October 12, 2001
WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA, J. BLAKE/H.Mankad 7 -5, 6-3, 6-3
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. How do you feel about your decision now?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I feel great. I felt great about it when I made it. I knew James was playing well. I knew that he was capable of stepping up and as I told him right after he finished the match that's an impressive debut; there have been a lot of great players that have struggled, you know, in their first match, first couple of matches, so James handled it well. Leander is a tough guy to play against. He came out playing well. Came out with a lot of energy, Leander did. But James just matched him and you know, played exactly the way he has been playing. As I said the other day, I expected James to win and I am expecting that he's going to make a lot greater strides in the next year.
Q. Andy said he was caught up in the emotion a little bit. Maybe a little tight first couple of games. How did you feel?
JAMES BLAKE: Same way. As well as I feel like I prepared for this, I don't know if there's anything that can prepare you for being out there, and especially at this time having patches on your sleeves for the Davis Cup team and for the tragedy that's gone on, I really can't even describe what I felt out there. It's tough to play tennis when you feel like that, but I mean, I just tried to push through it and my stomach was getting a little queasy, I just managed somehow to get through it. From then on I felt really great on the court. Like he said, Leander came out with a lot of energy. I was just trying to match it. I think it helped me that he came out with so much energy. He made me realize that I had to step my game up just to be out there and really to deserve to be on the same court with him.
Q. Seemed like you were really able to keep your emotions, hold your composure once things got started. Do you agree with that and if so, what helped you do that?
JAMES BLAKE: Having a great team behind me and being as prepared as I was and having Patrick sitting next to me. He's great to calm me down and I just felt like I knew he's a veteran to Davis Cup and I also know his type of game is kind of up and down. He's very talented; can really hurt you in a hurry. So I tried to just stay as calm as I could. That was part of the game plan going in, just stay steady and I knew he would probably try to take advantage of the fact that this is my first tie. I feel like he did when he came out with all that energy and was playing great and I knew my only chance was to do that. So was just kind of a desperation -- not desperation but the just only thing I can do to hopefully win the match.
Q. When you got that break in the second set, might have been a time maybe you could panic a little bit; you were able to stay calm there and break back. Talk about that.
JAMES BLAKE: I feel like that was possibly the turning point of the match was when I could break back and show him that I wasn't going to go away; I wasn't going to give him a set just because he came out with a break early and played some great points and I think when he broke back he was even up 40-Love and I didn't want to just give him a free point at the end of that game. To be honest, that's something I think I have learned in the last year or two on Tour, especially from playing guys like -- just like Andy Roddick - Andy, I think he's one of the best being down 40-Love and coming back and fighting for a point and that's -- I know from playing him that's frustrating as an opponent so I tried to do that to Leander. It paid off that time. If it can pay off one time in one match a year it's worth fighting for those couple of points.
Q. What do you rate your chances in the doubles?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I am looking forward to -- obviously I am really looking forward to the doubles now that we are up 2-0 just from the standpoint of a fan, I think it's two great teams and it's two teams that really know how to play doubles; know how to play very well. I like our chances a lot in the doubles. I think our guys are playing with a lot of confidence just like Andy and James, they have had a great week of practice. They are fresh. They are sharp. I expect them to play well. Obviously Leander and Mahesh have a tremendous amount of experience. They are a greet team. They played a lot of big matches together, but this is a huge opportunity for our guys, especially for Don, you know, third guy playing in his first live Davis Cup match, so that, to me, is really what is exciting about this whole tie to see these guys step up the way they did today and not only win, but win with the composure that they showed, the right mental attitude and I think all those things were crucial as to why I picked them. The same thing with Don and Jared, so I am looking forward to a great match. I think we have a great chance to win. I am expecting to win.
Q. Talk about Andy's performance today and how he kind of got his emotions in check fairly quickly?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I thought -- I thought his opponent played well. I thought he played better than we expected him to be honest. I think Andy didn't expect him to play that well. He hit the ball pretty flat, good backhand, mixed it up, came to net, so in that sense, I thought he put Andy under a little bit of pressure at least when he was serving. Obviously Andy served great, was never really threatened on his serve, but I felt Andy was, look, you know he's has been looking forward to this for his whole life. He's known that he, I think, from a young age that he was going to be a great player, at least expected to be. One of the things he always talked about is playing Davis Cup and here it is first time playing in a big match, and I think he's a little bit nervous in the beginning and in addition to the fact that his opponent played well. So Andy got his game going and obviously was able to get through the first two sets even despite maybe not playing his best comfortably and then start to play real well and play his type of tennis I thought in the third set where he could just unload on some shots and go for his shots a little bit. So as I said, both guys, it was a great first effort for both of them as far as, I mean, Andy's played one before but not a live match. I was real happy with the way they both played.
Q. James, did you know anyone involved in the tragedy?
JAMES BLAKE: Actually I was extremely fortunate. I have a lot of friends that just graduated from school and are working there, and all I have heard from them is close-call stories, and very scared and nervous stories, but they are safe. It makes you think about how much you treasure the friends you did make at school and how important they are to you in your life. It makes -- it also makes you realize that we are out here doing our job but we are still playing a game. Every time we go out there we say we are playing. And there are more serious things in the world. I am very fortunate that it was all just close calls.
Q. James, did it help you to play the second match; maybe get a little better feel for the atmosphere?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I don't know since it is my first time, I don't know what it's like to play that first match. But I had -- I had my game plan last night and early this morning, so I knew what I was planning on doing going into the first match or second match and I have a ton of confidence in Andy as does the rest of the team. So if I had played the first match, I wouldn't have been thinking about playing the second match at all. I would just be worried about what I am going to do just as I hope he had confidence in me going out playing the first match. He went out and played great. Showed how it is done in your first live match. I just tried to follow that and I played-- I felt I played pretty well. So it was a good situation for us, and worked out well.
Q. Can you talk just about a couple of the things in the last couple of months that have really improved in your game and what you have been working on?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, yeah I have been working on improving my backhand a lot, probably since back in Switzerland when I was practice partner with Patrick and he made me realize that I needed to be a little more balanced on my backhand and make sure to keep accelerating through my backhand. That's helped me to make it so it's not as much of a weakness and guys can't really attack it. I am still working on getting it better and better and it seems like the better my backhand gets the further I am going up in the rankings and more success I am having. So it's very good encouragement. It's not always you get that kind of immediate success out of something you are working on, but luckily I have had some success, and that's given me a lot of encouragement to keep working on it. Guys like Patrick pushing me to work on it, my coach pushing me to work on it and great players out here that they are still beating me up out here, still pushing me to work on it. I'd like to get it to a point where it maybe is a weapon to me. I want to improve all the rest of my game as well. No part of your game that you can be complacent with. You have to keep improving. I feel my forehand is -- I still want to hit buckets of forehands to get it better. Everything can improve.
Q. What about the mental part of your game, how much has that changed in the last few months?
JAMES BLAKE: I think it's helped -- gotten a lot better. I feel like I just played a lot more matches. That was the biggest weakness in my game, coming out into the pros that I didn't have the kind of experience with top players, even top international junior players, I didn't play many of those. I was kind of a late bloomer so I didn't have that experience and just learning from each match loss and our coach here Jim Courier was the first person who told me you can learn from wins too. It's kind of cliche that you learn from every loss, it is a learning experience, my dad taught me that. But when you think about it, you can learn from your wins, you can learn what you did right. I have tried to do that and luckily I have had a few more wins and I have tried to learn from those as well as the losses. I feel like I am getting better each match I play, a little bit more experience and I feel like I can --like I kept my emotions in check today. I think a year ago I might not have been able to. Maybe that's why I was still losing first and second round in challengers. Now I am playing a little better and having some more success.
Q. Did you have any inclining that you would come so far in this one year when the year began?
JAMES BLAKE: No. Definitely not. (Laughs) I have just been working hard trying to get better. I never -- when I was about ten years old I probably dreamed I was going to be a pro tennis player. I am also very realistic. When I was 14, 15 years old not making Nationals, I thought I'd like to be a good college player, and I just wanted to work hard for whatever goal I could set, however I could be, I wanted to work hard and know I did my best. Before you know it, being a good college player was what I had done. I felt like I could still improve, now I am where I am. I have come pretty far. I have probably hundred spots in the rankings last year or so, and at this point I still feel like I can improve. If I don't, then I don't but I really feel like I can. I am going to keep having fun and working hard and enjoying it.
Q. How many years were you at Harvard?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Two years.
Q. Did something just click for you around the time, I guess when you sort of began this run of good results or was it just a gradual process?
JAMES BLAKE: I think it was kind of gradual. Unfortunately at the beginning, grass court season I was a little injured and I kept trying to play through it. I had hurt my foot and I was trying to play through it because it's on grass and I thought I could just win points quickly and try to end them in a hurry. It really affected me but I had been working hard up until that point, I think maybe just that little break after Wimbledon to heal that and to get to the point where I was healthy and really felt good about my game again. I just went out there having fun and I had -- that was the first time I had success in a Tour event really and it felt great. From then I just got some confidence. Once I had confidence, that's just like getting momentum on the court, you just keep rolling with it. It felt great, and all that work getting to that one breakthrough felt like it was paying off. I am glad I had done it because I think if I hadn't maybe I could have had that one breakthrough one semifinal I really don't think I could have followed it up with good results after that.
Q. Did you sense any extra crowd support because of all that's happened?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I don't know, I think you always hope to have support. I think it's obviously an emotional time and it's almost -- you almost feel like you maybe you don't want to cheer that much because you realize it's just a tennis match, and in the grand scheme of things it's hardly that important. But it's a nice -- as I told the guys at the beginning of the week, this is an opportunity for us to do what we do and do it with class and the right frame of mind and the right competitiveness out there and I think that's what the guys did. They really did. Both of them did that. I am as proud of that as I am of the way they played. The way they handled themselves and the way all the guys have this week, so I think that's a factor. You want to go out and play as well as you can and be proud that you are able to represent your teammates and your other -- your fellow countrymen.
Q. James, when you were involved in the junior program in New York, you basically had never really played until you got involved in that or had you played some? I wondered if you made great strides immediately once you got involved? Were you a natural?
JAMES BLAKE: I was involved in that. I hadn't really played tennis before that. It was just because my father volunteered there and probably didn't want to pay for a baby sitter so I ended up tagging along with him. Just saw everyone playing tennis. It looked fun. So I picked up a racket. He would toss me a few balls, I mean, I am sure in my parents eyes I was a natural. They always want to think that. But I don't know, I really didn't take it very seriously. I was just hitting a few balls and I got to maybe ten years old, I started playing tournaments. I did have a little bit of success at the New England level or small New York tournaments, it was a lot of fun. But I played a lot of other sports. I was a very competitive kid and very active so I wanted to do a lot of things. Then when I did start concentrating on tennis I was maybe thirteen years old, I felt like I could possibly excel at it at that point. Unfortunately, I was really short so I was getting overpowered a lot. I wanted to keep working hard, practice to go get better for this -- not for this point but for 18 and unders and for college, and to get my game to improve for later. Kept working hard and having fun. Luckily I finally grew.
Q. You were a (inaudible) for guys like Roddick?
JAMES BLAKE: I think he was kind of little when he was a kid.
CAPTAIN McENROE: He was short too. He was real little. Yeah.
JAMES BLAKE: I actually never really knew much about him in juniors. We were two years apart and I wasn't extremely good. So we never really crossed paths. I had heard about him when I got to college. I heard there was this young kid doing great things in the juniors. I saw him, I think in Team Tennis a couple years ago, first time. Since then he has gotten about 500% better. It's unbelievable how much he's improved. But I was (inaudible) for a lot of guys that since have maybe hung up their rackets or just gotten tired of the game.
Q. Do you feel like winning this match means you are extremely good now?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know about that. I think there's still a lot of work to be done.
Q. With this young of a team how important is it to have this kind of a lead going into the second day?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, we got the old guys playing tomorrow, so we got the over-30 contingent on tomorrow. I think it's just a great day in that what it says about the future, you know, when I took this job people said, well, it's going to be a rebuilding process; you are going to have to wait it out for a couple of years. Of course, I like to do it as long as I can so I didn't care about that, but I really believe that with the guys that we saw out there today that we can win the Davis Cup. I think we can win it next year. So to me, it was not only important for this particular tie, but it was important for what lies ahead, you know, what it says and hopefully you know there's a whole group of young kids out there that have had camps here this week 16 year olds, 14 year olds, and it's important for them. It's important for them to be a part of this and to see what it's all about because they may not be that far away. So it's just exciting. It is a fun time for me and I think hopefully for fans of American tennis that there's really something to look forward to.
RANDY WALKER: James and Andy are the second youngest pair of US Davis Cuppers playing in their first live rubber to give the USA a 2-0 lead since Davis Cup began in 1900. The other pair is Andre Agassi and Jay Berger in 1988. Agassi was 17; Jay Berger was 21 against Peru in 1988.
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