An Interview With Mary Jo Fernandez

Mary Joe Fernandez

TIM CURRY: We have on the call with us live from Australia, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. It’s 7:30 in the morning in Melbourne, and she’s preparing again today for ESPN commentary duties once again but is joining us to announce the U.S. Fed Cup team that will take on Belgium February 5th and 6th in Antwerp.
This is Mary Joe’s third year as U.S. Fed Cup Captain and she has successfully led the U.S. to the finals her first two years as captain. After introductory comments from Mary Joe, we will open up the call for Q&A. Mary Joe.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Good morning from Australia. Good afternoon there in the states. Just wanted to let everybody know how excited I am to be starting as Fed Cup captain this year. And it seems like when you end the year and start the year it’s very quick, there’s a big gap between the semis and finals, but there’s a quick turnaround between the finals and the first round. But here we go. Right after Australia we head over to Belgium. And I’m pleased to announce my team.
I have the same core group returning with Bethanie Mattek-Sands playing; Melanie Oudin; Liezel Huber, and Vania King will be joining us again, two-time majors doubles winner last year. She’s been on teams before.
And we’re excited to have her return. So we’re looking forward to it. We have our work cut out for us in Belgium against the top players. But we’re going to go give it our best shot. I have great faith in the team and the capabilities. And we’ll see what happens. So I open it up to questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. You mentioned having your work cut out for you. What sort of intimidation factor might there be with Belgium apparently bringing (Kim) Clijsters and Justine (Henin)?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, it’s pretty clear. They’re two of the best players to play the game. And Clijsters is still here playing today in the quarterfinals. Justine went out early.
To me, the Fed Cup is very different than a regular tour tournament. And, again, hopefully I can offer some advice when I’m on the court. And you just — you really approach it as this one unique match. And you try to do all you can to disrupt all the great things that both those players do.
It’s not easy. But it’s been done before. And you go out with a very positive attitude.

Q. And you had expected or hoped that Venus Williams might have been able to play this time and I’m wondering when you found out she wouldn’t be able to play?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Yes, Venus was going to play, and unfortunately she got hurt during the Australian Open and just confirmed with her just a couple of days ago about her injury and she wouldn’t be able to go.

Q. Obviously you’ve been to Australia and you’ve been watching Melanie and Bethanie and Vania and Liezel play. How impressed are you with how they’ve all started their years and how they’re looking now in the year?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, Liezel just won last night her doubles. She’s going to be playing in the semifinals later today with Nadia Petrova. And she’s been looking her usual prepared self and playing smart tennis on the doubles courts.
Bethanie had a great run down here in Australia winning the Hopman Cup with John Isner and then getting to the finals in a warm-up tournament before. She had a tough first-round match against actually a qualifier named (Arantxa) Rus. Was down a set in the break and fought really hard and came back and started up the match in the third and had a tough time closing it out.
But in the mixed doubles lost her doubles yesterday. So she’s been playing a lot of tennis, which is good. She’s match tough. She’s prepared.
Melanie had a tougher time down under, not winning any matches, and losing a tough three set match here in her first round here at the Australian Open. She’s not as confident. But Fed Cup seems to bring out the best in Melanie time and time again. And she’s practicing hard again this week. And we’ll be ready for her next week.
And Vania won her first round and then lost to (Caroline) Wozniacki in a tough second round. Wozniacki is still in the tournament. She’s in the semis. That was a tough drop for her. But she’s coming from last year playing two major finals and winning them in doubles, with (Yaroslava) Shvedova. She didn’t win here.
But she as well is back at home and starting to practice and get ready. So overall pretty good. They all have played matches and will be ready.

Q. I know obviously until you actually get down there and you are watching the girls play and everything, you don’t really know how you’re going to do it. But obviously Liezel and Bethanie have had a lot of success the last couple of years for you in doubles, yet obviously Vania has had great success at the Slams last year and everything. Do you have any inkling of what way you stay with the combination that’s been working or you go with Vania, or you just can’t even think about that yet?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think about it. The nice thing about having Vania on the team, she’s very versatile, can play both singles and doubles. And I do make my decision sort of towards the end. We’ve changed our double teams a few times right before that fifth match.
Leaning at the start, definitely to go with the team that’s been there before. And that’s played. Having said that, Vania and Liezel have played a couple times at Fed Cup as well. They complement each other very well, too.
We’ll obviously have to play it by ear as it gets to the fifth match. But during the week we’ll have everybody practice doubles with each other, because you really have to be prepared for any situation. But that’s the good news having Vania is she can play many different roles.

Q. You talked about the timing. You also mentioned that. I would imagine having Fed Cup and having to travel on the heels of the Australian Open would not be what most people think is the most ideal timing.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: It depends where you’re playing. It’s a tough flight, obviously, for me because I’m going straight from here. But for the ones that are back at home, it’s not as bad.
And we’re playing on a surface we like. It’s indoor hard. And we went to France last year and played well. So we’re used to it. We’re used to the travel. We’re used to the time changes and getting used to it.

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about Melanie and how have you seen her develop since her run at the U.S. Open a couple of years ago, and how she’s played last year for you at Fed Cup?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Melanie, not last year but the year before, was the Cinderella story of the US Open and it really started before that when she qualified at Wimbledon beating Jankovic along the way. She has so much determination. She works extremely hard.
In my mind, she’s improving, trying to get better. She’s not as focused on day-to-day results it is about getting better at her game. I think last year was a tough year for her.
I think players figured her game out. She had a little bit more of a target on her back. And I think it was a tough year for her to get used to all the attention, all the publicity and really the expectation of being the next great American.
She handles it well. She has a great head on her shoulders. For Fed Cup, she’s been instrumental, and I couldn’t ask for a better team player because she really puts the team first.
You’ve seen her play. She fights for every single ball from the first ball to the last. That’s what you want to see during team competition.
So she’ll get there again. I think she’s doing the right thing. She’s trying to get, develop a better serve, a little bit more power. She’s trying to become a little more offensive. For me, the important thing is if she can’t get away from her strength, from her movement, from her consistency. I think that’s really what got her the breakthrough and she’s got to have that balance and combination in her game.

Q. Is this going to be the key for her to jump to that top 20 level?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Again, I think her base is how quick she is and how well she can maneuver around the court and defend. For someone that tall, she really packs a pretty big punch with her forehand. She’s trying to learn to use that better and be a little more aggressive. You just can’t come, I think, too much outside your game sometimes and leave the consistency behind. So once she starts figuring out the balance of the two, I think that’s when she’s going to start winning a lot more matches.

TIM CURRY: While we wait for further questions to be queued, I wanted to mention that win or lose, the U.S. Fed Cup team will play their next match the weekend of April 16-17. If the U.S. wins, we will host the winner of the Slovak Repubic/Czech Republic quarterfinal. If we lose, we will be competing the World Group Playoff that weekend, most likely against one of the teams currently in World Group II, to determine our status for the 2012 Fed Cup.

Q. Just curious to get your thoughts on some of the results of some of the young American women, in particular Lauren Davis and Beatrice Capra, Christina (McHale), Coco (Vandeweghe), and if any of them will be coming along as practice partners to Belgium?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Lauren Davis will be coming along as one of our young players. Won the (USTA) wildcard playoff tournament to the Australian Open and lost to Sam Stosur in the first right here. And playing Juniors and had a tough win yesterday, and I think she’s on court again today. So I’m looking forward to having her there.
She’s won so many matches in the last season winning Juniors and Challengers and everything. So I think it’s something like 35, 36 matches. She’s definitely one to watch.
And we had eight American women in the main draw here that were 21 years old and younger, which was really nice to see, and that included Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe. Alison Riske, Jamie Hampton. So it was a nice break-through.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get past the first round. So we still have a lot of work to do. But they’re slowly getting there. I really believe that all these women should be in the top 100. They should be consistently getting into the majors and perhaps going a lot further and breaking the top 50. I think it was a big step to get so many in the main draw, whether it was through qualifying or like Lauren won the (USTA) wildcard tournament and got straight in risk got straight in, and (Irina) Falconi came thru qualifying as well. It’s definitely looking better. And the women are working hard.
I was down in Florida, the USTA Training Center in December, watching a lot of the girls practice and they’re taking it really seriously. And that’s why I really suspect a big jump from a lot of them here in 2011.

TIM CURRY: Many of the top young players that Mary Joe mentioned, including Coco Vandeweghe, Allison Riske and Irina Falconi, will be competing at the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich., the week following Fed Cup as well as some of the young players who have been part of previous U.S. Fed Cup teams such as Sloane Stephens, Alexa Glatch and Christina McHale. Qualifying in Midland actually begins while the Fed Cup matches are being contested.

Q. Did Jim Courier at all stop you or ask for any tips since he’s starting his captaincy and yet you recently did, I was wondering if you guys had any conversation on that?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: We’ve had a few conversations about what a long road it’s been, two South Florida juniors have come through, and he is Davis Cup captain and I’m Fed Cup captain, how nice that is. I’ve known Jim forever. And I think he’s going to do a fantastic job. Tips, no. He jokes around all the time, how do I get to the final my first year. (Laughter)
But, again, he’s a great guy. He’s very smart. He knows his tennis. Strategy. Great camaraderie with all the U.S. men and looking forward to seeing him do great things with the Davis Cup team.

Q. Wondering your opinion on potentially Rafael Nadal can win the Nadal Slam, it won’t be a calendar slam, but it will be a non-calendar slam. Particularly in the men’s game, I know it’s been done in the women’s game, nobody’s done it since 1969. And when Rod did it as a calendar slam, if he does that how do you view that accomplishment?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think it would be unbelievable. I mean, for him to get four in a row during a time where the competition is just so high would be outstanding and what I love about Nadal is his improvement, just in the last few years. I mean, every year he’s better. And for someone who just started off as a great clay quarter, you know, now he dominates on every surface. He’s remarkable. So he’s very close. I think he can do it.
And it would be just, it would be great to see because it has been a long time since it’s been done. And I think it would be great for tennis, too.

Q. Wanted to ask how have you treated putting on the different hats or roles of potential coach, friend, mentor, even parent sometimes to these young girls, and if you could talk about a situation where you’ve had to play those different roles?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, one of the things I really enjoy about Fed Cup and the week of Fed Cup is learning — now I have a sort of base group that I’m getting to know really well. But their personalities. I mean, everybody’s very different. Billie Jean King was my mentor, Fed Cup and Olympic captain.
And she’s always giving me such great advice about how you really have to treat each individual differently and learn what works with each one.
Some like to be talked to more, some less. When to find those moments. And the most important thing for me is to try to get the best out of them, to make them the best they can be. And it’s a challenge. But for me it’s very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun. And I enjoy following all these American women through the year. And at a time now where we’re really trying to develop the next generation of players, it’s fun. It’s been exciting, and I enjoy, when I watch them practice and see what their intentions are, what their goals are.
So you are, you’re coach, you’re friend, you’re trying to help any which way you can. And they become family, the ones that you deal with on a very frequent basis, and it’s been — I’ve said this before, it’s been a great experience. And one of the favorite things that I get to do.
TIM CURRY: Thank you.

An Interview With Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: Good afternoon, everyone. With me here besides Andre and Anne Marie is Mark Stenning, who’s CEO of the Tennis Hall of Fame. I thought we’d take a minute with Tony Trabert. Tony is the president of the Tennis Hall of Fame. He also chairs the enshrining nominating committee, and it always comes up as we are fortunate enough to announce an inductee, the process. So Tony, will you take just a minute and go through what you and your committee do?
TONY TRABERT: Sure. We have people that are proposed for the Hall of Fame. We go to that group of people, and if we think they are worthy we put them in a book that we call. We have recent player category, we have master player category, a contributor category and now a wheelchair category, and we have an enshrinement nominating committee at Wimbledon each year, at which time we talk about the recent players we think should be on the ballot.
We are 21 on that committee, international, and then we vote for any of the master players we think should be on and then contributors. And then it goes to — we have various panels that vote, and some of the same — some people are on both voting panels, some are not, and you have to get 75 percent of the votes that are returned to be elected.
CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: Tony Trabert was elected in 1970 and serving as our president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. We are here in Las Vegas at Agassi Prep. We had a wonderful ceremony here with 600 students who now represent kindergarten through the 12th grade. It’s my fourth time back at the school, and every time I come I’m a little more uncomfortable because I know I could never get in here. It’s a wonderful place, and it was an emotional thing.
I said to the group, 25 years ago today there was an announcement that went out of the Tennis Hall of Fame that announced the selection of Arthur Ashe to the Tennis Hall of Fame, and that July 25 years ago, Andre was 15, I was much older, let’s just say way out of college, and I think if Arthur was here today, not just because of the tennis accomplishments, and I don’t think Jeanne would mind, who serves on our board, I think Arthur would say today he’s met his match. He’s met his match on the court, his match as a human being, as a philanthropist, a guy that was committed to improving people’s lives on top of committing every tennis accolade there is.
That’s what we told the students today and then Andre took some wonderful questions and said how important this was to him. I’m sorry you all weren’t there, but it was a wonderful ceremony. So Andre has been nice enough after being worked over by these 600 students and the press to take some questions today. Is there a question that you all would like to address to Andre?

Q. You had a great career obviously, a lot of incarnations during your career. I was just curious how you want to be remembered, what do you want your legacy to be in tennis?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I was hoping you didn’t notice those tips and turns through my career. You know, this is such a special moment for so many reasons, but mostly for me today because it was done here at the school and so profoundly connects my past and my future. You know, tennis was a vehicle that gave me my life’s work.
You know, tennis allowed me the opportunity to impact people for a few hours when I was playing, and then my career has given me an opportunity to impact people for a lifetime if not generationally. And my hope, like in tennis, was to leave the sport better off than it was when I entered it. That was always my hope as it relates to life and legacy. My hope is to leave everybody in my life starting with my own family and then my extended family, which is the school, better off for having me a part of their lives.

Q. One of the things that fascinates me so much about your story and came through so well in your book is this sort of mixed message if you turn back the clock to the days when your dad was firing balls at you out on the court and you were feeling like you really missed out on the, quote-unquote, normal childhood. And then you came up through the game, and now here you are going into the Hall, and all these incredible achievements that have happened in your life, the prep school, et cetera, et cetera, happened because of the tennis. I wonder if you could reflect on that a little bit. Was it worth it, all the sacrifices that you made during your childhood?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I’ll answer that with the short answer, which is yes. It was worth it because we all have our cross to bear in life, so to speak, and while mine were certainly unique in some cases, it did teach me a lot about myself. I learned a lot about myself, probably at a slower rate in some cases, but in others at a faster rate. And at each intersection of my life I was always striving to understand myself better.
And I had what I call a hate-love relationship with tennis, not a love-hate. I went from resenting a life that was chosen for me to at 27 years old after being No. 1 and then falling to No. 141 chose to take ownership of my life and to find a reason to do what it is I do, and then that’s when I started the school. And I built this school, and I all of a sudden felt like I was connected to a team. All of a sudden tennis felt like a team sport. I felt like I was playing for something but I was also playing — I was connected to something but I was also playing for something much larger than myself.
And it then gave me my life’s meaning, my purpose. It then gave me my wife, and as a result, I’m so grateful for where I find myself for many reasons, but starting with the fact that I have this opportunity to change these children’s experiences, these children’s expectations, and ultimately their lives.

Q. If I could just follow up, in the tennis business, of course, we always talk about what it takes to create a champion, what the ideal tennis parent is, so now looking back would you say that the way that he raised you — are you saying some of that was really necessary, maybe some of that pushing is what you need to go through to get to all you’ve achieved?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I can’t honestly say that you need to go through that. You know, when you look at other people’s experiences, I don’t know how transparent they are. You look at a Federer who seems to be so comfortable on the court and comfortable in his own skin, and to do things so gracefully and so easily, and hopefully he has a healthy upbringing in the game.
My father made a lot of decisions that I wouldn’t make, unquestionably, and I represented him not as abusive, but I represented him as very intense. Along with that intensity came intense love, came intense generosity, came intense us against the world, and also came intense pride. And there’s something very profound about a young man feeling like his dad is proud of him, and I always felt that. He used to introduce me as the No. 1 player in the world, future No. 1 player in the world, so there was a lot that I represented about him. I think it was a loving, honest portrayal.
But do I think you need to make the decisions he made to succeed? Absolutely not. You need nature and you need nurture. You need to be born with a gift, no question; it’s too competitive to be the best in the world at anything to not be born with a certain gift. But you also need it nurtured so that that gift can flourish, and in my dad’s case nurturing meant thousands of tennis balls and intensity, but in other cases I don’t think it needs to mean that.

Q. When we were doing the television, we all thought that the last Grand Slam tournament you would probably win would be Wimbledon because it was on grass. We thought the first one that you would probably win would be the French on clay, and it was just the opposite. Do you have any thoughts on that?
ANDRE AGASSI: You know, I have to keep the trend up, the conflicts in my life. Tony, it’s good to hear your voice. Your voice, you have left an indelible mark on me over the years, but hearing your voice, I realize how indelible your voice is in my mind and my connection to the game, so nice to hear your voice, Tony.
You know, I really felt like I could have won the French first. I agreed with you then and now that it probably should have been and that Wimbledon probably should have been my last, if at all. But the game changed shortly after I came into it, and once I had a player that could take offense from both wings, they could exploit the fact that I treated clay courts like a hard court.
For me I’ve loved playing on clay for the first few years of my career because it was just more time and more opportunities in a point to just beat somebody up because all I did was take the ball early and make him run and I never had to worry about defense. But when I lost out on those first two opportunities and then I started playing the likes of Courier, who was very aggressive on both wings against me, or Bruguera, who moved well and could generate that kind of spin with both sides and open up the court, I quickly realized that clay was not, like most Americans, my best surface.
So my hopes for Roland Garros changed really early in my career, which is why it makes it so powerful that after coming back from 141, 29 years old, that I found myself with that opportunity to win it again, and it speaks to how scared I was walking out if that finals that day thinking that this tournament would elude me for the rest of my life.
Wimbledon on the other hand was a surface that rewarded a person who could take charge of a point early. So winning Wimbledon surprised me until I’d played it, and I don’t mean in ’87 when I lost first round to Leconte; I mean when I went back and got to the quarters and had two sets to one and two breaks on David Wheaton to play Becker and Stich in the semis and finals who I both had a heavy head-to-head record on.
I started to really believe I can win here because if you can get start off well on grass it was hard for a player to recover. Grass played very fast, and the return was just shot-making and I felt comfortable there. So it didn’t surprise me how comfortable I felt at Wimbledon, but it did surprise me how quickly I got uncomfortable with pairs.

Q. Most athletes come to their second career after their first one is over, and you were in the rare position of finding it while you were still playing. Why do you think that happened to you, and has that been a benefit that you were able to overlap your kind of ongoing career with your future career?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think it happened to me because I played until I was 36. You know, had I faded off into the sunset in 1997, which I wish you understood as closely as I do just how close I was, you know, I’m not sure I would have had something to go towards. But my spirit to fight on and to give myself the permission to quit but to not choose it gave me the fortitude to start to envision what I really want for myself. And tennis was such a great opportunity to have that mission become a reality.
I don’t know why others don’t, other than any sport is all-consuming. It’s a short window and a short career, and mine was almost a short career. But the fact that I continued to push myself and make myself better gave me the time to make sense of a few things and then gave me the age and perspective to not lose out on that opportunity.

Q. You gave such a beautiful speech when your wife was inducted into Hall of Fame, and I was wondering if you can share any of her thoughts or comments on your acceptance.
ANDRE AGASSI: You know, it’s interesting because we’re going through the same thing just in reverse. I got to experience watching her go through it and knowing her so well and how understated she is. I would never suggest that she did not want to go through it, but I would just say that she was — she doesn’t need it to be who she is. And those around her really were proud for her, and the love that I have for her allowed me to really understand fully just what it means to be in the Hall of Fame because I wanted it for her even though she didn’t necessarily crave it for herself.
Now that she went through it, she feels differently, but now she gets to see it through the perspective of somebody she cares for deeply, and she wants it for me, even though I tend to say it’s a bit nerve-wracking. I can’t hardly believe that it’s actually happening, and I don’t feel like I need it to continue my mission in life.
But seeing how I felt for her allows me to embrace this even more than I would have because so many people that have been around me that care for me want it for me, and I know that because of how I felt for her.

Q. After your last match against Becker in Ashe Stadium, it was really kind of a Lou Gehrig type moment when you addressed the crowd in New York and there was a lot of emotion. I wonder if you could not only reflect on that moment but also what emotions might come up when you’re addressing the crowd in Newport?
ANDRE AGASSI: Sure. The thing with New York, that was — that had very little to do with missing a tournament, missing a career. It had to do with a connection to people that I was so grateful they felt to me. That’s why that was emotional, because they were connected to me and I was just quite frankly thankful that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
In Rhode Island, I don’t know what to expect. I think it’s probably doing yourself a disservice to expect anything one way or the other. I’ve seen others go through it, and it never ceases to amaze me how surprised they are by the occasion. So I’m going to probably for one of the rare times in my life will just allow myself to be surprised, you know? But I will put a lot of thought behind it because I think if you care about anything you do, and I will make my best attempt to communicate what tennis has meant to me, what it means to others, and what it means to certainly a lot of children’s lives here in North Las Vegas.
CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: So July 9th is our induction in Newport, Rhode Island. Obviously you all are invited. Andre is the sole inductee in the recent player category. We will be announcing one additional person who has been elected into the contributor’s category. We’ll be announcing that Thursday of next week from Melbourne.
Andre loves his school, and we’re happy to be here. He walked in and said, “Now, the school is not paying for this phone call, are they?” For the record, it is not. We want to thank you for joining us, and I want to thank Andre for a terrific day and a terrific announcement.