When I was watching the tournament in Doha, at the end of one of Rafa’s matches I noticed a fellow with a microphone patiently waiting on the court for Rafa to finish his long post-match routine and thought, “wonder what he’s thinking about while waiting.” Turns out that fellow was Andy Taylor – the Voice of the US Open. It also turns out Mr. Taylor was on twitter. I figured, why not take advantage of that and ask him myself? He very kindly agreed to an interview.
One of the things I noticed when I looked at your website is that you are listed as being the voice of the US Open. How does that happen? How does one become the voice of the US Open?
It’s bizarre. I’ve been the voice on Arthur Ashe stadium and throughout the grounds, on their television marketing and radio since 2002. And it’s really an interesting story. I was in radio here in Springfield, Missouri, and I had a friend call me and say, “Hey listen. Fed Cup’s in town – Billie Jean King is with Davenport and the crew – and they need an announcer at the Cooper Tennis Complex to handle this Fed Cup event.” So I said, all right. I had a million things going on that weekend, but if somebody recommends you for a job, it’s important that you go ahead and deliver on that.
So I showed up, did the Fed Cup match, it was the US vs. Israel. We had Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, and Chanda Rubin was on the team. Did the event, it was the last day, and a guy tapped me on the shoulder and said, “hey what do you think about trying out to be the Voice of the US Open?” These opportunities don’t just drop in your lap like that, so I didn’t believe him. I didn’t know who the guy was. I just kind of blew him off and said something like, yeah, whatever pal. Finished the event, got home, two weeks later I’m sitting at my desk at work and I get a phone call from the USTA and they said, “No, no, we are serious. We’d like you to come and try out for the role and next time the president of the USTA taps you on the shoulder like that, it’s probably a good idea not to blow him off.” That’s when it started. I did the night sessions the first year. There was a gentleman by the name of Thom Morrera who was doing it before I did. He did the day sessions and I did the night sessions. When I returned in 2003 I ended up doing the entire tournament and have been doing it ever since.
Were you a fan of tennis before got this call to come to the Fed Cup tie?
I’ve always been a casual fan of tennis. I played tennis in high school growing up in Massachusetts. When I started working – entered the work force and working morning radio – there was a period of about 10-12 years where I didn’t know a heck of a lot about tennis. I couldn’t tell you what grand slam was played on what surface. The only thing I knew about what was going on was by seeing Canon commercials with Andre Agassi promoting a Rebel. So, I first went to the US Open like that. Low and behold, the first final I ever did on Arthur Ashe stadium was Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi when Pete won his final grand slam tournament. You want to talk about being spoiled.
Quite the introduction.
Yeah, it was absolutely amazing that was the first tournament I did. And the night before that the women’s final was Serena and Venus Williams! So here I am, sitting there, 12 stories up high in Arthur Ashe stadium thinking, “This is the best thing in the world! The US Open is absolutely amazing! They must all finish like this!” And then, years later, boom, I’m sitting there watching Roger Federer dominate the men’s field and pull off 5 in a row. Nothing beat that 2002, that first year where it was just like, wow, this is absolutely incredible.
So you’ve really seen a good chunk of recent tennis history there at Ashe stadium.
Yeah, it’s been phenomenal to experience those moments, like Andre’s retirement, and Roddick’s retirement, to see and witness Federer’s complete dominance when he was at the height of his game. And to see the surge of conditioning that’s occurred since the retirement of guys like Sampras and Agassi. Guys like Novak Djokovic and obviously Rafael Nadal – knowing that if you are going to compete with the best, you’ve got to be fully committed. You’ve got to have a physio guy, you’ve got to have your coaches, you’ve got to have an amazing team behind you to prepare you for what it takes to go 5 sets at these majors. And to see a guy like Djokovic impress crowds at Arthur Ashe stadium through his impressions early on and his witty nature, and then kind of grate on people’s nerves the next year in a little conflict with Andy Roddick and then all of a sudden just win everybody over with his dominance on the tennis court. It’s been encouraging to watch the evolution of character with these individual players.
Is there someone that, as you’ve watched them, you think you’ve seen then change or grow with the most – with either their on-court demeanor or their game?
I would say that watching Novak Djokovic evolve from somebody who was having breathing issues – and you know, I sit here and talk to you like this and I don’t want you to think I’m a tennis insider. I’m speaking exclusively as a fan. And just to see a crowd’s reaction to Novak initially as, you know, “hey, he’s a fun guy. We like him. He’s witty, he’s great. He puts on a good show down here.” To see that transition to, “holy moly, this guy’s one of the best players that has ever played the game.”
The funny thing about Rafael Nadal – I was thinking about this today – I think this happens with people who are great when it comes to their passion. I have very few memories of Rafael Nadal’s growth because I think his dominance and his determination to win and the passion he has for the sport and the responsibility he feels for the history of the game – it’s like all of that has completely erased my early memories of Rafael Nadal. When I hear the game, when I see the guy, when I have the chance to talk to him, it’s like he’s been around for decades as one of those dominant players. And I think athletes who are like that – just people who are pinnacles of their field – you kind of forget those early years and I think that speaks volumes about Rafa. I have very few memories of those early matches when he was first coming on the scene.
He got trounced a few times at the US Open…
Yeah, if I look back at the stats I can kind of remember them, but they don’t come to mind right away. It’s strange.
…but I think his attitude has always been the same. Also, he rose to the top of the rankings at a very young age, so, speaking as a fan, I don’t think people notice change in his game as much since he’s always been on the top.
And when that happens, you are, whether you like it or not, granted this huge bucket of expectation and the fact that he’s been able to accept that and embrace the bucket of expectation and continue to excel is pretty remarkable for any human being.
Well, I personally think so. That’s why I’m a fan. (laughs)
So, do you see much behind the scenes stuff or are you mainly seeing on-court activity like we do?
At the US Open, I’m so busy doing everything else, that I really am just focused on sport presentation and making sure the fans are engaged in everything that’s going on. I’ll run out with a camera and do stadium give-aways and things like that. The main focus is on the fans, and it’s the same with Davis Cup and Fed Cup events. At Indian Wells and most recently in Qatar at the Qatar ExxonMobile Open it was more…you know you want to keep the crowd engaged and do all of that, but you are seeing more of what’s going on behind the scenes and you are more engaged with the players on the court: doing post-match interviews, speaking directly with people at the ATP to make sure the biography information is solid. The one slam I work, I really don’t get a chance to see much of the backstage stuff, but most recently in January I did get to see a lot of the backstage in Doha.
In Doha you were doing the post-match interviews. Did you like doing that? Was that kind of a different thing for you?
Yeah, it’s different because with most of the slams and the tournaments you have journalists, people who are commentators who are absorbing that whole match and then going down on court and conducting that post-match interview. As a former player I think you have a much better perspective on what somebody’s just endured on the court, so you’re more armed to ask the right questions. I can’t help it: not being a former player, I always feel like a pretender. But there’s a responsibility with those tournaments as the emcee to go out and get their thoughts post-match and their thoughts about moving forward in the tournament. And I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to get that out of a player. Guys like Rafa, already know what they want to to say any way.
So, these interviews, do you write the questions? Do you ever receive any guidance for what you’re not supposed to ask from the players or tournament?
No, no. You want to ask what’s appropriate. If something interesting happened during the match, you want to address that. You know, Rafa’s playing somebody like Peter Gojowczyk – someone he’s never played before, in fact they just met for the first time in the locker room – you want to bring that up. You want to get an honest reaction to what just happened on the court and what we can expect in future matches during the tournament.
During the Australian Open some fans had, kind of, a strong reaction to some of the post-match questions – feeling they were perhaps sexist or too personal. And that’s just kind of why I was wondering if you had any guidance on what was out of bounds or what to ask.
I don’t think you’ll never see me so loose in that situation, because I’m not personal friends with these players. I mean, you got Pam Shriver for ESPN, you’ve got Rennea Stubbs, you’ve got all sorts of different journalists who are conducting post-match interviews who see these guys all over the tour and so sometimes they are out there looking to have a little fun after a match. I don’t think I have that kind of a relationship with the players where you’re going to find a moment like that slip. If you’re not good friends with these guys, you have to have a level of respect in how you present.
Yeah, they might know the player better and know what’s okay to ask even if it might seem like it goes over a line…
Yeah. It’s a fine line. You’ve got to show a level of respect for the player, but at the same time give a good show – get a little personality out of the player that the fans will react to positively. We’ve all seen those interviews too that have gone south after a match – the Roddick/Djokovic match where Roddick lost. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but Djokovic was talking to the interviewer about how he didn’t appreciate something Andy had said before the match, or something like that, and he said that on center court in New York at the US Open. Obviously the fans are going to turn on you. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the interviewer’s responsibility to keep player from putting their foot in their mouth, but I think it’s probably wise to do what you can to try and reflect best on the athlete.
Have you ever had an interview go south like that?
No! Thank goodness no. I’ve worked full-time in radio up until 2011 so really, my only exposure to tennis was at the US Open in New York and US based Davis Cup and Fed Cup events. Since I retired from radio, I’ve managed to do a few more of these tennis events. And post-match interviews… there haven’t been moments where the crowd has turned on the player. Thankfully. But I know it’s gonna happen and, in that case, you just have to go with the flow. If players are going to put their foot in their mouth they are going to put their foot in their mouth. It’s about how well they can recover.
Has there been any post-match interview or other activity that’s really stood out to you? A special moment you’ve had with a player or…
Yeah, and…it’s a little self-serving and I don’t really like to do that, but it was really humbling, to me, last year at Indian Wells. Bob and Mike Bryan had played there, I dunno, 50,000 times and never won the tournament. I was asking the first question and Bob stopped me and he said, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re the guy!” And I said, “what are you talking about?” “You’re the voice at Davis Cup and you’re the voice at the US Open!” So he turned the moment that should be about, always should be about the players, and turned that moment to me. And so then I asked the question, all right guys, you’ve been here 50,000 times, you never won the tournament, what’s the deal? And there was a long pause and Mike looked at me and said, “What about this guy’s voice?” So it was neat, because I’d always been like the Wizard of Oz – the man behind the scenes – so it was neat for those guys to recognize that, you know, oh this is the guy. And, I dunno, it was just a funny moment.
And speaking of Bob and Mike, you’re getting ready to go to Davis Cup, right?
Oh yeah! Going to San Diego – stay classy, San Diego!
I love Davis Cup and the atmosphere, but does it present any special challenges for you and what you do? How does it differ from a regular tournament?
What’s neat about Davis Cup is, it’s a very ceremonial experience right off the bat. Usually with these tournaments, you’ve got a few announcements that you throw out there, maybe some spots, you get the players on the court, have some fun with their bios and boom, match is under way. With Davis Cup, it’s always ceremonial: we’re going to have to play this national anthem, we’re going to play our national anthem, we’re going to exchange gifts. As an announcer, it’s a lot more responsibility and engaging up front. It’s a good 15-20 minute ceremony before we get the tennis started. And then, once the match is under way, what’s great, what I love about it is I have an opportunity to really kick back and experience the vibe of country verses country – this Olympic-style event – that is Davis Cup. And if you have a good audience, which tennis doesn’t necessarily have the biggest following here in the States – we certainly doen’t see amazing crowds like you see in Spain, in bull rings, or even in Serbia, but it is nice to have that feel where it is nation verses nation. I hope San Diego lives up to the hype. I mean, Andy Murray is there, he’s ready to play. We are playing outdoors and it’s on clay at Petco Park, of all places – which is, you know, interesting in and of itself.
The set-up looks insane.
Yeah! But it’s like with Davis Cup, you just…as the US Team, you just hope for that turn out. Because it’s Super Bowl weekend as well and historically, we haven’t necessarily had the best turn out on Super Bowl weekend for Davis Cup’s first round. In Jacksonville it was almost embarrassing at times – the fact that there weren’t that many people there. And then last year in Boise, when we played Serbia, heck we had the number one player in the world in town and we didn’t necessarily pack Boise either. Boise is an interesting location to try and draw fans from around the country.
So, I’ve taken up a lot of your time here and I appreciate it, but I have one Rafa related question…since it is a Rafa site I do.
So, at the end of the match, you’re out there on the court waiting to do your interview – I noticed this in Doha – and some players (Rafa) take forever in their post match routines.
Always, it’s Rafa time.
Do you ever feel like trying to urge them along with a few quiet mumbles into the mike like “come on, move along here”? or something similar?
You know, it’s so funny you say this and whatever we say right now is no disrespect to the man, right? But here I am doing the player dinner in Doha and it’s important that we get the top five players at the Qatar ExxonMobile Open on stage to do this gift exchange before we get started, and we’re already running 15 minutes late. I walk up to coordinator/PR guy and am like, do you want me to get started? What exactly are we going to do here? And they said, well, can you guess who we are waiting for? I don’t need to guess. I know who we are waiting for. And so finally, Karim [Karin Alani – the tournament director] said, okay, get this thing started – let’s go. So, I get up there on stage and start introducing. I think we had Tomas Berdych, we had Andy Murray, David Ferrer, and somebody else, and each one of them has a special gift exchange and now it’s time for Rafael Nadal. And it’s one of those things where it could be a very uncomfortable moment. And right as I start the read on Rafael Nadal, here he comes walking through – I mean, you couldn’t have scripted it better. He comes walking through the front, gallantly parading down the aisle as everybody stands up and applauds as I read “the amazing Rafael Nadal has regained the world number one ranking…”. And it was just… I mean, he’s got his own time, but that was one moment where he delivered right on cue. And I was so impressed. But I can’t tell you how many times at the US Open and other events I’ve done where you’re waiting on him just to get to a pre-match interview or you introduce him to come out on the court and he’s going to put that bag down and rearrange a few things in the bag and come out on his own time. And I’ll tell you, that’s what makes him… if he has control over absolutely everything, in his mind, that’s what puts him in position to play his best and win. Whether it’s yanking the right lever, putting the bottles in the right place, walking at an 80 degree angle to get off the court, he has to do all of those things and control every moment so that his game can deliver up to his controls. It’s amazing!
I think that’s how he keeps his mind calm and focused. I’ve been lucky enough to be photographing a few tournaments as media and you learn pretty quickly not to show up in the pressroom when he’s first announced for his presser.
No. Absolutely not – unless you are looking for the best seat to get the best shot. But for the most part you can count on him being a convenient 7, 8 or maybe even 15-30 minutes late. But, that’s his character. It is what it is. So you just kind of go, whatever. And he’s earned it, for crying out loud. And then to continue playing like he did in Australia during the final.
What did you think about that? Were you up early in the morning watching that?
Oh, yeah! Of course. And I was heart-broken for him. And I was heart-broken for Stan because, here Stan earns the first set 6-3 and you’re like, wow. I mean, he earned that. And he’s playing…he’s beating Rafa! And then for Rafa to have that twinge in his back and immediately call for the trainer it was…awww…devastating. There were moments when you saw him and you were going, he’s going to throw it in. He’s going to retire. But he’s got that overwhelming sense of responsibility to the game and respect for others that he was willing to aggravate an injury even further in a show of respect to Stan. It says a lot.
Tell me who else on the ATP Would Tour, sincerely, who else on the ATP World Tour would have suffered through that? I’m sure there are many, but it’s hard to pick then out off the top of your head.
Yeah, and it’s hard because you don’t know how much he felt this injury could have become a long term one if he kept playing. I think he suspected it wasn’t – not to take anything away from what he did, but after what he went through in 2012, I think if he truly felt this was an injury that could lead to another 7 months away from the game by continuing, he would have quit even though he wouldn’t have wanted to. (At least, I hope so.)
Yep. I agree with that. But I’ve seen some other personalities on the tour, you know, I’m not going to name names, who faced with that situation would just say, no, I can’t do it. Congratulations, Stan.
And to go back to what you were talking about earlier, that’s kind of the reputation Djokovic used to have (earned or not, I’m not passing judgement) and he’s gone beyond that now.
And that’s what I’m a fan of when it comes to tennis. You know it seems like in other sports all you see is just a…disillusion of character over time. But in tennis, especially with these top players, and it’s because they’ve had great examples over the years, you get to see, witness and be a part of the evolution of somebody’s character as they grow into a man or as they grow into a woman. You get to see that…and grow with them. As a fan, that’s what makes tennis fun to be a part of and fun to watch.
I think part of that is the beauty of the individual sport.
Exactly. And that’s what is neat about it. You know, the outcome of a match isn’t necessarily determined by someone’s talent. It’s determined by that player’s determination. By that player’s character.
And you have great journalists out there writing about it – and great interviewers and color commentators who are doing their part to paint a stroke of brilliance with each one of these matches. It’s a neat sport to be a part of the presentation aspect of it. It’s such a fun thing.
It is a very fun thing indeed. Thanks so much for the interview. Be sure to check out Andy’s tennis blog to learn more about his exploits as he enjoys the tour from his own unique perspective.