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January 25, 2010
BILLIE JEAN KING: I'm Billie Jean King. This is Ilana Kloss. Ilana is CEO and president of World TeamTennis. We have a TeamTennis match Wednesday night at half past 5. I'd just like to thank Tennis Australia for having us and having this experience of being here.
It's great to be back. I can't believe the difference. I haven't been here for eight years. I thought it was four. That shows you how fast time goes. But I can't believe how much better tennis seems to be growing. It's growing like 18% in the last two years in this country. We're just thrilled to be a part of it.
We're having our 35th season here this year. And we have had 84 Australians play in World TeamTennis through the years. Obviously back in the old days when I was playing, we had Rocket Man Laver, Margaret Court, Ken Rosewall, Rochey Boy, Newcombe, Wendy Turnbull. We've had so many wonderful Australians play.
ILANA KLOSS: Currently Rennae Stubbs, who played for the Washington Kastles, won the 2009 World TeamTennis title.
BILLIE JEAN KING: She can tell you all about it. You know her, she'll tell you (laughter).
But we're really thrilled, very happy to be here. It's great to be back in Australia because without Australia, I never would have been No. 1 in the world. I'm very indebted to this country and to the players that played in those days, especially the men players. They were very good to me. Mervyn Rose was very responsible for me becoming No. 1 in the world, so I just have a great time coming back. I have great memories.
Do you have any questions?
Q. The match that's coming up here, is this a forerunner to something regular? Are you testing the waters?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Tennis Australia asked us to do it. We talked to them. They thought it might be interesting. One thing I've noticed with Steve Woods and Craig Tiley and that, they're always trying to improve the situation here, have more opportunities for everyone, whether it be at the grass root area or at the Australian Open.
I think they're looking for more programming the second week I think is probably one reason. We'll be at Margaret Court Arena. I think they're thinking about just different things, not just us, but I think they're looking at everything to keep improving the situation. As I said, especially the younger ones that are playing, the 10-and-under, they're really growing here, which I think is going to make a huge difference. But it takes 10 years. It's not something that happens overnight.
I've noticed a huge improvement. Seems like there's more inclusion of the teaching pros. You call them coaches here, the Australian coaches here. Also a lot of the people are really in place helping the other players. I know you've got Ray Ruffels back here, who is a great coach. Everyone who Ray Ruffels has helped has gotten better. I'm prejudice because we played mixed doubles in World TeamTennis together. We played in New York together and we played in tournaments.
Q. I remember when you first played TeamTennis. I think you were instrumental in getting it going. You said the one thing you enjoyed was the crowd reaction and interaction.
BILLIE JEAN KING: It's great.
Q. You couldn't understand players that couldn't play in noisy conditions. Is this what you're trying to develop, more spectator interaction?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I think one thing that World TeamTennis has been is a think tank. We've been innovative in our sport and pushed a lot of people to think about our sport in different ways.
For instance, we're the first ones to have music. Everybody gave us a bad time. We were the first ones to hit balls into the stands. We were probably the first competitive tennis that had the Hawk-Eye. The players love the challenge now. There was a lot of resistance to that for a long time. I think it's very helpful because it gets the crowd more involved, too. Gets it more interactive.
ILANA KLOSS: I think the one thing that Billie and everyone at World TeamTennis believes in is access, bringing the fan in. So it's fan participation versus observation. So we do want people to cheer for their teams. You can do it in a positive way. We're not encouraging people to be derogatory, but you can support your team in a positive way. We do want to bring the fan in. We believe that's really important.
I think also you talked about us being down in Australia. I grew up in South Africa. I was privileged to be able to play World TeamTennis, play Fed Cup, a lot of team competition. But Australians are fantastic at all sports, but they love to support their team. So we think that our product actually would fit very, very well down here. Not only at the professional level, whether it be a one-off match, Australia versus the rest of the world, or potentially even some kind of satellite league. But we're also talking to the grass-roots community, tennis with all the states, about seeing if there's a way to integrate the format because we've really found that if we do it in the clubs, in the parks, in the schools, it really does help, you know, when you do it at the professional level. In a way, it does give more assets as it relates to bringing in additional revenues, whether it be from sponsors or tickets.
I think it has to be from the ground up. You have to go from the top level and also from the bottom level. But for us, I think Australia is the perfect country to really try to launch in.
When Billie started World TeamTennis, it was called World TeamTennis for a reason. Up until this point, we've had international players, but we really haven't expanded it outside of America. For us it's very exciting to be here, to really look forward beyond the match on Wednesday night. How can we be a bigger part of tennis in Australia, helping to grow it.
Q. Have you got modified rules? Have the rules changed any to make it more attractive or quicker?
BILLIE JEAN KING: We played no-ad. We play up to five first set. At 4-All we play a nine-point tiebreaker. Everything we do is by one point, okay? So that's good, easy-peasy to understand that. You have to win the last game to win the match.
If you're on the trailing team at the end and you win the last set, you go into overtime. You always have a chance to catch up. If you tie, it's a super tiebreaker, first to seven by one. But everything is by one.
So we're time sensitive. We know that under three hours we can get the match done, unless the players keep dragging too much. I'm kidding (laughter).
It works very well as far as knowing how much time you have. And also you get to see more players and you get to see the interaction. We think the socialization is very important for young people to see men and women cooperating. I think it's very, very important. It's very family-oriented. It's very much lets the young ones be a part of it. We do a lot of things before the match with the kids, a lot of things. We're usually in a city all year round, even though the season is short in the states.
To Ilana's point about the recreational point of it, you can go local, you can go state, then you can have a national championship for the people who play, for the masses, instead of just having it for the pros. So there's both areas there that you could concentrate on.
I don't think you do have a national championship yet in Australia of that type, and we do. It really works well.
ILANA KLOSS: But I do think we definitely have modified the rules to make it fast-paced, more critical points to make it more exciting, and also, you know, in this world where people have so much to do and they're busy, we really want the fan to be able to get in and out in under three hours.
We have modified the rules specifically for that. That's why it's no-ad scoring, the nine-point tiebreak and the super tiebreak. So absolutely, we've modified it. We also change ends every four games, not every odd game. We really do things to move it along.
BILLIE JEAN KING: We want things to keep moving.
Also, if you're running a tournament, a TeamTennis tournament or a match, we know that if you have them on two courts, they can finish in an hour and 45 minutes, if it's time sensitive. Just depends on what you need. We can lengthen the match or make it shorter, whatever the customer wants.
Q. Do you see this eliminating Fed Cup or Davis Cup?
BILLIE JEAN KING: No, that's men and that's women. I think we could be, with Hopman Cup, coed. We have four men and four women on each team. We're much quicker than Hopman Cup.
ILANA KLOSS: I don't think we replace Fed Cup --
BILLIE JEAN KING: We're an addition to.
ILANA KLOSS: -- or Davis Cup at all. I think one of the challenges in both those formats is that you can have dead matches. We've never really understood why we haven't been able to address that, whether you make more points the second day if you win a match.
But I think the one wonderful thing about World TeamTennis is that every single game counts. You have to win the last game to win the match. In addition to tournament tennis, we're an addition to Fed Cup and Davis Cup. I think in a lot of events they've really maximized their revenue potential. I think World TeamTennis is a way to look at some additional revenue potential, as well as I think bring in some new fans who really like to follow team sports.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Yeah.
Q. Billie, in the States with TeamTennis, it's essentially in that July, August bracket. What sort of time frame would you be considering it for this particular area?
BILLIE JEAN KING: We haven't even gotten to that point. Not even discussed yet.
ILANA KLOSS: I think it really is up to every different market and every part of the world to decide. I mean, some places may only want to do it as a one-off. I think we're just here to showcase the format, see if it works. But we really want to be a positive addition. So we haven't really gone any further than that.
Q. So you say Wednesday night's match is a one-off to see what the reaction is, and perhaps it could be an annual second week of the Australian Open?
BILLIE JEAN KING: It could be. We haven't gotten to that yet.
ILANA KLOSS: Exactly. I think there are a lot of people who obviously have ground tickets. Potentially this could be a purchase ticket. But I think in our discussions with Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia, I think Wednesday evening is a beginning. You know, where we go from there, I think there's an open landscape.
It's really up to them to tell us how they think they can help benefit tennis in Australia. For us, it's a privilege to be here at the Australian Open, to have this incredible global stage to showcase our format. So we're very, very excited.
Q. What qualifications does a player have to have to join World TeamTennis?
ILANA KLOSS: I think for the most part in America they are mostly professional. What we have done is we use players of three generations. Our format, because it is one set of each event, allows us to have the older players who maybe can't compete in two out of three or three out of five sets play an important role. We also have the young, up-and-coming players, so they have an opportunity to see what it takes to be a top player, to be part of that pressure, to be on center court with everybody watching them and having expectations.
So I think we're pretty open. For the most part they are professionals. But we've had some amateurs play, especially in America. They don't want to lose their eligibility to go to college. But we really like to have the three generations.
But every part of the world will probably be different.
Q. Talking about innovations, any new wrinkles for the upcoming season?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I don't think so.
ILANA KLOSS: No. None yet. We'll see what happens Wednesday. You never know.
BILLIE JEAN KING: We tweaked it a lot through the years. I don't want to keep doing it to do it. If you have any suggestions, we're always open. Seriously. If you try something new, it doesn't mean you have to keep it. If it doesn't work, you can always go back. That's why we're pretty nimble. We don't have a lot of bureaucracy. We're very nimble.
ILANA KLOSS: I think in a way it helps in a way to be a little bit out of the establishment because we to have the ability to try new things. If they work, wonderful. If they don't, you can change back.
I mean, it's interesting to see men's doubles on the tour playing no-ad scoring. We have been doing that for many, many years. We play lets, which they play actually in men's collegiate tennis in America. So, you know, there's some things that we really feel make sense and are practical. Some cases the tours and majors have incorporated those changes, and in other cases they haven't.
I think because we're out of the establishment, it gives us an opportunity to try some different things as a think tank for the sport, which I think is healthy.
Q. I was interested in your thoughts about what might happen on Rod Laver Arena tonight with Lleyton and Roger.
BILLIE JEAN KING: With Lleyton and Roger Man? Oh, well, I mean, you have to think that Roger is going to win, but you never think Lleyton is out of anything. The guy has guts, spirit and drive. I mean, he's great to watch, especially here because the Australians get so behind him.
But I just love watching Lleyton 'cause, you know, he has to expend so much more energy, very much like Henin does, because they're smaller in stature. You have to be a better athlete in so many ways to be able to compete. I've always appreciated him. I've enjoyed watching him since he's been a junior.
Roger is the guy to beat. He's still No. 1 in the world. He knows how to win and he thrives on it. I know that Roger loves being here in Australia, as well. I mean, the players love it here. You also are very fortunate. You get them when they're rested. This is the beginning of the year. I always loved to come to Australia because it seems like the players are real happy to see each other. They've had a break. It's a wonderful, very positive atmosphere. They're not tired yet, like they do get by the US Open. I notice they start to get a little more ragged. They've seen each other a lot. So it's different.
But I think tonight could be a great match. It's gonna depend a lot on Federer and how he plays, because he usually dictates. He's going to look for the openings and initiate more than Lleyton.
I wish Lleyton would initiate a little bit more. I think when he does, he does a little bit better, when he's appropriately aggressive.
Q. Closer to your heart, the women's tennis.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Actually, they're both close to my heart.
Q. You must be thrilled the way women's tennis is coming along and the depth at this tournament is incredible, younger players challenging.
BILLIE JEAN KING: There's always that. Amazing. Look at Henin, yesterday watching her. Wickmayer, I've been watching her, and she's just amazing. I've been watching her for about three years now. To think that a country of 10 million people, Belgium, has got these three women, Clijsters, Henin and her, and others, but those three stand out, and to have Clijsters and Henin back in the sport has just made a huge difference in the depth I think and the excitement. They're very exciting players.
Then you have Petrova this week coming through bigger than she ever has. You just don't know. I think it's wonderful. We have to keep spreading the word about our sport. We want every little boy and girl to have a chance to have their dreams. It's very important.
Q. Any issues still confronting women's tennis?
BILLIE JEAN KING: There's always going to be issues. You always have to know you're in a tenuous position. Tennis is a sport, I want to make it grow, both men and women. Anytime you can give the gift of tennis to somebody, it's a gift of a lifetime. I know that kind of like thinking up in the clouds, but it's true. It's something you can play your whole life. I don't know if you think about that much when you're looking at other sports. I think it's huge, especially for the masses to play. But then they've got this top level of people who inspire, motivate them. That's what the top players do. The real sheroes and heroes are your coaches, your parents, your teachers in your life. If you think about your own life, they're the heroes and sheroes. Even though the top players get a lot of credit for that, if you look at your own home situation, that's where the true heroes and sheroes really are. When you think about your own lives, it's pretty obvious.
But women's tennis I'm thrilled with. I'm thrilled to be here for Margaret, too, on Saturday. We're here for Margaret. We're going to celebrate her Grand Slam victory in 1970. It's fantastic to be here and see everybody. It's fun. We love it when we get to see each other. It's like a reunion.
Q. Given the time out of the sport, is it a surprise to you that Kim and Justine have come back and been so successful?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I'll tell you what. I was surprised how well they're competing right away. Kim played World TeamTennis this year. I remember I saw her in St. Louis, the first night she played. Ilana called me and said, You will not believe how great Kim Clijsters is playing. I saw her the next night. Then other people were talking. We all thought, I mean, we went away from our season saying she's good enough to win the US Open already. We were like, Oh, yeah, sure, she probably won't win, but she's good enough. Look, she ended up winning. It was just amazing.
So Kim's hitting the ball harder, her forehand is better, her serve's definitely better. I think she's actually in better condition, her fitness. Henin is right back where she started, too. She's hitting the ball better and harder. I swear they're hitting the ball harder. I didn't think it was possible. Every two years, three years the players, both men and women, keep hitting the ball harder and harder. If someone does take that hiatus, you think they're going to have trouble. These two just acclimated like that.
They're so fit, they're really fit, and that makes a big difference. But Kim is in a much better place in her life, much happier, and so is Henin. The emotional part of a player is critical. That's what separates somebody from winning and not winning, is the emotional part of us. We talk about the mental side. It's the emotional part of the game that makes the difference. The people who can handle the stress under the emotion. I think the emotional part is what has always kept a player back. If they don't believe in themselves, there's certain people that self-sabotage, you just die for them. You know if you can have them switch it to the opposite way thinking they can win, you want them to win in life, not just on the tennis court.
It's amazing how those two have just come back, though. It's fantastic. They're two of my favorites the way they play, and I think they bring a lot to our sport. And they're really good players.
Q. Given her record, Justine, do you think she should have had a seeding here?
BILLIE JEAN KING: God, I'm the wrong one to ask on that. I think the rules are pretty good.
Q. Could you elaborate on the comeback of the Belgians. Do you think Justine has the chance to become the second Belgian to come back and win a second Grand Slam, this one?
BILLIE JEAN KING: This one? Yes, I think it's possible. Anything's possible, yes. She really wants it. Serena's going to be tough to beat. Serena has a tremendous will to win, she really does. She's amazing, actually.
Q. Serena plays Sam Stosur today. How do you see that match going?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Wow, I think Sam has probably improved as much as any player on the tour. She's got the best second kick serve I've seen in years. I can't think of other player that had a better one. And you're only as good as your second serve, that's for sure. Pancho Gonzalez taught me that. She's much more fit. Her concentration is getting better and better, her focus.
The main thing with her is her consistency. But Serena has issues with consistency sometimes. But it's because they hit so hard, too. They hit a lot of winners. You have to look at the winners and errors, and see if it's a plus or minus. I don't think you have one without the other. But I think that could be a tremendous match because they both really serve well. I mean, anything can happen.
But, I mean, obviously Serena has earned the right to be the one to beat. Just like Federer on the men's side. But they all want to beat them. That's what makes it great. When you're sitting there at No. 1, everyone wants to beat you.
Some players don't enjoy being No. 1. They don't like it, so they're not going to be No. 1 for very long. They've been No. 1 for a couple weeks. They go, I don't like it, too much pressure. The ones who really sustain it are the ones who love being there and challenge themselves constantly.
That's what champions to. They love it. They can't get enough. They want to keep improving their game. They want new challenges every year. They want new records. They want whatever. It's very interesting to be around people like that.
Q. On the subject of No. 1, there's all the talk in 2009 with Dinara getting to No. 1, Jelena getting to No. 1 not having won a Grand Slam, do you think that's right?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Uh-huh, I do. I think the ranking system's pretty good now. And if you are willing to put yourself out there week after week, and the others aren't, so be it. You know what the rules are going in before the year. Players should study the rules. If you want to be No. 1, you know how the system works. If you're good enough to be consistent during the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, then you still have to do decently in the slams.
Yeah, I like it because it makes the player have to play during the whole year. I would not want us to go back to only four slams a year, do you? Do you think that would be a good way to go? I kind of liked that as an amateur. I made $14 a day. Players don't remember. But without the tours, we wouldn't have what we have today. I'm very big on the tours. But I come from a time when we started it, so I'm prejudiced.
The tours are what pushed the Grand Slams to get better. I don't know if some of you in the room know that. But without the tours, the slams wouldn't be what they are today. They were pushed and pushed and pushed to improve the tournaments. The tours are really the spine or the backbone of making a living because if you only had four Grand Slams a year, you wouldn't do too well, especially if you lost first round all slams, you wouldn't make a great living that year.
I think it's pretty good the way they do it. That's a rare thing to happen anyway. Usually you do have to win a slam to do it. Occasionally you have a player that's willing to put it out there week after week after week and support the tour. So it's good to have a balance. I think it's nice if you can do both: win the tour and a slam or a couple.
It's a privilege. It's a privilege to be able to play on the tour or to win a major, as Don Budge started it. He's probably turning in his grave every time he hears the word 'slam' because it's really four majors, and then if you win the Grand Slam, it's all four in one year. It's so interesting to see how the vocabulary keeps evolving.
Q. You said that Federer knows how to win. I would suppose somebody like Justine also knows how to win. Can you explain what it means? What happens in the athlete's head that he knows this?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, everyone is different. But it's the person who can enjoy the moment of having pressure, that they actually look forward to it. A lot of players will say something like this in their head. Oh, please double-fault. Let's say you're returning serve. They'll go, Please, God, let them double-fault. You're not going to win if you think like that. You want to say, Give me your best shot, I want the ball. That's the kind of difference in that particular situation.
Also I think selection of shot equals talent. Selection of shot equals talent. A lot of players are really great athletes. They hit the ball great. But their selection of shot is not good. Or they try for too much or too little in that moment of truth, that pressure moment. And it's the player who knows how to rise to the occasion. They know how to go into a different gear, whatever that is. Each player is different when they find their way. Their choice is usually much better. And they play within themselves, but they can still be highly aggressive. But they play within themselves.
You've seen players when they get in those situations, they'll try to go for a winner, miss it by this much, they go for the line, they're frantic. When you're like that, you know you're not giving yourself your best opportunity. There's a sense of alertness but calmness.
Q. Federer doesn't have a coach. He doesn't look at the box. Almost every player looks at the box. What does that tell you about him?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Personally, that's the way we were. We didn't have any money, so we couldn't afford coaches. If we looked at the box, it was another player or friend or someone. We didn't have a coach, okay? So it's funny, because to me Roger is a throwback to the old days playing modern tennis.
He plays the modern game, but he plays like an old player, how he develops the point. He can hit a slice. He can come over his backhand. He's got a one-handed backhand, like most of us did, except for Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert. He knows what he's supposed to do. He understands the sport. He watches video 24/7. The guys loves tennis. He's passionate about it.
If you read the book I read about his childhood, you know, he left at 14 to go be the best. They ask every boy at this academy in Switzerland how good do you want to be. Every boy said the top 100 on the ATP Tour. He said, I want to be the top 100, then I want to be No. 20 by this age, then I want to be No. 10, then I want to be No. 1. So he was the only one. So he had a vision for himself.
He understands the game. When he gets a coach, I'm not sure this is what happened, but it looks like it from the outside, it looks as if he gets a coach, he learns everything from that coach, then he needs to move on. I think coaches should never take it personally when a player's had enough. You just don't take any of that personally. He absorbs information. He's very observant, I think.
These are all guesses. I mean, I don't know. Don't you think? I always look at him and think, I wonder. But he enjoys hitting the ball. I mean, he loves it. He's got the passion to play. And I hear through different sources that he works extremely hard physically. The way he plays, he looks effortless, but he really trains really hard. So he's earned it. You know, you just don't become No. 1 without paying a price, and he's paid the price.
Q. Do you think the top women players do enough for the tour that they're supposed to?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Do enough for the tour? I'm probably not a very good judge of that. I'd have to ask the WTA how much they do. I know they have certain obligations. I know that some of the players go to sponsor meetings. I think that's pretty unusual. I don't know how many men players go. I don't know. I'm not a good judge. I know the women have helped in many ways. And we do programs. We do a lot of charities. The players do a lot of charity work that I don't think people know about. I think they finally know with Hit for Haiti, there's something. That's going on every day on the tours, is giving back in different locations, going to hospitals, doing appearances, trying to help.
In the WTA we have a mentoring program that has really been fantastic. I mean, personally every year at the US Open I give, we always say it's going to be two hours, but it's usually more than that, we have two sessions, and they bring in the best young players, and we have mentoring. They take a test about the history. We look at photos. They ask questions. We have interaction among ourselves.
The young players choose their mentors of the older players. I'm like the historian. I'm like the mentor of the mentors. It's really quite wonderful. The program has been going on for quite some time. So I don't know what the men do, but the women are quite amazing. I don't think the men have that program, do they? I think mentoring is really huge. We're big on that.
I think the way we started the tour was really important, and it seems like our philosophy, how we started it, there was nine of us that started women's professional tennis, called the Original Nine, and our dream, we talked about way beyond just starting women's professional tennis. We talked about, you know, having every little girl have a chance to play if they dreamed about it and make a living, because we didn't have that. Then we wanted that to spill over into every area of life 'cause we know that when men and women participate in society, it's a much stronger society. When you leave men out, you leave women out, you know the country economically is not going to do as well.
So you just know these things. We wanted to be an example. Just like this equal prize money was a fight for the message more than the money. It's not about the money, it's about the message of being included, both genders always, trying to help each other. We were big believers in that, the nine of us.
The players today on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour are actually living our dream, they're living the dream. We want more and more countries to have that opportunity, more cultures. I grew up with a younger brother who was a Major League Baseball player in the United States, it's a huge deal. Our parents brought us up that both of us should have our dreams, both girls and boys. I would like that for both genders.
If you watch a World TeamTennis match, you see my philosophy on life. It's equal contribution by both genders, it's men and women working together. The children who watch it are getting that message even though they don't know it. Hopefully it will help them be better citizens of the world when they grow up. I know it's philosophical. I'm very idealistic. I have not changed. I'm not going to. I really believe in it.
That's why World TeamTennis is important to me personally. I think in certain countries team sports are very vital to growing our sport.
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