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March 21, 2003

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Tell us about the match.

JAMES BLAKE: Well, to begin with, it was pretty hot out there so I knew I wanted to try to end it as quickly as possible. It's tough to do sometimes against Fernando who runs down a whole lot of balls and doesn't miss too much without being provoked. Really wanted to get into net, especially on his backhand, and volley pretty well. But I felt like my volleys let me down a little bit. A couple times on big points, I just missed them instead of making him pass me. Lucky the rest of my game was pretty solid. I felt like I returned pretty well, was always in his service games. So it was good to get out of the heat.

Q. You've had some success here in Miami last year. Tell us about that, coming back in. You won three matches last year.

JAMES BLAKE: Uh-hmm. Last year, that was really fun. I didn't have a whole lot of expectations. Fought really hard and won against Santoro. Played a really great match against Canas. Again, it was pretty hot last year. I've had some trouble in the heat before, but somehow here I've been able to get past that and do pretty well. It's a lot of fun. Miami's an unbelievable city, so it's a pretty good time here.

Q. How much does the heat have an effect on your game?

JAMES BLAKE: Not a whole lot. I think earlier in my career, you know, a year ago or two years ago, it had more of an effect because I was just thinking about it and worrying, "Maybe I'm using up too much energy early in the match, maybe I should go for a little more." I found that that's just not playing my best tennis. To give up that 5 percent difference, it's not worth it. You're going to lose more matches that way and regret it instead of just playing your game. Now I just play my game, whether I'm down 40-love, I'm still going to run for every ball, because you never know when you can get that turning point and come back and win the game. Now it doesn't affect it at all except if it's possibly a three-out-of-five match if I'm in the heat or end up cramping or just letting the heat get to me too much. So far this year I don't think the heat's affected me.

Q. Are you in better shape now than you were last year?

JAMES BLAKE: I think so. I think that has an effect. It's a little tough though here, being the first one. Indian Wells, it's kind of hot, but it's really dry. You don't have to deal with this kind of humidity. A lot of the guys haven't been used to this kind of heat and humidity. So this is probably where most of the troubles are, is the first time. Then you get used to it. Your body adjusts. That's why it's great to get through the first one. I think I'll just feel better and better as the week goes on, hopefully.

Q. A lot of talk about the growing camaraderie among the Americans as you guys are moving up the rankings. Mardy had a good win today.


Q. Did you talk to him about playing Grosjean? Have you talked to or will you talk to Brian Vahaly about possibly playing Corretja, since he beat a bunch of Spaniards at the last tournament?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, actually I've had some pretty good success against Corretja. I've beaten him the last two times I've played him. Hopefully, I won't need anyone else's scouting report on that one. Hopefully, I won't need that scouting report at all because Robby plays him this afternoon so we'll see. Mardy had a great win, I talked to him a little bit. Unfortunately for Mardy and I, I think people play us about the exact opposite. They attack his forehand a little more, block his serve back a little bit more, might not worry as much about his speed. With me, I've got the speed to just run down a bunch of balls. My forehand is my bigger weapon. Our scouting reports sometimes aren't the best for each other. He helped me out last week. We help when we can. I've never beaten Grosjean so I couldn't help him too much, I don't think. I know Andy practices with him, and Andy beat him last week. So possibly he could have helped him out. I'm just happy he got a win.

Q. He practices with Grosjean down here? You don't?

JAMES BLAKE: I don't come down here very often to practice. I practice up in Tampa at Saddlebrook.

Q. What about the prospect of facing Robby in the next round?

JAMES BLAKE: That would be fun. I played him a couple of times in much smaller events, in a challenger, in tour event quallies a couple years ago. So it will be a nice experience to play him in, what will it be, the round of 32 of one of these Masters Series. It will be a lot of fun. That would make it -- make for a good win for him to beat Corretja. So I'd be happy for him. Then we'd go out there and have a battle, probably go out to dinner afterwards.

Q. Have you been timed for 40 yards?

JAMES BLAKE: I haven't done that, no. I did a couple of the little, like, agility drills that I think some of the football players do up at Saddlebrook. I've scored pretty well on those. I haven't done the flat-out 40. I probably should some time.

Q. What do you think your time might be?

JAMES BLAKE: I don't know. I'm definitely not in the range of those guys that are runningbacks that running 4.3s, I'd guess somewhere around 4.5, I'm not sure. I know one of my roommates was trying out for the NFL, trying to be a tight end or H back, he was running like a 4.7. I'm pretty sure I was faster than him. But I won't tell him that, because he's about 250 pounds.

Q. What about you and Grosjean running a 40, who might win?

JAMES BLAKE: I don't know, he's quick. He gets to a ton of balls, and I played him on clay. I don't know, I think maybe we should set up a race, 40 yards, 100 yards - me, Grosjean, Hewitt, couple of the other speedsters on tour and just see who's actually the fastest. It would be fun.

Q. Still trying to get Robby to move down to Saddlebrook?

JAMES BLAKE: Still trying. We're working on him. Probably not the best time to talk to him about it right now, he's getting ready to play Corretja, possibly play me. But we'll work on it. Maybe if he plays me, we'll play for it. If he wins, I'll move to Atlanta. If I win, he'll move to Tampa. We'll see if we can do that.

Q. Looking at the rankings, how you steadily improved this year, is getting to the fourth round of a Grand Slam your goal? Is it Top 10? What is your goal?

JAMES BLAKE: To keep improving. Like you said, I've improved so far in my career. My ranking keeps going up. Not necessarily improve my ranking, but just to get to be a better tennis player. I feel like I've done that since I've turned pro. Whether I get to the fourth round, or quarterfinals or semis of a Grand Slam, sometimes that could be luck. It could just happen you have a great draw, matchups could work out perfectly. You could come up in the first round against a guy like Wayne Arthurs who serves unbelievable, and you lose. So that could be a lot of luck. I don't worry about the rankings because they're not always the fairest assessment of how good you are. So I worry about getting better in my mind, and I've done that so far these last few years and I've done it with a lot of hard work and, you know, getting mentally stronger. And if I can keep doing that, I'm pretty happy. I don't set specific tournament goals or ranking goals like that.

Q. What have you gotten better at specifically when it comes to your game?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, the mentality is a lot better. I think today's match is a good example. That tiebreaker, I lost a set point where I really had an easy volley on top of the net and missed it. A year ago, that might have really frustrated me. I could have given away that set, and it would have been really important. But I've gotten a lot better at just putting that behind me, having a short memory and worrying about the next point, and also staying on top of a guy when I am up. Fernando looked a little tired in that second set and I just managed to keep playing my game and keep attacking him. So I've gotten a lot more -- a lot tougher mentally and also just more confident in my ability. I feel like my forehand can match up with just about anyone's in the world. When I have that confidence to go for it, I feel like it's improved a whole lot.

Q. When you and Mardy and Jeff are all home together, how often does the opportunity present itself for you to get to dinner?

JAMES BLAKE: Just about every night. Almost all the time, yeah.

Q. No girlfriends allowed?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, Jeff sometimes, he gets commandeered by his girlfriend. We make fun of him a little bit. But we understand. He's in a much more serious relationship than either of us are in, so we'll let it slide for a little while. But we make sure to get him out every once in a while for some fun with the boys. We have a really good time.

Q. Who picks up the tab?

JAMES BLAKE: We play the credit card game; you put them all in, have the waitress pick out one, whoever loses has to pay. I've got pretty good luck in that. I'm probably going to jinx it now, but I've been pretty lucky most of the time.

Q. Who's the big loser there?

JAMES BLAKE: Mardy seems to lose a lot. I don't know, usually we get, you know, a few more people going out and it just ends up being -- it gets mixed around pretty good. Somehow I come out unscathed.

Q. I think it's been a couple years since you had a conversation with Patrick Rafter after a match and he gave you some inspirational words. Is that 2001 Cincinnati?

JAMES BLAKE: I was in Cincy. I think it was 2001.

Q. Could you tell me about that, what it meant to you?

JAMES BLAKE: Sure. Yeah, that was really important. It was the first time I made it to the third round of a Masters Series - probably one of my first Masters Series at all. I won two pretty big matches for me, then playing a Top 10 player at that time, someone who's playing great on the American hard courts where he does his best, and I had a set point on him, maybe even two. Then he got to me. Similar to today's match actually, just flipped around. I had chances, he took over and then he kept the pressure on and took me out in the second set. But it was a really close match. After the match, he told me, "The only reason you lost is because you didn't believe you could beat me." That's possibly true. Was a good chance he still could have won. But I didn't believe I could beat him at the time. His sportsmanship, him telling me that when he doesn't need more friends in the locker room, he's such a likable guy, it means a lot for a veteran player to tell me he believed in me more than I believed in myself. It helped my confidence. It showed a couple weeks later when I played Hewitt in the US Open where a lot of people think that was my breakthrough. I was up two sets to one, playing great tennis. Unfortunately, my body gave out. That was when I had incidents with the heat. To have someone like that tell you that you're going to make it or that you're going to do well is very helpful, and I owe a lot to him. If he ever did come back to the tour, he'd have my vote for the Sportsmanship Award again. He's a true champion and gentleman.

Q. Backhand, serve are things you're working on. Something else?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I'm working on pretty much everything. Like I said, I need to improve. I'm not going to neglect my forehand just because it is my best shot. I need to always still work on my weapon. But working on the weakness is important, too. Working on my backhand, getting it stronger. Working on my first and second serves can get better with just especially, you know, strengthening my legs to get a little more up into the ball. And hopefully it will come around, just putting in the hard work and see if it pays off.

Q. If you were to point at one thing that has sort of contributed to this general rise of all the Americans, young American players, what is it, do you think, that's causing it?

JAMES BLAKE: I'd like to think the camaraderie. The guys are helping each other out, we're having a lot of fun, practicing together. I think it makes a big difference when you have that level of players to practice with. I improved a whole lot when I got out of college. When I got to college, I was practicing with players that were better than me. My brother was better than me at that time, a couple other guys on the team were at least peers. Then as I got to the point where I was kind of surpassing some of them, I turned pro and started practicing with guys that were a whole lot better than me and made me a lot better. And just having Mardy and Jeff to practice with all the time, them having me to practice with, just, you know, being around each other and always working hard together, you see good examples. I think the younger guys, when you first turn pro, you think you're going to set the world on fire and it's going to be easy. Then you realize you're not going to do that. You see it takes a lot of hard work. A guy like Mardy or Robby, even though they're young, they're realizing that pretty young and seeing the hard work I put in, the hard work Jeff Morrison puts in and Andy puts in. They realize it's not as easy as it looks when you're out on the court. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to do that, whether it be getting enough sleep, getting massages while you're just practicing that week, or whatever it is, it's important and they're learning that. I'm still learning that, so...

Q. Is the atmosphere in the lounge, locker room, different here with what's going on in the Mid East?

JAMES BLAKE: Little bit. People are definitely a little more concerned with that than, you know, who wins a tennis match. It's going to bring a lot more concerns I think with the travel issues when we have to travel over to Europe. It's going to make people, I think, a little bit more jittery. But we're here to entertain. So we're not going to stop doing that. Hopefully it can take people's minds off it a little bit, but we're not going to trivialize the war going on by any means by saying this is the most important thing in the world, this is the only thing we care about. Definitely in the lounge and locker room, it's pretty important and it's a topic of conversation .

Q. You're comfortable with the decision to go ahead with the tournament?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I think so. I think it's important to go on with life. Unfortunately, at this point, you know, there's nothing we can do. We're just going to be, like I said, an entertainment, a diversion from the serious things that are going on in the world. And, you know, if that's one thing we can help to entertain people, you know, that's the best thing we can do over here, I think. To sit around and just live in fear or kind of just halt our lives completely, I think that's kind of giving in to fear that we shouldn't. We just shouldn't do that.

Q. You ever get in touch with your mother's roots in England?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I went back to Baneberry not last year, the year before, and I got to see where she went to school.

Q. Is it fascinating?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it was really nice. It's good to see where she came from, where all the stories, you know, that she had told me, I had a picture in my head and just get to see what it's really like, get to see her school. It was obviously very sentimental for her so it meant a lot to me. And also this year we're going to try to get a couple of the top students from her school to come over to Wimbledon and watch me play, which would be great.

End of FastScripts….

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