Transcript: US Open Series Conference Call with Lindsay Davenport and Lleyton Hewitt

July 19, 2005 01:01 AM

DAVID NEWMAN: Good evening, everybody. Thank you for joining us tonight on this evening's intercontinental US Open Series defending champions conference call with the US Open Series top finishers last year, Lindsay Davenport and Lleyton Hewitt.

As you may know, the eight-week summer season of 10 ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA tournaments in North America begins this week with the RCA Championships in Indianapolis. The first weekend of men's and women's events begin next week with the women's Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, and the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA in Los Angeles. The summer tennis season in North America concludes at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York August 29 through September 11th.

This summer, all the US Open Series will be broadcast live starting Sunday, July 31, with live back-to-back finals airing on US Open Series network partners CBS and ESPN. The total will be more than 115 hours of live television of tennis here in the United States, with additional coverage on The Tennis Channel amounting to over 250 hours.

This week, the USTA launches for the first time a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to increase awareness in our sport and its stars, including Lleyton Hewitt and Lindsay Davenport, the first fully integrated advertising campaign for men's and women's tennis in the United States. We're hopeful that the launch of the US Open Series last year, which increased television viewership by 50%, will lead to increased viewership of these great athletes and this great sport.

Essentially, the campaign, which plays off of the reality television craze here in the United States says it all: 200 players, 10 tournaments, $2 million on the line.

Should Lindsay and Lleyton successfully defend their US Open Series titles, based on the most points accrued in the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, they'll have the opportunity to double the singles prize money at the US Open, the $1.1 million guarantee, to $2.2 million.

In any event, it's great to have the No. 1 player in the world, women's player that is, and the No. 2 ranked men's player with us. First, the 1998 US Open women's champion, the winner of the women's US Open Series events last year, Lindsay Davenport. Lindsay won the JP Morgan Chase Open last year, Bank of the West Classic, as well as the Acura Classic when it was not part of the US Open Series last year. It is this year. The Californian is scheduled to play at all three of these tournaments this year.

For a couple of words on the US Open Series, the No. 1 women's player in the world, Lindsay Davenport.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Thank you. Yeah, it was obviously a great honor and a great bonus last year to win the US Open Series. I think it was a great concept. Really excited about it again. Obviously, the chance to double your prize money is amazing. The chance to win $2 million, I think every player has been talking about it and is really excited about it.

You know, it's a long summer. Hopefully the US Open Series really helps the United States tennis fans really get excited for the US Open and learn more about all the players.

Just looking forward to when it starts.

DAVID NEWMAN: Lindsay, thanks for joining us from California. We'll have questions for Lindsay in just a couple of seconds.

To the No. 2 men's player in the world, the 2001 US Open men's champion, with us on the phone tonight from Australia, Lleyton Hewitt. After a runner-up finish at the Western and Southern Financial Masters in Cincinnati, Lleyton got on a run, winning the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC, and the US Open Series finale, then he made it to the 2004 US Open final, earning an additional $250,000 last year for making it to the final in The Open. He's scheduled to play in the Rogers Masters up in Montreal and Cincinnati.

Without further ado, live from Australia, a few words from the No. 2 player in the world, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Thanks. Last year was obviously great to win the US Open Series in its first year. I think it was fantastic, especially for the smaller tournaments around America with the TV coverage that it got. Obviously, the buildup, when I went to Long Island, everyone was sort of counting down I had to win Long Island to actually pass Roger Federer and Andy Roddick in that race for the US Open Series. That was obviously fantastic to go there.

I think it produced a lot more atmosphere I think for both the fans and the media, building it up before the US Open started. Also for me playing a lot of matches and winning a lot of matches gave me great preparation for the US Open last year.

DAVID NEWMAN: Lleyton, we thank you for taking time out of your schedule and a significant time change. It's our pleasure to have a great American star and one of the great international stars of our sport to answer questions for the media. If we can address some of the questions on the US Open Series, we'll try to alternate them between Lleyton and Lindsay. We'll throw it over to the Q&A for Lindsay and Lleyton.

Q. Lindsay, just wondering what's up with your back since I saw you pulled out of the World Team Tennis?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, my back was doing a little bit better. When I went out to try to hit some this weekend, it kind of snuck up on me. I'm now back on about three to five days of rest and am hopeful, you know, that it will clear up hopefully later this week and hopefully won't be an issue for too much longer.

Q. You're expecting to play in the Bank of the West?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I'm really hoping to. It's one of my favorite tournaments. So, I mean, I still have about nine or 10 days till I'd actually have to play a match, so I'm very much hopeful.

Q. Talk for a second about hard courts. People say it's the most equal of all surfaces where all styles can thrive. Do you think that's still the case today?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I think so. I mean, I think there's a huge difference obviously between people that grow up on clay and players that grow up on hard courts. I mean, the two extreme surfaces would be grass and clay.

But I think hard court is definitely more of a neutralizer, but it seems to be that there's been more, you know, clay court specialists that have developed over the years and can really make a run on those surfaces. Obviously, hard court plays a lot faster.

I would still say it's probably the most even of all the surfaces.

Q. We see a lot of clay-courters thriving on hardcourts today. Do you think the courts are slower than they used to be?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I think that depends on each tournament and how they paint them. I mean, I don't know. I think everyone is just getting more aggressive, with their technology, with their bigger shots, are finding it's just as easy to play on hard courts.

Q. Lindsay, with the Stanford tournament coming up, I was wondering if you could recall for us last year the event really kind of turned your summer around. You were talking about retirement at Wimbledon, not sure what was going on. The next thing you know, you beat Venus and took off.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, it was a great starter last year, really for the last 12 months. I always loved playing that tournament. I won it a few times before. But I went in really not sure what to expect. Came through and played a great match in the final. That final seemed to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the summer and really propelled me to play better and better.

You know, I'm really hopeful that I can -- by the time I can get there, a week from now, I'll be close to a hundred percent and ready to play at the same level I did last year. So, you know, it was a great start to last summer and I'm hoping it will be the same.

Q. The last I saw, Venus and Serena are both entered in the tournament. That can only be good for the tournament, publicity and such.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Gee, that's great. I know they very rarely play the same tournaments. Stanford I guess is a very lucky tournament. But we have a great field. I think Kim Clijsters as well. Four really great top players. It should be an outstanding tournament.

Q. Lindsay, I take the stance that the US Open was a stellar event before anybody thought of the US Open Series. I'm wondering why folks have to offer an incentive at what is the stellar and peak event of the tennis season in America.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Well, I mean, I think from the players' standpoint, we obviously play for the Grand Slam titles and we play for the trophies. We don't play to compare how much money we win. I think it was a great concept to get the fans more involved throughout the summer, to try and get some of the players to play more of the lead-up tournaments, to try and build up some of the other tournaments, to get more and more exposure.

Obviously, the bonus of winning, it's great. I mean, it might encourage players to keep adding more tournaments as the summer goes on. But I think in the players' mind, the US Open is still, you know, one of the biggest Grand Slams. Obviously, as an American, it's the biggest one that I play in. Certainly the money doesn't change my feeling toward it in any way.

Q. The way it's set up, the US Open Series, the big money is going to go to players who are already independently wealthy. Do you think it might be a pretty good idea to distribute some of that money to players who might be a little bit more in need?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I don't know. I mean, I guess that's always an argument with our prize money. But I think it's rewarding the players that play the best over the summer, that support all the tournaments. I don't know what to say. Obviously, we can't help that the money is offered to us is because we're the ones winning the tournaments. I guess it's just going more to the top and to reward those who perform the best throughout the eight weeks or six weeks of hard court tennis.

Do you think the US Open Series is attracting the field to the women's events better than there would be if there wasn't a US Open Series?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: You know, I can't speak for everyone else. I mean, I think that it will definitely get players to play more if they're close to it as the summer goes on. The players made their schedules a few months ago and kind of figured out what tournaments they want to play. I'm sure as the summer goes on, you'll see more and more players take some wildcards or plan to play some tournaments they wouldn't have planned to play otherwise. Hopefully it gets people playing. As Lleyton was saying, as he went into Long Island, it becomes an interesting race the last few weeks. You know, just something else that we can strive to try to accomplish.

Q. Lindsay, you've not been injured for so long, do these injuries kind of set you back any?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Well, I mean, I think as any athlete knows, you get setbacks throughout the course of a year. I've been very fortunate for the last 12 months not to have really too many major issues.

You know, it was feeling really good after about 10 days, and something just happened yesterday. It's worrisome in the fact that I haven't been able to train the way I would have normally liked to, having three weeks at home. I think it will clear up. The most important thing is to be healthy and to be able to play throughout the summer with no nagging pain.

Q. When you look back at the last 12 months, are you surprised you ever considered retirement?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I don't know. I mean, I'm not the type that I look forward to that aspect of my life very much. You know, I don't dread that time at all. But it's been a remarkable 12 months. I'm really excited that I was able to come back and play at a high level no matter what happens and have so many great memories the last 12 months.

In my mindset now, I'm just excited to keep it going and haven't really thought about stopping at all lately.

Q. You've gotten to two Grand Slam finals. Is it frustrating, rewarding? How do you look back at that?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Both. I mean, enormous amount of frustration, some of the most disappointing probably in my whole career. But then it gives me motivation. I mean, I've been in a lot of the last four or five Slams, had some great chances, a couple finals. Obviously, getting so close at Wimbledon...

It is nice to know you are at the top and you're so close. It's frustrating that you can't -- that I can't break through and haven't won one of those. You know, hopeful that I still have a couple really more great runs left in me and hopefully one of them will pan out.

Q. Lindsay, I know you had a scheduling conflict with World Team Tennis, so you weren't able to defend your title at Cincinnati, then obviously the back problem. Does Cincinnati need to become a Tier I event to continually draw top 10 players on a consistent basis?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Well, I think last year was obviously the first year for the women's event in Cincinnati. You know, it followed a great week for me last year and I felt it was really going to help my chances for The Open, and like I said, fit in well into the schedule.

But I think in women's tennis, the top players mainly go to Tier I or Tier II. Very rarely will you see them play too many Tier III's. I think a lot of it is how it falls in the calendar. We have a long summer coming up and for some Europeans it's too early to start, where Cincinnati is scheduled this week.

But I think as the tournament grows and is on the calendar longer and longer, players will start to play it more. I'm sure as it grows, it will get more popular, more money and maybe more ranking points behind it.

Q. Lleyton, how much do you think the top five ranked players have sort of separated themselves from the rest of the pack this season?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, definitely this year in the majors I'd say more than anything. We've obviously had the four of us before Rafael Nadal picked up on the clay court season. I think it's definitely been a huge bonus for tennis, and men's tennis in general, purely because we've relied on guys like Sampras and Agassi for so many years now. Obviously, Pete retiring, and Andre not playing as many tournaments and going to retire in the next few years at some stage. We need those next guys to step up in that next generation.

I think it's been great for tennis that we've got four or five guys, younger guys, all around the same age group who are so competitive on every surface. And obviously Roger's the leader of the pack right at the moment.

Q. Lleyton, what do you think of the proposed plan by the US Open and the French Open to add an extra day to the start of the Slam, like starting on a Sunday instead of a Monday?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I actually hadn't heard that. That's the first time I heard of it.

Q. It came up at the French Open, to increase television ratings by starting on a Sunday.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, I don't think any of the players would have a huge disagreement with them. Yes, it's going to help the tournament. Maybe it gives the men an extra day's rest somewhere along the line. Two weeks is a long time, though, for a major tournament, I think for a sporting tournament, when you look at the golf only lasts for four days or so. Now to extend it to 15 days, you know, I'm not sure if you can go any longer than that.

But if it's better for the tournament and it helps TV starting on the Sunday, get that interest in it, then I don't think it's a bad thing. It just has to coincide with the tournaments the week before I think more than anything.

On a separate subject, do you think looking back and reflecting on what happened over the weekend, do you think the officials kind of lost control of your match? Also, does it seem to you, what's the deal with these guys from Argentina and you or what?

LLEYTON HEWITT: It was a weird situation on the weekend. I didn't feel like I actually did anything wrong at all throughout the match. I felt like their captain, Alberto Mancini, was definitely trying to put Coria in that kind of frame of mind I think right from the start, you know, him questioning and going to the referee the whole time instead of just using the chair umpire. I think definitely think the chair umpire could have been a lot firmer. There was no need for the referee to come out every second game on the court.

Obviously, the crowd is going to get a lot more involved when that kind of stuff happens as well. You know, spitting involved again. There was a lot of incidents I think that just added up to it not quite being a tennis match.

Q. Do you think some of the bad blood might carry over next time you play one of those guys or do you think it's going to be not forgotten but isolated?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I'm not sure. You know, obviously, there's a couple of guys that I definitely wouldn't go and have a beer with, that's for sure. That's just the way I see it.

You know, they're obviously very fortunate that there's a lot of Argentinians on the tour as well and in the locker rooms that they can hang around with, a lot of their close mates out there. At the moment, the only English speaking guys are Andy Roddick, James Blake, a couple American guys, Tim Henman and myself. That's about it. We're outweighed in the actual speaking department in the locker room.

Q. Lindsay, I was curious, what have the last couple of weeks been like for you after that difficult loss to Venus? Still lingering, still in the back of your mind? What has it been like?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: It's been actually better than I thought it would be. Obviously, the first few days after losing any kind of big final is tough. Just kind of settling back into life here has been great. I haven't actually been able to play too much.

I don't know, I mean, I feel like I played great there. I was really close. Things didn't quite work out my way. But I don't have any regrets in terms of certain times in the match or one shot here or there.

You know, now that I haven't been able to play for a few weeks, I'm actually looking forward for the opportunity to get back out there, hitting the ball, start practicing, and hopefully getting ready for The Open.

You and Venus have had a lot of great matches here at Stanford. Can you characterize what that has been like, what your rivalry and relationship is with her?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, we seem to be the top two players that have played in Stanford the most. It's almost been -- she's the player I played against the absolute most in my career, I think close to 30 times. No, I mean, we've played some tough matches throughout the years, like, gosh, eight or nine years. She's always a very tough opponent. Last year's win was extremely exciting and a huge step for me throughout the whole summer.

Q. Lleyton, did the US Open Series influence your decisions about scheduling at all either last year or looking to this year?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Last year, you know, probably more so than this year. This year after Davis Cup I'm having a couple of weeks off and starting in Montreal and Cincinnati before playing the US Open, whereas last year the option came up obviously to take a wildcard into Long Island which was more for me to try and get matches because I wasn't playing in the Olympic Games. It was obviously trying to get some more matches before going into the US Open, which I thought was better preparation for me. Then again, there was a huge buildup to the US Open Series, as well. It obviously got a lot more hype by me going and playing there.

Q. Have you given any thought to coming to Washington to defend your Legg Mason title this summer, and why that didn't seem to work for you?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, it's just been -- you know, I would have loved to have come. It's just been too full on, obviously. I've got a lot of things happening in the next couple of weeks, as well, which I'm taking off and then coming and starting in Montreal.

At the moment, all my focus is on the two Masters Series events. I played well in Cincinnati in the past, been a runner-up there twice. Hopefully I can get as many matches as I can in those two tournaments.

Q. Have you ever played on the blue courts? Have any sense of whether it affects the way you perceive the ball as a player?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Playing on the blue courts?

Q. Yes.

LLEYTON HEWITT: I'm not sure. Actually I enjoy playing on it. I think it's a little bit funky and something different. I actually enjoy playing on the blue surfaces around the world. I think it's something good that the ATP has done to try and promote tennis, as well, and just do something different.

Q. I'm sure you know the Pilot Pen in New Haven is the last US Open Series event. Would it impact your scheduling if you were in position to win the US Open, would you play in New Haven because of that?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I don't know. I think it will just depend how the summer goes. Like Lleyton said, matches are really important. For me, I have no plans at this time to play in New Haven, but certainly things could change over the summer.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I'm the same as Lindsay. Obviously at the moment I'm only looking at playing the two tournaments before the US Open. If everything didn't go according to plan, then my options may be left open to maybe take a wildcard last minute to play in New Haven.

Q. Do you get the sense from last year, you played the week before, Lleyton, that it's had a big impact in the thought processes as far as maybe trying to sneak into a tournament right before the US Open rather than taking that as an off week?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, it depends year to year I think. I've had good success at Wimbledon when I haven't played the week before, and the US Open when I have played the week before. In a lot of ways, I don't think it's a great recipe either way for me. Just depends how I feel like I'm hitting the ball at the time and how many matches I've had under my belt.

It's sort of just a last-minute decision more than anything. We'll just wait and see how Montreal and Cincinnati go.

Q. Lindsay, you have no plans at the moment to go to the Pilot Pen?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: At this time I don't. I'm playing the three tournaments in California and planning to take the two weeks right before The Open off. Certainly with injuries and matches, who knows what can happen. I'm trying not to play too close to a Slam. It seems like the deeper I get into a Slam, the more little injuries kind of creep up. I'm just trying to hopefully go into the US Open well-rested and hopefully will do well in California.

Q. How tough was it last year to pull out at the last minute there from the Pilot Pen? I know you and Anne Worcester are pretty good friends.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: That's kind of why I didn't want to enter and have the same thing happen. You know, the older I'm getting, it's just I don't know exactly what my schedule's going to be all the time. You know, you never know with injuries. I could not commit a hundred percent to going there, so that's why I didn't want to enter. You never know, like I said, what happens over the course of the summer.

It wasn't a great experience last year pulling out. I'd rather have the good news of me taking a wildcard than not going.

Q. You want to take that week off, too, Lleyton?

LLEYTON HEWITT: At the moment, I've just got to wait and see how I go and how my body feels. Obviously last year, though, that gave me a lot of confidence going to Long Island and being able to play so well in the exact same environment that Flushing Meadows is. It's definitely maybe an option, but I've just got to wait and see. I prefer to be known as not someone that enters a lot of tournaments and pulls out on them last minute.

Hopefully I'm in a position where if I need a wildcard last minute, there will still be one free.

Q. I want to ask a fun question. I'm hoping that Lindsay and Lleyton, you guys are familiar with the ad campaign for the US Open Series, which is generally "The Real World" reality TV concept. With that, the general idea of the top 16 players living in a house together just kind of cracks me up. How do you imagine it would be if you were all living in one house together?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: You go first on this one.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, it would be different, I guess. There's a lot of different personalities. As I said before, there's not a whole heap of people that speak English. For me, I'd probably struggle in there.

But, you know, I think the Spanish and the Argentinian guys would be the head of the pack I guess with so many guys in the top 15, top 20 in the world at the moment. Yeah, there's a lot of personalities, a lot of egos. Who knows what would happen.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I think there would be a lot of Russian being spoken in the women's house. I don't know. It's interesting. I think it would be okay. But, like I said, a lot of Russian around.

Q. Sounds like you might not be looking forward to that kind of concept.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I think the locker room is probably good enough.

Q. Lleyton, how intense is the competition going to be for the US Open title between the top five guys? Maybe you can talk a little more about the different styles and the personalities of the top five.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, obviously at the moment, the defending champion Roger Federer is the man to beat yet again. He's proved himself. He's the best player going around this year, especially on hard courts winning Indian Wells and Miami back at the start of the year.

His personality fits his game extremely well. Obviously, Roddick is always going to be up there playing in America. He loves this time of year. The courts suit him. I think the atmosphere really suits him and his personality, as well. He loves playing with a lot of emotion that you get out at New York.

I think that Nadal is actually going to have pretty good success on hard courts, as well. His personality is very out there, as well. He loves the emotion as much as I do out there. Obviously, the other guys, Marat Safin, he's just a great player and he's going to be extremely tough to beat on any surface, and a former winner of the US Open. But sometimes Marat is there mentally and sometimes he's not. It all depends a bit what's upstairs with Marat.

Q. Lindsay, Fed Cup, how tough was it not to be able to go and see Venus go through and take the loss?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: It was tough. I felt terrible on Sunday night when I kind of -- Sunday afternoon when I kind of knew I wouldn't play. Being home here two weeks and still not being able to hit, it kind of makes me feel a little bit better about the situation. But it was tough. I mean, I was talking to Corina all the time when she was there. You know, I was really hopeful it would at least come down to the doubles. I thought then we would have a good shot at winning. It was tough to start off that first day down 0-2. I know the team was pretty disappointed.

But it was tough. I told Zina in November that I was in for the year and really wanted to win it back. To then have to bail out, then they end up losing, it's not easy when you've made the commitment. We had such a good time in April playing. I thought this would really be the year.

DAVID NEWMAN: The US Open Series begins this week in Indianapolis. Live finals at 2:30 on Sunday on NBC. Then the first of five successive weeks of men's and women's live finals back-to-back, the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford on Sunday, two Sundays from now at 3:00, followed by the men's final of the Mercedes-Benz Cup from Los Angeles at 5:00, both on ESPN.

Q. Lindsay, I want to talk to you about the visibility of your sport. Seems like you have always had a couple faces out there getting people attracted to the game. Can you talk about the importance of that and how much you've seen it grow, if at all.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, I mean, I think right now we have probably a bunch of really, really famous girls going around playing. I mean, with Serena and Maria, I think they're probably two of the most recognizable females in the world right now, in athletics especially and maybe even not.

Certainly brings a whole other dimension to tennis. It's always kind of great when you can cross over into other genres, fashion magazines, get on radio shows, and not just be known as a tennis player. You know, we first saw that maybe with Sabatini and then Kournikova. Now some of the girls really love it. Definitely draw more and more attention to our sport.

Q. You mentioned earlier the importance of learning about all the faces. Does it bother you at all that some other people are out there more than you? Do you feel that's fine with you?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I love my life. I couldn't be happier. I like playing tennis. I've obviously had a very successful career at it. But, you know, I just don't enjoy the other stuff. I don't really feel like that is me, and I've never wanted to sell out and do something that isn't comfortable to me. I respect all those girls tremendously. I don't know how they can kind of balance tennis and doing all this other stuff. They do a remarkable job. For me, I love to play tennis. Other than that, I just want to be home and be with my family and kind of just live my life away from the spotlight.

Q. Can you go out and eat and not be recognized?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: I can go out and eat. That's not a problem. I mean, of course you get recognized. That's always an issue. I don't feel like anyone is intrusive in that matter. Yeah, I mean, you get recognized. That kind of goes with it.