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August 23, 2018
New Haven, Connecticut
ANNE WORCESTER: I welcome James Blake and Tommy Haas here for the Invesco Series QQQ tonight. We're very excited to have you back. In 2005, when James Blake was on his comeback tour...
JAMES BLAKE: Don't remind Tommy (laughter).
ANNE WORCESTER: ...he needed a wild card to get into our first-ever combined event. He upset six higher-ranked players to win the inaugural combined Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament. One of those six higher-ranked players was Tommy Haas, so Tommy is back for revenge.
Our first question, please.
Q. 2015 you were part of an unfortunate incident in New York. In that time the national discussion towards police brutality, especially with this president, has intensified. As someone who was a victim, and turned into an advocate, what is your take on everything going on between the White House and athletes?
JAMES BLAKE: In my opinion, it's been extremely sad because the initial protest by Kaepernick was pretty clearly, emphatically stated: it's about police brutality, about injustice, and it's about racism in this country.
It has switched, thanks in part to the White House, saying that it's about the anthem, it's about the flag, it's about veterans, when it's clearly been stated to have nothing to do with it.
He's taken to insults, derogatory comments with the NFL players when they're doing what they can to protest injustice, in a similar way to Rosa Parks breaking a rule at that time by sitting in the front of the bus. There was a clearly an unjust law. Silently and peacefully it was protested against.
That's what I feel the NFL players are doing. They're making a statement. For it to be done during the anthem is what has caused much of society's attention because that's why it's still being talked about two years later.
Having there be a shift about the flag, about the anthem is really unfortunate because they've made it clear that's not the people they want to disrespect or show any sort of disrespect to. In fact, what the servicemen fought for is freedom of speech, so many freedoms we're all afforded in this country.
They're taking that right to use those to speak up. They're not doing anything violently, not attacking police officers. They're going about their business, competing on the field, but they're taking their time and their voices and protesting something that is unjust.
I think it needs to get back to the conversation about police brutality instead of changing to this having to do with the armed forces or the flag. It has nothing to do with that. I wish it would get back to talking about the number of arrests, the number of deaths, the mass incarceration of African Americans in this country. It's something that is out of control and needs to be stopped.
Along with the protests during the anthem, Colin Kaepernick has taken a huge financial risk, and others are doing that. He's giving up upwards of $30 million that he would have been entitled to being a quarterback or starting quarterback or backup quarterback in a league that has clearly blackballed him, and Eric Reid.
If people didn't find this a serious issue, they wouldn't keep taking that risk of being out of the NFL, out of a job that may be the only job they're qualified for in their lives.
Kaepernick has put his money where his mouth is by donating over a $1 million to grassroots organizations, $50,000 or $100,000 at a time, encouraging others to do that.
To be spoken in a derogatory way about him, doing something positive with his voice, to me it's sad. It's sad and childish. Instead of having a genuine conversation about what he's protesting, it's the way he's protesting. If there's another suggestion of a way to protest that doesn't ruffle any feathers, but gets this national attention, gets this media, people talking, I'm sure he'd be open to it. I'd be open to getting this many people's attention and still be effective.
Q. Did you ever think during your career you'd have this opportunity to have a voice for change?
JAMES BLAKE: Never thought about it. In fact, I think in my final press conference -- I don't have any regrets about my career. I did everything I possibly could to be as good a player as I could. So that was my main goal of my career: go about my business, do everything I can to have a one-track mind to be so focused on tennis.
In my final press conference, probably the only regret I had, it wasn't that I didn't have more success for me financially or ranking-wise, anything like that, it's that my voice might have more gravity, be able to speak up about things that I think aren't right in this world at the time.
I mentioned the fact that LGBT athletes and citizens were not getting the right kind of treatment, a lot of times there wasn't the equality for them, there was still very derogatory things being said about them, laws on the books that were exclusionary. That being a continuation of civil rights, being able to have all men and women created equal.
So that's the only thing I thought I would like to say, but I think that was going to be my last press conference ever, I'd never have to talk about these things.
Then what happened to me in 2015 happened. I talked about it in my book, there's a chapter called Accidental Activist. Nothing I planned on being. When I'm faced with it, realize this happens to so many other people that don't have the voice that I do, it wouldn't be fair. I could have very easily just kind of been quiet, gone back to my comfortable life in San Diego with my wife and kids. It's not fair because it's going to happen more and more. And if I didn't say anything, I feel like I'm guilty of not doing all I can to make a difference.
Q. Lindsay Davenport was here the other night talking about gender equity in the sport. Tommy, your predecessor made comments that were offensive to many, particularly women tennis players. Did the issue of gender equity come up before you were hired at Indian Wells?
TOMMY HAAS: I mean, it's never anything that really occurred to me personally ever. I think for us, as tournament directors now, we're all for it. We're all for equality. Especially we have combined events. All we care is that our players are treated the same way, we help keep growing the sport on the men's and women's side.
Q. James, in Miami?
JAMES BLAKE: We have ATP and WTA that we work with closely. They all want the same thing. We all want greater prize money for both sides. The only seeming argument that people try to make about the difference in pay is three-out-of-five versus two-out-of-three. Both of our tournaments are two-out-of-three for the men and women. That argument is a moot point.
Of course, in my opinion, they should be paid the same. I don't see any argument that has any validity to say that the men should be paid more or the women should be paid more. They should be paid the same.
People see the work they're doing on the court for their matches, but I don't think a lot of people realize how much work they do off the court, how much work they do in practices to earn that money. They deserve every penny they get. They all deserve to be treated equally.
TOMMY HAAS: Between the two of us, we have four daughters (smiling).
Q. You wear a lot of hats these days, author, father, tournament director. How much fun is it to put the tennis hat back on and play these events?
JAMES BLAKE: It's a ton of fun. I love playing. I've gotten to play a little bit more in the last few days. It's exciting.
TOMMY HAAS: What I like to hear (smiling).
JAMES BLAKE: To get me back in shape, but not quite the shape that Tommy is in. Tonight is going to be tough. Last night I had to play McEnroe and McEnroe. Not quite the same firepower of Tommy Haas. It's fun.
Part of the fun is what you miss around the tour is the locker room and other athletes who have become friends. Tommy is a friend. Fellow tournament directors. McEnroes are friends. You get to see people and have a lot different conversations than we used to have in the locker room.
Like he said, we have four daughters between us. We talk about changing diapers, play dates. I'll spare you what we talked about in the locker rooms when we were 23, 22 years old. It's great to see people going through different stages in their lives. Then we go out, beat each other up, come back in here and have a beer together.
It's a ton of fun. This is part of what I miss about the tour, is the camaraderie.
Q. Tommy, you just retired in March. How long did it take you to start missing it and wanting to get back and play these legends events?
TOMMY HAAS: I knew last year was going to be my last year on tour. Many times throughout my career, it could have been way earlier due to some of the injuries I had. I dealt with that in my mind. 2002, end of 2002, I had my first shoulder surgery. All the guys I looked up to that had shoulder surgeries before me didn't have much of a career after that. I had to go back-to-back shoulder surgeries. I knew maybe 24, 25, my career could come to an end.
Once the day kind of came, I knew it was going to be tough. All we do when you're young, you try to become a tennis professional. That's our goal, our dream. When you live it, you go through a lot of ups and downs. You try to see certain situations that could have been better, that you could have done better, all the regrets maybe that you have.
All of a sudden you know that I'm not going to compete in tennis any more. That's what makes this so great, going out there tonight. The pressure is a little bit off because you're not that worried any more. If you do lose, you speak about it, put something else on the line as well.
But it's a great way to stay in shape. I personally never really liked to go to the gym that much, so it's really my only excuse, hit some balls, that turns into an hour, hour and a half of sweating. Continue doing some sport that we enjoy doing. To have the opportunity to try to keep our bodies in shape after all it's been through for so long is still a challenge, but it makes it fun to come out and have a good time.
Q. Do you ever get the itch, I can still compete on the tour?
JAMES BLAKE: No. These guys are too good. Even watching Tommy last year, watching Roger and Rafa. Sometimes you see tennis on TV. It tricks you into looking too easy.
It is not easy. I see these guys. I always said, I would never get into the commentary booth, be one of those sort of crusty 40 somethings where I'm saying, I could beat those guys. In my day I would have beaten those guys. No, no, no.
They're getting better every year. There's a reason I retired: because I can't compete with those guys any more. They're incredible at what they do.
Q. What are some of the things you see as a tournament director versus being a player?
TOMMY HAAS: A lot of things that go into it, behind the scenes, moving parts. Scheduling alone, looking into wild cards, making sure there's a great fan experience, all the sponsors are happy.
The fans come in, walking around the facility, making sure everything is on top of the game to give everybody involved just the best time there is. In the end of the day they're paying a lot of money to come and watch great tennis, but there's so many things behind the scenes.
Looking back, I would have liked to have done it earlier. I think sometimes some players don't really understand what it takes to have a great event. It goes over long periods of time. There's this whole thing with weather, if it starts raining, everything is upside down. Luckily in Indian Wells, we've been blessed.
Behind the scenes things. I'm coaching a little bit now. Even seeing that side of what a coach is going through, what a coach is trying to tell my player. I tell my player, I need more feedback, things I can work with. When you are a player, you're mainly very selfish. All you want is what is best for you. Everyone around you is working for you, you don't see many things. There's not much time for it anyway any more. You have to be on top of your game.
As James just said, sometimes when you go out there and hit some balls down the middle, you feel my backhand, forehand is pretty good, I can go out there. As soon as you start playing for over half an hour, 45 minutes, you realize there's no chance. Physically I can't do it. These guys are hitting bigger, they're stronger. You play one day at this high level, I need four days of vacation. I need the massage table for four hours every day.
It's just fun being able to experience all sides that comes with tennis.
Q. Does it surprise both of you that McEnroe is still able to play at that kind of competitive level at his age?
JAMES BLAKE: He's incredible. One of a kind. I don't know how he's doing it at his age. Still practicing, still playing. It's inspiring to see how much he loves the game.
TOMMY HAAS: He thinks, I think, that he can still be on tour (smiling).
JAMES BLAKE: He thinks that.
TOMMY HAAS: I can lace it up, serve and volley a little bit. Nobody is serving and volleying any more.
JAMES BLAKE: It is incredible how good he is. That's a testament to his hands. The hands are kind of the last thing to go. My legs were probably the most important part of me. They're still okay right now. I know at 58 I'm not going to be able to run the way I can.
The hands for him was his biggest weapon. Those are still there. It's pretty cool to see, playing with a different generation, different type of player.
Q. The Williams sisters' career basically began before yours, now they are still playing, Venus at 38, Serena 37 next month. Does it surprise you they're still playing at such a high level? What do you have to say about their impact on the sport and culturally?
JAMES BLAKE: First of all, they're clearly making me look bad, starting before and ending after.
It's really impressive if you don't even count the records they've set. The length, longevity of their careers is incredible, especially considering they started at 14 years old, being on the tour, being in the public spotlight. That is not easy, male or female, to be 14 years old and in front of the public spotlight. You're still growing up.
I think about what I was thinking about at 14 years old. It was probably Power Rangers, maybe my first kiss, that kind of stuff. They're going out winning matches on tour.
They have done some incredible things. They've inspired tons of young athletes. You see it already on tour. You see Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, who have clearly been affected, look up to them, already winning and making finals of Grand Slam tournaments while they're still competing against Serena and Venus.
After spending time with both of them while I was on tour, I'm not surprised by very much that they do. The competitive attitude of that family, of those two, is absolutely incredible.
I have said it plenty of times before, I don't understand why people keep saying Serena is the best female athlete of our generation, and start just dropping the 'female' and start saying she is the best athlete possibly in the world ever. At least having that conversation between her and Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Roger Federer, Wayne Gretzky because she's right in there.
I've had the luxury of meeting my idol, Michael Jordan. Before I met her, I'd say he was the most competitive person I've ever seen in my life. Now it's 1 and I-A with her and Michael Jordan and their competitiveness.
It's fun to see when someone that is the most competitive is also the best athlete. That's why we're watching history every time she steps on the court. She is the greatest, and she has the combination of the attitude and athleticism to go with it.
Q. There's three tournament directors in the room. What have you picked up from Anne this week?
ANNE WORCESTER: I want to hear Tommy answer that because he just arrived.
TOMMY HAAS: When was the last time I was here? 2005, 2006?
ANNE WORCESTER: 2005. We had a player party at Bar Pizza. A certain amount of pizza for both the men and the women. We went through five nights of pizza. I said, The athletes are not allowed to eat pizza because they can only eat healthy food. They were starving. Tommy Haas, taking the pizza out of the brick oven at Bar and serving it.
TOMMY HAAS: That was me. Very healthy pizza, though. Thin crust pizza, very delicious.
ANNE WORCESTER: Mashed potato and bacon is their specialty.
TOMMY HAAS: Might have to go back there tonight just to refresh my memory.
She does an amazing job. Thanks for having us back here. I'm very excited to go back out on that stadium where we played, I guess. I don't remember that match that well either.
JAMES BLAKE: I remember it very well (laughter).
TOMMY HAAS: I remember the match we played at the US Open.
JAMES BLAKE: Forget about that one.
TOMMY HAAS: We'll see. Good memories. Hopefully it will be a lot of fun tonight and we can push each other again out there tonight and get some good rallies going.
JAMES BLAKE: For me, Anne is the best tournament director that I've ever encountered. When I first heard about the Miami job, she was the first person I called to ask for advice. She does an amazing job here.
For what we see as players, I think, as Tommy said, we can be very selfish and can't see all the sides that go into the tournament. You want to be fair to the players, the sponsors, the fans, the coaches, everything that's involved. Anne does that amazingly without seeming to break a sweat, does it with a smile on her face.
Now seeing from my side as a tournament director how much work and effort goes into it, I was always amazed with what she did. Now I'm more so amazed how well she runs this event, how thankful I am that she brought the men here to New Haven while I was playing, how she's able to run an event in a very notoriously difficult time, the week before the US Open.
She gets some credit, but not nearly enough, for what she does for the sport and this event and New Haven in general.
Q. Being a kid from Fairfield, you've been an idol of mine for some time.
JAMES BLAKE: Thank you.
Q. For kids growing up in Fairfield especially, what is the journey you had? How did you get out of Connecticut and expand your horizons?
JAMES BLAKE: Luckily enough I wasn't looking to necessarily get out of Fairfield. Fairfield is a great experience. I had a great childhood growing up there. For me to inspire kids there, to come and play this close to home, play at the US Open so close to home, has always been such a joy for me.
But for kids, if they're playing tennis, it's very often looked at as a place you can't be successful. You need to go down to Florida to an academy, California, or Texas for an academy.
It's possible here, but it takes a lot more effort. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder wanting to beat all those players that went to the academies.
Say, I can do it here, I can just get up early, that's the only time there's court time indoors in the winter, get up early and play before school or right after, whenever you need to play, just making the best of it.
My goal was to be as successful as I could be in tennis and show that it's possible in Connecticut, out of an area that's not exactly a hotbed of talent and other players on tour. I was able to do that.
If there's any kids from Fairfield that are tennis players, just know that it's possible, know that there may be some obstacles, but those obstacles in my opinion make you stronger. If you're able to have a little bit of success with these obstacles, it's going to make it easier once you have the access to other facilities, the better temperatures, better training conditions.
Yeah, keep working hard. It's a lot more fun when you overcome some obstacles. You appreciate it more when you get to where your goals are.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports