March 17, 2004
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
THE MODERATOR: Irakli advances to his fourth career ATP quarterfinal. His first in an ATP Masters Series event. He'll take on the winner of Blake-Dent. He beat James Blake last year in Memphis. He's never played Taylor Dent before.
Q. You appeared to be having a lot of problems with the sun in the beginning, double-faulting three times in your first service game. What did you do to adjust?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I don't know. You know, last two matches, I've been playing in the night, so I had no problems with the sun. So today was like pretty new for me, the sun. I guess I got used to it slowly, slowly. My eyes got used to the sun, so it was better. Still was bothering me, but not as much anymore to make three double-faults again.
Q. There was one point in the first set when you picked up something on the court, placed it on your racquet, took it over to the sidelines and deposited it. What was that?
IRAKLI LABADZE: It was elephant (laughter). No, a small butterfly.
Q. Was it living?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes, yes.
Q. Has Alex been any help to you at all?
IRAKLI LABADZE: He helped me two years ago in the summer for like three, four weeks. That's it. He's working on the Russian television.
Q. Our understanding is that this is your first victory this year really, that you were 0-4 coming in here.
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yeah. I've been losing everywhere first round. I lost maybe six, seven first rounds before this. In Memphis, last tournament, last time, I got injury for three weeks. I was not expecting really to even win a round here. I don't know. I don't know what's happened.
Q. What was the nature of your injury?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I twist my ankle.
IRAKLI LABADZE: Left. Doctor told me I tore the ligament.
THE MODERATOR: It was in Memphis.
Q. How did you do against Blake when you played him?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I won. I played him twice. Once was three, four years ago at challenger, once Memphis last year. I won both times.
Q. Your bio says at the age of eight you took four months of chess lessons.
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes. I'm pretty good, too.
Q. Has your insight into chess tactics helped you on the tennis court?
IRAKLI LABADZE: No, I don't think so. I mean, chess is just good to think. It makes you think. You know, your brain is working. I think it's always good for any sport.
Q. Do you think there are any similarities between tennis and chess? One is a mental game, one is a physical game.
IRAKLI LABADZE: I really, really think it helps because when you play, you know, you losing, you quiet, you just try to think. I think this works. In tennis, you do the same thing. You are more calm. Because I was three weeks injury, and I was really playing maybe 10 games a day for three weeks every day. I come here, and I didn't even throw the racquet. Before I was going nuts on the court. I think it's helped me, the chess, really helped me.
Q. Who did you play with?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I play on the computer.
Q. The computer?
IRAKLI LABADZE: If there's nobody, I play computer.
Q. Who are some of the players who play chess?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I don't know. A lot of players play chess. I used to play Juniors with players. I don't know. I don't know who is playing chess here. I never play these players. When you come here, you have no time for chess. You practice. You go rest. When you just hang out in the room, then you play on the computer. When I'm at home, I always play with my father. We always used to play with the money, you know
Q. With your father?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes.
Q. Did you win against the computer?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yeah, there are different levels. On my level, I win or lose. I know my level, so I don't go higher anymore.
Q. I read a couple years ago that you were a very risky player. In this match you were very patient. Have you changed your approach to tennis, maybe because of the chess?
IRAKLI LABADZE: No. I am a very risky player. But the difference between two years ago and now is that two years ago I was not thinking, I was not trying. Maybe I was lazy or mentally not so strong. Now I just -- I'm fighting for every ball. When I see stupid to hit, why not to play one more time over the net, then I get a chance and I hit. I'm just doing it like this. I just try to keep more balls in the court. When I get a chance, hit, think a little bit. As you see, it's working pretty good, so I don't want to change it.
Q. Does Georgia have a Davis Cup team?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes, we do. We are in the second group now. We just moved from third to second. We playing right after Miami against Italy in Italy.
Q. Give me a lesson in geography. My thinking of Georgia is that it is a state in Russia just as California is a state in the United States. But that's wrong.
IRAKLI LABADZE: That's wrong. That's very, very wrong.
Q. It's an independent country?
IRAKLI LABADZE: It's an independent country since '91. Before '91 was pretty much the same. '91, I think 15 or 16 countries got separated.
Q. When you tell people in this country you're from Georgia, do they say, "Oh, Atlanta?"
IRAKLI LABADZE: A lot of times. Once I was in Washington three years ago, the taxi driver asked me, "Where are you from?" I said, "Georgia." He said, "You don't have the Georgia accent." I said, "Georgia, not American."
Q. Is there much tennis interest in Georgia?
IRAKLI LABADZE: No. 1 and No. 2 is like 700. There's pretty much no tennis except me.
Q. He'll play with you in Italy, the No. 2?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yeah, he'll play with me in Italy. It's difficult with the money there. Not so much opportunities like the people have in any other country, no? That's it. Otherwise we have a lot of talented players. Now since we have a new president, improving and everything coming new, hopefully in any sport we going to have like any other country.
Q. How did you get started?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Well, my father, he was a soccer player, football in Europe. He got injury, then he quit football. Then he start to play tennis, because his friends, they were playing tennis. He was 33 years old when he first got the racquet. He learned tennis in one year. He was playing really, really good in one year, in the amateur level, with friends. All the coach told him, "You learn so quick, you are so talented, your son should be really talented, so you have to bring the son to play tennis." Pretty much my father wanted me to play tennis since I was born. I open my eyes, I see my father with tennis racquet.
Q. Do they ever travel with you?
IRAKLI LABADZE: He was always traveling with me until I was 18, 19. He was like living with me. I was living two years in Germany, three years in Tampa. He was always with me, all the tournaments. Now he just coming sometimes. Now I'm big man, no?
Q. You were training in Tampa?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes, Saddle Brook. Last two years I'm not there anymore. Last three years, actually.
Q. Where do you live now?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I live now in Austria, Vienna, for two years already.
Q. How many languages do you speak?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I speak English, German, Russian and Georgian, which is different language, too.
Q. Quite different from Russian?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Russian and Georgian is like French and English.
Q. You appear to have a great serve. Helps to be left-handed, right?
IRAKLI LABADZE: I would say my game is pretty much based on the serve because if I serve well, then even if I don't play baseline, I feel I'm still can win. And I feel I still can improve in the middle of the game. If I don't serve well, automatically my baseline game gets worse because I lose my confidence. Serving last four matches pretty good, so let's not talk about my serve.
Q. But not in the first game today. Your confidence must have stayed pretty high even though you had all those double-faults in the beginning.
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yes, I played against Calleri once already. We had the same thing. I was losing 5-Love in the first set. I start exactly the same way, a lot of double-faults in the first set. I think he was playing very good in the first set. I knew first set he was going to play well. When I saw after first game that I playing terrible, I say, "Okay, I just have to hang on, because he cannot play like this. I hope I can play better." Then I start to play better in the second set. 1-All, breakpoint. Made unbelievable lucky shot. I want to play like this, but not let and then over the net. After this game, I broke him. I just try to stay in the game. I knew second set I will get a chance.
Q. You had a chance to serve for the set and were broken. Was that a question of nerves in such an important match?
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yeah, it was 5-2, 30-Love. Yeah, I was -- I have to say I was shaky. 30-15, that slice I missed down the line, I was really, really nervous. It was, yeah, nerves. I got broken and I tried to stay cool, which normally I don't do it. Yeah, I just try to forgot the last game. It's worked.
Q. Still had you a match point, but he made a great return off your serve.
IRAKLI LABADZE: Yeah, because when he did return down the line, I thought this was going wide. I already wanted to scream. It was in.
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