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January 24, 2008

Patrick Rafter


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone.
A man who needs no introduction, but will be inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame Saturday.

Q. Another year, another induction. A couple years ago you were International Tennis Hall of Famer. I think at the time, This is it. I'm done. That's all for me.
PATRICK RAFTER: I thought I was going to finish (smiling).
I think the Australian Hall of Fame was sort of inevitable after a while. So, it was, yeah, another nice one to have. Another recognition, so that's really nice.

Q. Just to you personally, how do they play off against each other? Do you do that?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think it's hard not to. Obviously the International Hall of Fame is probably as high as it gets, and the Australian one is as high as it gets here in Australia, sort of like when you look at Grand Slams, which one do you want to win? And we were brought up as winning Wimbledon was our thing.
I won the US Open, and I would have to have loved one back at home, also. It would have been great to have won one on your home soil. So it's a really nice recognition here in Australia.

Q. And the fact that's it's on Australia Day and you being a former Australian of the year, does that add to it?
PATRICK RAFTER: I don't know. It's such a -- yeah, a lot of times those sort of things don't cross over. I haven't actually given it a lot of significance and a lot of thought about it yet. That will be a good day.

Q. Do you watch much of these matches in the Australian Open?
PATRICK RAFTER: I watch the Australian Open, yeah, and I watch the US Open. The US Open comes on at a pretty good time in the morning for us, and the Australian Open, it's a Grand Slam and I love watching it. I like the Australian summer of tennis, all the tennis.
Other than that, I don't really follow it throughout the year. You read in the papers what's going on and that type of thing, but you don't actually really follow it. And here I get it follow it and I see the names again I haven't seen in so long. And so many new names I've got no idea. It's sort of interesting to see what sort of players and what's happening with the game and how it's changed. It's just changed so much since I retired.

Q. Have you ever seen someone like Tomic play?
PATRICK RAFTER: I saw Bernard play a year ago, and I have not since him play since, but hopefully this year I'll get to hit with him a couple of times. It should be good.

Q. What are your thoughts?
PATRICK RAFTER: Well, semifinals.

Q. What are your thoughts on him?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, he's got a lot of potential. He had a few things he had to sort of work on to get stronger and bigger, but he's still pretty young.
But now he's coming to the time where he starts to get some really good grounding, and one of those things was his serve. But he had potential there to push up and get a bit stronger with it. I thought he had a really great backhand, just a world-class backhand, and his forehand was potentially lethal.
I'm not going to talk about people's forehands, because mine was probably the worst in the game. There are a few things he could tidy up on. That's a really encouraging sign.

Q. Did you think Tomic is the best young prospect on the horizon?
PATRICK RAFTER: In Australia? Well, he's obviously got a lot of good results. He's setting all sorts of records at the moment, and he has potential here to be I think the youngest to win. And being two matches away from that, obviously every match gets tougher and tougher.
There's another couple of young kids coming through also -- and this is only the men's too, but I've hit with a couple of other boys who I thought were really good also. It will be interesting to see what happens on the international stage with these kids, but I think the other kid up in Queensland definitely was, Kubler, who's a good player, as well.

Q. Right at the moment generally how do you feel about Australian tennis?
PATRICK RAFTER: Well, obviously in the men's game it's still a little bit light on. I just think our greatest years were '96 we had -- no one in the top 10, but I think we had 13 or 14 in the top 100. That's just a platform, and it's a great platform to work from. You see the French having so many players and the Americans also doing well again.
You'd like to get back to those days as well where got so many guys to sort of keep pushing each other. I think it'll sort of go through its cycle. I think we always have our good and bad times.

Q. Is it realistic to think that that could happen again?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, I think it can. There's no reason why it can't.

Q. Lleyton is pushing for the introduction of clay courts for coaching in the juniors. What's your position on that?
PATRICK RAFTER: We've been talking about this for quite sometime. It's not a new topic. There are so many different levels the clay court. The German courts are different to the French courts, and different regions of those countries also play very differently.
We have, in Queensland, northern New South Wales we have the antbed court. Down here it was -- I've already turned my phone off -- it's en tout cas. So you do have an understanding of how it works, and a lot is about sliding and that type of thing. But it is a little bit different.

Q. But you don't think it's essential to improvement?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, it probably is, but I don't know how they're going maintain it, how they're going to get all the clay out here, who's going to build them. It's something going to be a very, very expensive exercise. I hope they obviously can.

Q. It is more competition, we just need more tournaments for the young kids coming through? Is distance a real worry?
PATRICK RAFTER: When I was growing up I remember just playing lots of tournaments every weekend. Just always playing competitive tennis. But when you get into the older ages it is a lot harder. You don't have the -- when we played satellites when I was coming through from 15 through to 18, we had all the Americans and Europeans would always come out, the Germans and Americans, and it was just great.
I don't think you get that quite as much anymore, that depth of international travelers coming out to Australia to play. I don't think there was sort of as many tournaments I think around the world now. There's a lot of these futures and things going on, so people just stay in their home country and play and you don't get that exposure to them.
It's all part of it. You got to get out of the country and travel and play the Europeans an the Americans and get over there. That's and I always suggested. I can only say what I think. When I was 17 and I finished school I went over and played as many tournaments and played in France. Just played two tournaments every week for a few months. Played tournaments in Spain and didn't win a match.

Q. Was it tough in those conditions?
PATRICK RAFTER: No, it was exciting. Yeah, it's fun. Backpack and just staying in hostels and things. It's just what you did. It was great.

Q. What do you make of Lleyton this year?
PATRICK RAFTER: Lleyton did well. The lead-up tournaments probably weren't as probably -- he's had a lot better lead-up tournaments. There are some changes that I've seen taking place in his game. This is, again, just my personal view. But he was going for his backhand down the line, he was aggressive with his forehand, he was coming to the net.
He's starting to really take on what Rochey is telling him. It's not that the other guys haven't told him that before, it's just now come to the point where he's going, I have to do it to make that change and he's doing it, and I think it's really encouraging.

Q. Is it realistic to think he's going to be top 10 again?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think he'll be top 10. He's got to work hard too, and Rochey won't accept anything but hard work. I think he can be back in the top 10.

Q. Can he win another Grand Slam?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think Wimbledon is his one. I think that's his best chance. The game has changed so much since I played. And his technique, he's a very flat hitter of the ball and the spin now generated by the new strings is -- doesn't really suit his type of game as it would someone like Nadal.
So I think the French Open -- I mean Wimbledon is his chance, and I think he can.

Q. What else has changed about the game?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think everyone is great athletes now, too. There was a time when you would look and say, I reckon I can beat him athletically, but not now. You got to be a great athlete.

Q. Do you ever look back and breathe a sigh of relief that Roger isn't...
PATRICK RAFTER: Roger was still in his nappies when I was playing him. It was great. He wants me to come back so he can beat me.

Q. Have you watched Tsonga, and what do you think about his game?
PATRICK RAFTER: I saw him play against Gasquet, and I just loved the way he changed the pace of the ball up. He did a lot of slow sort of looping balls. I thought he could play from all court: Baseline, at the net, big serve, big athlete, big kid.
But no one these days -- you never see anyone change the pace of the game up. No one does the slice backhands or the loopy stuff anymore and he does that, and he does that. It's just really nice. Not so much the slice backhand, but he does the loopy stuff and just throws the guys junk every now and then. I think it's really good.

Q. How do you explain some underdogs come through more at the Australian Open than other Grand Slams? Like Clement, Tsonga?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think it's hard to prepare for this tournament. You don't come off any tournaments. You know, you get a couple tournaments, but it's not enough to get you sort of in the momentum of it.
I always played better when I led up to -- played a few tournaments before the French Open and obviously the French never was really that kind to me. But then worked all the way through to the U.S. summer, and that's when I started playing well. When I had lots and lots of matches and lots of training.
You generally come off Christmas here and probably a little bit fat. Had a bit more of a good time. Some people it works and some it doesn't.

Q. How do you rate Novak Djokovic's chances?
PATRICK RAFTER: Really good. I think he's a great player. I say he'll be a No. 1 player at some stage in his career. I've seen Federer play better, but these courts are probably not suiting him quite so much. I think they're probably a fraction slower than they have been. That's just by looking. I haven't played on it so I don't know.
I just don't know how well Roger is playing just yet. But he's such a great champion. You'd probably still put your money on Roger to win, but I think Djokovic has a really good chance.

Q. What do you like about his game the best?
PATRICK RAFTER: He's got a big serve, great returns, you know, that sort of thing. Just great from the ground, great athlete, like all of them are now. I don't see a lot of weaknesses in his game. I wouldn't like to play him.

Q. Is the gap closing between Roger and the others?
PATRICK RAFTER: I think everyone has got to come to a time when things start closing up. But I don't know. Yeah, maybe. I don't know. You know, I think Roger will probably start doing really well again around -- I think he's always -- Roger plays very well on all surfaces, and that's the great thing about his game.
But to me his strength lies from Wimbledon all the way through to the US Open. In saying that, I'd love to see him in the French Open. He's been so close so many times.

Q. Nappies or not you've beaten him three times. What advice would you give someone trying to...
PATRICK RAFTER: Oh, his game's changed completely since I played him. It's a different game, different player.

Q. He's lost a few games lately. What do people have to do to beat him?
PATRICK RAFTER: Where did he lose?

Q. Twice to Nalbandian.
PATRICK RAFTER: Oh, okay. End of the year is always a hard one as well to be up for, as well. I don't know. I don't know. I couldn't give anyone advice on how to beat Roger.

Q. Did you still play at all? We saw Pete come back and play against Roger last year.
PATRICK RAFTER: There was a couple years there where I tried to play for a bit of fun in America. But since then I only hit a couple balls last year for a little bit. This year I hope to play with some young kids. We're going to get a couple of squads to come up to Queensland and I'm going to hit with them, so that should be really fun. I do really enjoy hitting for a week every now and then.

Q. Did you ever go through a spell like Pete did where you don't want to know about tennis?
PATRICK RAFTER: The first couple years, definitely. It was sort of uncomfortable. I didn't know whether to watch it or not watch it. When I watched it I sort of felt uncomfortable. I sort of wanted to be there, but that wore off pretty quick.

Q. Are we going to see you on the oldies tour?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, I keep threatening. I don't know why. It sort of seems like fun at the time saying yes, but when I start hitting balls I go, What am I doing? It's hard work.
You want to sort of play okay, and the shoulder is still not really good. I might have a bit of a hit and a giggle.

Q. Do you have any involvement in Australian tennis beyond hitting with a squad like that, like Davis Cup captain? Does that appeal? Is there something down the track that you'd liked to do?
PATRICK RAFTER: No. That doesn't appeal. I don't want to travel. Every now and then traveling is fun, but not too much. Davis Cup, that sort of position, that's what it requires.

Q. Did you say you've seen young Kubler?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, I was really impressed with his game. I thought he had -- his groundstrokes were great and he had a really good serve that I think he could build on. He's only 14 and he's really young, so a lot has to happen yet.

Q. You were a great serve and volleyer in your time. Do you think there's still room in tennis for that?
PATRICK RAFTER: Yeah, I do. I'd love so see that. I think it's just fun to see the contrast of someone coming to the net and doing it. But I watch a little bit now and I see the way they pass. I don't have if it's the string or what it is, but it just seems ridiculous on how they can pass you now at the net.
I don't know. I mean, was just someone that fed a lot of people junk, as well. I didn't mean to, but that's just how I played. A lot of people didn't like it. I think there's always room for that as well, to slice and dink 'em around and slow balls.
Felix Mantilla had the best comment when I played him once. He said, My grandmother hits the ball harder than him. I know. I try to hit the ball harder, but I can't. I think there's room for that type of game, as well. It's hard to generate pace off a ball that has nothing on it.
So yeah, I think that serve and volley has a place. Just frustrates people.

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