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January 20, 2005

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: First question for James.

Q. Do you see that as a missed opportunity?

JAMES BLAKE: I see that as a learning experience. I mean, I've been off tour for a while. So coming back and playing that, you know, that's what I missed, being in a tiebreaker with one of the best players in the world, the crowd at this point against me. But whether they're for you or against you, the crowd is into it. You get chances. You know, you're a little nervous. That's what's fun. And I missed that. But I realize that I had a set point in that second set. I hesitated a little bit. He hit a pretty soft second serve, and instead of me just second nature moving in and trying to attack it, I kind of -- I was reaching in front of it. You know, those kind of things are what I hope will come back to me. When you're playing a ton of matches, that's second nature. You don't even think about the situation. You just go in and you hit your shot. I didn't do that today. Got off to obviously a pretty slow start in the third set. He kept the pressure on me. But, you know, my coach and I were talking. We really had no expectations coming in here. We weren't even sure if I was back to a hundred percent. So for me to come out here and play this well, and hopefully keep moving forward, it gives me a little bit of an encouraging attitude towards the rest of the year. I think my goal is to keep getting better every match. I feel like I'm going to get better. I got better today because I learned what I can do and what I can't do. I played very smart I think the first two sets, didn't come up with those points that are so important to win a match against a top player like that. But I know I can now. That's a good feeling because when you're out for as long as I was with the kind of things I was, you never know if it's going to come back at all. Now I'm so close that I know it will come back with a lot more hard work and a lot more matches.

Q. Is there any similarities with that match compared to your matches at the US Open, the buzz of the crowd?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, this time they were against me. At the US Open they were for me. So that was a little different. But I'd say the similarities were that he -- he came up with the shots at the right times. You know, he came up with the great gets or just being a little more consistent than I was. Kind of all of our matches -- I mean, the first one I'd say was a little different because my body gave out. That was kind of my first, maybe my second Grand Slam ever. I just didn't -- couldn't handle the heat and the five sets. I was throwing up on the court and cramping. You know, that one obviously was different because of that. But the last one at the US Open was a really close match, and it came down to one breakpoint. I think he got a let cord on actually the breakpoint in the fifth set. It was just him playing a little bit better, getting the breaks, you know, when the top players do that. So I guess that's a similarity. But, you know, every match right now feels a little different for me. It kind of feels new, like I'm starting over again. It's a good feeling. It's fun to be out there. I had a great time. Worst thing that happened to me all day is I lost a tennis match. So I can't sit around and mope and go cry in my dinner or anything. I'm going to try to have a good time and enjoy my time still here in Melbourne.

Q. Did you feel pretty tight when you served for the set at 6-5?

JAMES BLAKE: Yes. I just talked to my coach a little bit about that. I think maybe I rushed it a little bit too much. That's again the kind of thing that when you're playing your best, you're playing a lot of matches, you don't even think about. You just play exactly the same way that got you there. I may have rushed two of those shots, a double-fault. When you're playing a guy that's 3 in the world, he's going to take advantage of that. You can't do that. I feel like once I, you know, play a few more tournaments, a few more matches, a few more top players, that stuff's going to come back. I just have to be patient. I'm lucky -- I think this has happened to me when I'm 25 now instead of when I was 19. I don't know if I would have had the patience to want to come back. I think right now if I was 19, I'd be maybe in the locker room cracking racquets, you know, not going to be able to get over it so quickly. But now I feel like I've matured a little bit, and I can be patient and see a little bit of the long run.

Q. Clearly a lot of emotion in that tiebreak. You managed even a bit of a Lleyton salute. What was that all about?

JAMES BLAKE: That was just, you know, having a good time. The crowd had a good time, I think. I hit possibly the best backhand I hit all match on that set point, the set point he had. Maybe it was a little bit of anger coming out from losing the set points before and a little bit of just adrenaline rush that I was still in the set when he was serving for it, and I had a chance again is what I felt like. To hit that backhand that clean at that kind of a juncture in the match, you know, like I said, that's what I missed. You know, from sitting on my couch for six months to watching people do that and have that emotion go through them, it's an amazing feeling to go back to it. And I wish everyone that doesn't get that opportunity could have that opportunity to get that feeling, when you hit your best shot, all the practice you had done, you know, kind of goes out the window at that time. It's just a lot of emotion with the crowd. I enjoyed it. You know, that's all I can say is I enjoyed it.

Q. How much did the hand bother you after that?

JAMES BLAKE: You know, it hurt a little bit when I did it. Obviously, I kind of tore up my hand pretty good. But it hurt worse when the trainer sprayed that stuff on it. First they just cleaned it out, then when he came over at the 1-Love, he said the doctor gave him some stuff to spray it because it started bleeding again once I just gripped my racquet. Sprayed that stuff on right before I went out to return serve. It stung pretty good for a while there. Then he asked me if he could do it again. Silly, stupidly, I agreed and let him do it again and it stung. But after that, it was a non-factor. I mean, everyone's cut themselves before. You play through it. Not a big deal.

Q. Just before you did that, Lleyton hit an instinctive lob over you, you applauded him.


Q. He appeared to turn immediately and just bellow to his support group. Did that offend you?

JAMES BLAKE: Offend me? No. I was applauding a good shot. As my -- I feel like I do a lot. If someone hits a good shot, what can you do? I mean, there's no way I could get back for that lob. He played a great point up until then. I felt like I played a great point. I applauded. If he doesn't want to acknowledge it, he doesn't have to acknowledge it. He's doing what he can to win the match. Obviously it worked. He won the match. But definitely not offended. Just kind of possibly two different personality types, two different players out there.

Q. The two actions weren't linked, him not acknowledging and you doing that later?

JAMES BLAKE: No, no, it wasn't linked. Like I said, it was emotion that I haven't felt in eight months that I let out. I'm actually amazed I didn't do it more often. Like I said, it felt so good to be out there. Playing in front of a packed stadium, when the lights came on, you know, it's what I've missed for seven, eight months. With the new perspective I have, you know, I might never be back out there again. You know, I hit the net post a little differently last year and I definitely would have never been out there. Crazy things can happen. So I'm going to enjoy it and I'll have the memory of playing out there again. I really hope I can get back there. I'll work my tail off to get back there and win a few matches out there.

Q. I know you worked a lot on your volleys you said the other night. A couple times today you were in the right spot, but it just didn't work for you?

JAMES BLAKE: Yes. It's just not being match ready and having the confidence to hit them in matches. Any time you change something, you go through probably a phase of feeling confident in it, then maybe not so sure of it in the matches when it comes to crunch time. Being patient again. I definitely feel like my volleys are better than they were. I feel more comfortable coming in. I think a couple times it might have actually been my legs and not my volley technique. It was just that I didn't get my legs into it, or I looked up. When you're playing Lleyton, you kind of look at him sometimes. You notice if you don't really put it on a dime, he's going to get there and have a great shot to get a lob up over you or pass you. I can definitely say I might have been affected by him, but still feel like my volleys are better than they were a year ago.

Q. What do you do on a day like this when you come in, organize your practice, your preparation for like a 3:30 start, you find yourself walking on court a couple hours later? How do you sort of keep yourself up?

JAMES BLAKE: Luckily, I've got my coach and some friends here. I hung out in the cafeteria with my coach, with a couple of guys from Saddle Brook where I train. Xavier Malisse, a good friend of mine on tour, his coach, Kelly Jones, just sat around, watched some of the matches on TV. I made sure to eat because obviously if you're going to be in a match, it's tough to eat a lot on the court so you want to make sure you go out there kind of not on an empty stomach, but not on a full stomach. I made sure to keep my eating -- I don't know what the word is, but make sure to eat (smiling). Then just kind of hung around. Listened to some music. Hang out in the locker room, get stretched out. Maybe it means you have to get stretched out a couple times. Make sure you're loose. I loosened up on the bike right before the match. Make sure you're lose right before that. Luckily Venus' went a little more according to plan so I was able to kind of prepare in a normal way.

Q. It would be easy to feel a little snake bitten after what happened to you last year. How do you stay so upbeat?

JAMES BLAKE: You know, it probably started right when I actually hurt my neck, when I broke my neck. We went into -- my coach and I were in the hospital. We just started talking. He said, you know, There's really two ways we can look at this: We can laugh about it or we can cry about it. Let's laugh about it. Let's see the silver lining in everything and try to find a positive. You know, that was the first time I'd really gone through a serious injury on the tour. I had to try to find a silver lining. Mine was pretty easy. If I had hit my head differently, I could have been paralyzed. So I'm lucky, I was only out for two months. As I told my mom and some others, the best thing that happened to me last year was breaking my neck. I got to find a positive. I got to spend the last six weeks of my father's life with him. I'll never regret that. I mean, I'm so lucky I got that time with him. You know, you can always find a positive. I was home for so long. I got to realize how much my friends cared about me when I'm obviously down a little bit, they're there to pick me up. They were there -- I'm sure they had better things to do than come over my house and cheer up a guy that's, you know, face looks mangled, probably isn't in the best mood. But they came over to hang out with me, play cards with me, watch some TV. Makes me appreciate the friends I've had since I grew up. You know, you find a silver lining, and I've definitely done that. Now I realize that I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world. I mean, how many people can say they do what they love for a living, they get paid well, they travel the world, have my coach with me who is one of my best friends. I live a charmed life right now. I've obviously had some tragedy, some unfortunate situations, but to look at the big picture, I'm a lucky person. That's how I stay positive. I have my friends to keep me in check if I start complaining. Like I said, the worst thing that happened to me is I lost a tennis match. I guarantee there's a lot of people, even in this room, that have had a lot worse occurrences happen today, yesterday, whatever. I got to stay positive because if I was too negative, you know, you turn into one of those bitter veterans on tour that's, you know, expecting the world to be given to them, you know, is complaining just because they lost a few matches. You know, it happens. I tried my best. To ask for anything more I feel like is greedy. I tried my best. I did everything I could to prepare as well as I could to be here, and my best wasn't good enough today. You know, why should I go and be down and say, "I should have won. I'm so angry I didn't win." I tried my best, I didn't win. I couldn't have tried any harder. I don't know why I need to be that negative. I'm not going to be angry at not having as much God-given ability or anything, that's just greedy. I've been given so much. I'm so fortunate to have the ability I do have to make money and have a career playing a sport, a game that most people play for enjoyment and for fitness. I think it's easy to stay positive with so many blessings that I have in my life.

Q. What's it been like since you've been back? You were gone all this time. Can you talk about how the guys received you and stuff?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. I've been -- I'd like to think I've been received very well in the locker room. Everyone's happy to see me back, it seems like. Florian Mayer may not be as happy to see me back. But most of the guys I think are happy to see me back. I'm just thrilled to be back in the locker room with the same kind of camaraderie. When you're off the tour, you realize the kind of camaraderie you have on tour. It's kind of like a traveling little club of professional athletes. You can go into your small town -- when I go back to Fairfield, Connecticut, people know that's the tennis player, that's the guy. Then you realize you have something in common with all those people that are so far around the world, that they probably go back to their small towns and have that same feeling. You know, you have something in common, and it's a camaraderie that a lot of people don't have. So I'm lucky that I have that. You know, it's great to see the guys because now I realized when I was out for so long, I came back to Tampa, as soon as I was ready to start training, hung out with Mardy Fish, Jeff Morrison. I realized another blessing is I've been on tour for a few years. A lot of guys go 10, 12 years on tour. When they stop playing, they didn't make any friends. They don't have someone they still talk to on tour. I think I'm going to be friends with Mardy, Jeff, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, Andy Roddick for the rest of my life. Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Todd Martin I'm going to be friends with for the rest of my life. They're all unbelievable athletes. Most people in the small towns they're from would fall all over themselves to go just to meet them. I get to hang out with them casually. It's something I missed. I think the guys -- I hope the guys appreciate me back in the locker room. But I don't know. Have to ask them.

Q. Hewitt is a little intense out there.

JAMES BLAKE: A little (smiling)?

Q. Does that affect your state of mind out there? What goes through your head?

JAMES BLAKE: No, I try not to let it affect me. I think, obviously, everyone's different on the court. You know, Roger looks like he's, you know, half asleep, and he's obviously still intense. He just looks so relaxed. You know, that obviously works for him. I mean, I think if he were to come out like Lleyton, it might not work for him. Just look at the differences in a guy like Pete Sampras, who also looked very relaxed, and then a guy like Lleyton or guys like Jim Courier in the past that had that kind of bulldog mentality where they were going to, you know, grind you down, they were going to beat you. It's just what works for each characteristic, each personality that they have out there. For me, the best thing to do is not let any of that affect me. I mean, I watched some of his match against Clement. There were times when he was up pretty big, and still, you know, getting so fired up and so excited and very intense, which maybe -- I don't know if he needs to do that to stay focused to not let, you know, other things affect him, not let him start thinking about after the match, and keep him, you know, focused. But that's what he does. If you're the other player, there's nothing you can do about it. The only thing you can do is try to find what game works for you and what works best for me. For me, it's to not let that affect me at all, not play with emotion and say, "Just because he's saying come on or getting intense, I'm -- I got to hit a couple winners or slap some winners by him to prove I'm better." That's something I would have done when I was 16, 17 years old. I'd like to think that I've matured from that. Now I need to continue to play may game and be as intense as I need to be because I've gone through stages where I am wanting to win too badly, and that can be detrimental to your tennis, or trying to be too relaxed. I feel like I found my happy medium, and that's the way I try to play. What the guy on the other side of the net is doing doesn't affect me. I try not to let it affect me. I think I now do a pretty good job of that. And I will admit that I probably didn't do a good job of that when I was younger and first on tour. So it's something that I feel like I've gotten better at; one of the reasons why I feel like I'm a better player now.

Q. You had some history, the two of you. What were your relations after that US Open incident?

JAMES BLAKE: We talked about it the next day in the locker room, and that was the end of that. We ended it in the locker room. He said, you know, "I didn't mean anything by it. It was in the heat of the battle." Which obviously things are said in the heat of battle. And I don't -- like I said, I try not to let that affect me on the court, and I didn't. We put that behind us. Now we've practiced together since then. We've obviously had a couple pretty good matches since then, as well. We're just the same -- pretty much the same relationship I have with a lot of guys. We're acquaintances. Probably don't call each other on holidays or hang out all the time, but we're friendly when we see each other. You know, when I can get through the posse to actually see him, I mean, I say hello, exchange pleasantries. But we're fine. It's all behind us. We put it behind us that next day.

End of FastScripts….

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