LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Tennis legends John McEnroe and Jim Courier kicked off the new tennis offerings at the Casa de Campo Resort by competing a special exhibition match November 7. The appearance by the two tennis Hall of Famers was part of the resort’s effort to raise the profile of its tennis offerings at its 16-court tennis center.
Expertly deemed “Wimbledon of the Caribbean” by Travel + Leisure and “Best Tennis Facility” by USPTR (United States Professional Tennis Registry), Casa de Campo’s La Terraza Tennis Center is an integral component to Casa de Campo’s Sporting Life experience. The 12-acre facility boasts personal ball boys for every player and 16 fast-dry, Har-Tru courts – 10 of which are lighted for night play. The facility will soon begin to offer more organized tennis programming, including Cardio Tennis classes, game arranging, tennis socials, clinics and intense training for advanced players.
“We established this resort as a golf resort with 90 holes of golf designed by Pete Dye and the legendary “Teeth of the Dog” but when I came here three years ago, I recognized that tennis was an asset that was underutilized,” said Peter Bonell, Chief Marketing Officer for Casa de Campo. “We have 16 great Har-Tru courts and a beautiful facility but we were lucky if we were doing ten players a day. We united our ideas and put together this event with the help of InsideOut Sports & Entertainment to invigorate the local players and invigorate this country to get into tennis like it is golf. We see this as a take-off point where we will be able to put more capital into it, develop more packaging, get more partnerships and hopefully do bigger events like this.”
Courier, a two-time French Open champion, hung on for a 8-7 (7-1) win over McEnroe in the exhibition in front of an intimate and enthusiastic crowd of several hundred, including James Brewster, the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Prior to the singles match, Courier and McEnroe played doubles with two young junior players from the club, with a special appearance by former top-ranked Dominican player and current Dominican Fed Cup captain Joelle Schad.
“It is really a privilege to get a chance to come to a place as beautiful as this,” said Courier. “I have never been to Casa to Campo but I have heard a lot about it from friends who have spent time here. It is every bit as beautiful as they say. It’s wonderful to be here to promote tennis at Casa de Campo and in the Dominican Republic.” (Expanded quotes from both players can be found at the end of this release.)
Both tennis stars were visiting the world famous resort for the first time and it was McEnroe’s first ever visit to the Dominican Republic. McEnroe’s wife Patty Smyth performed at the resort’s 5,000-seat stone amphitheater years ago when she was a member of the rock band “Scandal.”
Known for the Sporting Life, Casa de Campo offers an unmatched array of sport experiences including 90 holes of Pete Dye golf (including Teeth of the Dog, ranked No. 1 in Latin America), Polo & Equestrian Center, La Marina & Yacht Club and a Skeet/Trap Shooting Center. Additional amenities range from fine dining at The Beach Club by Le Cirque and six other resort restaurants, to private beaches, The Casa de Campo Spa, and Altos de Chavon, an artist’s village with a 5,000-seat Grecian style amphitheater.
Situated among 7,000 acres in La Romana, Casa de Campo is easily accessible through La Romana International Airport operating direct flights from JFK and South Florida, or the nearby major cities — like Punta Cana International Airport and Las Americas International Airport — servicing hundreds of nonstop flights daily from all major U.S. airports.
For more information on vacation packages, visit http://www.casadecampo.com.do/. Tennis enthusiasts can also book tennis packages via Mason’s Tennis in New York City at http://masonstennis.com/casa-decampo/. Mason’s Tennis serves as a tennis consultant for the resort and assisted in putting together the McEnroe-Courier exhibition match.
The McEnroe – Courier exhibition was produced by Casa de Campo in conjunction with InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, the independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events and corporate outings. Since inception, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment has have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on towww.InsideOutSE.com or www.powersharesseries.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Select Quotes from the Press Availability are found below:
John McEnroe on playing the world famous “Teeth of the Dog” golf course, where, as a 20-handicapper, he shot a 92:
“We don’t want to talk too much about that… This is my first time ever being in the Dominican Republic… Hopefully I will be invited back.”
Jim Courier on Victor Estrella, the 34-year-old player from the Dominican Republic who broke into the top 100 this year, the first Dominican to do so:
“I enjoyed seeing Victor play this summer. To see him get into the top 100 for the first time at 34 years of age was pretty special…Being where he is, I am sure it is really inspiring for all of the young players in this country to see that a player from the Dominican Republic can make it into the big time. He is a hard working guy who loves the game.”
McEnroe on Estrella:
“He is also inspiring to older players since he made it at such a late age.”
Courier on the PowerShares Series coming to Casa de Campo:
“I think there absolutely is a chance for a PowerShares Series event to come here….This would be a great location at Casa de Campo with players like John, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl. This (exhibition) event is kind of a truncated version of that.”
McEnroe on his competitiveness, even in exhibition matches:
“I don’t think our competitive juices ever go away, it’s just different levels. When you play in the finals of a major event, that is what you dream about. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, but in certain ways I appreciate that I am out there doing what I am doing at this age. While I know I can’t do what I used to do, I appreciate it more. People come out and press come out and ask us questions and our opinions. It is pretty darn nice.”
Courier on McEnroe’s competitiveness:
“I think you will notice that with John’s competitive juices, the way that they flow, we may need some extra towels on court.”
Courier on Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer battling for No. 1 ranking:
“It’s been an impressive year for Roger. He has his back “back” to full health which has made a big difference in his movement. The new racquet seems to be helping. He has been very consistent but the one the he hasn’t done – and he has been very close – is win a major and Novak has. Novak has a pretty healthy lead and I think Roger will have a difficult time to catch him for year-end No. 1. That doesn’t diminish the type of comeback year for Roger, I don’t think we can call it a comeback year because of his high unbelievable standards. He’s in a great spot right now. He can challenge for No. 1 also in Australia. There are a lot of points to offer between the London Masters and in Australia. It’s not inconceivable that Roger could get back to No. 1, which would be something.”
Courier on Latin American players and their development in the last 20 years:
“Traditionally the Latin American players in my day, they preferred clay which was the surface got this far on when they were younger. The American players tended to be more hard court players, by virtue of that is what we played on for most of our junior tournaments. It feels like that has changed. It certainly changed over the course of the end of my ATP career, where Spanish players like Emilio Sanchez and Sergi Bruguera started to play pretty darn well on hard courts. And you saw players like Gustavo Kuerten, who was obviously a great clay court player who also won the Masters in Portugal. I see players be more comfortable on hard courts and clay courts from Latin America in the last 20 to 25 years. That is what I have seen.”
McEnroe on Latin American players and their development in the last 20 years:
“(Juan Martin) Del Potro and (David) Nalbandian – two Argentines talked about growing up talking about playing quite a bit on hard courts. I think around the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Spanish Federation decided to build some hard courts and wanted to prove that their players could play on all surfaces. That sort of opened up the doors for other countries. It sort of like what we need to do more of and I think people are aware of in America. We need to prove ourselves on clay so that we can be more well-rounded. It would help us if we were better on clay even our hard court games down the road, give us more variety. The opposite is true for other countries. They realized that they needed to play on more than just clay courts. If they learned how to serve, it was like a huge advantage on other surfaces, for example.”
McEnroe on if there was any player he feared playing:
“No one who we would want to name publicity…If you don’t mind. There was one guy I didn’t want to play on clay and that is him (pointing to Jim Courier)…If you are afraid to play someone, I think you have already lost.”
Courier on his top 3 tennis players of all time:
“I would say Roger, Rafa…For me it would hard not to put Rod Laver in there since he won the Grand Slam twice. For me, that would rude not to mention Rod.”
John McEnroe and Jim Courier, two of the greatest American tennis champions over the last 40 years, will compete in a special exhibition match on November 7, 2014 at the Casa de Campo resort in La Romana, Dominican Republic to showcase the resort’s tennis offerings.
In addition to their exhibition match, McEnroe and Courier will also participate in special clinics and hitting sessions with patrons and attend a special Casa de Campo tennis cocktail party. Event packages for the clinics, party and exhibition match are for sale and can purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expertly deemed “Wimbledon of the Caribbean” by Travel + Leisure and “Best Tennis Facility” by USPTR (United States Professional Tennis Registry), Casa de Campo’s La Terraza Tennis Center is an integral component to the Sporting Life experience. The 12-acre facility boasts personal ball boys for every player and 16 fast-dry, Har-Tru courts – 10 of which are lighted for night play.
“Perfectly aligned with the Sporting Life, Casa de Campo is honored to host this international tennis exhibition at La Terraza Tennis Center,” says Peter Bonell, Chief Marketing Officer at the resort. “All guests will have memorable experiences thanks to the resort and club staff, especially the ball boys, who are working tirelessly to make this perfect.”
Known for the Sporting Life, Casa de Campo offers an unmatched array of sport experiences including 90 holes of Pete Dye golf (including Teeth of the Dog, ranked no. 1 in Latin America), Polo & Equestrian Center, La Marina & Yacht Club and a Skeet/Trap Shooting Center. Additional amenities range from fine dining at The Beach Club by Le Cirque and six other resort restaurants, to private beaches, The Casa de Campo Spa, and Altos de Chavon, an artists village with a 5,000-seat Grecian style amphitheater.
Situated among 7,000 acres in La Romana, Casa de Campo is easily accessible through La Romana International Airport operating direct flights from JFK and South Florida, or the nearby major cities — like Punta Cana International Airport and Las Americas International Airport — servicing hundreds of nonstop flights daily from all major U.S. airports.
“Casa de Campo has such a great reputation for being one of the top resorts in the world and I’m looking forward to visiting there for the first time this November,” said Courier. “It’s always challenging and never boring playing a match against John McEnroe and will be fun to do so on the tropical courts at Casa de Campo. Equally challenging will be trying to get some birdies at the Teeth of the Dog golf course, which I am also excited about playing.”
McEnroe is regarded as one of the most talented and well-known players in tennis history. He won seven major singles titles, including four at the US Open (1979-1981, 1984) in his hometown of New York, in addition to winning 10 other major titles in doubles and mixed doubles. He won Wimbledon three times (1981, 1983-1984), and was involved in perhaps the greatest Wimbledon final of all time, losing to Bjorn Borg in 1980, featuring the famous 18-16 fourth-set tie-breaker. McEnroe helped the United States win the Davis Cup five times and he captured 77 career singles titles and 78 career doubles titles, his last being in San Jose, California in 2006 at the age of 47. Age 55, McEnroe recently won the points title on the 2014 PowerShares Series champions tennis circuit, prompting Courier to label him as the “greatest 55-year-old tennis player to ever grace the earth.”
Courier is regarded as one of the most tenacious tennis players of all time – and with one of the biggest forehands – that led him to a pair of French Open titles in 1991 and 1992 and two Australian Open titles in 1992 and 1993. In 1992, he became the first American to reach the No. 1 ranking on the ATP World Tour since McEnroe in 1985. In 1993, Courier was the youngest player to reach all four major singles finals in a career when he reached the Wimbledon final in 1993 at age 22. He also guided the U.S. to Davis Cup titles in 1992, where he was teammates with McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi on the described U.S. “Dream Team,” and again in 1995. He currently serves as the captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team and competes on the PowerShares Series tennis circuit.
For more information on vacation packages, visit www.casadecampo.com.do
The McEnroe – Courier exhibition is held in conjunction, with InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, the New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events and corporate outings. Since inception, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment has have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on towww.InsideOutSE.com or www.powersharesseries.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
NEW YORK – “On This Day In Tennis History,” the book and mobile app that documents daily anniversaries of historic and unusual events in tennis history, is now available as an electronic Kindle download. The new electronic version – and the mobile app – have been updated with recent tennis happenings into 2014.
The Kindle edition of the compilation is available for $7.99 here on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/This-Tennis-History-Day-Day-ebook/dp/B00JQDZ43U/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1402513835 The mobile app is available for $1.99 in both Apple’s AppStore and the Google Play Store at www.TennisHistoryApp.com.
“On This Day In Tennis History” provides fans with a fun and fact-filled calendar-like compilation of historical and unique tennis anniversaries, events and tennis happenings for every day of the year. Presented in a day-by-day format, the entries in this mini-encyclopedia include major tournament victory dates, summaries of the greatest matches ever played, trivia, birthdays and statistics as well as little-known and quirky happenings.
The mobile app is easy-to-use and packed with fascinating details featuring captivating and unique stories of players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Venus Williams, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras among many others.
Features of the “This Day In Tennis History” app include:
• Easily browse daily anecdotes and facts
• View birthdays for top legends and current players
• Tweet and email options makes sharing a breeze
• Set up daily reminders
• Quickly search the archive by player
• Save your favorite entries
• No internet connection needed
• Entries will be updated periodically
“On This Day In Tennis History” was created by Randy Walker, the former USTA press officer now the managing partner of New Chapter Media (www.NewChapterMedia.com) and developed and designed by Miki Singh, the former ATP Tour press officer and the founder of www.FirstServeApps.com. Most of the content in the app was originally published in Walker’s hard copy book “On This Day In Tennis History” ($19.95, available here on Amazon.com http://m1e.net/c?96279190-.PAh92abybkPc%4018743019-Kel6bOgMLp6Qc published by New Chapter Press.
Said Tennis Hall of Famer and current U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier of the book, “On This Day In Tennis History is a fun read that chronicles some of the most important—and unusual—moments in the annals of tennis.” Tennis historian Joel Drucker, author of the book “Jimmy Connors Saved My Life,” called the book compilation “an addictive feast that you can enjoy every possible way—dipping in for various morsels, devouring it day-by-day, or selectively finding essential ingredients.”
The app can be found by searching “Tennis History” in the iTunes App Store and Play Store or directly at these two links:
Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com) is also the publisher of “Andy Murray, Wimbledon Champion, The Full Extraordinary Story“ by Mark Hodgkinson, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All-Time” by Steve Flink, “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “Macci Magic: Extracting Greatness From Yourself And Others” by Rick Macci with Jim Martz, “Court Confidential: Inside The World Of Tennis” by Neil Harman, “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection” by Rene Stauffer (www.RogerFedererBook.com), “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” by Bud Collins, “The Wimbledon Final That Never Was” by Sidney Wood, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey and Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Titanic: The Tennis Story” by Lindsay Gibbs, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes with Peter Kolar, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “A Player’s Guide To USTA League Tennis” by Tony Serksnis, “A Backhanded Gift” by Marshall Jon Fisher, “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli (www.Boycott1980.com), “Internet Dating 101: It’s Complicated, But It Doesn’t Have To Be” by Laura Schreffler, “How To Sell Your Screenplay” by Carl Sautter, “Bone Appetit: Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog” by Suzan Anson, “The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle” by Stewart Wolpin among others.
This gallery contains 1 photo.
Prior to competing on the 2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit, Andy Roddick held court with the media to discuss a wide array of topics including his competitiveness, the Australian Open, Bernard Tomic, the National Football League, a potential future role with the U.S. Davis Cup team, and playing alongside legends of the game at events in Birmingham, Denver and Houston. Here’s the full conference call transcript of Roddick’s interview.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th. The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City. For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself. I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.
Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences. So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun. It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.
Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.
Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.
Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?
ANDY RODDICK: It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.
Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.
Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat? I don’t know. Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.
Q. Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?
ANDY RODDICK: I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue. They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.
Q. And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing? Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.
Q. Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again. He played he actually beat me the first two times. I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports. So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.
Q. There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?
ANDY RODDICK: No, I don’t. The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.
Q. Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?
ANDY RODDICK: Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night. Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.
Q. Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script. We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it. We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.
Q. No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade. How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to. But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it. You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Any good one liners you’re working on these days?
ANDY RODDICK: You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?
Q. You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job. All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.
Q. I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more. He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.
Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned? I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path. I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.
Q. As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.
Q. What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis. It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier. Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.
Q. For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?
ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really. The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.
RANDY WALKER: We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.
Pete Sampras spoke of the life lessons of sports – saying “Nothing is given to you, you have to go out there and earn it” – this week in a radio interview with Grant Napear of KHTK Radio in Sacramento, Calif., where he will be competing in the PowerShares Series tennis circuit event February 26 at the Sleep Train Arena.
“In life, in a lot of ways, you see a lot of people get breaks when they don’t deserve them,” Sampras, the 14-time major singles champion, said to Napear. “I just feel that with sports, nothing is given to you, you have to go out there and earn it. There are a lot of good life lessons that you can learn from sports and it’s something I am trying to instill in my kids.”
Sampras is playing two events on the PowerShares Series in 2014, in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 25 at the Energy Solutions Arena and in Sacramento on February 26.
“I love sports,” Sampras said. “I love watching anything from the NFL to golf to college football. I think sports is the real deal. There are great stories. There are emotional stories. It’s very real. I love tennis because it is the ultimate one on one sport. It’s one will against another will. You put it all out there. If you don’t play well, you are going to lose. That’s the way I kind of like it.”
In his appearance on Napear’s show, Sampras discussed other topics outlined and excerpted below:
On Why American Tennis Has Lost Its Dominance In Global Tennis:
“I don’t know if it is really us, but I think the world has gotten a little bit better. Through television and the internet, it seems like there are just more people playing tennis. You look at the top players in the world, you got Rafa (Nadal) being from Mallorca and (Novak) Djokovic being from Serbia and Roger (Federer) from Switzerland. Twenty years ago, maybe tennis wasn’t popular in those countries, now they are and the best athletes from these countries are playing tennis and not just playing soccer. So it’s a combination of those things. The American players today are doing as well as they can and it’s just they are a level or two behind. I just think the world has gotten better. Maybe they start younger. Maybe college tennis in this country isn’t quite what the satellite tour might be in Europe. There are a lot of different reasons. At the end of the day, I think the world has gotten a little bit more into tennis and all these great athletes are playing tennis and they are not just playing soccer.”
On Novak Djokovic Rebounding From Tough Losses In 2013:
“For Djokovic, he’s going to be right there. It’s really the top three or four guys. We will see what Roger does, if he can come back from where he’s at, but I see Djokovic and Rafa being the best two players. I think they will compete for all the majors. I’m not saying they are going to get to every final, but I just think that those two guys, they are truly the best players. Djokovic did have some tough losses. He got to the Wimbledon final and ran into (Andy) Murray which was a great story for him. He lost a tough French and lost a tough US Open so Djokovic will bounce back. He’s a great player and I just think he and Rafa are just a level above everyone else. They have developed a pretty good rivalry”
On The 12-City 2014 PowerShares Series Tour and Playing in Sacramento:
“It’s a fun tour. Sacramento, we’ve never been there so I’m looking forward to playing. John (McEnroe) and Jim (Courier) and James (Blake), they are obviously great players and good friends. It’s fun night but at the same time, it’s competitive. We just hope people come out and support it and watch it like and feel like they enjoyed their night. I’m looking forward to it and excited that Sacramento got it this year. I’ve been there a few times, played there a couple times. It’s a good town.”
On Still Playing Tennis Competitively On The PowerShares Series:
“I still enjoy playing. I really do. I love hitting the ball and just getting a good workout in and going out and competing against some of these old friends of mine. It’s fun and I get to catch up with some friends, some old stories. And for whatever reason, these people still want to see us play, so I’m excited. It keeps me busy, keeps me involved in the sport and the sport has been good to me. I’m looking forward to hitting a few balls, getting in tennis shape and having some fun.”
To listen to the full interview, go here: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2014/01/07/the-grant-napear-show-january-7-2014/
Tickets for all PowerShares Series events start at $25 and can be purchased at www.PowerSharesSeries.com. VIP packages for all events are also available at PowerSharesSeries.com, by email to VIP@insideoutse.com, or by phone at 253.315.4299.
The full 2014 Power Shares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:
Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Sprint Center – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Thursday, February 20, Houston, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake
Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, Sleep Train Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, March 12 Nashville, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Friday, March 21, Surprise, Ariz., Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang
ABOUT INSIDEOUT SPORTS + ENTERTAINMENT
InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events and corporate outings. Since inception, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment has have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.powersharesseries.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and James Blake held court and talked tennis Thursday in a conference call with the media to promote the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit. The following is the transcript of the call where a number of subjects where presented with some fascinating responses.
RANDY WALKER: Thanks, everybody, for joining us today on our PowerShares Series conference call. We’re excited to have Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier on the call today.
Last week we announced the full schedule for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit featuring legendary tennis players over the age of 30. The series kicks off February 5th in Kansas City and runs through March 21st in Surprise, Arizona. All event dates, venues, player fields and ticket information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.
General public ticket sales kicked off on Tuesday of this week, and we can report some brisk early sales.
Before we open it up to questions, I’m going to start off with a question for each of our participants. We’ll start with Andre.
Andre, you’re scheduled to play in Houston and Portland this year. You, James and Jim are in those fields. Can you talk a little bit about those venues and potentially playing against Jim and James. You and Jim have been battling it out since the Bollettieri days. You and James had that epic US Open quarterfinal from a few years ago where you won 7 6 in the fifth. Talk a little bit about that.
ANDRE AGASSI: Absolutely. First of all, this has been a great platform for me to stay engaged with the game of tennis. It’s been a very high priority in my life, tennis has given me a platform to do so many things. I’ve struggled to find ways to stay involved that don’t take too much time away from my family and the balance of life.
What Jim has created with this PowerShares Series, he’s created an opportunity for guys like me and James and others to be able to get out on the road for a night and prepare for this, have an excuse to stay in shape, have an excuse to stay involved in the game, and go to these places and enjoy that level of engagement.
I can’t say I’m looking terribly forward to James with this because he still moves like the wind. Nevertheless, the memories will come flooding back for me. I love the feeling of engaging with people that have been a huge part of my life. James and Jim have certainly been two of them. Going to places where tennis really should be and isn’t.
RANDY WALKER: James, you played your last ATP career match at the US Open this year. Who are you most looking forward to playing and what are your expectations on the PowerShares Series this year?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, after Andre’s comment, I don’t know if I should be offended or complimented (laughter). I totally understand.
It’s funny because I was just thinking about it the other day. My whole life on tour seemed to go by so fast. I was the young guy on tour. Before I knew it, I was the grizzled veteran. Now I’m off tour and I get to be the young guy again on this PowerShares Series again. That’s exciting for me to be the young guy in any situation.
It should be a lot of fun. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life that doesn’t have tennis be the first, second and third priority, as I’m sure the other guys understand. When you are on tour, it’s a bit selfish. We have other things involved in our lives. I know Andre has his family and foundation. Jim has so many business ventures and a family as well.
It’s going to be a little less stressful than that match I played with Andre at the Open, but maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight if I can get a little revenge on the PowerShares Series.
ANDRE AGASSI: Let the record show that it was a compliment.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to Jim. Jim is playing in the kickoff event in Kansas City on February 5th, returning to where he and Andre had an important Davis Cup win in 1991, 22 years ago, over Germany.
Jim, talk about the PowerShares Series this year, 10 new cities, including a lot of cities that don’t have ATP or WTA events.
JIM COURIER: Sure. It’s going to be great to be going back to a city like Kansas City that I haven’t played in since ’91, since Andre saved my bacon when I lost the fourth singles match. Who did you come out and beat? Was it Steeb?
ANDRE AGASSI: Steeb, yeah. You took care of him the first day, I had to take care of him the last day.
JIM COURIER: It’s going to be fun to go back to Kansas City and be out on tour with James and Andy Roddick, who are two newcomers this year. A little bit like Andre said, be careful what you wish for. It’s great to have these guys out with us, but it’s going to make it that much tougher to win.
But I love the challenge. Obviously it’s great to have those guys out joining me and Andre and some of the other great champions that are a part of the circuit.
There’s going to be a lot to look forward to as we get going in February and March. I think January is going to be a pretty hectic time trying to get ready for these guys, too, trying to build up the body to take on these young bucks.
It’s going to be a good circuit. A lot of great cities that I’m looking forward to playing in for the first time. I haven’t played in Salt Lake, Sacramento, among many others. It’s going to be definitely a good challenge and some new travel for me, which will be great.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to the media for questions.
Q. A quick Rafa/Federer question. Rafa is at 13 majors now. If he wins the Australian and/or the French, he’s at 14, 15, tying or passing Pete. Do you think it’s inevitable that he’s going to pass Roger? If so, does that make him the greatest? With regard to Roger, do you think he can win another major?
ANDRE AGASSI: As far as titles go, I don’t think that’s inevitable. I do think he’s capable of it. I would make argument he doesn’t need to pass Roger in quantity to have him be arguably one of the best of all times.
I also think getting to 14 slams and tying Pete doesn’t suggest that Pete is in his category. I think Pete dominated his generation and won 14 slams but was never a factor during the clay court season.
You have to put in a bit of variety as part of that analysis, see what Rafa has done on every surface that he’s won at least a couple times, and in some cases eight times, then see what Federer has done winning multiple times, not winning the French many times because of Rafa. I think these two guys are in a class of their own.
I do think without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time. He does have a winning record over Fed, although a lot of those wins come on clay. He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
You can also make the argument this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world, and once Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world.
If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit.
It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title. That’s also forgetting about the fact that Djokovic is one win away from entering not necessarily this all time conversation, but certainly accomplishing a win at every slam. So now you got three guys potentially in one generation who have done something that only five guys have done over five decades.
I think it’s a golden age in our sport for sure. I think we’re better off for it. I hope everybody appreciates what it is we’re watching.
JIM COURIER: I think Andre covered it pretty well. Obviously, the biggest question mark for Rafa at the moment is his ongoing health. Those of us that care about the sport want to see him stay healthy and challenge the numbers.
It’s a fun dinner conversation. I’m not sure you can convincingly say that one guy is the greatest right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to omit somebody like Rod Laver who did so much and missed so many opportunities because he turned professional.
It’s a fun party discussion, for sure. I just hope that in 10 years’ time we’re able to look back and see what Rafa and Novak and the current guys did in the rearview, put it in proper perspective.
Lastly, with Federer, I would not be surprised whatsoever if he were to win another major. I think anybody that counts him out right now does it at their own peril.
Q. Andre, you and Steffi are arguably the couple who have been the most involved in charity matters. You’ve spoken at great length about your education work. Could you take a moment and talk about what you’ve seen through Steffi’s work with Children for Tomorrow.
ANDRE AGASSI: What she’s chosen to take on is nothing short of Herculean and quite honestly heroic in my mind because I do believe that it takes a unique strength to deal with the trials and tribulations of the wounds that exist in children that you can’t tangible ize. That’s the reality of her work.
For me, it’s about providing a high standard of education for kids that society has failed or society has written off. For her it’s about somehow solving something that you have to first prove really exists.
It’s remarkable the stuff that she’s made, remarkable what she’s done. She’s built kindergartens and counseling centers all across the world, from Kosovo, to Eritrea, to Hamburg, Germany, and other places.
I see how it affects her. I see how committed she is. There’s not one time that she does anything tennis related that she doesn’t give literally 100% of it to her foundation.
She makes me feel like the devil with her generosity. I look at her and I think, Why are you putting yourself through this? She puts herself through it and then comes home and writes the check to her foundation.
She doesn’t need fanfare with it. She doesn’t advertise it. Most of the time she’s not that thrilled to talk about it publicly because it brings her to tears in a hurry. She just chooses to live it.
I’m amazed at what she does. I get to watch her live her values every day. I try to do the same. I pale in comparison. She beats me at everything. At the end of the day, I still get to learn so much how she chooses to live. Her foundation is right up there with the highest of what there is to respect about her.
Q. You three guys have dedicated your lives to the game. Aside from changing the schedule, if you could change just one thing, what would that be?
ANDRE AGASSI: I would change our narrator calling you Mr. Simons instead of Simmons.
JAMES BLAKE: You hit the nail on the head with the first one, the schedule. If I had to go to a second one, I actually think I would like to go sort of back to the way it was when Andre and Jim were playing in terms of the surfaces.
I feel like the surfaces have become a little homogenized. It’s a surface that lends itself, in my opinion, to the domination you’re seeing with Roger, at times with Novak and Rafa. Like Andre said about Pete, he didn’t really factor in in the clay because I think the clay was so different from the grass back then. The grass was strictly a serve and volley game until Andre showed his returns were better than anybody else’s volleys. It was a time when you had to change your game a little bit to be effective on each surface. I think that added a little bit more variety to the styles of play, to the tournaments themselves.
I would like to see that change a little bit. It may change the rivalries, the Roger/Rafa dynamic for years where they were clear cut the two best players in the world. You could talk about who is better on what surface, a fast court, a slower court like we used to have in Hamburg, Germany. I think that would help the game, in my mind, to have variety.
ANDRE AGASSI: I don’t know what I would change. It’s been a while. I think James is probably your best look at clarity on the subject. He’s the most recently removed from the game, sort of has lived the realities of it in a very intimate and specific way.
When I look from the outside, I remember playing Wimbledon towards the end, and there’s no question, I agree with James, it is not the same kind of court that it once was. I can also speak to the fact additionally guys are stronger and moving faster and so forth. But the spin that’s in the game today, even if the court was faster, the spin generated off those racquets doesn’t serve anybody to move forward in the court, at least not without being 100% sure.
I love watching it. I didn’t have to live it. I wasn’t terrorized by it, except for once last year that I had to go through it. James has come off some fresh runs of having to face what the game has become. I think as a result, he can probably speak to it more comprehensively.
I don’t know what I would change except to make a general statement. That is the Association of Tennis Professionals by definition is designed to look out for the interest of all players. I don’t think any bureaucracy can move the game forward effectively if you’re trying to go all directions at once. You turn into a swamp. The game needs to be a river. It needs to be moving in one direction, which means a price needs to be paid by someone somewhere for the betterment of the game. This isn’t politics. This is about what a sport needs to do.
Generally speaking, I would love to see somebody have a position that at least allows them the responsibility and accountability of making decisions on behalf of the game. That’s what I would like to see.
Q. Andre, why did you decide to play the Portland tour stop? Did the cancer treatment center sponsorship or Nike have anything to do with that? Secondly, McEnroe is your foe that night. How much game does John have left?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I wanted to play in Portland first of all, yeah, because of what cancer research does. I’ll always support that. That factors into it to some degree. Personally I’ve grown really attached to Portland. It’s a way for me to make most use of a very delicately balanced life.
Again, the tour has been designed to facilitate this opportunity for us and for tennis fans in a way that allows it to be successful, enjoyable, and achievable.
My relationship with Nike has a lot to do with that, no question. But, again, everybody really looks for multiple overlaps, your time away, business or foundational, you have to make the most of that time when you’re away from the family.
John is remarkable. I think all of us on the phone would sign up to be in his shape, and certainly his talent. Given his age, I’d sign up for it right now, to be doing what he’s doing.
I know just being the age that I am, every year brings additional challenges. It’s not going to be as easy for him every year moving forward, just like it won’t be for us. What he’s done up to now is pretty darn impressive. He can neutralize a lot of power. He can make someone very uncomfortable, especially in conditions. For example, in Salt Lake, if he plays James, James will be surprised he can make the match play awkward.
He has a passion for the game that’s almost unparalleled. He brings that intensity to the court, sometimes against my wishes. I wish he could enjoy it more. But maybe that is his way of enjoying it. But he still has more tennis in him, for sure.
RANDY WALKER: James, any comment on going to Portland? You had a big win there in 2007.
JAMES BLAKE: Yes, 2007 we won the Davis Cup. One of my fondest memories to be a part of that team, guys I had a ton of respect for, still do, still am friends with. That was extremely special to me.
The support we got in the Portland community was really second to none, as well, the excitement we felt in that stadium.
The biggest part for me in Portland was the fact that it was really a team effort. Andy got it started. I got the second win. Then the Bryans clinched it on Saturday. We all contributed to winning in the finals. That’s to me the perfect ending to the journey we started in 2001 with Patrick.
I’m really looking forward to going back there. I had a great time there. Can’t wait to have some more memories there.
Q. Andre, I want to know what you think about whether you can compare players of back to back eras? If so, how would you compare the era you played in with Sampras and Courier and Rios, Kuerten, compared to the era that Federer played in which was probably Hewitt, Safin, Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI: I think some generations back to back are more realistic to compare. It’s when the game takes a leap forward that you are no longer talking about the same equation.
What Roddick brought to the table was obviously the dominance of his ability to hold serve and to make life really uncomfortable all day long because you felt like every time you were playing on your own serve, you felt like you’re serving to stay in the set.
Others had that. Pete had that, gave you that feeling. Hewitt, his movement and his defensive skills, were like many that I’ve played before. Lightning fast, redirect the ball. He did four or five things that I found in a lot of players throughout my career.
But when you start talking about guys like Djokovic, Rafa, Fed, possibly Murray, you’re talking about guys who have literally changed the rules of engagement. Whenever you’re talking about that, you cannot, in my opinion, compare generations.
Somebody who played in an era where there wasn’t that kind of spin, there wasn’t that kind of I don’t know how you want to put it but where the rules of engagement change that dramatically, impossible to do.
There’s no way a serve volleyer, a Rafter, can come forward on every point and get to your ball early. Covering the line at the net is fine, but you can’t reach the ball because it’s 15 feet over your head, coming down with margin, it’s like a drive forehand topspin lob winner. Certain things are just above and beyond. And I would say in this generation, that’s changed the game.
Q. Jim, as a person who has put this tour together, you have a couple guys in his early 30s, a guy in his mid 50s, somebody in their early 60s. How do we view these matches, more as competition or exhibitions?
JIM COURIER: I think if you look at each of the individual tournament draws, as far as the generations that are playing, you’ll see some logic to them. We’re not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn’t going to be that competitive. Not that Jimmy isn’t a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment.
You’ll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour. We’ll have some cross generational matches for sure. But Johnny Mack, as Andre pointed out, is going to make things difficult for anybody he plays, no matter what generation, because of how he’s able to play.
I think we have a terrific lineup all across the board when I look at all 12 of these events. I see nothing but great matches and great competition.
Q. Andre and James, you both played Nadal in 2005. He was a teenager. What was your first impression of him then? When you look at his evolution, the revisions he’s made to his game, what have been most important to his evolution?
JAMES BLAKE: 2005 was the first time I got to play him. I actually had the benefit of getting a great scouting report from Andre who played him a couple weeks earlier in Canada.
My impression of him then was he was a clay courter playing on hard courts. He was playing with a lot of topspin, hitting the ball heavy, but not attacking the ball, not moving forward at all. He sort of counted on his defense and his movement to win a lot of matches. He did it exceptionally well, obviously. He had already won the French Open at that point. He was the best clay courter in the world at that point. He hadn’t translated that into his best hard court game yet at that point, I don’t think.
Andre gave me a great scouting report that I needed to attack him, make him feel uncomfortable. I was able to do that that way. Since then, he’s become much more aggressive. He worked on his serve. When I played him in ’05, he served over 90% to my backhand. He was looking to hit that clay court serve where he hits it to the player’s weakest side instead of using it as a weapon.
We saw this year at the US Open how easily he held serve. His serve is much more of a weapon than it was.
I also remember specifically, I had never even hit with him before I played him, the first couple balls in warmup, he hit the ball so heavy, I actually thought I was in trouble from the start. Once the match started, he was hitting the ball shorter and playing with a lot of margin and not being as aggressive. That to me gave me the opportunity to play my game.
As I’ve seen him now and practiced with him much more recently, that guy is gone. He’s so much more effective with being aggressive, with taking his game and imposing it on me, like I said, being more effective with his serve. He’s still one of the best movers, moves so well side to side.
He actually has improved his volleys. He used to be pretty, in my mind, uncomfortable at the net. Now he looks comfortable. He’s not going to be Patrick Rafter at any time. He gets up there, looks comfortable, feels okay up there, can finish points at the net.
I think he’s improved everything he needs to to be aggressive and still keep the game that got him to be the best clay courter in the world, too.
ANDRE AGASSI: That was a hell of a breakdown of his game. The only thing I could add to it is my impression of him the first time I played him, I didn’t have the luxury of James’ speed. The one thing I knew I had to do, I just didn’t have it. James had the option.
I used to play lefty clay courters and pound the backhand cross court. They would try to fight it off deep. I would step inside the baseline and just control the point. I did it in the Canadian Open final the first point we played. Everything went according to my game plan. The next time I came from backhand cross court to his forehand, he went so high and so short, in order for me to do anything, I had to commit so far in the court, I was exposed on the next shot. I hit that shot. He came in, made an adjustment, hit it at my feet, laughed at me when I tried to make the volley. The next thing I knew, there’s no chance against this guy unless you have the ability to move exceptionally well, get up in the court, get back, or like James does so well, which is get around that short ball no matter where it’s bouncing and jump on the forehand knowing he has all that real estate he can cover if he doesn’t hit the forehand exactly the way he wants.
Nadal went from a guy that maybe I had a chance against that year, right surface, right circumstance, to a guy I see from my couch that I’m pleased to be watching from my couch.
Q. If you look at the guys under 24, Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Janowicz, who do you think has the hugest upside?
ANDRE AGASSI: James has played them.
JAMES BLAKE: I played all those guys. I didn’t play Dimitrov. I practiced with him plenty, though.
I would say Dimitrov has a ton of talent. Raonic, that serve, that’s the most uncomfortable to play. Out of those four guys, I’d least like to play Raonic because of that serve. It takes you out of your rhythm, which I know it sounds weird for me to say, because I do that with my forehand, try to get them out of their rhythm. He definitely makes it so you don’t feel comfortable. It could be a set and 3 all in the second set, you don’t feel you’re into the match because he’s won so many free points off his serve, he’s missed a lot of balls on the return game, and he hasn’t given you anything to really feel like you’re into the match. That to me makes it uncomfortable.
Janowicz is a little bit the same. He really hits the ball hard and flat. He can make a lot of balls in a row, which can give you some rhythm. I had success against him. I feel like he kind of sticks to patterns a little bit. I just happened to be playing well that day.
Nishikori I think is continuing to improve. It’s a tougher battle for him because he’s not a big guy. That’s another thing that’s changed about the tour, is guys have gotten so much bigger. I think it’s tough for him to compete against really big guys, even though he hits the ball better than a lot of them, moves better than a lot of them. It’s tougher for him to stay healthy and compete with the big boys.
Dimitrov, practiced with him a lot. I think he has a huge upside. If he stays healthy, he has a live arm, huge serve, even though he’s not one of the huge guys, 6’6″, 6’7″. He moves well. Looks like he’s comfortable hitting any shot. Just a matter for him of putting it all together.
If I had to say one guy that the game actually excites me, it’s did Dimitrov. Raonic is the most uncomfortable to play, but I don’t get quite excited watching a guy serve 25 aces and win a match 6 6.
ANDRE AGASSI: It’s funny you say that because when I watched Federer play Pete for the first time at Wimbledon, I said, There’s no way he’s going to beat Pete. You can’t play like Pete and beat Pete. He was too similar to Pete to beat him. Obviously as I was wrong with Pete. He’s gone down as one of the greats ever.
I look at Dimitrov, and I think, You can’t play like Federer and be better than him. I’ve seen it before. He excites me, as well.
JAMES BLAKE: Exactly.
RANDY WALKER: Andre, you’re playing on Thursday, February 20th in Houston. Can you talk about your past experiences in Houston. You played at the clay courts many years, also the year end championships.
ANDRE AGASSI: I really enjoy Houston for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the relationships I had there. The McIngvales were not just big supporters of my foundation, they were a huge asset to the sport of tennis. I think it’s one of the great crimes that we haven’t nurtured them more profoundly in our sport because they were really making a difference with our game.
There’s so many tennis enthusiasts in Houston. The standard of club players there, it’s very high. The education in the sport is very high. You felt it from a fans’ perspective with them watching you.
Clay was never something I looked forward to playing on at that stage in my life. Going there and playing on clay wasn’t ideal for me. But when I played the World Championships there on the hard courts, it was one of the great experiences in the World Championships that I’d ever been through.
Three set matches to make it to the semis, having two match points on Federer in the third set breaker, beating Ferrer in three, beating Nalbandian in three, coming back and beating Schuettler in three on Saturday, only to have to face Federer again in the final.
It was a great week of tennis. It will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of reasons heading back there.
Q. Could you share with me who your tennis heroes were when you were kids.
JIM COURIER: My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport. I wasn’t allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior in my house. I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero. That was my guy.
ANDRE AGASSI: I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well. He was easy to like, easy to root for. I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody’s game. I did that with Bjorn. I did that with John. I did that with Jimmy. But Bjorn, when it was head to head, it was easy for me to root for him.
I didn’t like Mack and Connors because of certain behavioral things. As I got older, I learned to like Mack.
JAMES BLAKE: I actually had a few. I kind of picked out different reasons for them. Arthur Ashe I learned about as I got older. He wasn’t in the generation I was growing up watching. Everything I learned about him made me respect him so much more and idolize him for his education, values, his humanitarian efforts inside and outside of the game.
I would say the two guys I grew up watching and finding certain things I enjoyed were actually ones on this call, Jim Courier for the work ethic. When I was a kid, everybody talked about his work ethic. You could see when he stepped on the court he felt like he out worked his opponent. That was something I looked up to and tried to emulate.
The other was Mats Wilander, a guy who in my opinion showed a ton of restraint. I know obviously to get to the level you’re at, the competitive fires are always going, and I was a bit of a brat as a kid. I watched Mats competing in the highest of highs of the competition, keeping his cool in every situation. To me that was the most impressive thing I could see because I had no idea how to do that at 14 years old. I’m still trying to learn how he was that cool under pressure at all times.
I got little things from each person and tried to emulate all of them. Failed miserably at all of them, but did my best.
Q. Jim, the day before the ’91 French Open final, you said of Andre, We don’t spend any time together and in the past we didn’t even speak to each other. Could you and Andre tell us what your rivalry and your relationship was like in the early ’90s. Did you want to beat each other more than anyone else?
ANDRE AGASSI: Our relationship was strictly platonic.
JIM COURIER: Andre and I grew up playing together and against each other at Bollettieri’s. From my perspective, I was fighting for attention down at Bollettieri’s. I took exception to Nick prioritizing Andre, as he should have done. In my adult years now looking back on it, I totally understand it. Obviously I get it at a new dimension now than when I was in the heat of battle back then.
I used what I thought was a slight from Nick Bollettieri to fuel my fire in whatever circumstances I needed to be in. Andre and I, he was the guy in our generation that got up to the top first, and Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and myself were all trying to keep up. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in competition with him for major titles in my 20s.
At that time in my perspective I drifted further away from all of those Americans that I was competing against almost out of necessity to be able to hold down the emotions of the moment. We’re all trying to take each other’s lunch money at that point in time. The thing we care about most is what we were fighting for.
It’s hard to separate what you know to be true, which is these are good guys you’ve known since you were a kid playing tennis. There was nothing caustic necessarily about it. It’s more a function of what you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve obviously gone on and become full fledged adults, are not in as serious of competition, I think we’ve been able to put it in proper perspective. I certainly have. I’m closer to Andre than I am to anyone else in my generation. We probably spend more time together as a result of that on and off the court.
There were certainly times when I looked across the net and I wanted to beat him as badly as I wanted to do anything in my life. I’m guessing, and he’s about to tell me, that was the way he felt, too. Andre, too, was also always the better player as we were growing up.
Andre, you’re surprised that I was even on the other side of the net in the big moments.
ANDRE AGASSI: I remember we grew up competing against each other, 11, 12 years old, Jim was always a good draw in about the second round. It wasn’t until three years later that I realized, because he played a bunch of different sports, and tennis is just a quarter of his season. When he put his full attention to tennis, his rate of improvement spoke to his talent and athleticism.
I simply was a guy that wasn’t easy to like if you were around me in the teenage years, nor did I feel Jim liked me, and I didn’t like anybody that didn’t like me, I didn’t like them. I feel my own sensibilities were skewed during those years.
When you step onto the world stage, you’re playing against somebody for titles and dreams, it doesn’t serve you to expose yourself to a friendship, let somebody understand what makes you tick, what’s really going on inside. I certainly had a lot of weaknesses that I felt the need to hide, even from myself.
But going through all that, I think we found ourselves with a deep respect of both our work ethics and our abilities and the way we handled our own survival. Today I think we respect one another for not just those things but also for a real deep sense of loyalty, not just to one another, but also to the people in our lives.
It’s been a full circle relationship, one I think that speaks most comprehensively, at least in the hub of my life, to how far somebody can travel in any given journey.
RANDY WALKER: Jim, we had some folks on the phone from Alabama. If you could talk about the field that’s going to be there. Andy will be making his debut there, played a big Davis Cup match against Switzerland. John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis are in that field.
JIM COURIER: I attended the Davis Cup match that James played as well with Andy and with the Bryan brothers against the Swiss a few years back. It was an absolutely packed crowd, completely enthusiastic. I’ve never had a chance to play in Birmingham. For me, this is going to be very exciting to get to go down there and be on the court instead of in the stands which I was for the entire weekend when I proudly watched our American team take the Swiss out.
Welcoming Andy onto the tour, a place that he obviously is going to carry fond memories into the battle there, I think it’s going to be a great way for him to get started. That’s going to be a pretty fiery night. Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick would most likely play there, and I will play John McEnroe. You can look for some fiery matches on all levels there.
Q. A question about the ATP World Tour Finals. Who do you think will be the final three to qualify? Regarding the event itself, do you think it should go back to a rotating locations like it did with the Masters Cup or do you think London is a great spot for it?
ANDRE AGASSI: I have no idea who is in contention for the spots. I can’t help you there.
Do I think it should rotate? It seems to me from a distance, maybe James could tell you the turnout is remarkable. I think the top eight deserve that kind of platform. I love what I’ve seen there. I think this event would be big in any part of the world, but they’ve certainly earned the right to at least keep it in the short term.
It reminds me of the days it was at the Garden, a remarkable venue that always turned out a full stadium. It felt like you were in a prime time fight. That’s the way it appears to me in London.
I haven’t seen anything close to Madison Square Garden since we left there.
JAMES BLAKE: I agree with Andre about it. They’ve earned the right to keep it in the short term. I didn’t get to play in London, but I’ve seen the crowds. I’ve heard from the guys that it’s an amazing venue. As long as the guys are happy and the fans are happy, they’ve definitely earned the right to keep it in the short term.
As far as the five through eight, six through eight, the last three guys, I don’t know exactly who has qualified already, but I’m guessing Berdych, Wawrinka will probably qualify. As I said earlier, Raonic was always uncomfortable for me to play. I think he’s got a good chance to qualify. I’m not sure the other guys in contention, probably Tsonga, Gasquet.
JIM COURIER: Federer.
JAMES BLAKE: Federer hasn’t qualified yet?
JIM COURIER: No.
JAMES BLAKE: Then I’ll take him. Just about any time, I’ll take him.
JIM COURIER: The top three guys right now that look like they’re going to qualify are Federer, Wawrinka and Gasquet. They’re the next three guys in. But I think Tsonga playing at home also in Paris next week, I think he has a really good chance to qualify. It’s going to take a lot for Raonic to get in. But one good week is worth 1000 points. A lot can change. Certainly indoors looks pretty good for somebody like that. Even Tommy Haas, if he were to sprint out in Paris, he could make it. It will be an interesting week next week for sure.
RANDY WALKER: Everybody, thank you for participating in our call today. I want to thank Andre, James and Jim for their time and great answers today. Appreciate all the media for calling in. We appreciate the attention to the PowerShares Series. We invite you to go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com for all the event, venue, player fields and ticket information.
The time has come! While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.
10. The Newcomers
It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group. For Japan it’s been 27. In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns. Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.
In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend. To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.
8. Russian Roulette
The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover. Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player. Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place. Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder. All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.
7. Veterans Day
Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others. Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.
6. The Battle of the Misfits
One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan. The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine. It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.
5. Tommy Haas
Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we? Let’s just sit back and enjoy.
4. The Other Groups
Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means). Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko). You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.
3. The New Heroes
Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes. Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players. Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.
2. Double Trouble
Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different. This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.
1. The Cheerleaders
Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis. It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us. Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.
There have been plenty of opinions voiced lately by players, media and fans alike about how the men’s ATP tour calendar needs to change and what can be done to alleviate the tension felt between players, tournaments, and sponsors. And now we can add two more players’ thoughts to the mix: legend Pete Sampras and current Davis Cup captain Jim Courier.
The most recent verbal outpouring on the topic resurfaced at the U.S. Open where players such as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal expressed concern over scheduling woes and even threatened to strike. There have been talks of a possible players’ union to address their issues, but will any party ever be fully happy with a deal? It’s an endless argument that has only brought minimal change in the past and on a time scale that moves very slowly. It has taken several years to finally move the ATP World Tour Finals to two weeks earlier in the calendar (starting with next year), but is that really enough to quiet the conflict?
Ideas such as decreasing the number of mandatory events for players, introducing a second off-season after Wimbledon, and players simply needing to be better managers of their own tournament scheduling have all emerged as an attempt to solve this problem. But what do past players who have fought these same battles in their time believe? I had a chance to chat with Pete Sampras and Jim Courier last Friday during the Washington, D.C. stop of the Champions Series and got their opinions on the matter.
Romana Cvitkovic: “Recently, a few players have vocalized their desire to form a players’ union. What is your take on the situation and do you think it could change the sport?”
Pete Sampras: “I don’t know if it will change the sport. I think if the players want to get things done, they all have to get in the same room, the top ten guys, they all agree upon one thing, and they walk out of that room with a definite decision, that’s the only way things will get done. Everyone is complaining about the schedule. In Davis Cup, even when I was playing and before, [the scheduling] didn’t work, we complained about it, but nothing really got done. If the top ten guys agreed upon one thing, like on the schedule of the U.S. Open with the Saturday semifinals and Sunday finals, they could change that if they wanted to. The top guys have so much power, they have all the power. It’s a name-driven sport. If Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Federer don’t play something, or threaten to do something, it will get done, trust me. I know these promoters, they want [these players’] names [in their tournaments].”
In reference to the same question, Courier commented on how players have an influence on the development of the sport, especially with the forthcoming appointment of a new CEO for the ATP men’s tour.
Jim Courier: “I think we’re in for an interesting time period in the next few months because the players’ association, which I was a member of, changed into a union between the tournaments and the players. So ‘union’ is maybe not the right word, ‘association’ may not be the proper word here for the players to form, to have more of a unified voice, because right now they are in a joint venture with the tournaments. So they are in a 50/50 partnership as opposed to having full representation. And there’s a new CEO that is going to be announced at some stage here in the coming months, for the ATP, and [the players] can influence his mandate. Because they are the ones who are hiring him; he is working for them. But if [the players] want to make some impact, now is the time. And we’ll see. But let’s be clear, that everyone in this sport, since Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith fought for Open tennis, we’ve all been overpaid, grossly overpaid, for what we do. So let’s be clear that this not a pity party, but I don’t think that player representation is necessarily a bad thing.”
Courier elaborated with an interesting transition to today’s game, the heavy physicality of the sport, and how we should preserve our players.
Jim Courier: “But there are probably some things that could create longevity for the players which would benefit everyone. I played Jimmy Connors last night and there is so much appreciation and love for Jimmy. Jimmy lasted so long on the ATP circuit. And there’s Andre [Agassi] – he lasted so long, played until he was 35. If you could extend the careers of Serena [Williams], and you could extend Roger [Federer], and you can extend Rafa [Nadal], these brand names, it would help the sport. Tennis doesn’t have the Capitals, the Redskins. Those don’t exist in tennis. You don’t have people who were born an Andre Agassi fan, and their kids will be Agassi fans and their grandkids. You don’t have that legacy; you have to build it every time with players. So, the longer you can have those players be in the sport, the healthier and the better it is for the sport. That’s really where the focus needs to be. It’s not about the immediacy of ‘we want this’ or ‘we want that because we need immediate gain.’ In my view, it’s the long view of how do we make the sport better for the players and therefore better for the fans and for everyone that surrounds the sport. And the off-season is a no-brainer, it needs to happen, but we’ve been saying that for thirty years and it hasn’t happened.”
Courier concluded by remarking on today’s players having “arguably more” respect for the game than his generation of players, particularly with the current struggles.
Jim Courier: “If you look at players on the men’s side and their sense of responsibility for the sport, I think we’re seeing [this respect] right now, with what they’ve been discussing with players getting a little more representation … When you look at Andy Roddick and these other players standing up, understanding that they’re lucky and wanting to protect the sport, and also protect themselves at the same time. I think we’re in a golden era of tennis.”
(For my USA Today piece on the Champions Series, please go here.)
Serena Williams takes hard fought victory, Radwanska wins versus Petkovic while Stosur edges Vinci – A Rogers Cup quarterfinals wrap up
With both the men’s and women’s tournaments running simultaneously in Canada this year, members of the media had to make some big decisions about how to cover this virtually combined event for the first time.
I had planned ahead of time to do the first half in Montreal watching the men and then to transition to Toronto to catch the women finish things off and also take-in the Legends tournament with Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Jim Courier and John McEnroe. I just arrived in Toronto today in time to see the four quarter-final matches and it took a few matches before the level of play picked-up.
Sam Stosur took out surprise quarter-finalist Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-4, 6-1 in the opening match of the day. It was the end of a good run by Vinci who knocked off some serious competition in Yanina Wickmayer, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic one after another. Vinci’s loss brings an end to the blog she was keeping while here in Toronto.
In the second match of the day, fourth seeded Victoria Azarenka had no trouble in dispatching qualifier Galina Voskoboeva with ease by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Azarenka was doing her best impression as the tournament favorite. She raced out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back. Whatever Voskoboeva had going for her they day before against Maria Sharapova was no longer in effect. She looked like a shell of what she brought on court Thursday.
In a mid-afternoon match, 11th seed Andrea Petkovic took on 13th seed Agnieska Radwanska. The pair played a semi-final match last week in Carlsbad where Radwanska prevailed in three sets. Despite bringing more fire-power onto the court, Petkovic made a few too many unforced errors while Radwanska played a very consistent and balanced game. The lack of power in her game did nothing to prevent her from prolonging the rallies and waiting forPetkovic to make a mistake. Radwanksa would win by a routine 6-3, 6-4 final score. She has now won 9 consecutive matches and joked on court after the match that she was trying to emulate Novak Djokovic’s streak from earlier in the year.
Petkovic seemed pretty relaxed after the match and was upbeat with the media in her press conference. Despite the fact that she is now 0-4 against Radwanska in her career she had the following to say:
“Well, actually, I really enjoy playing her, because I always think it’s a good match to watch for the audience.”
In assessing her strategy Petkovic said that, “…today I just felt like, I don’t know, I needed to overpower her, which was the wrong approach.”
Radwanska meanwhile just seems content to approach the top ten but doesn’t strike me as having the killer-instinct necessary to actually contend for a Grand Slam championship.
In the evening match Serena Williams was up against Lucie Safarova. Tennis fans were finally treated to some drama in this one as the match would go the distance. From the get-go it was apparent that Safarova was not simply going to roll-over or submit to nerves as some other Serena opponents have done this week. See Bondarenko, Alona for evidence of the above. Safarova played with tons of confidence and would break to go up 4-3. Later, she easily held her final service game of the first set at love to take it 6-4.
Serena refused to quit, which should come as no surprise. Her game began to find the mark and she started to find some incredible angles on the court. Safarova was still giving it her all and both players applauded each other on more than one occasion. The display of sportsmanship was appreciated by the Toronto crowd.
Serena would break to go up 3-1 and never looked back. She would take the second set as well as the third to win the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
You gotta hand it to the American, she has the drive of a true champion. When asked if she was exceeding her expectations so far during her come-back she did not hesitate to respond, “I was hoping to win Wimbledon, so no, I’m not exceeding my expectations.”
She was in a pretty positive mood overall and joked with the media on several topics including her fitness level: “I’m still not super fit, because I always have cream sodas at night.” And also her thoughts on turning 30 in September: “No, Baby, I’m 26. I’m turning 27 this year.”
The semi-finals are now set for Saturday. Sam Stosur will first take-on Agnieska Radwanska in the daytime match. At night, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka will meet. The winner of the late match won’t have as much time to recover for Sunday, but which ever player wins between those two will certainly be considered the favorite.
Legends Michael Chang and John McEnroe will meet before the first semi and Andre Agassi will face Jim Courier after the second one. A great day of tennis is on deck. Stay tuned for more coverage here at Tennis Grandstand.
Photos credit by © Bob McIntyre
By Thomas Swick
For my first match of the day Friday – Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Barbara Zahlavova Strycova – I found a shady spot in the top row of Court 1. Two young women in hats, Louise and Helen, told me that they’d come from Salisbury, England. Soon a middle-aged woman in a pink hat jointed us; Gillian was also English, from Milton Keynes. What were the odds? Then Gillian helped explain it: “It’s a lovely time of year to leave England.” O, to not be in England now that March is there.
I asked them what they thought of Andy Murray.
“I’m very disappointed in him,” said Gillian.
“He moans too much,” said Louise. “He’s a sulker.”
I told her of the British woman I’d seen the day before who had asked to see the trainer.
“Moaner,” said Louise.
“What is it with you Brits?” I asked.
Soon I said goodbye to the ladies (hope they didn’t sulk) and went over to the other side to see who had unfurled the Polish flag. It was a couple from Vancouver, formerly of Wroclaw.
On my way out – Radwanska looked to be in control – one of the volunteers asked me how I was handling the heat. He was from Colorado, and told of using a snow blower to clear the court so he could play tennis.
“Your club has a snow blower?” I asked.
“One of the guys does. They play when it’s 35 degrees out. I don’t. I wait till it gets up to 40, 45.”
I wandered over to the stadium and watched the Soderling-Dodig match from the press area. After losing the third game of the third set, Soderling slammed his racket to the ground, eliciting a roar from the crowd that carried a mix of censure and approval, outrage and delight. Finally the cool retriever of balls hit at stupendous velocity did something that everyone in the audience could relate to.
Bud Collins came out and sat two seats away from me. He was dressed in a purple shirt and pants with stripes in red, yellow, orange and purple. “Two holds from glory,” he said as Dodig readied to serve. At break point in his next service game, after he had lost the previous one, Collins said: “This is the point of his life.” It was like watching a baseball game next to Vin Scully.
“The male players have discovered towels,” Collins commented rather critically.
He asked me if I knew if they used different balls for the women than for the men. The man who wrote the book on tennis, literally, was asking me a tennis question. “Somebody asked me that yesterday and I said I’d find out for him.” I told him I didn’t have a clue.
Then he said that he had been talking to Billie Jean King not too long ago and she had told him that there are too many players, that the tournaments should be just the top 16, because they’re the only ones people want to see.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “you’ve been out in the boonies. That’s good.”
For lunch I went out to the main food court and ate a pulled pork sandwich with a family from Chicago. The older son was an early teen and a big Nadal fan. I said I was going to a press conference with Nadal at 4:30 and asked the boy if he had a question for him.
“Yea. Ask him what shampoo he uses. His hair is always very silky.”
His little brother said: “Ask him if he prefers a hat or a bandana.”
Their mother said: “I’d ask him if he has trouble buying suits because of his asymmetrical arms.”
The father noted that Rod Laver’s left arm was always noticeably bigger than his right, but it had been the forearm that bulged; today with players it’s the biceps. “It shows how the game has changed,” he said.
I didn’t ask Nadal anything, but the reporter who’d asked Federer what he loved about tennis was back with the same question. (Perhaps he’s working on a book. Or a tweet.)
“I love the competition,” Nadal answered almost immediately. He later said that he’s happy with Facebook and doesn’t have any plans to join Twitter.
Outside again and seeking shade, I chatted to a tour supervisor who had started as a chair umpire. After about five minutes I realized that I had found the right man.
“Do the women play with different balls than the men?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “The men use extra duty, the women regular duty.”
At Court 10 a small group stood watching Nadia Petrova and her doubles partner Liezel Huber hit with their coaches. A man leaning against the fence wore a T-shirt with a hand-written message on the back: “HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR ELIZABETH WARREN I LIKE AND RESPECT YOU SO MUCH. I HOPE 1 DAY YOU BECOME PRESIDENT. YOU’RE HONEST, PASSIONATE, COMPASSIONATE AND PRACTICAL.”
When the man turned around, I saw that the front of the shirt had writing as well: “MY 2011 WISH: ME AND ALISON RISKE PLAYING TENNIS. ALISON RISKE ♥.
It’s not often that you see the names Elizabeth Warren and Alison Riske together, let alone on a T-shirt.
A woman stood nearby with her young daughter, who held a midsize tennis ball.
“What autographs did you get?” I asked her.
“Old school today,” the mother said. “Jim Courier. Ivan Lendl.”
“In the players’ lounge,” she said, then pointed to the red-headed man playing with Petrova. “He’s my nephew.”
Walking past the main stage I found a little carnival: a small band of Brazilian musicians and four samba dancers creating their own heat.
Before the evening match, about 40 players appeared on court, all dressed identically in red T-shirts emblazed with the Japanese flag. Then they spread out through the stands, collecting money for relief in sliced open melon-sized tennis balls. Unfortunately, because of Miamians disdain for punctuality, over half the seats were empty. The tournament organizers should have taken a cue from the Catholic Church, and had the offertory in the middle of the second set.