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August 14, 2006

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: Questions for James, please.

Q. It was quite a rally at the end of the match. Would you talk about those final four points.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, if I can remember them.
Uhm, let's see. One of them, missed the slice coming in. Just cut it a little too close. Think that happens to everyone when you try to maybe really make sure to hit the winner or make them hit a shot from the back foot, and he just cut it a little too close. He'd been making that shot all day, and I'd been coming up with some pretty good passing shots on my backhand. That sometimes helps.
Next one, hit a couple good forehands, he just floated it just long, although in the booth they told me it might not have been long. So I don't know. But he didn't challenge. Got it back to deuce.
Then what happened? I hit a service winner then? Uhm...

Q. He hit the backhand in the net.
JAMES BLAKE: Oh, yeah, yeah. I ran him pretty good and I think he might have just gotten a little tired on the -- running all the way over the backhand, and missed it. That was I felt like a really good point where I was running him a lot. I felt like I was in control dictating with my forehand.
Then the last point I should have won it a little easier. Miss-hit that overhead a little bit. But still went in the right place, so that was okay. Was good enough.

Q. After you took a 4-1 lead did he test your nerves and patience and concentration just because of the way he plays?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I mean, he's tricky. He doesn't give you anything for free. He doesn't miss a lot of returns. He doesn't double-fault a lot or just give you a lot of free points. It's tough to play against him and to close out a match. I got up two breaks and got a little lazy, I think, to be honest. I was coming in, attacking, finishing points at the net, finishing points really in the, you know -- close to the net when I was moving forward a lot in the first set and a half. Then that last few games I stopped doing that. I started kind of just trying to rip winners from the baseline and being lazy, not moving my feet to keep pressing and keep moving forward and maybe hit two shots to win the point instead of one. Can't do that against almost anyone out here, but especially not Fabrice who's going to keep fighting till the end.

Q. How different is it for you to play a match like this in the United States in the first round tonight where the fans probably definitely expect you to win as opposed to a few years ago hoping you would win?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, that's funny. It's just different expectations, but I'm the same guy. It's funny to see that I go in today's and, yeah, just for me it's really funny when you go and people that you talk to or whatever, are like yeah, Oh, you won the match, okay, no big deal. To me, that's a compliment because I feel like that means they're expecting so much of me that I must have done something to earn that respect or those expectations.
It's a good feeling. It's funny, my coach and I talked about it a while ago, years ago, it's a really good sign when people stop being so surprised or so congratulatory. It used to be I'd have a match on TV, I'd win it, I'd go home, I'd have 40 e-mails and 10 messages on my phone, everyone calling and saying what a great job. Now, I think this one's going to be on TV. I'm sure I'll get two good buddies, Hey, good job, I caught that one, caught that match. That's when you know things are going really well, when people don't seem so surprised that you're winning a tennis match.
I hope it continues. I hope it gets even more to the point where they're expecting even bigger things from me. But with that comes more pressure, and I hope I'm ready for that.

Q. Coming off the difficult year two years ago, are you better now than you were before the injury? What parts of your game have you improved, do you think, from that point?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I definitely think I'm better now than I was. That's something I never would have really thought because I felt like at the point when I got injured I was starting to improve pretty quickly. I was really getting comfortable with being a top 40, top 30 player and dealing with people kind of gunning for me and some of the expectations that we were just talking about, and I felt like I was starting to accept that and starting to deal with it better.
And then I got hurt. And then it gave me a chance to actually be at home and just kind of take my mind off tennis for a while. And then when I was coming back I was working a lot on my defense. I think too many times before I got hurt I would panic and try to win points too quickly and just figure if I don't put this forehand away and I don't win the point right away, I'm gonna be on defense and then I'm gonna be in trouble.
Now, I have the confidence to go for my shots but not go for too much and if I'm on defense, not panic. And that's a big difference. And otherwise just hitting a million backhands. When I was sick, I couldn't do much of anything that took a lot of, you know, precise timing because my vision was blurred and my balance was off, so I was doing a lot of stationary things, and then the running that I was doing was just purely to help my legs. It wasn't to deal with the precision while I was on the run.
So having a ton of time to do that when you're not worried about a tournament actually I think can be a benefit. I think some guys, if they have that ability, if they have the time when they're young, they don't have points to defend or something, taking a month off and really working on certain things could be really beneficial. At this point in my career, I don't see a chance to do that anymore, but it could be something that's very helpful to guys when you don't have the pressure of winning matches because it's totally different when you're implementing something in a match as opposed to when you're just practicing it.

Q. Have you always played really fast?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, and I think -- I'm sure all the guys I play notice it and some of them may try to slow me down; some of them, that's just their natural pace. But I feel like I always do that, and I don't know if it's more for the fans because I just feel like they don't want to see us waiting there for 20 seconds while we're toweling off, they want to see us playing tennis. I always think, Okay, I'm done. As long as I'm not gasping for breath and making sure I need extra time just to catch my breath, I feel like, All right, I'm ready to play, I know how to play tennis, it's not like I need to go over too many things in my head. I'm usually better when I keep it simpler, go out there and play. If the guys are ready, then I'm usually ready right away, too.
I love the fact that last year Andre and I played, I think we played a five-setter in maybe three hours. It was still, because the tennis was such a high level, people still remember it as such an exciting and thrilling match, and it was so late, but that was because the match before us took so long, too. We actually went much quicker than any of those other matches that seemed to go late into the night because those are four- and five-hour matches. But I bet in actual tennis time, we took just as long as those others.

Q. You mentioned the higher expectations. A year ago you were a wildcard in this tournament facing Roger Federer in the first round. Now you're the top-seeded American. How much more pressure do you feel, and how do you go about dealing with this pressure?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, there's definitely added pressure. I don't know how to quantify it. There's plenty more pressure. I feel like pressure is a good thing. I feel like it's an opportunity to do something good. I've always looked at it that way. Like I said, the expectations have changed and I try to look at that as a positive thing, as the fact that I've done something to earn that. That's what I've done over the last year since I played Federer here. I even felt like I was playing well at that point. Roger just played a little too good on the big points then, went on to win this tournament, so he was obviously playing pretty darn well - as he always does.
But it's definitely different. Makes the draws a little nicer to play Santoro instead of Federer first. My expectations haven't changed. I feel like I'm going in there to get better, and I think it's more everyone else's expectations that have changed than mine.

Q. Losing in the second round to Gasquet, the eventual finalist in Toronto, did that help you to prepare more for here? What was that like?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I got here earlier, so, yeah, I think I'll hopefully be a little better prepared on these courts. These courts are definitely a little quicker than Toronto. So that's something I have to get used to. I feel like I'm ready for it.
But just an early loss isn't ideal, but I try to look at the positive. I've learned that from the tough year in 2004, that you always try to look at the positive situation. I got here early and I got to practice more and, uhm, it gave me a little more time to rest, rest my legs because there's going to be hopefully a lot of matches this summer with here and New Haven and the Open. Maybe a little time off is gonna prepare me better for the Open, you never know. Never would have expected what happened last summer, so I have no idea what to expect in these next three or four weeks.

Q. Do you get to a point in tournaments like this or Toronto, at the Open, where you feel comfortable getting through the first round or getting to the quarterfinals?
JAMES BLAKE: Uhm, it's tough to say I feel comfortable because there aren't any easy matches. Uhm, I don't feel like I'm a player like Roger who can play badly and win. I think I can -- I need to be playing really well to beat anyone out here, that's how good the guys are. Even if I'm ranked higher and I've had better results, I still feel like I need to be playing within two percent of my best to be a winner that day. And if I don't play that well and I manage to win, I think I'm lucky.
So I know that going out to a first-round match, to a quarterfinal match, to a final match, if I'm not playing my best, there's a good chance I'm going to lose. So I don't feel like I ever hit a comfort zone where I'm like, Okay, I've been playing well so far, I can kind of coast through this. There's never a chance, never a moment like that. That's something I learned when I was 20 in the world the first time, was I thought I could just coast through beating guys that are 60 and 70 in the world, and I learned pretty quickly that that doesn't happen. Those guys are too hungry, they're too talented. If you're not as hungry as them, you're gonna end up losing and your ranking is gonna drop. I don't worry too much about the rankings because I'm afraid of that happening again. I don't want to say, Oh, well, Fabrice Santoro is ranked 40 in the world, so I should beat him if I just play okay. If I didn't play really well tonight, there was a good chance I would have lost.
So I don't ever say I feel comfortable. And I know next round, same thing.

Q. So were you pleased overall with the couple mental lapses, with how you were serving, playing?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, felt like I was serving great. I looked up at the stats. In the first set I served 87% first serves. That's probably the best set I've served all year. I'm happy about that. Kept it up in the second set with the exception of that one lapse, one bad game. And I returned well when I needed to. Hit some pretty good passing shots. He was coming in, definitely attacking my backhand a lot more, I was able to come up with some pretty good passing shots. Definitely pleased with the way I played.

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