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March 17, 2004

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: James advances to the quarterfinals here for the second straight year. It's his third career ATP Masters Series quarterfinal. Questions for James.

Q. Just walking around, it feels like you're not getting much air it's so oppressive. How was it actually playing?

JAMES BLAKE: I agree with you totally because I feel like it's so much hotter when I'm just walking around the grounds than when I'm outplaying. I feel a lot better out there because it's not so humid. That's not the first thing going through my mind, is worrying about how hot it is when I'm trying to return a 130 mile-an-hour serve. I got other things going on in my mind when I'm out there. It doesn't feel bad at all. It's good, because it's going to get us ready for Miami, too. It's I feel like even hotter because of the humidity.

Q. Was it a relief that his serve wasn't working as well as it could?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. I mean, as much as it wasn't working, his second serves were still coming in at about 120. He volleys so well that it's still a pretty effective serve even when people say it's not working. It's still pretty good. It felt good. Felt better the fact I was returning well. I was putting some pressure on him, shortening up my swings, making him volley a lot.

Q. Do you feel this win aids your Davis Cup hopes?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I feel every win does. You know, Patrick is up there in the booth watching. I know I'm playing really well this year. I've run into a couple bad-luck matches against Johansson indoors. Most of my losses I really don't feel too bad about. I could have won my match against Spadea last week in Scottsdale. Besides that I lost to guys like Safin, Kucera at Hopman Cup. I don't feel I've played too many bad matches this year. I'm pretty confident I'm playing well; I know I can get the job done at Davis Cup. Patrick has the luxury of knowing that Mardy Fish can get the job done at Davis Cup, Taylor can as well. Robby can, he's playing well. He definitely has that luxury. I definitely would feel confident if he put me in.

Q. If you look at the results of recent times, you have now at least two quarterfinals, you're the only one of your contenders that's still here. Don't you think that puts you in a better light or wouldn't you hope it does?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I always hope it does. But, I mean, you can't take anything away from Mardy Fish. He lost to Roger Federer who right now, he's playing as good as anyone I've ever seen, I think. It's not really fair to say I'm still in it and Mardy is not, because I could have played Federer first round and happened to run into him when he was playing his best and could have been out of here. I happened to play well against the guys I've been put across the net from. Mardy has had a great year, as well. That's why I say, I'd be confident if Patrick picked him, but I'd be most confident if he picked me.

Q. Quite a few points at the net today. What do you attribute that to?

JAMES BLAKE: Taylor attacking the net all the time (smiling). No, I mean, I had a game plan that I went over that I can't let him just control the net the whole time. Just come in, attacking me, attacking me, making me pass him four times just to hold serve. I figured I had to take the net away from him a little bit. Also that takes him out of his comfort zone. He wants to get to net. He doesn't want to hit passing shots all day. I tried to attack that. I also feel I can be effective using my quickness for offense, which I think makes me most effective. I did that today pretty well at times.

Q. There are not many serve-and-volley players these days. How easy or hard is it to adjust to somebody like Taylor, who is all over the net every point?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's pretty difficult. He doesn't give you a lot of rhythm. So many more of the players today you see have a big serve, then they back up, they're ready to have some baseline rallies. He attacks you, tries to keep the points short. Especially at the start, it's really tough to get adjusted. When you know he's coming in all the time, I felt like I got on his serve a little better, I started attacking him, which felt really good. But it's definitely a difficult match to prepare for. It's also one that you can come out of -- if I won that in two sets, somehow squeaked that out, I definitely might not have felt like I played my best tennis because you -- a lot of the points are broken points or one-, two-shot balls. You don't get a whole lot of rhythm. But it's a really good learning experience, really great to get through these matches. Although you don't feel like you're playing well, you do have to play well to beat him.

Q. Your next opponent?

JAMES BLAKE: Another guy that doesn't give you a lot of rhythm. He really takes rips at the ball, hits his forehand huge, serves really big, really tries to dictate play. I'm going have to try to probably be a little more aggressive than I normally am to keep him from doing that. Maybe attack his backhand a little bit. We'll see. I'll have to talk to my coach, talk to some other guys that have played him recently possibly and see if I can get an effective scouting report, mainly try to play my game, not worry about his game as much.

Q. Did you compare Dent's big serve to Andy's and Safin's?

JAMES BLAKE: Sure, Dent's is a little bit flatter, comes with a lot of heat. I think Andy's comes even harder. Andy's I feel like has a lot more options. Andy's has I think the most options. I don't think Taylor has as big of a kicker.

Q. How does Safin fit in with those two guys?

JAMES BLAKE: Safin's is similar. It's big, as well. His second serve is not like the other guys' really. Taylor rips his second in, coming in at 110, 120. Andy mixes his up really well, once in a while, he'll throw in a 120. Other times it's a huge kicker. Safin is more just getting it in. For him just getting it in, it's still pretty big. He's probably more consistent with it, but it's not as big. Probably isn't going to hurt you as much as the other guy. Andy's serve is the best out of those three, he has so many options. His upper body goes so quickly through it. He's got the option of hitting a 120 down the T for a second serve because he's so comfortable. He comes down on it so much that it's really effective. His second serve can be a weapon just like his first. He can serve and volley off it once in a while. I think he uses it the best out of those three by hitting the spots.

Q. Were you surprised where Safin was when you played him in Australia?

JAMES BLAKE: I actually had a chance to play him at the Hopman Cup. I played him two weeks before the Australian Open. I knew he was pretty good because I played a great match and just barely beat him there. So I knew I had a chance to beat him in Australia. But I also knew, he had said there, and he played great there, he's looking to get back to No. 1; he's looking to get back to the form he was in before he got hurt. He definitely played a lot better just two weeks later. His backhand was so much more solid. He played really well. You know, I knew -- I had a feeling he was going to play well at that point, though. But I played all right and I thought I had some chances to take it to a fifth set. I was a little disappointed in that. Like I said, he played great.

Q. Would you continue your comments on the serve and talk about Federer, and also Andre and Pete. What is the best serve you've ever faced?

JAMES BLAKE: Sure. Well, somewhat fortunately and unfortunately, I never faced Pete in a match. I think from watching, his is the best serve ever. And he is the only guy that I would probably not take the bet that he would so often offer in practice, he's down Love-40, say "10 bucks, I still hold serve." I probably wouldn't even take that against him. So many times he would come back and win. He would just put it on the dime. I also wouldn't take the bets when we were just practicing our serves, he put just a tennis ball can on the other side, and say, "A hundred bucks for who hits more." That's not a safe bet with him. He can hit a dime on the court. It's incredible how accurate his serve was. Federer's a little more similar to Sampras', because he places it so well and mixes it up so well. He has the same toss and he can hit a big kicker; he can hit it down the T. It's very effective because you really don't know what to expect from it. He's got such an effective serve-and-volley game as well that he really mixes up his serves and his strategies very well. He has the ability to do all that just because he's got so much talent in his hands and great footwork. Andre's, you know, his biggest strength is his returns, his baseline rallies, and just his hand-eye coordination. I think as he got later in his career, he realized that it's a great way to get free points, if you have a solid serve. He has so many chances where he's closing out a match or whatever, where he'll come up with a couple really big serves at the right times. That I think has kept him going. I mean, he's 33 years old now and still one of the best in the world. You can't do that without having a decent serve. He's gotten it to the point where it becomes a weapon for him. His second serve is still going to be able to be attacked. But it's tough to attack Andre because he can stand right on that baseline and rip it right through you still. So it's not the same as if, you know, someone else without that kind of talent is serving a 90 mile-an-hour second serve into you because that you feel you're totally in the advantage. With Andre, you never quite feel that way.

Q. Does Jaochim Johansson have a serve to compare with those guys?

JAMES BLAKE: Yes. When I played him indoors, it was incredible. To be honest, I'd say it was better than any I faced all year. That's probably including Andy last year. He went -- I played him twice in two weeks, but that's indoors. That makes a huge difference. I'd like to see how he does outdoors. But he went an entire set without missing a first serve. They probably averaged over 130 miles an hour. I've never seen anyone else do that. That was frustrating. I mean, there's nothing I can do. I played all right. I mean, he just rolled through me. It would be nice to have that kind of a weapon. Because then he could just take absolute rips at my serve. A couple of those go in, he's got the set. He's got a serve that's up there based on those two weeks. But if he played the way he did against me those two weeks, I feel like at the end of the year I wouldn't be surprised to see him top five in the world. But I think he could very easily be one of those players that's up and down, can go a month without winning a match, then go and win a tournament. I think I just caught him at the wrong time.

Q. This is the second consecutive year you're in the quarterfinals here. Are you at the same level as 12 months ago, more comfortable, what?

JAMES BLAKE: I'm definitely better than I was 12 months ago. There were times today in this match I can think of that I wouldn't have done the same things 12 months ago. I think I was down a set point and had to come up with a backhand passing shot against Taylor. You know, I was pretty calm about it. You know, I just took my chances, know that's my best chance, to go for my backhand, not try and just guide it, push it, look up to see what he's doing. Just go for my shots, that's something I learned. I think I got broken on a really duck of a volley that I should have put away, and then -- in the first set to go down 4-2, then was down 40-Love on his serve. A year ago I probably would have taken the first serve I saw at 40-Love and tried to just absolutely rip it, put it through him, most likely missed it. But I came back, fought hard for that game, won it, which was huge. Being down 5-2 in the first set would have been big, he would have got confidence, possibly won that set, kept rolling maybe. A year ago, I don't think I would have done that. Now I feel like I'm a more mature player that can still fight for every single point. I don't feel like I give anyone free points anymore. I mean, as much as a free point is a free point, I make him earn it by hitting an ace, by hitting a huge serve. I feel really good about that. I felt really like I was in control today of my emotions, of my strategy, and stuck with my game plan. A year ago I might have -- I would probably sometimes get out of the game plan sometimes too early, start trying to hit winners out of frustration. I don't feel like I do that anymore.

Q. What would you have to do to raise your level? It's awfully high, you're so close. What would you have to do to get one more notch up?

JAMES BLAKE: You know, I'm not sure. I'm trying to get there. And I don't feel like necessarily I'm not there yet because I feel like the matches I've lost this year really haven't -- I really haven't had like bad losses at all. And the guys just have to play really -- in my opinion, I haven't lost to anyone on that day that didn't play Top 10 or Top 20 level. For me to do that and still lose close matches to Spadea, at that time he won the tournament, he was playing great, same with Johansson in Memphis. I don't feel like I played badly, I just ran into a little bit of hard luck. I feel like I'm playing as well as I can right now, as well as I have been. I'm really looking forward this year to show people I can be at that next level. I don't see why I shouldn't be there. I'm just working as hard as I can. My fitness is as high as it's ever been. I'm hitting my forehand about as well as I can. I feel like my serve is much more simple than it was a year ago. I changed that. I have a lot more confidence in it. I think the only difference is the confidence. The biggest thing to get me to the next level is keeping my confidence high and going for my shots when I need to.

Q. You seem kind of even-keeled. Do sort of the butterflies pick up when you get to that level, this is the opportunity for me a break through, or do you keep it same as?

JAMES BLAKE: I'm going to try to keep it the same. I also know Irakli probably hasn't been in the situation as much as I have, even though I've only been here two other times. I think the levelheaded approach is better for me. Some guys are obviously much more emotional. Lleyton Hewitt, I don't think he'd be as good if he went through the match level, even keel, didn't have his ups and his downs. Whereas for me, I think my personality is more so a little levelheaded, and I try to convey that on the court. I think that's the best thing for me to do. I'm not going to try to do anything that I'm not. I'm going to try to be levelheaded. I think that's when I play my best because I have a clear head and I'm focused on the right things.

Q. Is it too early to entertain thoughts of winning this tournament?

JAMES BLAKE: No, it's never too early. I mean, I go into every tournament trying to win it. It's not too early. I'm not going to think about it specifically right now because I need to worry about, you know, the old cliche, one match at a time. I mean, it's cliche for a reason, I have to worry about Labadze. I can't think about who I might play in the semis or in the finals. I'll worry about that when it comes. I need to worry about beating Labadze. I don't see any reason why I can't win it. Like I said, I feel like I've been playing a very high level of tennis this year. Now it's just three matches to go. So, I mean, I definitely feel like three matches, I can win about just against anybody in the world if I play my best. Keep trying to play my best and I think there's a chance.

End of FastScripts….

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