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August 13, 2007

Jim Courier


THE MODERATOR: Another gentleman who probably needs no introduction, former No. 1 player in the world, Jim Courier, from the United States. Here for this wonderful Rogers Cup Tennis Legends presented by Acura event.
JIM COURIER: All right. I'm nervous, too. We can talk here, it's fine (laughing).

Q. Jim, let me begin. I wanted to find out more about what you're more involved with now as the Outback's Seniors Tennis Championship. And I wanted to know if maybe you could explain this to me and others. What I never understood is why has seniors golf been a TV ratings bonanza and big crowds, and senior tennis has really had a struggle throughout the years?
JIM COURIER: Well, I can't speak too much to the historicals of champions tennis and its onset. I know players like Laver played it through the years and on up into my generation now that are playing on the Outback Champions Series.
I know that certainly golf has had a lot of success in the past few decades versus tennis in north America, in general. I think internationally tennis remains a stronger environment versus golf. But I think that clearly in North America, the PGA, and the PGA Champions Tour are very, very strong and viable businesses.
Outback Champions Series Tennis is a very viable business as well and we're going well, but to put us on a platform with champions golf would take a lot of years and that's where we aim to be long-term.
You know, we want to be the home for players coming off of the ATP tour knowing that if they qualify by the criteria, that they have an opportunity to continue their careers and go on, much in the same way that you see players like Fred Funk, and Craig Stadler playing on both tours. We see an opportunity, perhaps, with Mark Philippoussis, who, this year was slated to play at our Champions event in Greece and then go on and play Wimbledon thereafter. Was unable to due to injury. But we'd like to see players also have that availability to be able to bounce back and forth if they're so qualified.
But from a business perspective, golf is, in general in America, has just dominated because they've had so much support corporate-wise, not only from the endemics in the industry, but outside there are a lost C.E.O.'s that love golf and point dollars in that direction.
Fortunately, in Canada you have Rogers and companies like Acura that are pointing dollars to tennis. You can see why this tournament and last week's tournament in Montreal, from where I'm sitting, seemed to be strong and very powerful businesses.

Q. Talent-wise and marketing-wise, how do you sum up the sport today?
JIM COURIER: Well, how much time do we have? You know, I think internationally tennis is very, very powerful and strong. You know, I think we, in my country, we get into arguments with people all the time, because they want to talk about tennis and what it has been in America and what it is today.
And tennis made a choice about 20 years ago. I think tennis made a distinctive choice to go international and to leave the United States and leave America as its core focus.
So while it may not seem to the American or the North American audience that it is as strong as it was, if you take a bigger look at what the Grand Slams are doing, and you look at the major tournaments, the crowds, the in game revenue is up, and it's strong and plausible.
And I think that there are so many positives for the game and there is such star power in the game today. And I get sick of listening to sports radio in America bemoan the fact that a lot of these stars aren't American. Who cares? A star is a star.
And tennis is not like other sports where you root for your home team. We don't have home teams. The players they come and they go. You don't have the New York Yankees, you don't have the Arsenals, the Manchester Uniteds. Their players are single identities. So, you know, I think we have to be a little bit more open minded in my country. I think the rest of the world tends to be. I think the game is very healthy.
Are there things we could do better? Sure. Are there improvements being made today? Go look at instant replay and tell me what you think.
I think there are a lot of changes for the positive happening right now in the sport. And we've got when you have great names in the game, it is great to see them around the sport. To see Mats Wilander here coaching Tathiana Golovin is a positive. You see Jimmy Connors with Andy Roddick.
To have these icons of the sport remain attached whether it's playing on our circuit or being involved in the game in some other way, shape or form, that's one thing we should emulate from golf, the way that the golfers stay around their circuits and protect their sport. That's something for us to shoot for.

Q. What was your --
JIM COURIER: I thought I was going to get some easy questions like, Hey, how you doing? How you feeling today? I'm getting thrown under the bus here right away (smiling).

Q. What was your initial reaction when you heard of the Davydenko betting scandal, I guess it's being called?
JIM COURIER: Well, my initial reaction was to say I'd like to see some information, because I know as much as you do. I've read what you've written about the information that's come out. So I'm sitting on stand by, waiting to find out what the facts of the case truly are.
Because, you know, as far as I'm concerned, people betting on second round matches in tennis, I'm not too concerned about them. You know, that's the betting industry's problem if they think there are some issues with their gamblers. If there are issues inside the locker room, then all of us with a stake in tennis will be concerned. But until that's proven, and I stress until that is proven, we have to stand behind him and say he's innocent until proven otherwise.
Can I get an easy question?

Q. I'm not sure it's going to be that easy but we'll see. The Rogers Cup is part of the US Open Series, trip to the US Open. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how special it is for you the US Open, and how tough a Grand Slam it is? You had some good runs at the open but never won it. So that's my easy question?
JIM COURIER: That's an easy one. That one I can handle. Well, the US Open Series is one of those positive advancements for the game in the past few years, even if there is nothing systematically changed about the tournaments to bring a cohesive marketing package together to give the fans the consistency of knowing they can watch these tournaments. There's a lot of logic to it.
For the players, there is a little bit more on the line, as you all are aware of the bonus pool that's been instituted. So that's something for the players to get excited about.
The US Open, for me, personally, is the biggest of the slams because it's my home country, and it's one that I had a love-hate relationship with and now it's all love. I live in New York City, and I work there as a commentator and enjoy being around with no stress, quite frankly, because all I have to do is show up and talk instead of stress about playing.
But it's a tournament that's gone from being probably the worst of the slams from a player perspective, to certainly on par, if not better than the others, because the facilities have improved.
It used to be very difficult with the airplanes flying over, and it was just a challenge all together. But it was the US Open. It was always my country's tournament. So, it's a biggen'.

Q. You're saying that it's easier now for the players this kind of -- because in your time with the planes and everything, you're saying that now it's a little more comfortable for the players? The crowd is also, I guess?
JIM COURIER: I think that for the players it's the facilities. If you use d to cover it back in the day when we were in the locker room inside the indoor facility, it was about the size of this room. And you had 200-some-odd players crawling all over each other day and night. So it was hot, it was humid, it was uncomfortable. And then you would go on to the court, you know.
So these days it's only hot, humid and uncomfortable on the court. Everything else is very, very luxurious and overly nice which is great for the players.
The challenges there though, it's different than in the other majors. The crowd is much more in your face in New York than in the other majors. They're a little less tennis savvy, a little more corporate. A lot more Heineken driven at night, and that can lead to some interesting crowds.
So it's a fun one. There's a lot of buzz there. There's nothing quite like a US Open night match when it gets going late and the crowd's into it. It has a different energy than the other slams that's for sure.

Q. The match tonight, the exhibition match that you're participating in has generated obviously some buzz here in Toronto and it is big news. I asked McEnroe the same question. How are you taking the match? Like is this going to be fun and just a light-hearted thing? Or are you really, really stressing to win this and how seriously is this being taken?
JIM COURIER: It's a two-part answer. I think the fun part for me tonight is the mixed doubles. The mixed doubles should be a gas. I think being out there with Carling and with Anna and John, we'll have a great time.
But when John and I strap on the shoes and go play singles against each other, fun's not a word that I would use to describe it. It's always intense. When you play John, you always walk the razor's edge, and you never know if he's going to go left or he's going to go right. And you have to be ready for anything that he throws at you, and it's a great challenge, and I take it very seriously.
We have a lot of pride. We spend a lot of time working on our fitness so we're able to go out and play well, and play at a high level and win these matches. But only one will win, so someone's going to be disappointed tonight. I just hope it's not me.

Q. Speaking of John, as I told him, I want to congratulate you with your good work on your commentary with the USA Network for the US Open?

Q. With that in mind, I asked him this and want to ask you as well, I want your evaluation of who you think may win the US Opens men's, maybe women, and your evaluation of your top Canadian Frank Dancevic?
JIM COURIER: I'll start with Frank. Which is to say I hadn't seen a lot of him until Indianapolis. He was such a Cinderella story there, last man in the draw in Indianapolis, going all the way into the final. So backing that up with a quarterfinal result last week, obviously, he's taken that confidence that he gained in Indianapolis and employed it.
He's played well, obviously in the quarters, so I think he has to start to feel like he belongs now, which is a big thing. That's a huge hurdle to get over as a player when you start to no longer doubt that you should be in the draws with these guys.
So for him, now, I think he has to qualify in the US Open, but I suspect if he plays the way he is, he's just going to have a nice week of three matches and be ready to go come a week from Monday. It's good for Canada it's been a while -- you've had great doubles without a doubt with Dan Nestor and Lareau as well, and Connell and all these players.
But it seems to me that singles perspective it's been a while since you've had a guy who has really been able to push the top players. You know, Nestor's had his moments, certainly, don't get me wrong. But Frank looks like he might be able to take it a notch higher but we'll see.
That is certainly exciting for all tennis fans and players up here. Then for the US Open, I think on the men's side, my mind nothing has changed. Federer's my favorite, Nadal's my second favorite, Djokovic and Roddick are my joint third favorites right now.
Obviously, Djokovic has elevated his confidence with his result from last week. And will certainly go into the open feeling like he's got a shot. But there is a wide goal from being in the semis of majors to winning them. He's been in two semis so far this year, So I think he could be ready to take that step. But I would still say it is Federer's tournament all the way on the men's side.
Women's side? Who knows. Three days ago I would have said Maria. Now I wonder, like you, do is she healthy? Who knows.
Two of the three majors this year, out of the blue, the Williams sisters came, so it's really up in the air. I mean Justine, always tough.
I think the usual suspects will be there in the end, but it's a lot easier just to say I'll take Roger, you take the field. It seems to be that kind of conversation.

Q. Pete Sampras blames you for now getting him to play again?
JIM COURIER: He blames me (laughing)?

Q. It's kind of a joke. But do you feel that next year some time he will be interested in trying it at Wimbledon?
JIM COURIER: Do I think Pete will play at Wimbledon again? No, I do not think he'll play at Wimbledon again.
I don't believe that Pete would be willing to commit the amount of energy physically, not just emotionally, but physically that it would take to be prepared to play 35 sets in two weeks. And I said this back before Pete played his first Outback event in Boston, that I've been practicing with Pete.
And if Wimbledon was a two out of three set tournament, I'd put Pete in my top three, and I wouldn't change my mind about that today. On grass, with his serve, I mean, his serve is as good as it's ever been, and it's not going anywhere. Because he totally controls it. Pete's going to be difficult to beat on that surface.
But to step it up and be physically prepared to go five sets day-in and day-out, and get stuck in a weather pattern like we had at Wimbledon this year and have to play five days in a row, there is no way his body would sustain it.
He's almost 36 years old T just doesn't happen, I'm sorry. Not at the level that the guys play these days.

Q. He's playing Federer at the end of the year in china. I guess you will follow that with interest? Maybe a prediction?
JIM COURIER: Sure, I'll take Federer (smiling) but I think Pete will play well. Pete's, if you don't consider him the all time great, he's got to certainly be in your top two or three. And best three set match on a fast court with his serve, which is, I think the greatest weapon in the modern era, you know. I like his chances of holding serve a lot, should be fun. It's going to be good for tennis.

Q. You talked about Mark Philippoussis a little while ago. Have you seen his reality show?

Q. What do you think of it? Is it good for tennis? Is it good for him?
JIM COURIER: It can't be bad for tennis, because more people being aware of Mark Philippoussis that are non-core tennis fans when he comes back into the sport, there will be a curiosity factor. So, sure. I think it's all good and fun. I don't think anyone got hurt during the course of the filming, physically. Don't know about the emotional aspect (smiling).

Q. I want to just ask one more thing about seniors tennis, which I never understood why you never had this kind of format.
Have you ever invited some of the top past women, such as Everett, Navratilova make it a little sexier, if I may say that? Make it a little mixed doubles? Have the senior women? Would that help in the draw? Was there ever discussion of including the women?
JIM COURIER: Well, first of all, I'll say standing alone right now the Outback Series is doing great. So while women's champions tennis is something that we would love to be part of it and love to have alongside our male players, it's not something that we see as an imperative for our business.
The stumbling block to women's champions tennis is that the women by and large, once they're finished playing on the WTA circuit, don't want to compete anymore. They no longer want to go out and compete. They can play exhibitions, but to go out and play for prize money and play for ranking is something that seems to be not interesting to enough of them.
Because we've asked, and we're interested and we'll remain interested and hope that that changes. Because the core -- the core attractiveness of our circuit is in the name power of the players. Of course the players have to play a high level of tennis, of course it has to be competitive, that's all assumed.
But when we can stack eight players out there when every tennis fan is going to know every single name and that's attractive to them and they're still fit and playing well, male or female, that works. Sponsors want to be around that. So we don't really mind if it's all women, all men, mixed. I believe mixed tournaments are the true power of our sport anyway.
So we'd love to have it. Until we can get them to buy into our philosophy of we're playing for real, it will be a challenge to get them on board with us on the Outback Series.

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