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November 19, 2006

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. James, having had just a little time to digest what's happened, is your mind more on the excellence of your year or the success of your week or the disappointment of today?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I think you underestimate how little time I've had because my mind is still on how we're gonna get the towels with my name on it out of here.
I haven't really thought about anything. Obviously it's been an incredible year for me. Nothing I would have expected at the beginning of the year, especially nothing I would have expected two years ago. So I'm thrilled about that.
I said even yesterday to my coach, this will be one of -- probably one of the only years where I end, no matter what, on a pretty high note. Usually in Paris, haven't had the most success, have been kind of down on myself. This time I'm ending - even though it was a loss - on a pretty high note. Beating Nadal, Nalbandian, and Davydenko in a week is, for me, a pretty good week. It's a good feeling.
Today, you know, there's nothing I could have done. He played too good. I don't know how many -- I've probably run out of adjectives to describe him on the court, to talk about his excellence. He's just unbelievable. Steps it up even more in finals.
You know, I definitely think I could have played a little better. But to be perfectly honest, I don't know if it would have mattered today. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have been out there longer. But what can you do?

Q. I want to ask why haven't you win back any confidence during the match?
JAMES BLAKE: Why haven't I won any confidence during the match?

Q. Why haven't won any confidence during the match? It seemed that you have been totally, absolutely collapse.
JAMES BLAKE: (Laughing). Thank you.
I actually felt like I got better. The first set he killed me. I thought I got better. I actually finally broke him in the third set. But, uhm, if you think that's collapsing, I implore any of you to go out there and face Roger Federer on the court. I'll write your column, you face him, we'll see who does better.
I don't feel like I collapsed at all. That's your opinion. I wish I could have done better, but that was my best for today. There's gonna be days I play above my level, there's gonna be days I play below my level. I can't say today was that much below my level. Roger just played better than me in every sense of the -- every facet of the game, he played better.

Q. Now you are No. 4 player in the world. Today is your best performance in a big tournament, just like Grand Slams and Masters Cup. Do you think you have more chance to have even more performance in Grand Slam next year?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I definitely do. I feel like I've continued getting better. That's always been my goal. Made a finals of a Masters Series this year. Lost to the Roger. Made it to the finals of a Masters Cup. Lost to Federer. If I could do something about that, then I got a good chance maybe at one of the Grand Slams, too. I think Australia is a good chance for me. The US Open is a good chance for me. The other two surfaces I'm not as comfortable on, but I still think I can improve on those surfaces.
You never know. Being No. 4 in the world gives me better draws at the Grand Slams, and I know it also comes with added pressure. But I feel like I'm up to that now, being a little older, more mature, learning a lot from the guys who come before me, and I think I do have a chance at the Grand Slams.
Obviously, we're all chasing Roger. It's no secret. He's playing head and shoulders above the rest of us. It's gonna be tough for anyone to dethrone him. On a given day, you never know what can happen. So hopefully I'll have those chances. If I keep playing in finals, can't hang my head too much because I'm playing against the rest. The rest of the world is pretty good, too. Roger is just a step above.

Q. We're straining for new adjectives, as well, to describe him. When you're in a match like that, the first set, how do you try to keep your mind in it, your game together, when he's playing such unbelievable tennis?
JAMES BLAKE: It's tough. It's definitely something that's tougher to do than obviously just front running, going out and overpowering your opponent or anything. But you try to think of possibly other ways to be effective, anything you can do that you're not doing well, that you're not concentrating on, whether it be moving your feet or staying aggressive, moving forward. Just kind of focus on the things that you can do.
One of the best things I think you can do is when he is too good, just acknowledge that it's too good, 'cause there's nothing much you can do, there's no use dwelling on it, expecting anything different. You just have to say "too good," and move on, do what you can do. That's what I tried to do, but it's difficult. Some might think I collapsed, but I thought I did myself a service by breaking him at 5-3 in the third to -- 5-2, yeah, to come back, and give myself a chance.
You never know. He's obviously incredible, but he's human. Maybe he could get tight at that 5-4 game and I find myself back in the match. So I did my best to keep fighting, but today he was too good.

Q. The score didn't show exactly how tight those games were, especially in the beginning. There were a lot of deuces. Does that keep you going? Does the score kind of bring you down?
JAMES BLAKE: Uhm, you know, just getting beat like that brings you down a little bit. But when you realize the level of tennis that was displayed, it still keeps me positive. It also keeps me thinking that although it looked like I got just destroyed out there today, I feel like I'm still one of the best in the world. So that's something that I never would have been able to say, never would have had the confidence to even think about uttering those words a couple years ago. Now it's becoming more and more a reality with the improvement I've shown, and then the ranking follows.
I wasn't ever thinking about the ranking, but now to know that I'm going to be ranked No. 4 in the world to end the year, it's a great feeling. That's why I'm not ashamed of anything that happened out there today 'cause I did my best, and he was just a level above.
Like you said, there were a lot of close games. That's why I think even when you lose badly in a score -- score-wise, there are some matches that are 3 and 3 that could change on three or four points and it could go 3 and 3 the other way. That's not to say that if I had won two other points I would have won this match, but it could have been a lot closer. I had, I think, ten breakpoints. If I capitalized on a couple more of those, you never know what can happen.
So it does keep me encouraged that maybe I can get close to him. Maybe I just keep improving, and you never know. Maybe next year I'll get closer and closer and I don't know. One of these times I hope to get him.
But there's a lot of people out there that hope to get him and there's a lot of people that never will, I think. I hope one of these days I get a win over him (smiling).

Q. Despite the loss today, you played very good tennis over the past months, as well as Andy Roddick. Do you see this as a year marking the comeback of American men's tennis after the post Sampras era?
JAMES BLAKE: I look at it as a great year for American tennis, yes. I don't know about post comeback or anything like that, 'cause I don't think American tennis has ever gone down that much. We have two guys in the top 10. We have our whole Davis Cup team here at the Masters Cup with myself, Andy and the Bryan twins. So I think that's pretty impressive for one country. There aren't too many other countries that have two guys in the top 10. I think only Croatia and Spain, and I don't know if Mario is even in the top 10. It's a pretty good honor.
I'm proud to be a part of the team with Andy and Bob and Mike. I feel like we're doing our best for American tennis. Like I said, we're all chasing Roger, so any country outside of Switzerland is not gonna have the claim to all the Grand Slam titles. It's not gonna be like the era of Connors and McEnroe fighting for every Grand Slam, or Sampras and Agassi battling, because of Roger just being so dominant.
So the game has become more international. The depth has gotten so much greater. Contrary to what some of the older guys I've heard have said, the depth in this game is incredible. What Roger is doing is all the more impressive by the fact that anyone in the top hundred can beat just about anyone else, and the tour keeps getting better and better. Every year the guys get better. I'm planning on getting better this off-season; so are a lot of other guys. That's just gonna make the tour even better.

Q. You are actually the U.S. No. 1 now again. Earlier this year when you ranked higher than Andy Roddick, people talk about who's the real U.S. No. 1. I want to know your thoughts on this issue. Do you really think it's really your turn to be the U.S. No. 1, or does this talk make you uncomfortable because you are good friends?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's not uncomfortable. It's something we'll joke about. We're not gonna take it seriously. We're not in any sort of way rivals. If we are, we're friendly rivals. I've gotten him the last two times but he's gotten me a whole bunch of times head-to-head.
So we're not -- we don't compete or anything like that. We're just proud to be partners on the Davis Cup team. I don't think anything's gonna change in our relationship by me being ahead of him. I've said it a bunch of times, that I've learned about dealing with this kind of pressure from him. So I'm proud to have him as a teammate. I'm proud when he's the No. 1 American. I'm proud when I'm the No. 1 American.
I think the tennis he's played in the last six months has been incredible, at Cincinnati, at the US Open. So I know he's gonna get right back up to where he belongs. He's already I think No. 6, I think moving even higher, the way he's been playing.
I'm proud of him, and I wish him all the best. I know he wishes me the same. When we're in the same tournament, we're always looking at each other's draws, hoping we get a chance to play each other in the finals. That's what we always want.

Q. I thought it was one of his best displays ever on the backhand. Have you ever seen the backhand better? Isn't it scary to see that this guy is actually getting better?
JAMES BLAKE: Yes, and yes.
It's definitely scary, and it gives us more motivation to get better. Like I said, the tour keeps getting better, everyone on tour. He needs to do that to continue his dominance. He's doing it, which is scary.
But his backhand today was incredible. Definitely it seems like most times people play him, that's the side to attack, to try to get maybe a couple free points, maybe a couple short balls, and I can't remember him giving me two or three today. He hit so many winners off it and barely hit any errors.
So, uhm, that's dangerous when you have to hit it there, 'cause if you go to his forehand, you're guaranteed to be running or just watching it go by you. So it's a tough proposition to beat a guy that doesn't have a weakness like that. Just more evidence that he's the best of all time.

Q. You're giving him practice.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I gave him plenty of practice. He gave me plenty of a beating.

Q. Actually, what you got today is exactly the same as Roger did last year. You said Roger just gave you lesson in court, and can you just tell us what did you learn?
JAMES BLAKE: (Laughing). I learned something I already know, is that Roger is very good, which is an understatement. I just learned to try to stay positive in these situations. People have said, what do you do at that time, and I just try to stay positive. I tried to today. He gave me a chance to get back into the match. I didn't take advantage. He served great.
I just learned that I do have a chance. And after this whole week, I know playing against these top players, that I feel - or at least this week I felt like I belonged. I don't know if it would be the same if this tournament was on grass or on clay. But it's a great feeling to feel like I belong amongst these players that I respect and have a lot of admiration for, as well.

Q. We saw you and Roger talking after the game during the award ceremony. You were always talking and smiling. What were you talking about?
JAMES BLAKE: Let's see, what were we talking about? We were talking about his trip to Korea tomorrow. We were talking about the off-season. Just a little bit of everything. Talking about Davis Cup actually. Schedules for next year. Just general stuff.
He's a great guy off the court, too. I didn't mention that in my speech, but he is. I mean, I think he's a great role model. He is a guy that's classy. If he wasn't so nice, it would be easy to root against him 'cause it's human nature to cut down those at the top. But no one wants to cut him down. He's just too nice of a guy and it makes it so easy to cheer for him.
We were just in general shooting the breeze and having some fun, yeah, talking about a little bit of everything.

Q. So yesterday Federer said he would prefer to play you in today's match. He said Blake, you have much story in there, in the tennis game. So would you tell us why would Federer think of that? What special story you have in his mind?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I'm writing a biography right now so you'll find out next year.
Quick summary, I had a rough 2004. It was probably three things that I would never wish on my worst enemy. I broke my neck, my father passed away, and then due to that stress I contracted a virus called zoster. That paralyzed the left side of my face, lost 50% of my hearing in my left ear. My taste was messed up, my balance was messed up. Was pretty painful.
So those all made me question whether I'd ever play tennis again. So to be sitting on my couch dizzy and feeling like I couldn't get up to get anything to eat two years ago, to being No. 4 in the world now, to me is something I don't stop and think about too often because I know it would just make me - I don't know - probably tear up or something.
It's something that I never thought was possible. I'm proud to have done it. But I know there's no chance in the world I would have been able to do it without the people around me, without my friends, without my mom, without my brother. I owe all this success to people like that.

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