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February 10, 2006

James Blake

Patrick McEnroe


TIM CURRY: Questions.
Q. How do you feel, Patrick? 1-All. Give us a state of the union.
CAPTAIN McENROE: You know, look, I was very impressed with how James played. He's been looking great all week in practice, so I wasn't surprised. You know, I think he's taken his game up a level or two in the last couple of months. I think he showed that today.
Obviously, Andy's match was surprising the way it turned out, that he got sick. That obviously affected the match. But, you know, he had a chance to put it away in three sets. You know, this is Davis Cup. We've all seen crazy things happen, and that was sort of crazy. He had a real good chance to win it in straight sets, but it didn't happen.
You know, Pavel is the kind of guy, if you let him hang around, he's a veteran. He did a good job to work his way, you know, back into the match.
But overall, I'd say 1-All going into the doubles, you know, we feel pretty good about our chances.
Q. James, what is going through your mind instead of being up 1-Love, you're down 1-Love?
JAMES BLAKE: I tried not to get too emotionally involved in Andy's match. It's tough to do that. But when I was first on a Davis Cup team, when I was first on tour, you're following matches, you end up watching your friends, watching who is playing and stuff, if you end up using too much energy just sitting around, you're going to be in trouble when you get on court.
I kind of just let it roll off my back. When he's losing, just say that it doesn't change my job. If he was up 1-Love, I'd want to get up 2-Love. Obviously, when he was down 1-Love, I want to get it to 1-All. It shouldn't change my outlook at all.
It was definitely unfortunate. I was pretty bummed, more so for his health. I wanted to make sure he was okay. Unfortunately, I've had that happen to me on the court a couple times where I'm throwing up. It's a horrible feeling when you just got nothing left, kind of really no fuel left after that happens. So I felt bad for him. He gave it his all. I told him we were proud of him because he did everything he could to try to win that match. Then I have to go out and play my best and do what I knew I could do, try to make the guys proud, as well.
Q. James, Andy was saying it's kind of the team picking each other up.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, definitely.
Q. Talk about that.
JAMES BLAKE: Definitely, he's picked me up a bunch of times. In Belgium, Ollie Rochus was playing unbelievable. He really took me out pretty decisively. And then Andy showed me how to beat him when he's playing that well, and played one of the best matches I've seen him play on clay before, which is exciting to see him play that well in Davis Cup. He really picked the team up.
If he didn't get that done, then he knew I was there to pick him up in the fifth match. But the Bryans are always there to pick us up if it's 1-All. Luckily we haven't been down 2-0 very often. Even if we were, we know they'd be there.
So it really does help. I think we've all said it a bunch of times, it does make a huge difference when you have the camaraderie we do. Whether or not Andy was on my team or if was a normal tournament, it would be rough for me not to get emotionally involved in that first match because these guys are my friends, I want to see them doing well. Not only do I want to do well for the country, I want to do well for myself, want to do well for Patrick. But when you really do want to succeed, to see a goal reached together with friends, colleagues, it makes a big difference.
I think each match is so close. Even a match that I won in three sets, it can turn pretty quickly. A couple points here or there, that could change. You saw Andy's match easily could have been a three-set match. He could have come in here, close match, no big deal, I got the win. One or two points changes that completely, it can go the other way. Having that kind of edge makes a big difference where you really care about your teammates.
Q. Patrick, when were you first aware of Andy's condition today, the severity of it? Do you have any concerns about him for Sunday?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, about fairly early in the third set, I believe he was sort of having a little trouble because he started eating bananas on the changeover. He started to have a little trouble then, was spitting out a couple pieces of banana. In the tiebreak, he had a little cramp in his hand, during the third-set tiebreak. And then that's when we had the trainer come out then to sort of rub that out. That seemed to alleviate that problem.
But then from that point on, he was really starting to feel sick to his stomach. You know, I don't remember exactly when it was he threw up for the first time. I think it was early in the fourth set. You know, so we tried to conserve a little energy once he got down in the fourth and try to just sort of gear ourselves up for a fifth set.
You know, he fought his heart out, like he always does. You know, Andy's emotional when he comes to Davis Cup and he's into Davis Cup. You know, I think I have to maybe do a better job of trying to keep him a little calmer. When he plays well, I like to see him play with energy. But I think I have to find that better balance of the fine line for him between having the energy to play well, but also keeping your pace, you know, so you don't go too hard too soon.
He fought hard. No, I don't have any question about that Sunday. I think he'll be fine. He's already been treated. He's up and around. He's getting a massage now. We'll just get as much food and fluid in him as we can.
You know, he's had a couple other matches, I remember a match we played against Sweden a couple years ago, where he threw up right after the match, after winning the match against Sweden in Delray Beach. You know, it's something that's happened to him a couple of times. It doesn't happen always obviously. It's happened a few times.
Obviously, today was a bad day for it to happen.
Q. How do you feel about how the court played?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I feel fine about it. I think it was played into our strengths. It wasn't super fast. It's a medium-paced courts. The guys seem happy with it. I feel good about it, yeah.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I felt good out there. Seems to be pretty similar to the US Open, New Haven, courts where I've had success. I'm probably one of the worst guys in the locker room to ask about those things, though. I don't change my game probably as much as a lot of the other guys to fit the court. I kind of play my game. If the court isn't reacting the way I want it to, then I have to change.
CAPTAIN McENROE: We need to work on that, James.
JAMES BLAKE: Usually until the guys tell me the way the court's playing, I don't know very well. It felt great. It does seem pretty similar to the US Open, so.
Q. James, I was wondering if you changed your tactics with Victor Hanescu from the previous two matches that you played him. He said you played a very good game. You didn't allow him to come to the net. Was it something different you tried?
JAMES BLAKE: No, I don't think I changed so much. I think my game has improved since last time I played him. I had very similar tactics. I remembered how I played him about six months ago, I think in New Haven. He served very well that day. I remember it was two tiebreakers in the first two sets, so it could have been really anyone's match. Then I think he possibly got a little bit tired or I started playing, like you said, a little more aggressive in the third set, started going after his serve, took advantage of the chances.
I did the same thing today, take advantage of the serve. He makes a high percentage of first serves. I kind of wanted to make him pay when he missed those serves. Did a pretty good job of that. It was a little tough to see in the first and second sets with the sun on the one side. But otherwise, on the other side, when I had a better look, I was trying to take time away from him.
He plays great on clay. He plays really well, hits the ball very clean. You got to kind of put him on the run, make him play from an uncomfortable position, more uncomfortable position for him.
It's not really a change of tactics. I feel like I played better than I did a few months ago. That's the same tactic, but better execution is hopefully the way it turned out.
Q. Patrick, I'm wondering if you ate together as a team. Have you got the same diet?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, the guys eat a little more than I do, but they expend a little more energy. Yeah, generally we eat together during the week, yeah. Are you saying maybe I should have gotten sick if Andy got sick (laughter)? He was under a little more stress than I was out there. But I don't think it was a food thing, no.
Q. You attribute his illness to stress?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I don't know if it's stress. I think, you know, Andy, he's emotional, he's intense. I was speaking to my wife just a few minutes ago. She's a singer. She was telling me about a friend of hers is another big performer, she usually gets sick quite a bit, throws up in between songs when she was doing songs.
Andy's an intense guy. He's out there. He's intense. So sometimes he gets -- his stomach gets upset. There's a lot of great athletes, we hear stories of people that, you know, throw up before matches. Luckily we don't do that.
I attribute it to the fact that he's trying his butt off, and he wants to do well, and he's working extremely hard. Maybe he ate some different eggs than I ate this morning.
Q. If you could talk a little bit more about Andy. Obviously, he's No. 3 in the world. Wimbledon finalist. Has great desire. Yet the results last three to four Slams, even Davis Cup, problems. Could you talk about his game. Is the field coming up to him? Is his game vulnerable?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Everybody has vulnerabilities in their game. I think Andy, we certainly worked hard on trying to improve some of his vulnerabilities this week. You have to keep working. I think he knows that there's work to be done in his transition game, you know, hitting his backhand with more pace or maybe more depth. There's things that every player has to do. I think he's continuing to do them.
I think he knows that he's got to improve. He wants to do that. He's trying to do that. Doing it when you're playing, whether it's in a Grand Slam or here, you know, there's a lot of pressure in those matches. I would like to see him do it consistently in other events as well, you know, when he's dominating matches. There's a time when you can really work on things.
I saw a lot real positive things from him in the first couple sets. I thought he was cutting the court off better, I thought he was hitting his backhand well. There's a lot of good things he was doing. I think he's, you know, it's going to come a time when he'll start to put it back together. He's sort of working on different pieces of his game. Quite honestly, I think that that will come on Sunday. I think he's going to continue to work on those things. When they do start to click, when his confidence starts to get back to that level, I think he'll see the results.
Q. You know something about brothers in tennis. How do you think working with John will do?
CAPTAIN McENROE: John and I have spoken a lot. Look, we're on the same page with what we're trying to get Andy to do. John knows him well. John is an intense guy. I think he's a guy that's not afraid to tell Andy what sometimes maybe he doesn't want to hear, and that's a good thing. I think Andy needs to hear that.
I've said part of Andy's greatness is he's stubborn, but that can also get in the way of improving. You know, when you've had so much success, and he's won a lot more matches than I ever dreamed about winning, Andy Roddick. He knows how to win. I think he knows how that there's time for him, he's got to make some improvements, and I think his brother will help him do that. We'll see.
Q. James, you mentioned the sun before. Were you cognizant that the sun was setting, that maybe, to use a football analogy, you had the two-minute offense a little bit?
JAMES BLAKE: No, I wasn't really -- I wasn't really conscious of the sun, making sure to get it done tonight or anything like that. It was difficult to see on the one side, but I knew that coming in because I practiced at that time earlier in the week. I knew it was going to be tough. As I said all week, I think it's always the same for both guys. I actually think the way I play, it might be even more effective to hurt the other guy a little more because I take balls early, I try to take time away from people. That split second where you don't pick it up in the sun might be a little even more effective when I'm taking time away from them.
I wasn't doing that, but I think as people have seen in some of my other matches, I try to play quickly in general. That's just my pace, the way my rhythm is. You see Andy, Andy plays quickly. There are other guys, Greg Rusedski, that just take forever, that take a lot of time in between each point. I never do that.
I think it especially showed in the third set when I got even more confidence and got rolling, that I kind of -- I get that feeling where I'm feeling like I'm playing well and I just want to keep it up. I want to keep playing. That's when I play my best, is when I keep playing. I'm playing quickly, I expect every ball to come back, I just want to keep hitting balls. I'm expecting everything to come back and I'm ready for anything kind of.
I think I showed it in the third set. I wasn't worried. I talked to Patrick. Said it doesn't matter how long it takes, we can come back and do it tomorrow. That's fine with me. Would have been fine to come back and finish it tomorrow if we needed to. We won't ever run out of time, I don't think. If we have to play it tomorrow or go all the way into Sunday, I don't mind. I wasn't trying to hurry for the sake of the sun. I was trying to hurry for the sake of that's the way I play, keep my confidence going.
Q. Patrick, not to state the obvious, but how important is the doubles point tomorrow? Do you expect the captain to change the Hanescu/Pavel team?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I think we would not be surprised if they change it. The boys have already talked about it. We wouldn't be surprised if Tecau steps in there. We're not really concerned about that. The guys have had another great week of practice. You know, you know when you send the Bryans out there that they're going to be ready. They're going to play well. That doesn't mean it's a guarantee and they're going to win every match, as we found out last year against Croatia, against two great singles players that also can play doubles.
They're primed. This is a team you want going out there. When it's one apiece, that's the guys you want. They played in Spain. They splayed in Slovakia at 1-All. They played in a lot of tight situations. They're confident. They're ready. Yeah, it's a huge match. They know it's a huge match. They sort of live for these opportunities. It makes it exciting for us to see them go out there tomorrow.
Q. James, you finished the season winning two tournaments, ranked 20th. What turned around?
JAMES BLAKE: I think it started to turn around in the beautiful city of Tunica, Mississippi, where I started my little streak of winning a couple of challengers. The first few months of the year, I didn't have a whole lot of confidence. I hadn't played any matches. I didn't know if the virus had gone all the way away or kind of what was going on. I was so up and down.
I think the best players, you watch guys like Federer, Nadal, Andy most of the time, they're consistently good. There are days when they're playing badly, it's about 95% of their potential instead of 100%. For me at the time of the beginning of the year, I'd play one match or one set at 100%, one match down at 50%, where I was struggling with my confidence, what I needed to do, my game plan. It started slowly coming back in the challengers. Those are really good players down there in the challengers, but most of them have a little bit of learning to do or just something in their game where they need to improve. I could pick up on those and kind of going through that process again helped my confidence, to know that I could do that.
I didn't know after the first couple months if I was going to get back to a level I was at. To do that, to prove it to myself that, okay, I can go back down to this level and achieve success again, to work my way up the way I had to do it the first time, that gave me a lot of confidence. Especially to do it on my worst surface, on clay. Then I felt like I was playing well. Grass court season didn't treat me that great. Still had a couple of decent results in Queen's where I beat Hanescu actually as well.
As soon as I got off the grass, I actually felt great. I felt like I was confident. I don't know what I was ranked at the time. Probably 110. Definitely outside of the top hundred because I got a wildcard to the Open. I was outside the top hundred. I was telling people in the press conferences I feel great, I feel confident. Everything is coming back. Nobody believed me. I was saying I was playing better than when I was 20 in the world, had my confidence back, felt my game improved thanks to my kind of newfound perspective on the court, where I'm a little calmer. I just feel like I know what my game is. I'm just a little more sure on court.
They started believing me my run in DC. Then I convinced a few more people in New Haven. Then I think I convinced a few more people at the US Open. Now I think people believe me that I am playing better than I was when I was 22 in the world a few years ago.
Q. James, how is it having a brother here?
JAMES BLAKE: We've all decided that he's just a little more laid back in the players lounge. He's about as laid back as someone can be. If he was any more so, we'd have to check him for a pulse. He's been talking to Brian all the time actually. I think he's probably getting tired. Might start not answering his calls. Brian is someone who is very thorough, always wants to make sure that each detail is taken care of, whether it's making my Gatorades or how long before a match I warm up, everything like that. Always has been great at putting up with that, kind of being the meditator, whatever. He's someone that obviously knows me as well, just like John knows Andy as well. My brother knows everything that's comfortable for me. He's been around me before matches, after matches. If I need to be alone, he knows to leave me alone. He knows when he needs to say something, what he needs to remind me of. Just having him in the crowd, having him right there, kind of looking over and seeing his face, seeing him cheering for me, really pulling for me, makes a big difference.
Since Brian can't be here, it definitely makes a big difference having someone as close to me as my brother and someone that knows me as well as he does.
Q. Do you think the game would have been different if Hanescu managed to win the second set?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it would have been different. It would have been four or five sets if he won that second set. Like I said, all these matches, even if it's three sets, can turn on one or two points. I think at 6-5, he wins that point, gets it to 6-All, comes up with a big serve or something, hits a great return, it's his set. Then maybe I don't have the same confidence I had starting that third set. You never know.
Those are the kind of things that when you're a confident player, you win those points, you win those matches. That's what is so different about my game now, is I have the confidence to go for my shots at 6-5 in the breaker or 1-All in the breaker, whatever the score is. I feel like I can go for my shots. I don't feel like I'm going to second guess myself because I know my game, I know what I do well, and I know what I don't do well. Just putting that into effect is what's made a big difference in me at 26 and me at 22.
Q. You battled scoliosis, played two years at Harvard. Dealing with the things you have in the past, does that make going into a match down Love-1 in perspective?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, it's funny, when people talk about scoliosis, going to Harvard, all that kind of thing, saying that it's an impressive story or any kind of story at all, I never thought of that as any kind of story whatsoever because it was just my daily life. It was what I went through. I knew no other way. It was, okay, I have to wear a back brace now. I take it off for six hours a day, I get to play tennis, that's great. It could be a lot worse.
I went to the Shriner's Hospital where I'd say 99.9% of the patients were much worse off than I was. Put things into perspective pretty easily there. I was happy I could walk in and out of the hospital.
I go to Harvard. It was something that I always focused on, was academics as a kid. My parents stressed that more than tennis, more so than athletics. They wanted me in the library working hard hitting the books.
Unfortunately, 2004 has really put a lot of things in perspective. My father really raised me to be the man that I am now. And to see him go through and battle cancer, lose that battle, really made me think of more important things in life. Also the only thing I can do from then on is to live the way he taught me. I know he'd be proud of me today. He'd be proud of the attitude I've shown since I've been back on the court doing my best. He always preached hard work, was the living example of hard work. I just do my best from then on. That has made a difference in my perspective. And also breaking my neck, being probably about an inch from being paralyzed, getting a virus that could have put me out for three or four years, possibly never let me come back to play the game I love, all that stuff puts things into perspective, where being down 1-Love is not the worst thing in the world. Even being down 2-Love wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
But you can't always -- people in the media, whoever, would question, "Maybe he's not mentally tough enough. He doesn't have the drive to win." Just because I know there are other things in the world doesn't mean that I don't want to win just as bad as the next guy. I go out there. I don't think about all those things. I think about winning that match, I think about winning each point. If I lose a match or if I win a match, an hour later is when it sets in that, okay, this is a great feeling or this is a rough feeling. I'm still healthy. Still got my brother here. Still got a great team. You can move on then.
Hopefully this actually won't hinder anything I'm going to do on Sunday. This match, I'm going to enjoy it now, enjoy it with the team for dinner, put it out of my mind and get ready for Sunday.
TIM CURRY: Thank you.

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