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September 6, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Chapter 5, Roger Federer. You go back to Key Biscayne. You only gave up two breaks. You got broken only once. What do you do with him, try to be a little riskier with your service return?
JAMES BLAKE: I think I generally play relatively risky on service returns anyway. That's the way I'm playing my best, as witnessed today. I wasn't returning great at the start. He was serving real well. Once I get on it, I definitely take my risks and go after him that's when I play my best.
I think if I try to just push him in the court too much, I end up getting kind of lazy with my feet. I end up missing just as many. I don't hurt him nearly as much. Now I feel like I'm hurting guys with my returns. It's a really good feeling. Especially with a big server like Berdych.
Tomorrow hopefully I'll be able to do the same against Roger. But obviously, it's not easy. No one's really been able to do it that well.
I'll definitely be relatively risky. It's a good feeling to go in having no pressure. I think I was probably, in the minds of most fans, and most journalists or whatever, the favorite in every match so far. Now, I don't have that pressure anymore. It's fun being the favorite because that means people have a lot of respect for your game. Now it will be fun to be the underdog and have the fans maybe even more on my side. Just feeling like I don't have that kind of pressure and I can go after my shots. If I play my best, then I don't see any reason why I can't win. But if he's playing his best, then I can see a reason why I might not win, but... (smiling).
It's possible. I mean, he lost to Murray. He's lost before. He is human. So I got to go out there and see what I can do.
But if he's playing his best, he's clearly pretty darn tough to beat.
Q. Do you look at tomorrow possibly as a statement match for you? With everything you've accomplished this year, beating him would probably be like one of the biggest wins, if not the biggest win, of your career?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, at this point it probably would be. I mean, and then possibly get even greater as time goes on, given the fact that he's on his way to possibly being the greatest player ever. If I can get a win over someone that at the end of their career has 15, 16, 17 Grand Slams, I'd be pretty happy with that. Especially do it in the quarter finals of my favorite tournament, in my opinion the biggest one of the year. I have a feeling it will maybe at night, pretty good crowd. I'd definitely have some pretty good memories of that, I would think. Especially after last year's quarterfinal duel at night, it would be good to come out on the other side of one of those.
Q. You obviously had a pretty easy match today. What are your thoughts on the compressed schedule looking ahead?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, first of all, it was not easy to beat Tomas Berdych. He played really well. That first set I thought was a real high level. And then he maybe tapered off just a bit in the third, but I kept my level up. It's sometimes not easy to do. I just started returning great.
So it wasn't easy by any means. But it is good to get off the court in less time to be able to play tomorrow. It's tough. When you're playing three out of five sets, going two days in a row, I don't know if I've ever done that before. So it's not something that's gonna be easy. We play pretty long matches in those the Masters Series when you got to play six matches in seven days. Granted, it's only two out of three, but those can take their toll, especially if you're playing doubles, too.
We all train for it. We all do our sprints. We do our running, bike work, all that kind of stuff. I think we're all in pretty darn good shape at least I can say I am. I'm ready for it. It's tougher because we plan on playing these where it's match, day off, match, day off. That's kind of the routine.
So this will throw a kink in the routine. But Roger has been in a pretty good routine. Maybe this will shake him up more than it will shake me up, I don't know. It's tough, but we're professionals. I think we can handle it.
Q. Back to back on the final weekend.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, like I said, I've never been in that position. Never gone back to back because I've never been in the semis and finals here. It would be fun. Maybe it would give me a little insight into what those guys have to go through Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully I'll get to experience it twice this year.
Q. Beating Roger Federer, Grand Slam, is that people looking back at your career saying you're a pretty good player as opposed to a great player?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know. I don't worry about things like that. I know whether it's journalists in this room, journalists anywhere, fans, wherever, there's no way I'm ever going to live up to every single person's expectations, because someone's got higher expectations of me and someone's got lower. So I'm gonna exceeds some people's and I'm not going to make it to some people's. So I don't worry specifically about whether or not whether I'm gonna live up to anyone else's expectations except for mine, and mine are to do my best.
I don't know if tomorrow's match will be the biggest one of my career, but I really don't I try not to look at any one match that way. Because I could go out there, he could play his best tennis, I could be a little bit off, and I could absolutely get creamed. That's just one match.
I can go, then, over to Moscow, play great. I could play great in Stockholm and not worry at all about it. Gaston Gaudio lost to him 0 and 0 last year. Gaudio is still an unbelievable player, has won a Grand Slam. He doesn't get judged based on that one match.
I could go out and play great tennis and beat him and then lose in the semis. You know, anything could happen. So I'm not worried about I really hope my career is long enough and distinguished enough so one match won't make or break it.
Q. Is it also pressure being one of the few named Americans in this tournament? Does that add to the pressure?
JAMES BLAKE: A little bit, but I've started feeling that all summer, all kind of most of this year. But I feel like I'm helping out Andy, because Andy has dealt with it on his own for a while now. I'm proud to be helping him. I'm proud that we're doing this together. We're both in the quarters now. He's playing great tennis again. I'm really happy to see that.
He played unbelievable in Cincinnati. I thought he played great in Indianapolis. And I had to play possibly my best match ever to beat him in the finals. I'm happy to see him doing great. We're both playing pretty darn well going into Moscow. I'm looking forward to us teaming up together instead of playing against each other.
I do feel it's a little more pressure, but I've always thought of pressure as a good thing. I feel like this tournament every year is the one that I have the most pressure because I have all my fans, my friends, my family coming to watch. I've always done the best here. So I feel like I do better when I got that kind of pressure.
I have a pretty good mindset about it, I think, where I just look at it as an opportunity to do something great. If I don't, there's no reason to hang my head because I know I've done my best to prepare.
Q. Andre paid great tribute to the fans after his final match. You know, you can clearly see that he, over the course of time, learned to, you know the fans embraced him, he embraced the fans, and wanted to let them know how much he appreciated that. Obviously, your career is very, very young at this point. But are you beginning to sense how much the fans can do for you and how much they can feed you and fuel you and maybe even get you to excel beyond a point you ever thought you could excel?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, definitely. I especially feel it here. I said it a few times, I don't ever feel the momentum is against me out on Arthur Ashe Stadium. When I'm out on these grounds, it seems like the fans can pick me up, whether I'm down a break, two breaks, they're still cheering for me. I do one good thing, and they're behind me again.
I've always said that about New York fans, they seem to care about what you do here, how much effort you put in here. They don't care if you didn't do well at the French, you didn't do well at Wimbledon. If you come here, and you put in your best effort, they're gonna get behind you. I love that.
I've definitely felt an appreciation of the fans. I love the fact they are behind me. My J Block is behind me. My friends are here. They get the rest of the crowd into it. The atmosphere here at a night match is just unparalleled. There's nothing else like it. It definitely helps me. It's probably the reason I've played my best here. I mean, that, combined with the fact that I've got added pressure, it's somewhere I'm comfortable. The fans definitely mean a whole lot.
I mean, without them, I can go out and play Roger in practice with no one watching and it doesn't mean a whole lot if I beat him, but the fact that you're kind of creating a memory for other people, as well, I think makes the biggest difference.
You are affected by the fans very much, 'cause, I mean, I can you can play in practice with no one watching, it's just another practice. Doesn't make much difference. When you got the fans there, it's when it's really valuable to you.
Q. The Davis Cup team, for a long time it was basically the Americans put together a team of individuals. They just didn't meld or mesh like a team. Can you address why you think your group of guys have really meshed into a team, and is part of that possibly that all four of you maybe like team sports?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I mean, it's tough to say 'cause I never I was never part of a team that didn't feel like a team. So, uhm, once I was a part of it, it just seemed natural. I think maybe it's because you know, my explanation might be that we grew up playing Challengers together. I grew up playing when I started was around the same time Andy was starting, same time the Bryans were still playing singles, and we were playing I played Mike Bryan in one of my first Futures in Waco, Texas, I believe. You don't have press conferences in Waco. You don't have huge prize money checks. You don't have, you know, Nobu and Tao, great places to go to dinner. You're going to Friday's. You see everyone else there. You get to know people when you're on the Futures and the Challenge tour.
So we all got to know each other that way. At that point you're not fighting for Davis Cup positions. You're not fighting for Grand Slams. You're fighting for an extra $500 and maybe get the bump up to first class on your next flight or something.
So you're not you're actually becoming friends with these people and you're actually cheering for them, and you're staying in the same room as some of them or whatever. Because we built that bond, for me, it seemed like, Okay, this bond isn't gonna change whether it's money getting in the way, whether it's titles getting in the way, anything like that. It's not gonna change the fact that we're friends. We became friends first.
Then as we started having more and more success, we were pushing each other, and we became a team because we were the ones that were chosen by Patrick. Then once we got on the team, it just seemed natural. We were so competitive against the other guys and also competitive in terms of pushing each other, but not in a way it's almost like the way my brother and I are. We're competitive, we want to beat each other, but you want to see those people succeed as well. Every time I play Andy, I want to beat him. But if I'm not playing him, I want him to win.
It's just something that's happened with us growing up together kind of and being so friendly. I don't know, we're just happy to see each other doing well. It's a tour that a lot of people feel isolated and it makes a huge difference not to feel isolated the way I do now with Mardy cheering for me, Robby cheering for me, the Bryans cheering for me, Andy cheering for me. It makes life a whole lot easier.
That was something that I was helped with when I got a little perspective in 2004, some of the things I missed about the tour. I missed the fans, the fact that you're doing your job and doing what you love in front of 20,000 people. Also the camaraderie. I miss just talking to the guys in the locker room, being there, playing cards. You know, you're kind of bored with the rain delay, just sitting around playing Hearts. It's fun. Those are the guys I'm gonna remember forever and hopefully be playing Hearts when we're in nursing homes.
Q. How tough has it been on Andy to be that alone American, especially when he was struggling? How tough was that?
JAMES BLAKE: I think that's got to be tough, but extremely proud of how he handled it 'cause he grew up under the public spotlight. I mean, girls generally peak a little earlier and they're succeeding at 16, 17 years old. For a guy, for him having success he had at 18, 19, 20 years old and being in that kind of public spotlight and already getting that pressure put on him and how he changed and matured so quickly is just impressive to me. Because I got it later and I still had trouble with it and I still now feel like I'm handling it better now, this second time around, where I'm having some success.
But for Andy, what he's done is just incredible. So he's done it with a lot of class when he's been struggling and joking around still at his own expense in press conferences, in the locker room, with the guys. He's handled it just, Okay, I'm gonna have some down turns in my career. No reason to panic. He's doing his best. So he's been impressive. I feel like I'm still learning from him. Because he's handled it for so long, now I'm starting to handle that kind of stuff. He's the easiest person to go to for advice.
Q. Has it been surprising to you how well Connors has broken through so quickly with him?
JAMES BLAKE: Not really. I felt like Andy has got obviously the talent. He's got the game. It was just a matter of him playing with that kind of confidence again. Sometimes all it takes is just a different voice, especially a voice of someone you truly respect. I think all the players out here respect Jimmy for what he did on the court. I've never worked with him as a coach, but I assume he's done a great job of translating that from his being a player to Andy, to being a coach, which some of the great players can't do. Magic Johnson never made a great coach.
So it's something that he must have a gift for and it just I think, maybe it just took getting someone like that to show confidence in Andy for him to remember how good he is. Now he's playing with that confidence, and he's not gonna be easy to stop here.
Q. From your point of view, what do you see him doing better on the court? I mean, we know about the confidence.
JAMES BLAKE: He's attacking more. He's not playing defensive. His serve is so big, but I think when he was struggling, he would serve and if he didn't win it with his serve he would start backing up and retreating a little and letting other guys dictate the play. Now he's taking it to guys.
When I played him in Indy, a lot of times I felt like I'm having to stand eight feet behind the baseline and just scramble. He's taking it to me. Never giving me a chance to move up in the court. That's tough to do.
He's always been a great fighter, you know. He's one of the few guys that has a huge serve that is down 40 Love on your service game and he'll still scrap for a point. That's something he's always been great at. But now he's playing offense a lot better. It's making it a little tougher for all of us.
Q. Are there specific ways in which playing Roger tomorrow is going to be a measuring stick for you and assessing where you are? If so, could you talk about some of the things you'll be looking to take stock of.
JAMES BLAKE: Well, it's, I mean, a great measuring stick to play the best player in the world. If I beat him, it sure as heck doesn't mean I'm the best player in the world, but maybe for a day, I'll think that.
But if I lose to him, there's clearly no shame in that. He's beaten just about everyone he's played this year. It's definitely something where you know you have to play great and take a few more chances possibly, and maybe you'll have a chance to win. But it's not a match where you feel guaranteed of just playing pretty well and I'm gonna win.
There aren't many matches out there like that, but definitely not with Roger.
We'll see where I'm at. It's a measuring stick, but it's a pretty tough measuring stick.
Q. Back to the schedule for a second. How much is the next few days going to be a physical contest to get to the finish line?
JAMES BLAKE: We'll see. Like I said, I've never been in this situation.
Q. Looking at the schedule, the quality. Is that a factor, not a factor?
JAMES BLAKE: It could clearly be a factor, but I think it always is here at the US Open, with the fact that if you have a semi that goes 7 6 in the fifth in the middle of the day, you have to turn around and play the next day, it's going to make a difference, if another guy wins 3, 3, and 3. I think that kind of scenario happened the year Lleyton won it. He won easily, Sampras had a tough one. When Andy won here, he had a little bit easier time than Ferrero, I think, in the semis.
It's bound to happen, but it's just part of being professional and trying to take care of your job on that one day. I think it's nearly impossible to look ahead and say, okay, Saturday I need to win easy and then I'll go ahead and be all right. That's gonna end up costing you, I think. You're gonna end up losing and playing a lot more points and running a whole lot more if you try to do that. It's like trying to get off the court quickly. It never works.
Q. Is it unfair, do you think?
JAMES BLAKE: Uhm, no. I mean, I think it's the way it goes. With the rain, there's nothing they can do. When it's not raining, I think we have a pretty fair schedule here, on one day, off the other. Usually the quarterfinalists, one side gets two days off, one side just gets one day off at the end. If you have a day off to recover, you should be fine. Obviously it's difficult if you're Andre and you got back issues all the time, but the rest of us, if you have a day off, you should be ready to go.
Q. Back in Key Biscayne in March, you only got 50% of your first serves in. You gave him a lot of looks at your second serve. Is that just something you'll have to put up with? Can you take a little off your serve, get more in? Would that make you feel more comfortable?
JAMES BLAKE: I'm probably gonna take a little off my serve. I feel like I'm serving better now. I don't know what the percentages were today, but I'm pretty confident they were over 50%. I would guess around 60, 70%.
Q. Doesn't Roger make you press more?
JAMES BLAKE: He might make me press more, but I feel like I'm just more confident in general on my serve right now. I just feel like it's coming in well. I'm mixing it up pretty well. I hope I can continue doing that.
But if I'm serving 50%, then I got to adjust and I got to figure out a way to either start taking a little off and making more or just playing better on my second serve. And if I'm going for too much, then that means hopefully the ones I am going for, I am getting aces or service winners or setting up the points.
But it's tough to tell before you start playing the match. I mean, I could come out and serving great and just feel really good with it all day. Could feel terrible right at the beginning and have to start taking something off and start kicking a few in just to feel some confidence. Tough to say this early.
Q. Tomas was in here earlier saying he thought when you were hitting all of your ground strokes you could be very powerful, but you could get wild.
JAMES BLAKE: First of all, did you say my brother was in here doing a press conference?
Q. Tomas Berdych.
JAMES BLAKE: Oh, Tomas Berdych. I thought you were talking about my brother. I was about to start laughing and make fun of him for doing a press conference.
He was saying that I'm hit or miss? Well, makes sense. I definitely feel like my game kind of goes with my forehand. If I'm missing too many forehands, it's tough for me to control points because that's the way I like to control points that, that's the way I like to end points and set them up. If that's missing, which it can be on a day, I definitely feel like I'm not one of the best players in the world.
But it seems like it's been going in a whole lot more than it's been missing lately. I feel like I deserve to get up to where I am. I'm pretty happy that it's been hitting both times I played Tomas. So it's been going great here at the Open, and I mean, I think almost everyone is that way, with the exceptions of maybe Hewitt or maybe Nadal. But otherwise, to be a top player, it seems like you have to go for your shots. That means you're gonna miss sometimes.
Q. I know you're caught up in the moment here. You're likely to make Shanghai this year. Can you even like venture a guess at what that experience is gonna be like, just to make it?
JAMES BLAKE: No, that's just like looking ahead if you're in the semis and trying to conserve energy for the finals. I'm not thinking about Shanghai yet. I'm thinking about winning each match. If I'm in Shanghai at the end, great. I'd be proud to be there. It would be a wonderful experience. But I can't start thinking like I'm probably gonna make it now and start playing tentative. That's what I did when I first got up there and was looking at the rankings every week.
Now I don't worry about it. I hope I make it to Shanghai. I feel like I've played pretty darn good tennis this year and maybe I deserve to go. But I need to keep proving it. I'm not there yet. I think only probably only Roger and Rafael have confirmed the fact that they're there yet.
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