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April 11, 2008

James Blake

Patrick McEnroe


THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. James, did you feel you had to will your way through the last couple games?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I mean, it had been so close throughout the whole match, a point here or there, who was playing better on the breakpoints. And then to get down 5-4, I mean, I never want to feel like I'm out of it. He had been serving really well. Funny things can happen when you're serving for a match, especially in Davis Cup.
So I did my best to put the pressure back on him and make sure he knew he wasn't going to get a free game out of it; he was going for have to earn it. I made sure of that.
It worked out pretty well. I just felt like -- then after I saved those couple match points, felt like I was on a roll, that's a feeling where you got a second wind, you feel like you could have been out of it very easily. With one big serve you could be already in the showers. To feel that is a great feeling, and you know you can go after your shots.
Then I played a little more aggressive, went after my second-serve returns. Wish I had been playing like that the whole time to maybe make it easier on me but he made it difficult the whole day the way he served.

Q. Could you sense a difference in the way he was playing? He was up two match points.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I remember (laughter). I felt like in that next game, when he was serving, he might have been trying to make serves a little more instead of just the way he had been serving before that, he was just going for aces, hitting corners. I felt like he was just maybe trying to guide it in. I mean, anyone that's played baseball knows once a pitcher starts doing that, they're in trouble. Once a server starts doing that, they're in trouble. They're not going to get the same pop. They're not going to get the same effectiveness. He gave me a couple opportunities to go after second serves in that last game, and I took advantage.

Q. Match was maybe a little more thrilling than you would have wanted. Super fast surface isn't something we see a lot these days. Is it just a lot of fun to go out and play on a court that fast when all surfaces, grass and hard, are slower these days?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. In hindsight right now it's a lot of fun. Practicing with Andy all week isn't a ton of fun. I think the guy is just about unbreakable on these surfaces.
It is fun to have a little difference. Like you said, the hard and the grass and everything is slowing down on tour, I think because maybe people don't want to see a lot of serving, a lot of quick points.
But it is interesting because it's very rewarding to the guy that's making the first strike, that's being aggressive. That's my kind of tennis. So I definitely would like to see it a little more on tour. And we use it to our advantage. Andy, when he's playing this kind of tennis, when he's serving the way he's serving here, he's just about unbreakable.
And for me to get rewarded every time I take a crack at a second serve, every time I get a forehand and really go after it and move forward, it's a good feeling for us. That's why we've played on this type of a surface the last few times at home.

Q. James, can you talk a little bit when you get out a win like that, just the sense of gratification you feel when it's over.
JAMES BLAKE: You know, it's unbelievable. It's unbelievable to do it any time, but to do it and then come off and get to hug your teammates, your captain, your brother, your mom, the people that are there supporting you, the people that were there when you were down and out, not just in a match, that were there for you at all times in your life. And those are the people that you're so happy to see with a smile on their face afterwards. Those are the ones you notice.
You hit a winner, and before the crowd starts cheering, you hear your brother or you hear Mardy cheering and saying, Yeah, and getting excited for you. That makes it just so much more meaningful to win a match like this.
Like I said, it's a little more dramatic than I wanted it to be, but you're going to have to win some of these, too. They're are some that are less dramatic, there are some that are more dramatic. The more dramatic ones are going to be the ones that probably stick in my memory, and this one I won't forget for a long time.

Q. Clearly maybe you have to be playing a Frenchman to win in five sets. Talk about that. Obviously it's a trend.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, another one of those funny statistical things. I always thought with my five-set record, it was just one of those things that was going to be broken at some point. It had come sometimes when I had some bad luck. I had a couple issues with the heat when I was really young. And now it's another one of those things that we can just throw out there that now I'm 3-0 against French guys in five-setters. It's another silly statistic that makes no difference.
You know, I think everyone saw that I was able to run at the end of that five-setter. I think one of the match points I had to make a pretty good get just to stay alive. I was moving my feet as well as I was the rest of the match late in the fifth set, just about four hours into the match. Definitely had nothing to do with fitness. Has nothing to do with heart or anything like that.
I want to win as bad or worse than the next guy. I don't maybe show it the same way. I'm probably not as emotional on the court as like Andy or Safin or anyone like that. But, believe me, it's in there as much as anyone else.
So I never questioned whether I had the ability to do it. It was just a matter of time till these things happen.

Q. Can you take us back to the first match point. How did you guess where he was serving? He said he saw you change your grip just before he served.
JAMES BLAKE: I'm glad he was looking at me (laughter). You know, I don't know. Just sometimes you get a feeling. You know, if someone hits it to my forehand, they take a first serve to my forehand, I have a tendency to get a little tentative and miss it sometimes. I do my best when I don't get tentative. When I do miss that, then I know I get criticized for going for too much.
But I feel like it's my best option, just to go after it, because then I'm not going to have any regret, any feeling of like, Oh, I should have laid off a little. That's a shot I'm ready to play and it's usually very effective. It was that time. He actually made a great get to get it back and make me have to run down another ball or another two balls.
So he did a good job. But that's just the way I kind of go after it if I feel like I'm getting a forehand.

Q. I realize it was six hours ago, but describe the feeling of getting your championship ring and the whole ceremony with the team.
JAMES BLAKE: It's just -- this journey for me kind of started here. So to have it come full circle and to celebrate it here. We had such a great time in Portland. We celebrated. We had a lot of fun. Those are memories I'll never forget. But I think the best thing about it is it's not over. I'm a Davis Cup champion forever, we all are. That's something that means so much to me.
And to have that ring just, again, solidifies it, to know we accomplished something that we all set out to do. We didn't do it on our own. We did it with a team. We did it with a captain. We did it with a support staff. And it means so much to all of them. And to be a player, I feel so honored to have that.

Q. Patrick, what was your thinking going in as to how to attack each of the French guys?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I mean, two obviously very competitive matches, two great matches. You know, we knew that the surface was fast. So for Andy it was always about taking care of his serve and taking advantage of some opportunities, which he did. He could have won the match maybe a little easier than he did, but Llodra played some great points when he was down breakpoints early in a couple of sets.
But Andy really hit the ball well. I mean, he returned well when he could see the ball. When he got looks at it, he was really returning well and making Llodra play tough, tough shots.
So I think, you know, he executed the game plan well.
For James and Mathieu, I thought Mathieu played great. I mean, I was surprised at how well he adjusted to the surface, to be honest. And he was really taking some big swings on his forehand and connecting a lot of the time. Great backhand. Served extremely well.
Obviously, it was a helluva match. So, you know, James just, you know, stayed the course and kept going for his shots and believed he could break back early in the fifth, believed he could break back again when Mathieu was serving for it.
So, you know, it was just a phenomenal day. I mean, I thought the French, both guys, played very well. So it's got to be tough for them to be 2-0 down after having played so well.

Q. James, do you recall saving match points in your professional career before?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. We were talking about that in the locker room. Against Agustin Calleri, not too long ago in New Haven. He was serving at 40-Love, actually 5-4, 40-Love in the second set. I came back and ended up winning that match in the third set.

Q. And when you're standing there, it's match point against you, what's going through your mind, or is anything going through? What's the preparation?
JAMES BLAKE: Make him earn it. That's the biggest thing 'cause I've been over there on the other side, luckily a lot of times, trying to close out a match.
At match point, the greatest thing you can get is a free point. You hit a big serve and it doesn't come back and it makes it easy.
But if you hit a big serve, it comes back, you got to work hard for it, it's not easy. You know, 'cause in your mind, when you're ahead, when you're at that match point, sometimes you're already thinking about getting into the locker room, thinking about finishing the match, and you might jump ahead.
So I know it's not easy on that side. So being on the side where you're down, you got to make sure to make that guy play. No matter how good they are, you know, every single person I think on this earth has gotten nervous at some point. So you just make sure you give them a chance to do that. And that's what I did.
But that being said, I still didn't play tentative. I still didn't just try to push balls in and see if he's going to miss. We're also pros out here. He's 12 in the world and he is not going to let me just push and stay in the point. I have to play my game. But I did that and, you know, you take your chances. That's your best chance to win. You take that opportunity.

Q. James, aside from being 3-0 against Frenchmen in five-setters, you're 3-4 in your last four five-set matches. That to me seems to be the trend. Why is that? Do you have confidence when you get to a fifth set?
JAMES BLAKE: You know, I always had that confidence in a fifth set. I always felt like I was in good enough shape since early in my career when I had a couple problems with the heat, but after that, I got all that sorted out, I feel like I work hard in the off-season. I know I put in hours. I see how some of the other guys work. I've been very diligent about putting in the hours, whether it's on the track, on the court, on the field, in the weight room. I know how hard I work.
So that doesn't really enter into my mind out there. So once I get to the fifth set, I feel like I should have some sort of an advantage. I would have loved to have been four out of my last four if Tommy Haas didn't come up with two huge serves in that fifth set at the Open. But I feel good going into a fifth set.
The only thing that was different about it was I kept hearing about it, about the record, you know, how many I'd lost in a row to begin with. Now luckily it's so far behind me I don't even remember how many it was. I do remember it was against great players, against Lleyton Hewitt twice, against Andre Agassi once, against some pretty solid players that earned those victories. It wasn't like I just went into a fifth set and rolled over. The only time that happened was when I had thrown up on the court already and was cramping and couldn't really move. That was when Lleyton beat me 6-0 in the fifth or something. But, otherwise, I competed hard till the end and lost to some very high-quality players.

Q. James, Andy spoke earlier about the difference between Davis Cup and any other tournament. Do you think there's a difference? What is the overall impact of the crowd and emotion out there?
JAMES BLAKE: There's definitely a difference. You don't get the same kind of nerves when you're here at Davis Cup. It's very different when you're accountable to your teammates, when you've done the hard work, but you want to succeed as well for them. Most of the year on tour is very selfish. You're doing it for your own. There might not be that many people in the locker room that care one way or another if you win or lose. Here I know there's entire locker room full of guys that care if I win or lose. That accountability, it makes for added pressure on both sides. I'm sure Paul-Henri feels the same way.
It's such a good feeling, it makes the highs a little higher, the lows a little lower. It's something that's so enjoyable. I've been part of other teams, college teams, high school teams. Not much compares to this one, but it's a lot of fun to be a part of. It's definitely a little different. And having a biased crowd makes it feel like it's another kind of sporting event like a basketball game or soccer game where they have very biased cheering sections. I love that about sports. It's fun. It's a challenge when you're on the road, you're facing an unruly crowd. When you're home, you get that boost. When you're down match points, when you're at a breakpoint or anything like that, it's a lot of fun to be a part of.

Q. James, I can't imagine there's too much harder in the game than controlling a match point against you. Paul-Henri said that. He said he put his serves in and you returned them 200 K. I don't know if that was accurate. Can you talk about that challenge. Also, what difference did the speed of the surface make specifically in your return game today?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, yeah, like I said, I had to go after those shots. That was the way I felt most comfortable. If I got tentative and just tried to push them and ended up missing or floating one short and letting him put it away, then I'd be kicking myself right now. You know, there's a good chance I would have also lost the match and I'd be saying I didn't go after it. That would be a regret that I don't want to have.
So I went after my shots. I still tried to give it a little bit of margin. Both of them kind of went into the middle of the court. So I felt good about the kind of calculated risks I was taking.
Yeah, so that was a good feeling.
What was the other question?

Q. The surface.
JAMES BLAKE: The surface, yeah. It was tough because the way he was serving, especially in the first set, any kind of first serve, the court helps you. It gets the ball through the court. If you're sliding it away, if you're hitting a flat serve, it gets past the guy very quickly. And he was doing that very effectively.
Like I said, at the end of the match, I felt like he might have started guiding them a little and that helped me. He still had a chance to take a crack at second serves. It took me a little while to get used to letting the court work for me as well there because I could just hit it solid to a corner and feel good about it as opposed to sometimes on a slower hard court, I have a little more time and then I can create a little more pace and I need to do that to get it by a guy.
But it was really quick and you had to kind of let the court help you. When you're just making solid contact, you're going to get rewarded.

Q. Patrick, can you talk about being up 2-0. Guy said it's nearly unsurmountable from their standpoint.
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I don't know about that. You know, we're certainly a lot more comfortable up 2-0 than we would be 1-All. You know, the Bryans are great obviously in any situation. But I think being up 2-0, you know, they're going to come out with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity. That could help us.
But, you know, we got a little bit fortunate today because it was two very tough matches. But, you know, the crowd helped. The guys' experience helped. Their mental toughness helped. We're certainly feeling pretty optimistic.

Q. At the end of the match, you had almost like two different crowds. You had the people sitting in the stands and you had your teammates. I noticed after the match was over, you went right to Mardy and Andy, went to hug them. Can you comment on how those two aspects helped you.
JAMES BLAKE: Those guys are unbelievable. Mardy, I mean, all of us that are on the team can't speak enough about how impressive it is and how much we care about Mardy to be here. Guy is 40 in the world. Just beat Roger Federer. Has had a great year already. Could be training somewhere else on clay back at Saddlebrook. But he's here helping us.
When I got that break after being down match points, he was the first guy I saw jump up. He's so excited for us. In most countries he's gonna be playing Davis Cup. For us, he's just so willing to fill in if one of us had gotten hurt during the week, if one of us is not playing well, not confident, whatever, he's ready, and could play at any time. He's meant so much to this team that it's huge to have someone like that that can practice with us, that can fill in if we need it. We just had the confidence that even if one of us goes down, we've got a great replacement that would be playing on any other team.
So it means a lot to have him there and to know what Andy's gone through, to know how much he's dedicated to Davis Cup. It just means so much to be a part of that. And I'm proud of those guys as teammates and as people.
And then my family sitting right behind there, like I said, it's a great feeling. Sometimes you have that at normal tournaments with your family there. And Andy and Mardy are just as happy when I come into the locker room. But it's just different when you're a part of a team. You feel special when you're a part of a team. You would think it would be the opposite, you would feel special when you're out there on your own. For me, I feel so much more special when I'm a part of a team like this. And those guys just make it so easy to be teammates with them.

Q. Guy Forget said he felt it was very evenly matched until the very end when you started to control the return of serve and you really were pushing back. He said when that happens, there's a problem. At that point he literally used his hands and said he felt a very clear shift in the match. Did you feel that? If so, what were your feelings at that time?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I felt like I was going after my returns at the end. Sometimes it takes being down. I've talked to my coach about this a bunch of times. You know, sometimes you get down and then it hits you and it's much more clear that you have to be a little more aggressive. You can't try to play not to lose; you've got to go after it. I was trying to do that the whole match. For some reason it clicked in even more clearly at the end there. I don't know if it even really clicked in. I think it was just the execution got better at the end. I was trying to do that the whole match. It was a little more effective at the end there. I just got a few looks at serves. I happened to guess right. Those are the little things that can happen that can change a match. Just one right guess at the right time and it can change a match. I think today it did a little.
I feel like when I'm playing well, that is something that happens a lot, is I can start affecting the server, I can start guessing right, putting balls deep on their feet, on the shoe tops, making them have to hit up to me and me getting in control. That's why I tend to get a decent amount of breaks. Today it was very difficult with the speed of the surface. Towards the end it started feeling a little easier.

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