The U.S Open is one of the biggest stages for professional tennis. The New York based tournament draws in some of the greatest tennis players from all over the world who show off their skills for the duration of the two-week tournament.
Gary Sussman is Marist College’s Director of Tennis, who brings over twenty years of experience to our men’s and women’s programs. He is a professor for select communication classes on campus, and has a background of working both as the Vice President of Public Relations and the public address announcer with the Brooklyn Nets for twenty years. It is this background, Sussman notes, that helped him land the job as the press conference moderator at the U.S Open.
Sussman has worked at the tournament for the past five years, moderating the main room. These press conferences take place after the matches and are broadcasted on ESPN3 and then subsequently re-broadcasted for the U.S Open’s website. He describes his job as being “the quarterback” for the interviews.
“You have journalists from all over the world,” Sussman starts. “Your job as the moderator is to basically quarterback the operation to make sure that as many people [journalists] as possible, if not all of them get into each press conference in the time allotted.”
The athletes sit through ten minutes of an English press conference, following with five minutes of one in their own native language. Sussman said that, “The reporters control the flow of the foreign language interviews because they know the players. I just have to make sure they stay in the time limit.”
The press conferences of the U.S Open this year were held virtually due to COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, Sussman stands right next to the athletes as they are speaking. Regardless of where in the room he is located, Sussman still reads out questions, and makes sure that as many questions can be answered in the time allotted.
“It was kind of like a control room set up in the back of the room, and the players were ushered into the press conference in front of a huge LED screen,” Sussman said.
He continued with saying that it was challenging this year because you are at “the behest of technology.” Sussman was only one of a handful of people who got to work on site this year.
“You have to do it in a fashion that keeps the players interested in the process as opposed to getting bored and wanting to leave. There’s a lot of components,” explained Sussman.
Over these past five years, Sussman has heard a multitude of speeches after superstars are crowned as champions or from players who gave it their all and came up just a little too short.
“Players of all levels get nervous,” Sussman said with a grin as he shared another paradigm about 2016 tournament winner Stan Wawrinka. “In his words, he [Wawrinka] had a ‘breakdown in the locker room’, right before the match. So I tell them all the time about how they share in the press conferences how they were nervous, how they were able to control their nerves, how they were able to get through the tough points, how they prepared, all of those different things which are the same for any player at any level.”
Sussman shares these stories and experiences with his players here at Marist, realizing that these stories resonate the most with the athletes because he is sharing them as firsthand accounts. It creates a motivation and memory for the players that they can carry with them throughout their lives as players and as individuals.
“I tell the team all the time about things that I have learned in the post-game press conferences and relay it to them,” said Sussman. “What I tell them is that the only difference between them and you is their level of play.”
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Dave Connelly
Photo from the Marist Tennis Instagram