heaven here or are you just, you know, what --

BYRON BLACK: Am I in heaven?

Q. Yes.

BYRON BLACK: New York is not -- it -- I mean, don't know. I am from the country. I am pretty much of a country boy, so New York kind of scares me.

Q. Being in this position, being this far in this tournament, is this like a dream?

BYRON BLACK: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. I have exceeded all my expectations, yeah.

Q. How much time did you spend at Newcombes? Are there others Zimbabweans coming up behind you either black or white?

BYRON BLACK: I spent about eight months at Newcombe's and my brother is basically the next highest ranked player. He is about 260 in the world and there are -- they are trying to improve the black tennis players, but it takes time, and money, so, you know, they are really at the grass roots level right now.

Q. Are you living there, or do you have...

BYRON BLACK: I have a base in London that I just got couple of months ago and I still go back to Zimbabwe. I love going back to the country.

Q. Who plays on your father's courts now? Are there local tournaments there or anything?

BYRON BLACK: No, he is pretty tight with his courts. He coaches a lot. My mother coaches. So there is always people being taught at my house, and one of the two of the courts always been watered or rolled or taken care of.

Q. Do you know when your father played Wimbledon?

BYRON BLACK: I think he lost to Ashley Cooper in the round of 32, that was his best year.

Q. When?


Q. What is his first name?


Q. Your mother's name?


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