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August 31, 2009

James Blake


J. BLAKE/R. Ramirez Hidalgo
6-1, 6-4, 7-5

THE MODERATOR: Questions for James.

Q. Are you beginning to feel that your season is beginning to mirror your favorite baseball team?
JAMES BLAKE: A lot of injuries, not quite fulfilling the potential at the beginning of the year. It's frustrating as a fan. It's frustrating as an athlete.
But injuries unfortunately are a part of the game. I've been down that road before. Luckily -- it's weird, 'cause the ones that are very serious you kind of accept. You know you're going to be out for a long time.
But had a little knee injury. Rolled my ankle. It was a couple weeks. Just broke my toe, so I'm out for six weeks. The little ones are almost more frustrating because you want to get back so quickly and you're trying hard, but you still have to take that time off and you're still rusty when you come back. You haven't hit a ball and had the practice and the prep time. It becomes pretty tough.
Doesn't seem like I had any real serious injuries this year, but it's kept me out for enough time to make it so I haven't had all the preparation I wanted.

Q. You haven't talked to the Mets players, compared notes.
JAMES BLAKE: No, I haven't, unfortunately. Haven't even been out to Citi Field. End of this tournament I definitely want to get out there. I want to take my mom out there for a game. She's a lifelong Met fan as well. We're definitely going to catch a game.
At this point in the season, I was hoping it would be in a pennant race. Not so much anymore.

Q. How many tournaments have you missed?
JAMES BLAKE: I missed Indianapolis. I actually wasn't scheduled to play there anyway. I was thinking about playing there. I missed D.C.; I missed Montréal. So really just two. I wasn't able to practice since Croatia, which was just after Wimbledon. So about four or five weeks off the court.
That's tough in the middle of the summer when I planned on playing some of my best tennis on my best surfaces.

Q. Did you watch the ceremony with Andre? If you didn't even, just what he's done with his foundation, what do you think other athletes can learn from him?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I saw little pieces of it. I was getting stretched, talking to my trainer and explaining about the school. I had spent time out there in Las Vegas during that tournament a couple years ago. I just told him how impressive it is. Those kids, to get a chance to go there, I know there's a lottery system out there in Vegas for the kids.
I told my trainer, I said, winning the lottery for those kids is probably more valuable than someone winning the actual lottery, because they get that kind of education in a public facility with that kind of funding and that kind of real care that Andre puts into it.
The fact those kids are very regimented, they have a very healthy respect for authority, and they got their heads on straight and are going to go off to be hopefully great basically just members of society.
So I'm proud of that. What Andre did in his career is incredibly impressive. But to have someone who can be more impressive after their career is so rare. It's why someone like Arthur Ashe is my idol. I'm sure a lot of kids have grown up in this era after mine. I hope they have someone like Andre Agassi as their idol.
He can make us all learn a lot with the fact that you're given so much, and the best thing to do with that, the most rewarding thing, is to give back with what you've been given.

Q. Agassi was saying in this country there's not a lot of young kids playing tennis. Needs to be a grassroots movement to get more youngsters playing tennis. What do you think needs to be done to accomplish that?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I think a grassroots program, just getting kids playing. You just teach them about the game. I think it's tough in America, since you're competing with so many other things. You're competing with basketball, baseball, football, hockey. If you get them playing, they're going to be fans. They're going to come out here and watch. They're going to see it up close. They're going to be impressed. They can see they can do that.
They want to be as good as Andy Roddick; they want to be as good as Venus and Serena Williams. I think if they see that and then they have it very accessible. That's one of the hardest things. They don't know anyone else in their neighborhood to hit with. They don't know where they can go to hit. They can't afford a country club. The nets have been taken down in the public park or something.
If you just make it accessible to the kids, they're gonna enjoy it. If they have a talent for it, they're really going to enjoy it and they're going to keep playing. They're going to grow at their own pace. They're going to get better. They're going to improve. They're going to keep getting better.
Then we're using our greatest asset, which is so many people that can play. I mean, our country is so big, we have so many athletes, it's just a matter of getting them to play. If you're kind of pulling from such a big pool, you're going to find some talent, you're going to find some people that are athletic enough to succeed at this level.
We have the coaching in place, great coaches at the USTA training facility. Thanks to this tournament, we have plenty of funds as well.

Q. Do you think the tennis pros like yourself, like Andre, you have to take the lead and try to get the grasroots movement going?
JAMES BLAKE: I wouldn't put it all on us, but I think it's going to help a lot. I think having someone to look up to for kids that's American is going to make a big difference. If they see Andy Roddick in the news on SportsCenter every day, they're going to have something to look up to and something to push towards.
I think that makes a big difference. And then if they see Andy Roddick at their local park making an appearance, showing kids how to play, doing his part every time, it's going to make a big difference.
If they see me hopefully coming into a school to talk to them about tennis, talk to them about the fact that it's a lifetime sport, it will keep them healthy their whole lives and things like that, hopefully it will make a difference.
I think the biggest difference is having the influence in their lives every day. I'm not going to be in a kid's life every single day outside of my close-knit group of friends and family. I'm not going to be able to. I wouldn't have the time to go and mentor every single kid that I want to play tennis.
But their parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, they're the ones that will have the biggest influence because they're around them all the time.

Q. Can someone go to college, graduate from college, then be a star?
JAMES BLAKE: You know, I think tennis is such an individual sport that absolutely any path is very possible. College tennis, it may not be exactly the same as it was in the '70s and '80s, but it's still very deep. There's a lot of great players.
Devin Britton had about as tough a draw as you can get here. But he's a good player. It just matters what you feel. Seems like kids are growing up a lot fast these days. If they need time to go to school, to get bigger physically, mature, there's nothing wrong with it.
You're getting four years of free training. You're getting great hitting partners. For the most part you're getting good coaching. I don't see a problem with it. It may take you longer to success, because when you come out you're 22 years old.
If you have the talent, there's no reason why you can't be successful at 23, 24, 25, as opposed to 19, 20, 21. John Isner went to college for four years; he's got a great game. Being so big, he's a little unique. He needed time to grow into that body. I make fun of him a lot for being goofy now, but he's a pretty good athlete to be 6'9" and move that well around the net, serve that well. It took some time.
I'm sure he went through some very awkward phases being that tall. I'm only 6'1", and I know I went through a couple of awkward phases when you're growing into your body.
It's possible. It's just different scenarios are going to work for different people. I hope there's soon going to be a kid that goes to college and shows how good college tennis can be and it's possible.

Q. When your career is over, are you going to go back to Massachusetts and finish up there?
JAMES BLAKE: I plan on it. You never know where my life will be at that point. If I'm married, my wife is the boss or something, that's the possibility. But I'd like to go back and finish. If I don't finish there, there's a good chance I'll finish wherever I am, whether that's Fairfield University or down in Tampa at USF. But I'd like to go back and finish at Harvard.

Q. Does your mom stay on you for that?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, my mom stays on me.

Q. You beat a guy today that beat you last time out. What was the difference today?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, one, it was the US Open. That's a little different. Three out of five sets where I feel very comfortable. He actually beat me on the other place I feel like is my home court, New Haven. It was a similar match a little bit today. I was up big in the first set; second set couldn't close him out; third set served for the match, couldn't close him out.
Today in the third set I had an opportunity to close him out at 5-4. Didn't do it. He's a great fighter. He was going to push me till the end. I haven't closed out a match in a while being that I was off the tour for a little bit.
So there's going to be those hiccups now and then. Proud of the way I then competed the next game to get the break right away and then did close him out. Just being a little better execution right at the end of the match is the biggest difference.

Q. Were you surprised when the chair umpire erased the word "Fila" on your headband?
JAMES BLAKE: I didn't know the rule. I didn't know you couldn't have any writing on the headband or wristband. With the new logo, new design, there's always the logo and the Fila. So I didn't know that we couldn't do that on the headband.

Q. What do you think of the rule? Signs all over everything else.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I don't know why the ATP does some of the things they do or if it's just ITF. I don't know. A quarter inch here, a quarter inch there, they make all these rules. You know, that's for them to deal with, the sponsors and everything. You know, it's not my place to say.

Q. You know what it's like to get a second wind in your career. What is it going to take for you to get a third wind?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know. I still feel good out there. I still feel like I haven't gone out and lost a step. I don't feel there are balls I can't get to because I used to be able to get to them. I don't feel like I'm not hitting my serve as big or anything like that.
It's just a matter of a lot of little injuries have cost me some time on the practice court this year, and that's frustrating. But I think with plenty of time on the practice court, maybe a good run here, getting some matches under my belt, I can be just as good, I hope. As long as that motivation is there. I definitely feel motivated.
I know there's a lot of people out there saying, 29, getting near 30, probably tailing off in his career. Maybe he'll have just another year or two and be done. You know, I've proved that I can come back before. I'd love to do it again. That's part of the motivation.
But if I were always just worried about what other people had to say, I wouldn't still be on tour probably. I want to do it for myself. I want to prove to myself that I can do it. If I can't, I'm going to give it my all. That's going to make me proud at the end of the day and at the end of my career. If I give it my all and I really have lost a step, I really have lost a couple miles an hour on my serve, things aren't as sharp as they used to be, then that's going to happen to us all at some point.
I wouldn't think it would happen to me at 29, but I didn't know if I'd still be playing at 29. So I'll take the good with the bad.

Q. Do you definitely feel better about missing the Pilot Pen? Do you feel more refreshed?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I feel like I needed to do that. I had a lot of things going on last week. I couldn't. It would have been a little too hectic. It would have been perfect really for me to go there and get one match or two matches. But I know myself. I can't go in there to just try to play one match.
I want to go in there and I want to win that tournament, especially with my fans there being so supportive. I can't go in there and give it a 70% effort. I need to go in there with 100%. It would have been too tough if I had gone in there and done as well as I had hoped, and then come here and been a little tired because I hadn't had that many matches before it.
Definitely feel great. The legs feel great. Matter of getting my toe healthy, which now feels good. Hopefully the legs will last me through the whole tournament.

Q. The third wind again. Younger players emerging ready to win majors. I know you were talking about small injuries, but do you feel like you have to start over, or is it a matter of healing and going back to your spot?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I don't think anyone's going to completely start over at 29. I do know how to play the game. I know what works for me. I know what's best. But it's a matter of executing. It's a matter of little things. Just executing the little things better.
I think the guy that was in here right before me, Andre Agassi, proved that he can change his game a little bit and still be effective well into his 30s. He had a much more precise game, probably a lot less movement, a lot less factoring on his legs. His ball striking was one of the greatest of all times. He got to run the other guys a lot more than he was running.
I unfortunately end up doing a lot of the running in my matches. I know there's ways to change little things, I hope, and still be effective. I remember when he was in his 30s, he talked about the challenge of getting better. It gets tougher when you get to 29, 30, 31 years old. If you don't like challenges, you probably shouldn't be an athlete, or at least at this level. You shouldn't try to be one of the best in the world.
There's going to be challenges. Whether it looks easy or not, it's not. As much as Roger looks like he barely sweats, he's working hard. He's worked hard to get there. He's put in tons and tons of hours on the practice court. He's dealing with pressure that I couldn't even imagine, the streaks he's gone for, the history he's battling.
No matter what, I know this is another challenge, and I'm looking forward to it. Because if I'm not challenged, I'd probably get a little bored out here. I have yet to be bored on tour.

Q. How does 29 feel different than 22 physically? What do you feel more than you did?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I'm probably going to groan when I get up out of this seat. I wouldn't have done that at 22. You feel the knees a little more. You feel the back. I joked when I was 21, 22, Todd Martin, I'd hit with him, and he'd be in the training room for 45 minutes before we hit warming up is shoulder, his elbow, his knees.
I would pretty much just roll in, grab a piece of tape for my finger, say, Let's go hit. I can't believe you're like that. You just wait. No, I'll never be like that. I can just roll out of the car and hit.
I can't roll out of the car and hit anymore. I need to be in there stretching, be on the bike for five minutes, do all these things to warm up my body. It's not as much fun. But I still love it and it's still worth every little bit of extra hassle I go through, whether it's doing the extra stretching, doing the extra work in the gym, whatever it takes. It's still fun.
I'm sure I'll be hitting with a couple of these 20, 21, 22-year-olds without stretching, without doing anything, and remember those days.
But, oh, well, I'm still having fun out here.

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