Transcript of Courier and Fernandez News Conference on Davis Cup and Fed Cup
December 05, 2012U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez
TIM CURRY: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today with U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe
The U.S. Davis Cup will host Brazil in the first round of the 2013 competition February 1st through 3rd, also known as Super Bowl weekend, in Jacksonville. Tickets go on sale to the public on Friday. This year, the U.S. played all three Davis Cup ties on the road, posting impressive wins over a Roger Federer-led Swiss team and a strong French team in Monte-Carlo before losing to Spain in the semifinals.
The U.S. Fed Cup starts its 2013 campaign on the road against Italy, February 9th and 10th, after sweeping Belarus and Ukraine to earn a place back in the World Group following a one-year absence. Mary Joe was also the women's coach for the U.S. the Olympic team, which swept the gold medal in women's singles and doubles, and in men's doubles with the Bryans. We'll take questions at this time.
Q. Mary Joe, I believe one of the more promising young Americans, Taylor Townsend, just turned pro this week. I was wondering what you thought of that move by her, sort of her relationship with the USTA as she turns pro and moves away from the junior ranks.
I think it's exciting news. I think they just announced it a couple days ago. I've been following Taylor's junior career the last couple years and it's been pretty impressive.
She's going to be playing this week at the Orange Bowl to try to secure the year-end No. 1 ranking with the ITF, which will be the first time an American has done that in a long time. She's talented. Lefty, a lot of ability. Likes to come forward, which is so nice to see.
As to the relationship with the USTA, I'm probably not the best person to talk about that. But from what I know she trains with Kathy Rinaldi at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton. I think that's all good. She's received a lot of support.
We're all really excited for her. I think she's got a very bright future.
Q. Jim, you made some comments a few weeks ago about changes you would like to see happen to Davis Cup. First and foremost, do you think it should be every other year as a lot of people have suggested, with the
way Ryder Cup is for golf?
It's something that I've spoken pretty at length about. I'm on the record as to what my thoughts are for what change should come.
But the ITF is in control of this event. Obviously, it's not a USTA-operated event; it's not a Jim Courier-operated event.
I'm very passionate about Davis Cup and I'd love to see it get equal to the other majors.
There are lots of different thoughts out there about how to get there. But given that it takes up four weeks on the calendar, I'd love to see it make a
little bit more sense for the players, I'd love to see it make a lot more money for the ITF so they can do their good work spreading the gospel of tennis
around the world.
Right now I don't think it does quite as much as what it could in comparison to what the four majors do.
You can look up what I said. I don't want to rehash the model that many of us proposed because it will take us a little bit of time to go through it.
Q. I'm going to ask you both a generic question. Talk about your teams, what your realistic expectations are for Davis Cup and Fed Cup next year. Maybe you could give me a breakdown of some of the players you're familiar with, what are realistic expectations of those players next year. Mary Joe, maybe you can put Serena aside. But, Jim, maybe you can talk about John Isner, Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison, maybe even Donald Young.
Normally we go ladies first, but...
Go ahead, Jim.
We're excited about 2013 as a team. We're proud of what 2012 ended up being for us given how challenging the draw was.
We've earned some home ties this year, which we're really looking forward to, assuming we win our first one.
We have Brazil, which will be challenging. They certainly are not walkovers and we'll be ready to play when we get to Jacksonville the first week of February.
From our team standpoint, I think what we saw in Spain is probably the nucleus of what our team will be for the next couple of ties unless we
see Mardy Fish back out there feeling good. Obviously his tennis, when he last left off, was excellent. He made the Round of 16 at the US Open, had played well through the summer. If he can get his physical challenges taken care of, he'll be a big part of what happens with our team going forward.
Isner, with Querrey, with the Bryans, I think that's likely what we'll be looking at early on until Mardy Fish gets back up and running. You look down the list of our players, you have Brian Baker, who had a 'coming out' party this year, a little late in the age department, but certainly played some great tennis. Ryan Harrison was a big piece of what we did this year as a team.Then you can start looking towards some of the younger players or less experienced players, Donald Young, Jr., I'm hoping he can turn it around
and get back to where he rightfully belongs talent-wise in the top 50.
You have some other guys coming out there with Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Jack Sock, some others, that can be a part of what we do going forward, but they have a lot of work ahead of them and hopefully they'll be doing that.
Q. Isner had some great moments this year, especially playing for you. Then he also had some tough moments. What do you expect from him next year? Can he be a slam contender?
I think if John has the kind of off-season that he should have, if he does all the right things, John is one of those players that can really upset the apple cart. We had this conference call this time last year, and I'll be echoing what I said, which he is the most disruptive force in men's tennis when he is on his game. I think he saw clearly this year that he has capabilities to beat the top players, because he did so. I think we also saw some physical limitations, which Craig addressed with him, I addressed with him, I think his new coach will be addressing with him, as well, that can certainly be easily corrected with the proper work and diligence.
I've had lengthy discussions with him about his schedule. He knows what he needs to do. We'll see if he's able to actually do it. He really is one of those few guys that you can look at and say, he could win a major. As thick as this era is at the top, he's one of the guys that none of the top four players wants to see in his section of the draw.
Q. I'm sure you were encouraged how Querrey established himself this year. But Harrison had an up-and-down year. I realize he's young. I would think maybe 2013 would be a pretty big year for him.
One would hope. He made significant strides in the off-season in 2011 in preparation for 2012 physically. He became a much more complete athlete, which I think has set the table for him now becoming a more complete tennis player. He had growing pains, which all young players go through. I'm hoping that 2013 is going to be a breakthrough year for him. Sometimes all it takes is one tournament to turn the direction of
This year in 2012 he had some unfortunate draws in majors, had some difficult competition in early rounds, and wasn't really able to punch
through. I think next year hopefully he'll get a little bit of a break in some of the bigger tournaments and get some momentum. All it takes is one
tournament, from my experience, to change your belief as a tennis player. Ryan has some work ahead of him for sure, but we know he has upside.
Q. Mary Joe, you have a real easy tie coming up.
Nothing like starting off with a bang with Italy (laughter).
Obviously, it is going to be challenging. We're also very happy that we got back in the World Group this season. It feels like we played ages ago. Our last tie was in April in Ukraine. 10-0, so that was a really solid season. All the girls played well and worked extremely hard.
As of now, we're looking at Serena. She's so far said yes, she wants to go. Venus, if healthy, wants to go. I'm happy with the progress we've seen from Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens. Both in the top 40 now. Sloane had a breakthrough season. We've seen her ability. She's getting mentally tougher, playing to her strengths much more. Varvara Lepchenko to me was such a surprise to see her get so much out of her game and how hard she works. She's ranked right behind Serena, ranked behind Serena at 21. She's a fighter. We have a good group that can play on different surfaces, that are excited to play Fed Cup.
Hopefully we can get through Italy. It's not going to be easy with the depth and variety that they have on their team. But obviously looking to be confident and hopefully get through that. But below those girls, you still have Vania King who is in the top 100, who is always not only good in singles but very good in doubles. I'm happy with Jamie Hampton's progress. I thought she had a very good season, first season she finished in the top 100. She has a lot of ability. She's starting to figure out her strengths and play to them a lot better.
So excited for Melanie Oudin that she's done well at the end of the year here. After winning in Birmingham, got herself back in the top 100. I'm hoping she's going to be back in our group. Her enthusiasm, what she brings to the
table is phenomenal.
We have the young ones, Madison Keys has won a couple tournaments. She's only 17. I look to her to make some strides this year. CoCo Vandeweghe is in the back 100. Hopefully she's going to have a consistent year.
Lauren Davis surprised me a bit by breaking into the top 100. I think I can put her with Melanie. These are two players that aren't that tall or strong,
but have great work ethic and get the most out of their game. Mentally I think because they're so strong, they can crack the top 50, for sure.
Q. Serena and Venus are obviously known quantities to most of the world. Sloane and Christina finished the year in the top 40, very young. What do you see out of them next year? Would you be surprised to see them reach a slam quarter or semi?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think to me the most important thing is how much they want it. I've always seen that desire from Christina McHale, her
work ethic, how hard she trains. This year is when I saw hit from Sloane. I think she is training the right way, mentally she is getting more focused,
she's sustaining her level for longer periods when she plays.
They're both very different, different styles of game. You're always going to have a little bit more stability with Christina, how she plays. There's much more upside from Sloane in the way she can create power, variety, the way she moves. I do expect them hopefully to go another step this year and make it to the quarterfinals of a major. They've both had big wins, and that helps a
ton. Next goal is top 20 and we'll go from there.
Q. I'd like you both to break down your opponents a little bit. Jim, when you think of Brazil, two words come into play: talent and
dangerous. Mary Joe, the same with Italy, how good they are at singles and doubles.
Ladies first this time (laughter).
Well, it's funny. We played Italy in two finals. At that time it was Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta who led the charge. They had contrasting game styles, but very effective on every surface. They translated their game well to every surface.
The top two now are Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Errani had her breakthrough season this year getting to the finals of the French, then did so well at the US Open. In doubles you have Vinci and Errani as the No. 1 team. Errani is more of a counter-puncher, but she can create. She's looking to hit her forehand with heavy spin. She's very quick. She sort of doesn't have a huge serve but it doesn't really matter because she's so quick. She plays clay court tennis but can translate it onto a hard court.
We're going to play indoor clay court, so hopefully it won't be too slow.
But Vinci is very different from Errani. She likes to come in. A little bit old school in her technique, style. Has a great and beautiful one-handed backhand that she slices, can chip and charge, and I think has the best volleys in the women's game. Great technique.
The good thing from my perspective is that they're players that don't blow you off the court. You can really play against them and you're going to have time. But I guess the downside is how tough they are mentally, how they really, every time they get on the court, have a purpose and play the right way.
It will be challenging. Doubles-wise, I think they won the French and the US Open, they've proven how tough they are. So there's a lot of depth. It's going to be interesting and we're going to give it our best.
From the Brazilian standpoint, they're led by Thomaz Bellucci, lefty, ranked No. 33 in the world right now. Most of his good results have been on clay, although he did have an outlier result in Moscow at the end of the year, made the fourth round of Indian Wells. He's capable, but he's a guy that likes time. That's something that our team historically is pretty good at taking away from players. All of our singles players have big serves. That's something we'll certainly look to do with Thomaz, is to take time away from him.
Second singles player, interesting to see who they pick. Three guys ranked between 120 and 150 in the world, between Dutra da Silva, Alvez and Souza. We are really not sure who we're going to get from that standpoint.
My understanding of those guys is they're primarily clay court players, as well, for the most part. We're obviously going to tailor the court to our team and use the home surface advantage as much as possible.
Definitely the doubles team Melo/Soares is a veteran team, one of the better Davis Cup doubles squads around that plays a lot through the year. Bob and Mike Bryan have a lot of experience against them. They've played them several times and lost to them I believe a couple of times as well. There won't be a lot of surprises I don't expect in the doubles court.
But for the average tennis fan, you may not know much about these players, but from our standpoint obviously we respect them and we've played many ties against players who rise to the occasion. Both as a player and captain, I've seen that happen. So we'll be ready for them.
This will be the first time in a while that we've been a favorite, probably since Chile in 2011. But we won't take anything for granted.
We'll be coming in ready to play ball.
Q. Sorry to change subjects a little bit. I'm covering the Orange Bowl. Both of you won this. I'm wondering if we've seen the end of teen phenoms in tennis. We don't see teenagers winning at slams anymore. Is this the end of the teenage era?
I hope not. It's true that when Jim and I were playing, there was a lot of depth with the teenagers. They did break through and go on to do big things on the professional level. But it has become more physical. It's become a lot tougher to break through when you're that young.
So we're seeing on both sides, but with the women, the players are developing more as tennis players and experience is playing a big role in their results at a later age. It's good to see, as well. I definitely would love to see someone young break through, but I definitely think it's getting more difficult physically on both the men's and women's side to be able to do that.
I'll echo MJ's comment about the physicality of the game, how that's changed a little bit, the trajectory of the teenagers. I will say unequivocally if we get a superstar, they're going to break through. We have not seen the last of teenagers winning majors in tennis.
We all mimic what we see on television.
The younger players growing up now will be mimicking what they see on television. They'll be moving the way we see players move, the way Kim
Clijsters moved, the way Novak Djokovic moves on slow and hard courts.
Maybe you just need an exceptional player, maybe more exceptional than they used to be, to break through, particularly on the women's side where you can mature as a 25-year-old female at the age of 18. I see no limitation there. It's always been a little harder for the boys to become men physically. They just mature physically a little bit later.
Q. Mary Joe, at the Orange Bowl you played the 14s, the 18s. Do you feel like Townsend turning pro should be playing ahead of her age group?
I think it's very individual. For me I went through each age
division. I actually won the 16s the year before at the Orange Bowl.
She just brags the whole time (laughter).
But I think if you have done everything you can in the juniors,
you've accomplished all your goals, have been dominant, there's no reason why not to move forward.
Again, it's individual. I'm a big believer in weighing the pros and the cons to everything. Sometimes I think it's better to wait and develop more as a player, develop more physically before making that jump into pros.
There's a lot of temptation out there. It's not easy. But I think you have to take each case individually to be able to decide whether or not it was the right decision.
Q. Mary Joe, you mentioned that so far you expect the Williams sisters to play Fed Cup in 2013. Can you speak a little bit more on your
conversations with them, specifically about Serena. Did you see signs of maturity in her on and off the court in 2012?
To answer your first part, I've spoken to her a couple times about it. As of now, she says she wants to play. She's spending a lot of time in Europe now, in Paris, where she has an apartment. This is one of the places that she actually was rooting for that we would draw because she loves playing in Italy. I think she sees a challenge. I actually think, from spending the time
with her at Fed Cup and the Olympics last year, she enjoyed being on a team, the camaraderie she developed between the players, being the role
model, having someone like Sloane look up to her and ask her questions. It's not something you get. I also understand her time is very valuable and she
doesn't have every week to be able to devote to Fed Cup. But I think this fits into her schedule. I think if she's healthy, we're going to see her there.
As regards to Venus, with her it's a little tougher because she's managing her condition It's all going to depend on how she's doing. She finished strong at the end of the year winning the one tournament. I don't believe she's playing
anything before Australia, so I think that's going to be the big test, to see how she is in Melbourne.
Q. Been a while since they've played when there's no Olympics coming up.
That is very true. We'll see. Keep our fingers crossed. But I do believe that Serena mentally - we've seen it before, we saw it again in the second half of the season - was mentally and physically superior. I've never seen her play as well as she did at the Olympics start to finish. There were no down spells at all. There was no irregularity in her game. She was very focused and determined. When you get that from her, you see what she can produce. Was pretty impressive to see she even finished the season well after not playing
after the Open and won the Championships. She's going to continue to be the one to beat. Sets the bar really high for everybody else. At 31, it's almost like she's 21 again.
Q. Jim, what do you think the team took out of its two road wins on clay? Is that something that can carry forward to next year? Secondly, the Bryan brothers, any commitment to Davis Cup slowing down, both married, Bob being a father?
No signs of anything but 100% commitment from Bob and Mike Bryan for Davis Cup. They love it. Honestly my personal opinion is when they start to wind down their career, the last thing they will let go of will be Davis Cup as long as they're playing the kind of tennis they're comfortable with. They just love it too much. It's such a showcase for doubles, and they obviously step up to the plate and play well when given the opportunity.
As far as clay goes for our team, I don't think there is a lot of fear in John Isner or Mardy Fish as far as playing clay goes. They both like it. Harkening back to the Andy Roddick era, that was a surface that was a little less comfortable for Andy versus the others.
But for 2012, whenever we stepped onto a clay court, even Ryan Harrison, who stepped in for Mardy last minute in Monte-Carlo, grew up a bunch
playing on clay down at Bollettieri's. If you can slide on the stuff, you can play on it, as long as you don't think you can't. I thought we competed well
on that surface and I don't think it's an obstacle for us at all.
Q. You have both seen a lot of parents in your travels as coaches, players. You had tennis parents. You will be tennis parents. Describe to me the ideal tennis parent and the nightmare tennis parent.
From experience now, I have become a tennis parent. Both my kids
are playing USTA tournaments. I get a little bit nervous. I didn't think I
would, but I get nervous watching and not happy when kids try to bully my kids, or parents get involved.
I don't remember it being quite as intense as it is now. It's very not only competitive, but it just seems like it's gone up so many notches in the
intensity, how parents want to live through their kids. It's the end all, be all.
My daughter is 10, my son is 8. You should see, some of these parents think it's the finals of Wimbledon every time they go out there. I think the ideal tennis parent is someone who makes sure their children are enjoying the
sport, gives them room and space, obviously support and guidance, but aren't on top of them 24/7.
CAPTAIN COURIER: Can I ask a question about your question?
Q. Absolutely. CAPTAIN COURIER:
When you're asking what is an ideal tennis parent, what kind of a result
are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to get a well-rounded human being or a tennis champion?
Q. That's a very good question. I would say both, but somebody who doesn't quit the sport, too.
I think it's hard to get both. I think you'll see just from the history of our sport in this country, which we can speak to, because MJ and I lived it, there are a lot of extreme parents out there that have created some extremely good tennis players. This is a hard sport to try to balance everything with.
There are exceptions. I think Mary Joe and I - I'm very biased when I say this - we turned out to be pretty well-rounded people who have reasonable perspectives. That's not always easy given the complexities of raising a child in a sport that's not a team sport, where everything falls on their shoulders.
If you want to raise a champion, I think history shows you need extreme commitment from the parents. They're not the parents who just watch, they're the parents who watch and are on the court every day. They are the Yuri Sharapovs, Mike Agassis, Richard Williamses of the world who drive and drive and drive.
I'm not saying they're not well-rounded people, they all seem to be well-rounded now, but maybe in the heat of fire maybe they weren't earlier in their career. That question is an onion: you can peel off a lot of different layers and get a lot of different looks at a right answer.
Q. If you are looking at kids who are maybe USTA ranked 30 in their section, is it different for them?
I think it should be.
You're not going to make a living playing tennis if you're 30 in your section. At that stage it's something more about developing character, learning about yourself, creating skill sets and traits that will translate into success in other areas of your life. That's the way I would look at it if I were parenting.
You're 100% right. I look at it from that angle. Just sports in general, how great it is for children to learn characteristics that they're going to need later in life.
But I think so many parents just have this false sense of what their child, the road they're taking, what they can be. You have to start off with the well-roundedness as the principal goal. If you see your child is excelling, then that's the time where I agree with Jim, you do need someone committed.
I always tell everybody, if my dad didn't take me to practice every day or on the weekends, sign me up for tournaments, I would have stayed home and watched cartoons. You do need that commitment and support from a parent. But to me being well-rounded is a lot more important.
The last thing I would add to that from my perspective, too, is there's no blanket you can throw over this and say that this is the way. You're looking for a silver bullet that doesn't exist. Every kid would need something different from their personality. I wish it was easy.
There's a lot of people working for the USTA and other tennis academies out there that are trying to push kids into being champions.
There's no blueprint that you can follow. It has to be done with flexibility based on a personality.
MJ wanted to stay home and watch cartoons. I was begging my parents to take me.
There's two different ways to get to the same place.
Q. Mary Joe, if your kids turned out to be 30 in their section or 50 in their section, would that be okay with you?
That would be phenomenal. Every time I see them play, they played a tournament over Thanksgiving together, I'm so happy. I just can't believe they actually play, hit the ball over the net, play points, tell score, the
That to me is success right there. It is a game of a lifetime, as we've heard many times.
My goal is for them to know the skill so they can do whatever they want with it, whether they play at school or socially, or who knows, maybe their
boyfriend or girlfriend will be a tennis player and that is going to be a big key in their relationship.
Whatever it may be, tennis fulfills a lot. It's been my passion my whole life. It continues to be. I'm just ecstatic they both like it.
Q. Mary Joe, can you talk about how exciting it is this will be the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup. I know you always talk about some of the best memories you have in tennis were playing Fed Cup. To see the kind of support it gets now, Fed Cup finals sold out in minutes, just how far you've seen it come.
It's phenomenal that it is the 50th anniversary. I think they're trying to organize a few festivities to celebrate. I played many years, had great mentors as coaches, starting with Marty Riessen, Billie Jean King, I had
Martina Navratilova for a year. There's just a lot of history that has been passed down, a desire to not just play for yourself but represent your team and country, that was big. It continues to be so for me. It's great. I love that I'm part of it still and continue to be able to help and give back as much
Q. Jim, you touched on this earlier. But speaking of the first home tie for you guys in a while, it will also be the first-ever home tie for John Isner and Sam Querrey, the first time they'll play Davis Cup on something other than
clay. Can you talk about that and how that plays to your team's strengths.
First, I've not announced the team. I want to be clear to everyone that the team probably won't be announced until sometime during the Australian
Open when we're required to announce it.
Hopefully everyone will be healthy and we'll have all options on the table.
Let's take a leap and say if John and Sam are playing, I can tell you they'll be extremely excited. These guys have been on the road for all their ties, as you've mentioned, to have a chance to play at home in a comfortable environment, particularly for John, seeing as he's from the South, seeing as he played college tennis not too far from Jacksonville in Athens, I think he would be especially excited to be in that environment and feel the energy of a crowd behind us as opposed to pushing against us.
So it will be interesting to see whenever that does take place, interesting to see how they react to it, because we won't know until it happens. Those are special moments for players, no question about it.
Q. Jim, this is the first time that Jacksonville has hosted a major men's event.
Obviously it's hosted other tournaments for many years. How important is it for a crowd to be into the match and be supportive of these players? Are you expecting that Jacksonville will have that type of crowd that will be behind
Yes, it is important that the crowd is behind it. One of the beautiful pieces of Davis Cup tennis is the partisan crowd aspect, the atmosphere that's more like a college football game, which I know Jacksonville area fans are well attuned to, given they have the world's largest outdoor cocktail party every fall with Florida/Georgia football. It's that kind of ambience that you're pulling for the United States team that we anticipate and we certainly desire as a team. I think certainly there will be plenty of people in the Jacksonville area that will be present and participating. I think we'll also draw from the
region, as Davis Cup typically does, the tennis and sports fan that want to be part of something that's international in scope and has a different flavor to
a normal tennis event.
If you've never been to Davis Cup, this is like nothing you've ever seen as a tennis fan. I think people are always partisan once they get in there and see that it's okay to scream and shout.
Q. Jim, obviously you still have the fire burning inside you. How do you impart that to your players? Do you need to impart that to your players still?
Same thing for you, Mary Joe.
Kind of along the lines of what we were talking about as far as
parenting goes, different players require different things from a coaching standpoint. I think we also have to keep in mind that all these players have
their day-to-day coaches and teams, and Mary Joe and I are very supplementary to that.
Speaking for myself, working with the Bryan brothers, there's not a whole lot I need to bring to the table. They're super energetic, professional and polished. They're very systematic. They know what they're doing. There's no question marks for me to get in there and say, Hey, you guys want to change this routine. Far be it for me to tell them how to do their job. They're the best at what they do.
For players like John, Sam and Ryan that are still evolving as tennis players, there's a little more interaction and it can vary based on how they absorb information.
Working with Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick, who were more experienced, a little bit more in the Bryan brothers camp, they know exactly what they need, they know where they need to go to get where they're going, there's less information that's required.
I think it's a learning curve for everyone as far as how to impart information and when to leave well enough alone from my standpoint.
I can't speak to MJ, but I would imagine her experience has been a little similar to mine.
Totally. That's the hardest thing in the year or two, is to really learn the personalities, who needs to be told what, when and how much. How much do you push, how much do you not push. It's a balance. After a time, you sort of learn what triggers the right response from the players.
For me, it's really trying to get the most quality when you're there. We're there a limited time. We're not their main coaches, like Jim said.
We try to give them the best advice and get the most out of them.
Every time they get on the court, they have to have a purpose, they have to have a plan of what they're trying to achieve when they're out there. It's more quality than quantity. Some of my players want to practice 10 hours a day. I have to pull them back and say no so they're fresh. Others want to practice less, so you have to push them to practice more.
It's a learning curve. But the more time you spend with different personalities, the more you're aware of what you need to say and not say.
TIM CURRY: I want to thank everyone for joining us, and thank Jim and Mary Joe for their time. Hope everybody has a good day. Thank you.