James Blake Interview Masters - November 15, 2006
Posted on November 16, 2006
2006 TENNIS MASTERS CUP
November 15, 2006
J. BLAKE/N. Davydenko
THE MODERATOR: First question for James, please.
Q. You are the very last one to enter the Masters Cup, but you now beat the No. 2 player and No. 3 player in three days in your first two matches. You have a very good chance to win a berth in the semis or final. Have you ever expected such a good performance here in Shanghai?
JAMES BLAKE: No, it's tough to ever expect to beat the No. 2 and 3 players in the world in consecutive matches.
But I realize the depth of men's tennis, even just to say it going down to the top eight players, anyone can beat anyone. Roger's obviously the favorite. But the way guys play, especially you saw with Andy yesterday, with the way he's serving, even Roger is beatable. We're all human.
The way we all play, how big our games are, how well Nikolay was hitting the ball today, anyone can win.
So I just try to keep my head focused, keep positive, see what happens at the end. I kept myself in this match today, hung in when Nikolay was playing unbelievable tennis, as all of us can do at some point.
Then he maybe faltered just a little bit, thanks to me playing a lot better. And then I just got the momentum going at the end at the right time.
Q. Tennis is often about momentum and momentum shifts. That was a huge one. What were the factors that contributed to such a big change in the match?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, for me it was staying positive and I started making first serves. That was big. Didn't hold serve the whole first set, which is a little embarrassing actually. But after that I really just wanted to focus on holding serve.
Even though I didn't do it really early in the set, I managed to start holding, feel more comfortable on my first serve. I think it was mainly about relaxing a little more. My arm was maybe a little too tight, and I was just thinking about kind of guiding it in and making first serves after I got broken that first time. Then when I got down a break in the second, I just kind of somehow relaxed a little and started going for my serve. It was becoming much more effective.
Then when I got confidence on that, it gave me the ability to go for my shots on the returns. Once I started making those, getting the momentum, I felt good. Obviously, he still could have won. A point here or there, he easily could have won that third set. I just felt like the momentum was in my favor, I was playing great, and happy to be in that position.
Q. I remember on the opening ceremony, you said Roger is like Michael Jordan in the NBA, other players are more like Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing. Now you are in a good form. If you want to describe yourself, a player in the NBA, who will you be? Dominique Wilkins or Magic Johnson?
JAMES BLAKE: Oh, man, both of those would be an honor. I'd like to think more Magic Johnson. I feel like Dominique, his nickname was "The Human Highlight". He was always doing something exciting, but he didn't have the teams around him that got him to championship games. Magic had the team around him.
I'm more proud of -- it's an individual sport, but I have a team with me including my coach, Brian Barker, my brother is here, my mom is here, and my trainer Mark. I feel like I owe a lot to those guys for getting me here mentally, physically making me ready.
I'm proud to be a part of that. I think that's the way Magic was. Those guys make me better. He seemed to make all the other guys better. He was I think the greatest rivalry for Michael Jordan. I'm pretty happy to be compared to either of those guys.
But I'd probably pick Magic.
Q. Nikolay said his physical quality went down. Did you sense that at all?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I sensed he was really -- he was really attacking me at the start, taking balls early, ripping it, not giving me any time to adjust. Once I started trying to take that away from him, trying to kind of impose my will on him, I felt like he did back up a little.
I think that's kind of the give and take of tennis always, is one guy is trying to push forward, and the other guy has to either find a way to not let him and push back or they're going to start getting defensive.
Although he wasn't defensive all the time, it was a little bit more where I felt like I was in control. I think that had a lot to do with me starting to make first serves. If I'm making first serves, I feel like I should be in control of a lot of the points. I mean, there are still days when I'm not and there are still times when he was taking that control away from me.
But I don't know, I was more focused on just holding serve and hanging in than worrying about what he was doing.
Q. You are the last one to qualify for the Masters Cup. Now you might become the first player to qualify for the semis if Nadal beats Robredo tonight. The audience loves you.
JAMES BLAKE: I hope so.
Q. Yeah, of course. How do you feel about that? It's a big change actually.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I feel like coming into this tournament, there's obviously no easy draw, there's no easy match. But I guess if you look at the rankings, I'm supposed be the easiest one to play.
I didn't want to take too big of a hit to my confidence or ego to think that I'm an easy draw.
Just coming out here with nothing to lose, and trying to prove myself that I really do belong among these top players. I like to think that I have by beating two of the top players in the world in consecutive matches.
But hopefully my work here isn't done. You know, I'm going to have another match against Robredo in a couple days. He's playing great tennis. He played a really tough match against Davydenko two days ago. I'm looking forward to that.
But it's been an unbelievable experience. I never had any kind of expectations coming in. Now that I'm in the position I'm in, I see I'm not far from the semis. That's the small goal.
I don't set long-term goals or ranking goals, I set kind of attainable very short-term goals. Those are usually just to get better, and now it's one more match. Hopefully I can get better in that match. If I'm playing well, I like my chances to get to the semis.
Q. Did you ever expect the fact that you might have such a strong base of fans in China, especially in Shanghai? Throughout the whole night here the crowd was really shouting and yelling for you, rooting for you.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's fun. I mean, I always feel like I have the support when I'm in the States. When I come to new places, new countries, I never know what to expect, if they're going to be against me, for me. Especially sometimes with the language barrier, I try to keep things light and be kind of humorous at times in press conferences. Probably doesn't work very well. I don't know if I've accomplished that.
But sometimes it might not translate well, I never know. But I want to show people my personality of being pretty laid-back and hopefully trying to be a good guy, just having fun out on the tennis court.
I think even with the language barrier, a lot of times it translates with me having fun on the court. I still try to smile. Up or down, I'm trying to have fun out there. Let cords, lucky shots, anything that happens, you know, I don't feel like I need to be a robot out there. I can still have a good time and have a laugh while I'm playing 'cause it's my job and I take it very seriously, but it's still a game. I love playing. I hope fans appreciate that because I want them to have fun when they come to watch me because that's kind of our job as well, is to be entertainers. If I'm having fun, I feel like the crowd has a lot more fun. When they're having fun, I love when the crowd gets involved, especially biased crowds like in Davis Cup, when they're so vigorous with their cheering.
This crowd has been great. I hope they stick with me throughout the whole week. I'm going to keep having fun either way in the next few matches. I always try to do that.
Q. Which part of your game do you think improved the most during the last month?
JAMES BLAKE: It's tough to say during the last month. I feel like so many things can go up and down. You can have a good day that your forehand's coming in great, a day where you're not serving well or you are serving well. It's tough to say that one thing has gotten markedly better in just one month.
I feel like the last two days I've been hitting my backhand pretty darn well as compared to a month ago. But that could just be two good days. Then Friday it could not hit the broadside of a barn.
I feel like everything continues to improve just slowly. It's tough to make a huge jump at the level we're at. There aren't many guys that can just take a month or two months and improve so much that you can tell right away. I don't know if there's anything that has made a huge leap. I just feel like I'm making steady progress with everything.
Q. I'd like to know what is your plan to get prepared well for the next match.
JAMES BLAKE: Well, try to go the same routine that I had the other day. Just try to get as much sleep as I can tonight. I know I'm getting out of here late. It's one of the perks of the job is I get to sleep late tomorrow (smiling).
I'll sleep in as late as I can, and then come out here and practice. But just pretty light. I obviously had a lot of tennis today. I feel like I'll be pretty prepared. It's just a matter of feeling the ball on the strings tomorrow, getting a little sweat, then really relaxing.
It's funny, all my friends make fun of me because one of the parts of this job is resting. It's the easiest part of the job, I think. Instead of making myself tired, going out and doing a bunch of things, I'm going to just end up being in the hotel, probably playing some cards with my brother or something.
It's a way of just kind of recharging. Hopefully I'll be fully charged on Friday.
Q. After you won in Thailand and Sweden, you didn't do well in Madrid and Paris. You come to Shanghai and suddenly play fantastic. How did you turn it around? Any special program?
JAMES BLAKE: No. Like I said before, guys can be a little up and down. Anyone can beat anyone. In Madrid, I've never won a match there. It's a little tougher with the altitude. Kristof Vliegen played great. In Paris, Tommy Haas is an exceptional talent. He's been No. 2 in the world. It's not any shameful occurrence for me to lose to him the way he was playing that day. It just happened to be coming up against guys that are playing well.
I don't feel like I did anything wrong. That's one of the best things I feel like about my career, is I try not to have those kind of regrets. Like I did anything wrong. I prepared as well as I could for those tournaments and I just came up a little short - well, a lot short against Tommy.
Coming here, I just tried to keep the same amount of confidence. Maybe being that I was so close to not being in here, that once I found out I was in, it was such a boost to my confidence, the fact that I had made it into the top eight, made it to such an elite event, that I was just so happy and proud of it that my confidence just soared. I'm feeling great here. Just as much as the term "happy to be here" seems like I don't want to win, I really am happy to be here. But that's given me the confidence to go after these and play very relaxed and loose, get two wins so far, hopefully more to come.
Q. I know you and Andy are good friends. Have you got a message from him for congratulations after the match? If you two have a chance to have a clash in the semifinals, what would you like to say to him in the locker room just before the match?
JAMES BLAKE: Let's see... I haven't gotten a message yet. I haven't really checked my messages. I've stretched, eaten a little something, gotten in here. After this I might have a message. I might have one back at the hotel.
We're always happy for each other. Even if I don't have a message, I know he was probably watching on TV, happy for me, just as I was watching a little on pins and needles with his match against Roger yesterday. I'll watch his match again tomorrow. I'll be cheering for him from afar.
If we do clash in the semis, I don't know what I want to say to him. I want to say, "Take it easy on the serve, maybe just throw in some second serves for me."
We're both cheering for each other. We've had some great matches recently, especially in Indianapolis where I think we both played great tennis. He's really taken it up even a level from there I think, playing at the US Open. His matches here have been outstanding.
I know if I do clash with him, I'm going to have to play some unbelievable tennis just to hang in. Hopefully it will be similar to today where I just stay confident, stay positive, and I'm there at the end. You never know what's going to happen.
Q. We've heard you are planning to write an autobiography. Can you tell us something about what you are going to write about yourself and how you are doing on your book-writing schedule?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, yeah, I'm currently writing a book. It's a little time-consuming, but it's been something that I've been able to do in my downtime.
It's really been very interesting because a lot of times I feel like coming into these press conferences and doing media stuff gives me a little perspective on things I've been doing.
And now to write -- it's really just going to be about 2004 until now. Those are times that were really tough for me. To think about them again puts a lot into perspective and gives me time when I'm at a young age where a lot of people will just take everything for granted. It gives me a sense to kind of smell the roses, to stop and smell the roses, really think about how far I've come, and be proud of it right now as opposed to just looking back on it and saying, I wish I would have appreciated it.
It's been a pretty good experience for me where I feel like I've let out a lot of emotions that I generally tend to keep bottled up except when I'm on the tennis court. I just feel really good about it. I hope people are interested. If they're not, then I apologize. I hope it's going to be an interesting story. I mean, I felt like the last few years have been so crazy. After writing this, I didn't even think about how much had happened in just two years. It honestly seems like it's been 10 years since 2004. Matches I played in 2004 that I'll talk about with my coach, it seems like ages ago that I played those. I can barely remember them.
It's fun. I can't wait to see the finished product. I'm being helped by Andrew Friedman, who is doing a lot of the touch-ups and everything. I went for two years to Harvard. I don't know if my writing would be as exciting or as well thought out as he can make it. It's my thoughts with his polishing it all up.