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August 26, 2002

James Blake


MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. That might have looked like an easy first round on paper, but because of past history between you two, it wasn't really, was it?

JAMES BLAKE: No. It definitely wasn't an easy first round. I knew that coming in. I'm sure a lot of guys like seeing a wildcard that they're playing. I knew Brian. That's the first time I think I ever have beaten him. I played him in Juniors, college. He's a good player that makes you play well to beat him. He doesn't give you a lot of free points, he doesn't make stupid mistakes. He just, you know, gets to a ton of balls, has a really great backhand, plays defensive and offensive off of it. Now it's a great first round because I got through it and I had to play well to win it, so it's great. But definitely wasn't a first round I was looking at saying, "It's easy, I'll just look ahead to the second round." It was one that I knew if I got through it, it was something that was an effort and made me play well.

Q. Was the cramping dehydration or nerves?

JAMES BLAKE: No, I think -- I talked to the doctor about it. It was just by that time my muscles had maybe been a little bit fatigued. I stretched out for one ball, it was one specific action that did it. It makes me feel very relieved because it locked up for that one time. Trainer came out, said I looked fine. I totally felt fine. I never felt any twinges before that. It just locked up on one ball where they said it might have almost pulled. My muscle kind of stopped that and cramped up. After that, I felt fine. I've been doing my normal recovery stuff, and I feel okay. It's encouraging.

Q. Did you feel it was imperative that you take the match in that fourth set tiebreak, or did you feel you had enough if it had gone five?

JAMES BLAKE: I wouldn't say "imperative." Might be important. I'd say it was important. I didn't want to play the fifth one where there's a chance it could have gotten worse. Like I said, it had definitely gotten to the point where it felt pretty much fine. That tiebreaker, I thought it was great tennis. We had a few really long points where I was running back and forth. Towards the end of those points actually, I was expecting to feel like my legs might have locked up, and they never did. I was really happy about that. I think it had just been isolated to that one incident. Just through the fact that I had already started thinking about it, I didn't want to go to a fifth set because that might have come into my mind if I had really gotten tight in the fifth set. But I was pretty happy to get it over with in the fourth.

Q. Can you compare the feeling coming in this year compared to last year? You're a fan favorite, people are writing about you. How does that change your approach, if at all?

JAMES BLAKE: I think it changes you guys' approach a little bit. For mine, it doesn't change at all. I know everyone on this tour, everyone out here is a great player. Look at Brian, he's a wildcard in here, he can play that well. He can almost beat me today. You know, I know all the guys are out there. So for me to come into this thinking I'm, you know, bigger than I really am would be silly. Every match I win, it's still, you know, a relief. Feels like I have to play well to win every match. I don't think I'm quite at the point where I can just cruise through a few rounds the way some of the guys maybe used to be able to do in those draws. I think it's just too hard to do that.

Q. You actually haven't played many Grand Slams yet in your career. Do you feel really comfortable now with the experiences you have had?

JAMES BLAKE: I feel a little more comfortable. I mean, still, this is my first time out on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's a little strange just how big it is. You have the big screens up there. It's huge. You know, it was fun to be out there. Going out, I definitely thought of the fact that, you know, I want to act appropriately on my role model's stadium. It's well-deserved that it's named after him. I'm really happy I got a chance to play there and get a win there. Hopefully down the road I'll get used to playing there.

Q. Was he one of the people you looked up to growing up, playing tennis?

JAMES BLAKE: Absolutely. I was too young to really grow up watching him play. But I learned more and more about him as I got a little bit older and as I got more into tennis. Just everything I learned about him impressed me. I would learn new things, talk to people who had met him, firsthand encounters. Everyone I talked to, all they can say, they have unbelievable stories, how nice he was, how he went out of his way to make other people feel special, help others instead of worrying about himself and being egotistical or anything that could come with fame and fortune that he earned. He instead chose to use that to help others.

Q. Have you tried to model your own way that you interact with the public like that?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, that's tough shoes to fill. I mean, in an ideal world, I'd like to have that same effect. You know, it's pretty difficult. There aren't that many people like Arthur out there, so it's very tough. I mean, I do my best. But I would never say I'm in that same league as him.

Q. Do you have any sense in the last two weeks that people are considering you the next big thing in American tennis? Do you feel - I don't know if responsibility is the right word - but something to become that?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I feel like, you know, it's -- I think the American public has been a little spoiled in the past with Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Courier, Martin, Washington. I think that's the best generation of tennis players ever from any country. They've been a little spoiled having those guys dominate for years. Now they're looking, expecting, "Okay, they're getting towards the end of their careers, who are the next group of guys that are going to do that?" Unfortunately, that's not easy to do. Andy did a great job. He fielded those questions for a while, when he was only 19 years old. To continue to play well, not buckle under any of that pressure is very impressive. He showed us all kind of the way to do it. We're proud of the way he's doing it. He's obviously the leader right now of the young guys, playing incredible tennis. For me, for a while I was sneaking under people's radars. Unfortunately, I don't think I can do that anymore. My hair might be too long. They see me coming now (smiling). But I feel like there is a little bit of pressure on me since there aren't as many guys coming up like Sampras and Agassi when they were coming up. I look at that as an opportunity, though. That means people are paying attention to what I'm doing and there's an opportunity to do something great.

Q. With pressure comes commitment. You see the billboard of yourself driving down the highway. Your coach was telling us the off-court stuff you do. How have you been able to handle that and play this top-quality tennis?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, I kind of leave the off-court stuff to off court. I really don't think I thought about a billboard once when I was on the court today. You know, the off-court stuff I do always so it doesn't affect my tennis and my practice. I did do quite a few things a few days before The Open, like Thursday and Friday, then Kids Day on Saturday. Those things are important, as well. I think tennis, you know, we're not a lock for having fans all the time. We need to promote it a little more, try to get more kids playing, try to get more kids watching it. I feel that's part of the job. I take it pretty seriously with the fact that, you know, you have to play your best tennis when you're on the court, but you also have to act appropriately and try to help get some fans in. We're also entertainers. I try not to take any of that for granted, take any fans for granted or anything like that. I appreciate the ones that do come out.

Q. Do you relish the attention, or if you had your choice, would you just as soon not deal with all the attention and this label as the next big thing in American tennis?

JAMES BLAKE: I really like the attention while I'm on the court. That's the time I feel the most comfortable with attention. You know, being the center of attention while I'm on the court, that's fine. I don't mind showing my personality, having a little fun out there. I like when the crowds get into it. But off the court, I'm pretty laid back. If I go out, I'm usually sitting in the corner with my friends. I'm definitely not the type of person who goes, you know, straight to the center of the room, trying to make everyone notice me. So off the court it's a little weird to get noticed once in a while, in a restaurant or something like that. It's very flattering, but definitely I'm not used to it. On the court, I know exactly how to deal with it. I can play my tennis and hopefully impress the people with that. Off the court, I'm not sure how to deal with it. Got to start working on some material, working on some jokes I can tell people.

Q. How does this compare to when you were playing Yale, college days? How would you equate the pressure?

JAMES BLAKE: That's real pressure, playing against Yale. Luckily, that team wasn't strong when I was there. Wasn't too bad. This is another kind of a college rivalry. We played in college. I think our teams were pretty close, so we had a little bit of a battle. Luckily Harvard came out on top today. I heard a guy singing our fight song in the crowd. I was happy to hear that.

Q. Is that a common occurrence?

JAMES BLAKE: That's not a very common occurrence. That's the first time I've heard "10,000 Men of Harvard" since I left school. He actually talked to me after the match. He apologized his voice wasn't too good. I was impressed he still remembered the words.

Q. Your interest in tennis, did it predate your finding out about what Arthur was all about, or did you get into tennis as a result of what you learned earlier in life?

JAMES BLAKE: No, I got into tennis more or less because of my parents. My dad was a volunteer at the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. My mom played since she was young just for fun. I went to see them when they were playing or I'd just follow them up to the park. They probably didn't want to pay for a baby-sitter, so they brought me along. They would have me hit a few balls. Indirectly, I could have gotten into it a little bit because of Arthur Ashe. My father really started probably because of Arthur Ashe. Indirectly I was influenced by that, but it was really my parents.

Q. This isn't what you like to do, but we peek ahead in the draw always. We see Lleyton Hewitt as a possibility. I think you maybe noticed that. Any reaction to that at all?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I'll worry about that if I get there. Right now I'm worrying about my next match against Davydenko. If I get past that, that's farther than I've been in a Grand Slam, so I'll be happy to get there. Then all this pressure that you guys talk about with me coming in as now a seed and everything, that will be off me because he's proven that he's the best player in the world, he's the defending champion. I feel like I can play well against him, since I did last year. Hopefully there won't be a repeat performance of what happened with my body. But I think I can play with him, so I won't go in totally intimidated. I'm sure there will be a few jitters playing. I assume that will be a stadium match. There might be a few jitters playing the No. 1 player in the world. I have a feeling it will subside quickly and I'll go out and just play tennis. We'll see what happens there year.

Q. Any particular part of your game you hope to tighten up for your next match that you weren't thrilled about today?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I think my serve was a little off and on. Brian has really good returns. I felt like I gave him too many second serves and too many of the same second serves, instead of mixing it up a little more. Otherwise, you know, just kind of the same old things. I try not to adjust too much in the middle of a tournament. I got through today. I definitely don't feel like I played my absolute best. I feel like I played well enough to win, which is great today. That's a great feeling when you don't play your best and you fight through, you know, a couple of tough sets, manage to get a victory, especially against a good player like Brian. I feel really good about that, and I'll just, you know, keep working on the same things I've been working on.

Q. A lot of us remember the Hewitt match last year, vividly how you weren't feeling all that well during some of the changeovers. What have you done in the past year to better condition yourself physically and mentally?

JAMES BLAKE: I like the way you put that, "didn't feel too well." Most of my friends phrase that, "yacking my brains out." I've been working with Dr. Bergeron (phonetic), the doctor here. He tested me just a week or so after the US Open for what I'm losing in my sweat when I'm on the court. He's worked on a system with me of how much sodium and Gatorade and electrolytes and things like that I need to put in my body before matches, during matches, after matches. Otherwise I've just tried to increase my salt intake a little bit more while I'm at home practicing and doing things like that. As far as getting into shape, I've been working really hard. I feel like my training has gotten harder and harder since I've gotten on tour. I've been able to figure out what works for me. I worked with a trainer, Mike Nishihara (phonetic) at Saddle Brook, who has me doing plenty of short distance running, 200s, 400s. On my own, I've been doing a lot of distance running to make sure -- hopefully prevent cramping again.

Q. You come off of beating Agassi in the semis, winning your first tournament. How big was that for you mentally coming into the US Open?

JAMES BLAKE: That was huge. I mean, that's as much confidence as I've ever had in my tennis game to win a tournament like that and beat a legend like Agassi. I was also weary of today's match knowing I had just done that. My coach reminded me of that. It's kind of like after you have your best win, a lot of times you have a little letdown because you think nothing is going to go wrong. When you start thinking that confidently, one thing goes wrong, you start panicking, you never get into your rhythm. I think that might have had a little bit of an effect on the fact that I was a little bit erratic in the first set. Then I managed to calm down and just try to let my game plan sink in and play my own way. I definitely had plenty of confidence at times, more pressure-filled situations. I don't feel like I need to come up with anything special anymore. I can just play my game and hopefully that will be good enough to win on the big points. I think that's making a big difference in my results.

Q. You were playing with the kids Friday morning in Harlem. Are you as much a role model to them as Arthur was to you?

JAMES BLAKE: Gee, that's a tough question. I can't speak for how they feel. That would be incredibly flattering if they thought I was, because Arthur Ashe was a role model to so many, not even necessarily because of what he did in tennis, but what he did as a humanitarian and person. I can't say any of my accomplishments come close to what he did in changing the color barrier, breaking the color barrier in men's tennis, you know, what he went through at that time. I think for me to say anything I'd done would be disrespectful to all he's done for me in making my job so much easier.

End of FastScripts….

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