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March 9, 2007

James Blake


THE MODERATOR: James Blake. James is a little modest. He doesn't want to bring it up so I'll bring it up for him. He drilled a hole-in-one yesterday at The Dunes, Hole No. 7, 202 yards. So if you want to talk golf as well as tennis, I'm sure he's happy to tell you how well it is, how much he got off Mardy Fish.

Q. Did you say 402?
JAMES BLAKE: 202. Good. We're starting off with golf. I like it.

Q. What would be better, another hole-in-one at one of the big courses or winning here?
JAMES BLAKE: Winning here.

Q. Winning here?
JAMES BLAKE: That's an easy one. Hole-in-one was fun, but winning here would be a whole lot more fun.

Q. Anybody have it on tape?
JAMES BLAKE: Not on tape, but I had three witnesses, Mardy Fish, Scott Humphreys, and my coach, Brian Barker. And Brian and Humphreys owes dinner, so that was worth it.

Q. Did you see it bounce in? Could you see it?
JAMES BLAKE: I saw it rolling. It kind of went behind a little hill, so we weren't sure, but Brian was like, "I could have sworn I saw that disappear. I think it's gone. Maybe it rolled off. I don't know."
But I didn't -- then we couldn't see it and I was the first to go, so we have to wait for them to go. I saw my coach jumping like on a rock to see if he could see any balls down there, and he said he couldn't see anything. He said, "I think it might have gone in."
I drove up and right in the hole. As we were driving up, we could see there were no balls on the green. I thought for sure, I didn't think it rolled off all the way off.

Q. In golf there's obviously the ultimate of the hole-in-one, but what's the biggest one shot that you've had in your career?
JAMES BLAKE: In tennis?

Q. In tennis. Can you think of a shot or...
JAMES BLAKE: Think of one shot. Wow. That's tough. There's so many points in every single match that are exciting and thrilling, and, I mean, some of the most meaningless points are the most exciting, you know. Whether it's a 40-love point that you hit it between the legs, winner or something. But the one that stands out the most for me might be match point to win against and Andre Agassi. I remember that one specifically.
Maybe the one I lost -- probably the one that will stick in my memory the longest is the weak second serve that Andre pounded onto the line to lose that match last year -- two years ago now, I guess, in the U.S. Open.
But, I don't know what -- there's so many points in my career, that's now making me feel older, that I've got so many memories of so many points.

Q. Briefly, the memory of the Agassi match point win, the one that you first --
JAMES BLAKE: I ripped the forehand. I ripped the forehand inside from over -- from the backhand corner, just ripped it down the line, 'cause I had, I think I'd already given away one break of serve, and I just said, you know what, I've gotten here by ripping. I'm just going to go after my shots, and I just absolutely tattooed the forehand when it went in.

Q. So James put on your player's counsel president hat and --
JAMES BLAKE: Vice president.

Q. VP, excuse me. Soon to be president. President-in-waiting, and tell me what you think the future of Round Robin should be?
JAMES BLAKE: My personal opinion or my diplomatic presidential answer? My personal opinion, they shouldn't be anymore. Leave it for the Master's Cup and that's it. Diplomatically I'd say, you know, we'll revisit it, we'll talk but I don't want it anymore. It's too many. There's too many variables. There's too many possibilities of matches that could turn into basically exhibitions or after one set they could turn into exhibitions.
And, you know, it's -- I don't want to see more Round Robin tournaments that get decided on who goes through by a rule as opposed to by who wins a match. And I just want to go out there -- and even with the scenario of going out to win by a certain score, it's not natural. I mean, you wouldn't tell a basketball team to go out and cover a line, like a Vegas spread. You'd tell them to go out and win the game.
So it's just a little bit of an unnatural feeling as an athlete. So for me we tried it, we experimented. You know, so far I don't think it's worked out all that well. I don't know the research or the results from the fans, but we need to take that into consideration, but in my opinion, it's not worth it.

Q. Did you -- do you think that, you know, if it had been more straightforward and just followed the way the tennis Master's Cup Round Robin worked rather than going through all the machinations of inside and outside, that maybe the people would have accepted it a bit more?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, maybe. I'd love it if every tournament was just eight players, but that's a little biased. Since I'm No. 6 in the world, I'd get into all of them. It would make for a lot of guys losing their jobs.

Q. I'm not meaning just eight players. But if it was actually split up and just --
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I understand what you mean. Just maybe having a four-man group. But I think that makes it so difficult to have -- to force guys to play three matches. The Master's Cup, you're excited to play every single match. With such a long year, there can be -- again, there can be times where a guy has lost his first two, doesn't care, has a little injury and just stops, plays one game and stops, or whatever. I think there's too many chances where there could be those exhibition matches still.
And I don't -- I don't know if that's worth it to -- if the fans would accept it. I'm not sure. I don't know how much they know about whether or not the guys are trying out there. Whether they're trying 95 percent or if they're -- if they're really giving 100 percent in exhibition match, it only means the difference of ten points or something.
So I don't know how that would go over with fans, but for the players, it's just -- it makes it so much tougher.

Q. Did you make the call Etienne or was it someone else?
JAMES BLAKE: It was a conference call. I was in the room. There was -- who else was in there, Mark Darby, a couple of the umpires, my coach, Brian, Keith Crossline, Fabrizio, and we had Andre Silva on the phone, so it was a whole bunch of us.

Q. But it wasn't -- was it your initiative or was it Darby's or the tournaments directors?
JAMES BLAKE: No, no, no. My initiative was just going in to talk to Darby about it, learn about the rule, to find out what was going on, how this happened, how come no one let us know of the rule, all that kind of stuff. And it just kind of spiraled into a long discussion. And before we knew it, we were on the phone with Etienne.
So I don't know who initially called him, but we just decided maybe we need to get more people on the line as to figuring out this situation.

Q. Etienne has had a lot of good response from players and media and so forth. Were you disappointed in his role in this situation?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, it's tough to -- tough to say for sure, 'cause obviously he tried to rule in my favor, so I mean that should be good for me. But I think giving it time now and looking back, I think that was the wrong decision, so I think he's admitted that. I think he was very rushed. I think it was 1:00 a.m. his time when we called him. So it's very tough to make a presidential decision at 1:00 a.m. after you've been asleep for a few hours probably, but I think he just made a decision too quickly.
But all's -- all ended okay. Korolev got in, he was the one that deserved to be there. He won his match, so hopefully it was the best end result.
And hopefully the best thing that might come of it is that Round Robins might be going by the wayside, which would be, in my opinion, a good thing. So maybe it all worked out in the end.

Q. Can you possibly compare two pretty rough things that happened to you, you know, running into the Round Robin situation in Vegas and then the terrible call during Davis Cup which arguably cost you the match?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, well, until you mentioned that, I'd actually forgotten about that. So that's a good thing. That means I'll probably forget about this Vegas thing pretty soon, too, and it's a very good thing in my mind because it means I'm learning. I've learned that lesson that Sampras tried to teach me many years ago, so I have a short memory.
I'd completely forgotten about that call, you know. That Davis Cup match at the time was extremely important; I was extremely bummed right afterwards. I felt like I let the team down. But as soon as we won the tie, that match was meaningless, you know, outside of a little confidence boost to the Berdych, a little ego depletion on my part. But it's -- it was done then, you know. We won the tie. We're moving on. I'm thinking about Spain in terms of Davis Cup, so that match is done.
And now I come out here and play well, which I feel like I'm playing great. I'm not worried about that, that one match or one decision in Vegas. And by the end of the year. I know, you know, I try to look at things as how important will they be in six months, how important will they be in a year. In a year, I really don't think that's going to be that important. The most important thing is that round robins will probably be done, so hopefully in a year, I'll look back at it as a very good thing.

Q. Safin came up pretty strongly against mandating the Master Series (indiscernible). Just your thoughts on that, whether you think that maybe the top five guys should be required to play five or six (indiscernible). You can't ask all the guys to play because it's impossible?
JAMES BLAKE: We're going to talk a lot about that in Miami. We'll see how strongly I come out with or against Safin on that one. I tend to agree with Safin a lot. He tends to be a little more vocal, but he tends to know what he's talking about. He sometimes, like I said, says it a little louder than the rest of us, but I have a lot of respect for him, and he's usually right.
But to make us play eight out of eight is going to be a very tough ask, especially all over the world, possibly over in Asia. And the biggest problem I think is going to be the suspensions are going to be there if we don't. That's just something that seems like it's going to be really harsh. We'll have to talk about it in Miami.
And it's still our tour; we're the players; we need to make decisions that are going to benefit us, you know. We need sponsors, we need that, but I think most importantly you need players, otherwise you don't have a tour.
So if we're unhappy, it's going to be a problem. So we need to make sure that we find possibly a middle ground, compromise, or whatever, and make sure that the players are still happy.

Q. The women are going through much the same with the discussions whether or not players should be suspended for skipping A-level or Tier I tournaments, so if you don't suspend players, what's the stick that the tournaments have to make sure that the stars actually show up when they're paying big money for getting them here in the first place?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I think it's not -- it's not to say that it's totally unfair, because if people are just skipping it, then there needs to be punishment. But if people are injured, you know, that's where the gray area is, 'cause, you know, some of the sponsors or the powers that be maybe never played tennis, maybe never played sports. They don't understand the wear and tear that your body takes over an entire year or entire career, so...
And sometimes, I think they're a little bit cynical and doubting of whether or not the injuries are real, you know. If it just happens that I get injured right before an Asian swing, people might think I just don't want to get on a 14-hour trip or I get injured right before the clay, many people think I don't want to play on the clay. Sometimes those injuries do happen.
So it's a matter of finding a way to punish those that are just skipping and not punishing those who are legitimately injured. Because it doesn't make sense to have a back injury and then get on a 14-hour flight to go over to Asia just to do a media day. That really doesn't make sense to leave my doctors, leave my trainers, when I need to do what's best for me. And what's best for the tour, to be honest, is to have me back healthy. So if I'm over there doing media and not getting treatment, I don't think that's the best thing.
So we need to find a way to kind of compromise. And whether it's making sure we have a doctor that can fly anywhere that can assess whether or not people are really injured or whatever, I don't know. We're going to hopefully have a meeting in Miami and there will be some really smart people there, hopefully we'll come up with a solution between all of them.

Q. A week or two ago, Tiger Woods lost in the golf tournament on match play, if I recall right, to a mid-level player. You've spoken about Roger and Tiger and the fact that Tiger doesn't have match play. Could you reflect on that again and does that point in some way to Roger's incredible achievement just tournament after tournament going through the whole field not having a bad day?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's incredible what Roger is doing. Absolutely incredible. That's why I said it before, that to compare Roger and Tiger at times is a little unfair to Roger because what Roger is doing is absolutely amazing. Tiger's won that match play tournament, I think, twice, and people talk about the fact that he's dominated it. And even Tiger admitted, I think, "If we played all the time in this match play, there's no way I'd win as much as, as much as I have been." Because every match he goes into he feels like he's a little better than 50/50, and so you're going to lose a good percentage of those matches.
But for Roger to go into these matches and win 41 in a row already and to win -- I mean, I don't even know what his percentage is, but I think he's won 19 out of every 20 matches in the last four years or so, you can't be even close to 50/50. He's at 95/10. I mean 95/5 or 90/10 or whatever, and to do that is just -- I mean, he's shown a greater dominance over a very deep sport than Tiger has, in my opinion.
But that's not to take anything away from Tiger. What Tiger is doing is incredible and historic and record-breaking, as well. I think Roger has done it in a sport that is deep, that also lends itself to many upsets. And golf I don't feel like, lends itself as much to upsets as in the match play. You see mid-level players winning that match play, you see the big upsets, you see the Mickelson, the Els, the top players going out first and second rounds at times.
With Roger, you just don't ever see that. And even with other players that have dominated tennis, you would still see that, but not with Roger. And that's what sets him apart right now. That's not to say he can't come out here and lose first round, because it is so deep, and I kind of hope he does, because I might have to play him (laughter).
So it's just incredible what he's doing, and I think it's a testament to how much better he is to think that a comparison to Tiger is almost unfair to him.
THE MODERATOR: Just a few more, please.

Q. Before your recent Davis Cup victory, it was announced that the U.S.'s next round would be in Winston-Salem against Spain. Don't you think it would have been better to delay that announcement so you could choose a grass court site to oppose Spain?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know if you were watching Wimbledon last year, but I saw Rafael Nadal in the finals, so he's learned how to play on grass courts apparently. And for me, it's never been my most comfortable surface. I've never made it past the third round at Wimbledon, I don't think. So I like the situation of being on fast hard court. I've had some pretty good success against Rafael on fast hard courts. I feel like I've had some pretty good success against Robredo. I've only played (Ferrer/Ferrero) once a long time ago, so I don't know how I've done with him. I think we could put the Brians out here on this carpet, grass or clay or the moon, and they're going to be a favorite against anyone.
So I still like our chances if we put it on a court like the U.S. Open. I've had some pretty good success there; Andy has had more than good success there. So I like our options in Winston-Salem. It also brings back great memories for me, and hopefully Andy, as our first matches together playing live Rubber's. We played India there. Quickly of after 9/11, and that was something that, for me, will always stick in my mind as an unbelievable memory for Andy and I to have won that tie.
THE MODERATOR: One more question, please.

Q. James, what about this week, this next ten days? I mean, last year was a good run for you in terms of the semis. Can you just reflect or talk about having to reproduce that sort of form again?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it would be great. I played very well last year. I lost to Roger when he was playing incredible. It was one of those days. I couldn't do too much. I started out hot, then he got hot, and there was nothing much I could do.
Other than that, I had a great run. Beat Robredo, Nadal, Haas when he wasn't feeling so good, Andreev. It was a great week for me because I made it into the top 10 for the first time. So it seems like a long time ago, but I guess I've only been top 10 for a year now. Hopefully I'll continue to be top 10 for a while longer, but it's got good memories for me in this place.
I've always played pretty well, I think. Hope the same for this year. I think the conditions favor me. We will see. I know I got a pretty tough draw. I saw a play Florent Serra first round who is 1 and 0 against me. First I've got to get a little revenge on him. See how it goes after that. But I'm worried about that first one right now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you everyone. Thank you, James.

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