James Blake Interview - Olympics, Aug 14Posted on August 14, 2008
XXIX OLYMPIC GAMES
August 14, 2008
J. BLAKE/R. Federer
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Do you consider this victory the best of your career?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I'd say beating the No. 1 player in the world has got to be up there with the best ever. The feeling, the emotion involved is huge. It's something I have to not think about right now because there's still work to be done in this tournament. If it was the finals, then I'd say for sure. But I still got to put it behind me and think about it when I'm done with my career - at least when I'm done with this tournament.
But the emotions are similar to my first ever Davis Cup win where you're just so proud to be part of the team, and hopefully contributing to Team USA here in Beijing.
Q. What made the difference today? Looked like you were putting a lot more zip on your returns today. Obviously, Roger's first-serve percentage was down, but as far as your own game was concerned, what was the difference?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I played a lot of matches with him. Unfortunately, all on the losing end until tonight. But they were all pretty close, most of them were pretty close, where a couple of points could have made the difference.
Tonight I played those points a little better, especially on my serve. I made a lot of first serves at big moments. That tiebreaker, I only missed one first serve. And just never really getting down, never thinking just because this is Roger, I'm gonna roll over and give it to him. Up 15-30 at 4-5, up 15-30 at 5-6, him getting a let court. I just didn't let any of that bother me and just -- if he was going to beat me, he was going to have to come out and play well and beat me.
Today I think he had an off day. Maybe law of averages, if I play him enough, he's bound to have an off day against me once.
I'm so proud and elated that it happened at the Olympics, that I could be on this stage and not give into any kind of pressure and feel inspired by other athletes and hopefully inspire more athletes on Team USA.
Q. With everything Roger has been through this summer, there certainly seems to be a vulnerability there about him that hasn't been there for years. I'm curious, in the heat of the action tonight, do you feel that, do you sense it? Do you think this is a night when the big points are going to go your way and not his?
JAMES BLAKE: I really feel like they're going to go my way every time. They don't go my way every time, but I go into the match feeling like they're going to.
Tonight they did. I was a little worried for a second when at 30-All, he got a let court that dropped over the net. Was it at 5-6? I was a little worried it might turn and he might start getting them after that.
But didn't change anything. Went for my serves in the tiebreaker. Played within myself. I think the only difference was that I did play within myself and didn't try to do anything that different. Just trying to play as well as I can and not worry about him. Worry about me playing those big points well. If he comes up with great shots - like he did 4-5, 15-30, he came up with a huge running forehand pass - if he's gonna do that all day, then I'll tip my cap, say good job, and that's why you're the best.
But today I came up with those kind of shots in the big times. That doesn't by any means mean I'm better than him because I beat him one out of 10 times or whatever. But today I finally was able to come up big on those important points.
And I don't feel like he's vulnerable going into the US Open. I still think he's No. 1 in the world. That's gonna change soon, but gonna put him at No. 2 in the world. One of the contenders, if not the favorite, to win the US Open.
Q. You've had a lot of respect for Roger, and you still have. You've praised him very often, as well. Now, of course, this year his results haven't still been that awesome as they have been in the previous few years where they were on the top of the top. How do you see that? Is that a good sign on one hand? But on the other hand, with all the praise you have for him, do you feel a little bit sorry for him or...
JAMES BLAKE: I think his results, considered being bad this year, is a product of how high his level has been. Similar to Tiger Woods. When they don't win every single week, it's called "a bad year." And Roger's been in two finals of a slam, semifinals of a slam, I think about 17 or 18 straight Grand Slam semis, and won two titles this year. And to consider that a bad year is just proof that he's been the best in the world for so long that we expect great things out of him every single time he steps on the court.
You know, I've been unbelievably impressed at how he's handled that for four straight years, that every single time he goes on the court, he's battling history. He's not just facing an opponent that has absolutely nothing to lose; he's facing Pete Samprases, Bjorn Borgs, the records of so many before him. I honestly don't know how he's dealt with that for so long. I think almost anyone in the world would crack under that pressure, and he never has.
But after all this time, to be considered a bad year, that he's having at No. 2 in the world, is just amazing. You never see him lose his cool. Never see him break a racquet. Never seen him berate an umpire. So I still have a ton of praise for him. I still have a ton of respect for him as a man. And as a player, he's still one of the best in the world for sure.
As far as if I feel sorry for him, I'm sure he's flying home on his private jet and he's doing okay for himself, seems to have his family happy and healthy around him. So I don't feel too sorry for him. And I think he's still gonna probably go down as the greatest of all time. I can't cry myself to sleep over Roger Federer (smiling).
Q. Can you explain how different it is for you to play at the Olympics compared to another big tournament? Does it give you extra energy?
JAMES BLAKE: There's a ton of differences. There's, first of all, quite a few logistical. When you're getting on a bus going back to the Olympic Village with single beds, sharing rooms, eating in a dining hall environment around other athletes. Just a different schedule in that regard. Cheering for other sports as opposed to just focusing on tennis going on. There's all those kind of logistical differences.
But in terms of when I go out on the court and when I see USA on my chest, it's just a different kind of pride that you feel going out there. You feel inspired by other athletes. You feel inspired by Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Tyson Gay, the Dream Team. You're just proud to be a part of it for me.
Seeing so many golds go up already, so many medals, it makes you want to be a part of that. And seeing and hearing the national anthem be played, it's really inspirational because you know kids see it now and they dream of being an Olympian in 2012, 2016 - hopefully in Chicago by the way. You just see kids, you see the looks on their faces, and they want to be Olympic athletes. I think every kid has that dream. And now to realize it is something that I'll never forget.
I would never forget this environment, this moment, if I had lost in the first round here, just to be a part of the team. And now it's gonna be such a positive memory I take for me. And I know I've got two more steps to take, and I want to put this match behind me as quickly as I can after I, you know, enjoy a nice dinner in the dining hall and get to sleep early so I can get myself on the podium.
Q. You said this was very emotional for you. Is part of the reason for that because you missed the last Olympics in such difficult circumstances? Did that give you extra motivation for tonight and for this win?
JAMES BLAKE: It definitely has extra meaning. I remember watching the 2004 Olympics, wishing I could be a part of it, but at that time not knowing if I would ever play again at this level. And was inspired by my friend Mardy Fish getting the silver when he probably wasn't expected to. He told me what a great time he and Andy had over here, how much fun it was, how exciting it was to meet other new athletes. He had a bunch of cool new numbers in his cell phone. I was just so proud of him.
Then to come back and do what I did in '05 and '06, and play that well, people thought it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to be on this '08 team. I've been serious for the last year when everyone thinks I was joking, but every result put me closer to making this team. I wasn't counting on this. I was never expecting I'm for sure gonna be on this team, I'm going to be picked no matter what. I wanted to earn a spot here.
By the time it came around and I got picked, it was really exciting. It wasn't something that I just thought was, Oh, it's going to happen, it's going to be another part of my career. I was thrilled just to get the nod to come here.
It's lived up to its expectations. I'm so happy to be in the village amongst all the other athletes, meeting new friends and just being inspired by the rest of the team.
Knowing that in 2004, I might have never played again, to be here doing what I'm doing in the semifinals, have had so many memories of the last two or three years that have been so positive, it has very special meaning to me 'cause this could be the only Olympics I play.
At 32, it's pretty old for being on tour. I don't know. There's a lot of young kids coming up that might be taking that spot from me. But if this is the one time, I'm going to try to make the best of it.
Q. You said he had an off day. Can you explain that. Do you think he was as clinical in finishing off balls that he did earlier?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I just don't think he had his best day. We're all human. Although at times he seems like he's been inhuman in how well he's played, he's bound to have an off day. I've had tons of 'em in my career. I can't explain every single one of 'em. Some have been a bad night's sleep. Some have been not moving my feet for some reason. Some have been working on something and it's going through my mind and it's affecting the rest of my game. Some have been, you know, your dog died, a fight with your girlfriend. Anything could cause you to have a bad day.
You never know. I don't begin to explain why he had an off day. But anything could have happened. He definitely wasn't finishing points the way he normally does. I'd like to think it had something to do with the way I was scrambling and getting to a lot of balls. But, you know, he's allowed to have those, too. He is human.
Q. Can you talk about your decision to stay in the village. What events have you gone to see, what other sports have you gone to see?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know what my stature is. I'm just a kid that hits a tennis ball. I'm not the president or anything. I just felt like I -- I stayed in the hotel the first night. Came over here for the second night. Moved my bags over here the next morning.
At the hotel, it seemed like every other tournament. That's what we do at a tournament. You go from the hotel to the courts. The first time I had a meal over here at the village, just saw the excitement of all the athletes, since it was so early in the week, too, everyone has that ideal. Everyone in there thinks they're going to be on the gold medal stand.
That to me is thrilling. And it's something that's so different than I've been a part of. I can deal with the smaller quarters, the sharing the rooms. I lived in dorms in college. It's not a big deal to me. Food, same thing, dining hall. We always got McDonald's there. You can get something you know. I love it there.
In terms of getting mobbed, I don't get mobbed. There's a few pictures here and there. That's another part of our job we deal with. We put ourselves in the public spotlight. I have no problem with that. Generally I'm just as impressed with the person I'm taking the picture with as they are with me. I love staying there. And it's been just a thrill for me and a lot of fun.
The other sports I've gone to see, I went to watch badminton actually, which I still think I'd be good at. But Jarkko tells me I'd be terrible. Because Jarkko Nieminen's wife plays. We went to watch her, and he said I wouldn't get a point off of her. I got to be impressed with people that are that good at another racquet sport that would dominate us. I went and watched that.
I went to watch the swimming this morning. Saw Michael Phelps swim a semi. Saw Aaron Peirsol. Saw a few other pretty good athletes down there at the swimming doing something that I don't think I could ever do. I don't think I could make it one length of the pool and back. But they're pretty impressive at what they're doing.
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