Wednesday, August 30, 2017
USTA Press Conference
Flushing Meadows, NY
A USTA Press Conference with:
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming today. I want to take this opportunity to spend a little time with the leadership for our group. Brian Boland, head of men’s tennis. Ola Malmqvist, head of women’s tennis. Martin Blackman, general manager of player development. And Kathy Rinaldi, lead coach, Team USA Pro, and captain of our Fed Cup team.
Q. A question for Kathy. Can you talk a little bit about the Fed Cup final coming up, especially what you see in terms of player development and what you’re expecting from the team?
KATHY RINALDI: Well, we are very excited. Obviously we have had two home ties, and now we have the final in Belarus, and we are very excited to experience that. It’s in a very nice stadium, and I have heard it’s sold out already, 9,000. I think that’s what we play for. We play for this opportunity.
You know, the team hasn’t been announced yet. Obviously with Bethanie hurt, that was really tough not just for the doubles reasons but for many reasons. Hoping to steal her away and take her there for the final.
Yeah, I mean, that’s what we play for. We are looking forward to the opportunity to bring the Cup back to the U.S. With all the U.S. girls playing so well, tough decisions to be made. So that’s a good problem to have but it’s a tough problem as captain, because we have so many great players and a lot of young players stepping up to the plate, as well. It’s an exciting time.
Q. Do you think it affects things down the line in terms of just the excitement of making the final that other people will, you know, other younger women will come to the game, or can it have like that broad of an impact?
KATHY RINALDI: Oh, absolutely. When you have players like Coco Vandeweghe and Bethanie and players like that that when I called, it was their goal and their dream to play Fed Cup and to win Fed Cup and to bring the Cup back and speak about how important it is to them to represent their country.
The young players are listening, and it trickles down and it creates an excitement. You know, I was also fortunate to the USTA to allow me the opportunity to be captain of the Junior Fed Cup team, and we always spoke about how important this is when you’re called that you represent your country in any capacity, whether for singles, doubles, or whatever.
I think the young players really understand that and are looking forward to the opportunity. We also run a lot of the player development camps alongside the Fed Cup competition, which is really huge for those players to be a part and to see what it’s like to represent and to be there in the atmosphere and to train with the players and to be around the players.
It’s just an amazing experience as a captain to see it evolve and to see the excitement and the atmosphere. It’s wonderful.
Q. Can I get a general assessment of state of the women’s game here at the Open, especially with Sloane back and Madison Keys back? What do you think about the level of quality and the future for these players?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I mean, I think we are in the best place that we have been in 15 years. You know, we have had the luxury of having Serena and Venus lead the way for so long, but now we’ve got players like Madison and Coco, and Sloane is healthy, and then so many other young players that are coming up and playing well.
So I think we are really poised to have two or three more women that are going to be in the second week of Grand Slams and could potentially get to the last weekend.
I will let Ola speak to that.
OLA MALMQVIST: Yeah, you said most of it there. Those three, they have been in semifinals already in Grand Slams. I think they all are in a pretty good place and getting more mature and hopefully ready this week, but if not now, I feel within the next couple of years they should be ready.
I mean, I feel good about the younger ones coming up, too. I think we have the US Open junior champ, Wimbledon junior champ, French Open junior champ and a couple of finalists in there, too. We have a lot of good young players that hopefully in the future will be able to back them up and get more names outside of the Williamses winning Grand Slams.
Q. Congrats on the new job, Brian. Now that you have been in it for a while, are there any changes or anything different that you think you need to do or want to do to bring to what’s going on in general with the U.S. program? Do you think with the crop not too many changes need to be made?
BRIAN BOLAND: Thanks. I have loved the opportunity to represent the USTA in player development. I’m absolutely amazed with the dedication and commitment of the staff and the synergy and culture that Martin has created.
I think we just continue down the road that we have been on in terms of the job that José Higures laid out nine years ago with the philosophy, and then the great work of Patrick McEnroe and Jay Berger. I think we have a crop of players now that we can really wrap our arms around and do great things.
There is a group of young guys — Frances Tiafoe, who we all were able to watch last night, is a fabulous player. I think that’s the beginning of great things to come. Taylor Fritz, another player who has done great things already, and the best is in front of him, as well as Jared Donaldson, who is off to a good start in the Open. Then Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul.
I mean, these are all 19 to 20-year-olds who have come up through the system. They were part of the player development process, you know, early on, and they’re going to do some great things.
I think the future of men’s tennis is in a great place, and there is a lot of excitement ahead. It’s going to take more time, but I think the foundation has been laid.
Q. Fewer than 10 hours ago we were in here with Frances, and it was exciting, historic. Share your feelings. What was it like for you all watching that match, being that this is your family out there, baby boy out there on center court with Federer, putting a major scare in Federer on the first-round match, rained-out day and it’s global?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I will take a shot at that. I have got a pretty personal connection to Frances and his family. When he and his brother were eight years old, I was running the program at College Park, and I saw them grow up and also kind of understood their background and some of the hardship and adversity that they had to overcome.
So, you know, seeing him on that stage yesterday, I actually asked his dad, I said, Did you ever think you would see Frances on a stage like this, playing the best of all time?
He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t answer (smiling). It was pretty powerful.
And going back a little bit to what Kathy was talking about, the culture that she’s created with Fed Cup, I think Frances is also a great example of a great partnership with the private sector. You know, that program at College Park is one of the best in the country. Frances developed really well there until he was 16 or 17, and then the handoff to our program was very natural and organic.
So it’s a validation of what he’s been able to overcome, what the program at College Park has done, but also an example of us playing the right role, staying in our lane but giving him the support that he needs.
KATHY RINALDI: I think that’s why I love this job so much, because it’s so rewarding to see someone like Frances that I have known and watched grow up. Getting close to my tenth year with the USTA, and to see a lot of these young women and young men step onto that stadium and really put their best foot forward, and to see them blossoming not only as tennis players but as tremendous human beings, it’s the most rewarding aspect of this job.
To be working, as Martin said, closely with their private coaches and getting to know their families, that’s what it’s all about.
You know, I had tears in my eyes last night. I have tears in my eyes when I see a young lady accomplish — you know, maybe she isn’t getting to that Arthur Ashe Stadium yet. But to see them, they each have their own story, and it’s been remarkable.
THE MODERATOR: Kathy has to duck out for one of her many responsibilities.
Q. Why did you have tears in your eyes?
KATHY RINALDI: Oh, I said just to see them growing up and to make their dreams come true.
Q. So with Frances, particularly?
KATHY RINALDI: With Frances and a lot of them — I mean, to see young Allie Kiick come back from two-and-a-half years out with four knee surgeries, you know, the unique stories. You know, CiCi Bellis, who was a youngster, to see her step up and accomplish her dreams, it’s remarkable to watch that in front of your eyes and to be a small part of it in some way.
Q. Some questions about Frances, his progression, what you guys think about how he’s playing and how he has gotten better over the years and how he got to where he was yesterday.
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I mean, look, it’s always about process, and it always starts with having a really great support system. Frances’ parents made a lot of sacrifices for him when he was in the program at College Park. A lot of great coaches made extra time for him.
The founder of that program, Ken Brody, has been kind of his benefactor throughout his junior career. He was a great junior. He was always very gifted. He loves the game. He loves to compete. I will give you a quick example. When Frances was 11 years old, at about 5:00, there was a senior hour of doubles, and at least a couple of times a week I’d see him on the court playing doubles with five 65-year old guys. That’s just because he loves the game.
You know, he’d stand on the side of the court watching coaches give privates. He’d hit on the wall.
You know, kind of fast forward, he wins the Orange Bowl in Kalamazoo. He’s doing really good on the international stage, and again, his family helped him to make the right decision, put the right team around him, and then there has been a really good relationship with the USTA in terms of what type of performance team support do you need.
Q. Technically, can you address that?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Technically, I mean, he’s improved so much over the last six to eight months. His forehand has improved tremendously, his serve has, his court positioning has improved, but I think the biggest intangible he has is he’s comfortable on this stage.
You saw last night. You don’t break Roger Federer 5-3 in the fifth unless you really believe that you can win that match, and that’s something you can’t teach. Very special.
Q. Coming into the US Open, there were at least I think 43 Americans in the draws. Obviously good progression has been made. What are some of the challenges, though, that you still deal with on the development stage?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I think because of the foundation that’s been laid, you know, Brian referenced Patrick’s leadership. José Higures has been an incredibly powerful influence bringing a philosophy. Jay Berger laid a lot of the groundwork for what we are experiencing right now.
But I think because of that work, our focus right now is really getting the details right for all of our top players so that we can get them into the second week of slams. That is a theme that’s resonating throughout our entire team, is what does it take to get players into the second week of Grand Slams and ultimately into the last weekend.
But I will let Brian and Ola speak more to that.
BRIAN BOLAND: I will echo what Martin said. We want to win Grand Slams. We believe that there is a number of players that can do that if provided the right leadership.
You know, these kids have come through a system, as Martin said, where the USTA and private sector have worked so well together. Over the last five, six years, I think it’s been better than ever, which has only helped these young men prepare for what’s ahead of them. But now it’s time that we help them finish.
You know, there is a number of them that have made incredible progress and developed at a steady pace throughout the years, and trying to win a Grand Slam championship is one of the hardest things you can do in sports. I believe tennis is undoubtedly one of the toughest sports in the world. You know, it’s so hard out there.
As leaders of the game, we need to make sure we do everything we can to help them get into the second weeks and beyond and play on that final Sunday.
I think it’s a mentality that they have to bring and really believe that they can go through the whole tournament and play on the final day. I think there is a number of young Americans that can do that over the next five years and beyond, I really do, if not sooner.
But it does take time and it’s one of the hardest things you can ever do. We spend a lot of time trying to focus on a number of players that we really believe can do that.
OLA MALMQVIST: For me on that, you know, I have been with USTA for 19 years, and the last nine years we have come a long way. I think we have a very good system going. Our goal now is to try to get Grand Slam champions.
On the women’s side we have been very fortunate to have the Williams sisters. I hope they play many, many, many more years, but I would like to see some other names winning, as well.
But we have had a good foundation where I think we have a lot of players that are going to keep on coming up. For me, the biggest problem is really bandwidth, how do we really push the best ones coming up and keep having young ones coming up.
We have a lot of new tennis courts down in Orlando, but we don’t have a lot of new coaches or more coaches. It’s still a balancing act there. For me, that’s probably the biggest obstacle.
Q. Just curious about the raw numbers of kids coming into the system. Are you seeing an increase? What are the raw numbers in terms of you’re competing with other sports? Kids will want to play basketball or football or whatever else. Are you seeing an increase in the number of kids at the grassroots level and then coming up through the system compared to past decades, or have the numbers stayed the same?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: That’s a great question. Participation, youth participation, has been relatively flat over the past five years. But that’s why the Net Generation Initiative is so exciting. We finally are going to have an initiative that creates a value proposition for Millennial families. Makes the game more accessible and more affordable, offers it to kids in the right way, the right format.
So that’s a huge part of our success. You know, when we talk about long-term success, it always comes down to athlete attraction and player retention. You’ve got to have the numbers at the base to be able to do what we want to do at the tip of the spear.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the facility in Florida, kind of how it’s changed the approach or how you have seen it help players’ development in terms of having the different courts and all the other stuff going on down there?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: The biggest benefit to player development with the new facility, the innovation, the technology and different surfaces, the biggest benefit is that we are able to say yes to more of our top players than ever before, and we are able to be really flexible in what we can offer them.
If they want to come with their coach or if they want to come with their strength and conditioning person, we have the ability to make that happen. So we can be so much more inclusive.
In turn, that’s going to attract more of our top players to come and do their training blocks with us. As we all know, having a critical mass and having your best players together, creating that positive peer pressure, that competitive environment, is a big part of what makes players.
OLA MALMQVIST: I think you said it really well. One of the biggest things we have been trying to do is change the culture for the whole country, to work harder, do the right thing and be more professional. I think this center will actually help that, too, and I think that’s an extremely important thing.
I must say, you stated it really good. It’s a great facility. It’s got a good feeling, you know, so big. You get a good feel there, a lot, a lot of actions. It really is a world-class facility.
BRIAN BOLAND: I will just say I’m absolutely honored to work there. It has so much energy. Feels like the Disney World of tennis. If you love the sport of tennis, that’s a great place to be, and so, for me, every time I pull into the center, I’m in awe.
I think it’s absolutely incredible, and I encourage everybody to take the time to visit if you’re anywhere near Orlando.
It is a really special place. I think it will provide us an opportunity to, again, be the best in the world. I really do. I think it’s necessary to create the kind of teamwork that leads to great success.
Q. Why aren’t there enough coaches there?
OLA MALMQVIST: Well, we have a lot of coaches, but we’re getting more and more players and more and more coming up. So something’s gotta give. You know, there’s…
Q. Can you bring more in?
OLA MALMQVIST: You have to prioritize. So, I mean, that’s part of it.
Q. Is it you don’t have enough money to hire the coaches or are coaches not willing to come there?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think it goes back to strategic priorities, like Ola said. I mean, we are really well-funded, but we have a good problem in that we have so many players in the pipeline coming up that need support.
But I think one of the strengths of the system that we have in place is the partnership with the private sector is so strong that we are able to mobilize and activate private sector coaches almost as de facto national coaches.
I think that’s part of being creative and thinking outside the box and trying to leverage networks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports