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September 1, 2009

Taylor Dent


T. DENT/F. Lopez
4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 7-5


Q. After the long wait, how great did that feel?
TAYLOR DENT: It's good. It's a tough situation is the only way I can describe it. Three years since I played my last match here. It was tough coming back in those couple years I was commentating and watching these guys. I was jealous. I was happy for everybody that was doing well.
I'm friends with them all, but I was jealous. I wanted to be here competing and playing well and playing matches. So to be back here accomplishing that is pretty remarkable.
You know, I still have a long way to go. I still feel like my game is still pretty rough around the edges, but it's extremely exciting.

Q. There must have been times where you didn't think you'd get back to this point, right?
TAYLOR DENT: Absolutely. I mean, I was told by the doctors that this was not realistic. So I had pretty much, after I kind of succumbed to the fact I had to have the surgeries to have a normal life, I came to grips with the fact that I wasn't going to be able to play professional tennis anymore.
The toughest time for me was actually when I was told after everything I'd been through that I could get back out there and start playing tennis again. I got so excited, so worked up, I'd get out there for the first time to hit tennis balls. Oh, my gosh, I was tired after hitting five balls up and down the court. I was hitting the ball horrible. That moment right there kind of reshaped the way I look at things now and think about things.
You know, to come from there and be where I am now is pretty unbelievable.

Q. How long did you spend in bed?
TAYLOR DENT: My first surgery was early March. That was until -- September was my next surgery. That March till September, late September, I was in bed all day long. So I think that comes just eight months solid in bed all day long.
Then my next surgery I was in bed for a couple more months after that. So it ended up being close to a year. It was just under a year total that I was in bed for pretty much 23 hours a day. A big effort for me at the time was just walking down the street. That was my exercise, was to walk not even a New York block, just get out.
I would get winded just going down the street. It was pretty amazing for being a professional athlete and seeing my body go through that trauma.

Q. Had you not had these surgeries, what would the quality of your life be?
TAYLOR DENT: Everything is speculation, obviously. But the extreme case of what I had would be wheelchair. My last vertebra on the bottom was broken on two sides. So the bones that were broken are the Pars bones. They stabilize the vertebrae, the spine, hitting these nerves.
So in extreme cases, if I damage those nerves, that's loss of function. It got to the stage for me personally where I would hang a small painting, small picture in the house, doing housework, and I'd have to lay down in bed for three hours just to be able to get back up again. That was when I finally decided to say, Look, this surgery is no longer for anything other than just quality of life.

Q. What were the names of some of the back specialists you saw?
TAYLOR DENT: When I first got diagnosed, the first person that found it -- I went a year, year and a half without knowing what was wrong with my back. I just basically -- everybody was saying, Do more core strengthening. Do more core strengthening.
That turned out to be aggravating it, making it worse. This is one of the problems I've had over my career was I'd be able to play for three weeks great, and then my back would start to get sore, get sore, and then I'd have to take a month off.
So Dr. Corenman out in the Vail clinic in Colorado, he finally diagnosed what it was. He said it's not uncommon for young athletes to have a fracture on one side but both sides is very, very problematic.

Q. A young athlete like you, how do you stand it?
TAYLOR DENT: Well, yeah, I mean, I'm pretty good at accepting what is. That's one of my strengths. That's what I had to go through to lead a normal life. It's a small task compared to what some other people have to go through.
So I was upset that it happened to me. But I don't dwell on things that much. I say, What can I do to accomplish X?

Q. Would you reflect?
TAYLOR DENT: Yeah. You know what, I got into a lot of problems when I was laying in bed doing nothing. Then I'd start feeling sorry for myself. I hate that. I can't stand hearing that and saying that to myself and all this sort of stuff.
I was going to apply for my real estate license. This is when the economic thing was going. Well, this isn't a good idea. Where is this going to get me? I started poking around, learning -- religion fascinates me, politics fascinate me. I was poking around there. I was going through such a bout of almost depression at that stage that doing work was really tough on me, too.
I said, Let me find something fun. I stumbled upon a computer game that my buddy turned me on to. That actually kind of saved me in a way because I was able just to escape to another place and not think about the situation I was in.

Q. What was the game?
TAYLOR DENT: World of Warcraft.

Q. What were the religions you dabbled in?
TAYLOR DENT: I love learning about all of them. Catholicism. How religion started. I like it. I don't know if I would classify myself as a very religious person, but it fascinates me. I love learning about it.

Q. Do you have a sense of how many games in a row you can play without discomfort or how much rest you need?
TAYLOR DENT: So far I have zero discomfort whatsoever. It's really a dream scenario. It's not like I woke up and here it is. I mean, I put in a lot of hard work to make sure that the back is pain-free.
If I stay diligent on the things that I do, then I don't have any problems whatsoever. You know, my feet are sore, arm is sore, all this other stuff from just wear and tear.

Q. If you get tomorrow off, you think you'll be fine for Thursday playing again?
TAYLOR DENT: We'll find out (laughter). No, I believe I'll be ready to go. I'll be jumping out of my skin.

Q. Was the September surgery different from the March surgery?
TAYLOR DENT: Yes. The goal was the same, but the technique was different. Basically the first one, he said if it worked, it would guarantee me to play tennis again. So I was like, I got to do it. It was a newer procedure, and it just turned out that I ended up not being a great candidate for it for a few different reasons.
So then the second one was just a traditional fusion where you got the bar in there, put the screws, and then the discs in there.
I saw it on the x-ray for the first time. It was a shock to my system. Whoa, that's inside me.

Q. You're not Federer on the final Sunday lifting the trophy, but it's still pretty wonderful.
TAYLOR DENT: I'll lift it. If I'm on the final Sunday, I guarantee it, I'll pour some beer in it and lift it then.

Q. How does it feel to be a US Open winner?
TAYLOR DENT: You know, like I said earlier, the only word to describe it is elation is what I was feeling out on the court. It's pretty cool. But I can't get wrapped up in it too much. I have a second-round match coming up. I don't want to just win one round here. I'd like to win a few.

Q. Talk about the match. He's a tough opponent with a massive serve.
TAYLOR DENT: Yeah, I hit some great backhands cross-court. I felt before the match started that it was going to come down to who could make more quality returns, was pretty much going to win that match. And after the first set, I started really getting his serve back and getting in his service games a lot.
Even though I didn't break as much as I think the score showed, I didn't break as much as I should have broken, I was in his games a ton and I was holding pretty easy for the most part.
Then that last game, that was the best game he returned in the match, were the last few games I served in the whole match.

Q. During this period of illness was there a player who gave you a lot of support?
TAYLOR DENT: You know, I keep in touch with some of the guys out there. But everybody is -- tennis is a very selfish world. You'll get a, I hope you feel better. I'm sorry.
When I see them at tournaments, everybody will come up, ask how I'm feeling, how it's going. Since I've been back, everybody has come up and said, you know, how great a story it is for you to be back.
You know, I don't delude myself into thinking I'm someone in particular special out here. Everyone has a life to lead. It takes a lot of mental effort out here just to put the time in.
But there was a handful of guys that said some nice things.

Q. You really were a big part of American men's tennis. Could you reflect on the changes and the state of the game since you started playing and watching the game, now back again?
TAYLOR DENT: Well, the state of the game, unfortunately in America we have so many options as far as sports go that if we don't have a champion that's winning a slam every year, a couple of slams every year, it gets very easy to flick the channel to watch Tiger play or watch somebody else play who is winning. So I think that's part of the problem.
The fact that Andy has been in the top 10 forever and James has been around there, even Fish through his injuries has been there, Ginepri has had some awesome success, now we have Querrey, I mean, American tennis has been pretty, pretty solid. It shows with our Davis Cup record. Normally we're one of the teams to beat in Davis Cup.
It's just tough. America wants a champion all the time. They're used to it. That's just the way it is. Go on down the list, you know what I mean, from Sampras all the way back. It's tough.
I think the state isn't where it was when Sampras and Agassi were playing. It may never be. Those are two of the greatest players that ever touched a racquet, so...

Q. Why do you think you didn't just give up? Why was it important for you to continue tennis?
TAYLOR DENT: I felt like it was an opportunity that very few get, to be able to play any type of professional sport. And I thought it would be very naive of me to just flick it by. You know what I mean? It would be, I don't want to say ungrateful, but almost ungrateful to have this gift and this opportunity and be given a second chance to play again and not jump at it.
And I'm glad that I did jump at it because I feel mentally and physically younger now than I did before I hurt my back. I mean, like I said, it's an exciting time for me right now.

Q. Back to when you hurt your back, was it a specific moment or was it cumulative, degenerating over time?
TAYLOR DENT: No, it was degenerating. It wasn't an incident. I was dealing with it for many, many years. When I first was diagnosed with it, I was given an option: either have a fusion, probably not play, and chances are you will not play; or get injections and kind of manage the pain.

Q. But five years ago when you were actively playing, it was sort of a chronic thing you had?
TAYLOR DENT: Yeah. The pain level out of 10 would probably be a 2 unless it flared up, and it did. It flared up pretty much once a year and I'd have to go get injections once a year to just take the pain down. When it did flare up, I was barely making it through airports.

Q. Were these cortisone injections?
TAYLOR DENT: You know, I don't know. Basically -- that's not exactly what they were. I was told what they were.

Q. But that family?
TAYLOR DENT: Yeah, exactly. It was a combo.

Q. You said you weren't that much of a religious guy. Now that that shooting pain is gone, you have mobility, give us your best spiritual shot here. What is it like to be healthy?
TAYLOR DENT: Like I said, it's elation is the only way to describe it. You know, it's like waking up, if you're a kid, waking up on Christmas morning and seeing all these presents. That's the only way I can describe how I feel.
To be able to play is amazing. But now you add on that that I'm competing and beating some of the best tennis players in the world.

Q. So the best gift under your Christmas tree are the wins?
TAYLOR DENT: That's right. You can stick coal in my stockings for all I care now.

Q. Do you have any active sponsors?
TAYLOR DENT: Adidas and Wilson are my active sponsors.

Q. Did they stick with you during the back pain?
TAYLOR DENT: They were very loyal. I have nothing but good things to say about the people that work in adidas and Wilson.

Q. Great day for Southern California tennis.
TAYLOR DENT: Go Southern California.

Q. Do you ever hang together, practice together, or pretty much each to his own?
TAYLOR DENT: Like I said, everybody is on a different schedule. I warmed up with Sam today. We warmed up after Carston. We were all chitchatting, just saying, What's up? Nothing much to say. We see each other every day. Kind of get sick of each other.
Everybody's on a different schedule, so you kind of have to be selfish and plan your day around yourself. That's the bottom line when you're a professional athlete. The day is planned around me. That means you just don't have as much time as you would like for friends.

Q. After the match ended here tonight, you spent a lot of time with the fans. Do you mind sharing any of the things that were said to you in that time?
TAYLOR DENT: Oh, you know, it's just a lot of nice things being said. Everybody is saying, Love your style of tennis, great fighting, you know, just a whole bunch of nice things. A few Spanish people called me some names, but that's okay.

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