January 27, 2006
San Jose, California
BILL RAPP: Good morning, gentlemen, my name is Bill rap. I'm the tournament director for the SAP Open. I wanted to thank you for joining us on this call with James.
A little information on James, James is currently the No. 22 player in the world, matching his previous high of No. 22 in May of '03. Just nine months ago he was ranked No. 210 in singles. He owns four singles titles and was the doubles champion here in San Jose in 2004. He turned in his best career Grand Slam finish with a quarter final appearance in the 2005 U.S. Open where he beat the No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and his set against Andre Agassi was definitely one for the ages.
James is playing the SAP Open for the sixth time, and will play his singles match on Tuesday night, February 14.
Thanks for joining us.
JAMES BLAKE: Pleasure.
Q. Last April you were ranked north of 200, and now you're almost in the top 20. What do you attribute this incredible jump to?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, unfortunately I'll attribute the drop first, which was due to injury and illness. It wasn't just that I wasn't playing well, it was more that I was hurt and wasn't able to play. Once I did get back, I felt I put in a lot of hard work. Even when I was sick, there were times when I couldn't sit around the house, I had to get out, and I was working on a few things.
There are things I've worked on to help me, and then the whole year of 2004 give me a little bit of better perspective out on the court, which has kept me a little calmer, especially in close matches, and I feel like I've got a little better attitude throughout everything now.
Then even when I was 200 in the world, I started telling a few people that I felt confident and my game was there and I felt fine, it was just a matter of getting a few matches and winning. Unfortunately nobody believed me when I was 200 in the world, and they started believing me a little bit more after New Haven and the U.S. Open.
Q. I'm sure there was a better showing there in Australia. Can you describe what your state of mind is coming out of there?
JAMES BLAKE: I definitely would have liked to have done better in the Australian Open, but it was great to play as well as I did in Sydney. Adelaide was my first round outdoors, I had been practicing indoors, so I didn't have high expectations going in there.
Going into Sydney, my second outdoor tournament of the year, playing as well as I did was great. I beat Andre Agassi
in the finals, and there was another really close match where I came out on top, which is always exciting no matter what you're playing.
Once again, when there's a tie-breaker, it doesn't matter who you are; anyone can win. It's either one or two points, and it's great to have the confidence to feel like you can win.
Going into the Australian, I felt like I was playing great going into Sydney, and I lost to a guy that was playing great tennis that day. I didn't play my best, came out a little slow. I think at the time I made the wrong adjustment. I went for my shots a little too much as opposed to the conditions were a little slower so I should have maybe pulled back a little bit.
Generally if I'm not playing well, my tendency is to attack a little more because I feel like it loosens me up and I end up playing better. This time it didn't happen.
But it's one of those matches where it seemed like each time I made a decision, it was the wrong one, and each time he made a decision, it was the right one. Those are bound to happen, and it's unfortunate it happened in a Grand Slam, but what can you do? More forward and hopefully do better now that we're back in the States.
Q. Do you feel like you're all the way back?
JAMES BLAKE: I feel like I'm all the way back, but I feel like I can keep improving. In 2004 I was improving quite a bit and I worked extremely hard to get to where I was and to continue improving then, and all the injury and illness and everything hit me, and then I had to kind of redo that.
I still felt like I was getting better and better, and last year I felt like I was back to where I was playing before that, and now I feel like I've even improved more than that, but I don't feel like I've hit a plateau quite yet. I hope I haven't, but if I have, so be it; but I've worked as hard as I can to continue the rise.
I definitely feel like, ranking aside, I'm not worried if my ranking is going higher. I'm more worried that I'm going to continue improving, and I think I have that ability.
Q. At Sydney you had an outstanding tournament like you said, and Tommy Robredo didn't, even though he was seeded higher. He went out early in straight sets to Tursunov. But then he beat you at the Australian. My question is did you look past his match on any level, thinking perhaps you're peaking pretty nice and Robredo isn't?
JAMES BLAKE: No, I didn't look at that at all. That's definitely something I did when I was younger in my career. I'd see a guy play badly a few weeks before and think they were playing terrible and assume I'm going to win. Thanks to my coach and a lot of losses from doing that before, I have realized you just can't do that to anyone.
It's funny, a lot of times when I'm playing someone, I'll look back at their record from the year before, who beat them, who they lost to and everything, and with Robredo I had beaten him three times in a row, and I looked at some of his records, and it seemed pretty awesome; it would flipflop. He would lose to someone and then beat them and then beat someone and then lose to them.
It shows how quickly it can turn around and those close a lot of the players are. Whether they're 10 or 50 in the world, I could lose to any one of them or beat any one of them. I knew just because he had lost to someone before, he wasn't going to lay down and die. He wasn't going to give up. He wasn't coming into the match thinking he was going to lose; he came into the match thinking he was going to win.
He beat Tursunov the round before after he had lost to him the week before in Sydney. I knew he was coming in ready to play and I knew he adjusted his game to be playing a little bit more aggressive, and he wasn't making errors even when he was being aggressive. I don't care what I'm ranked, I'm not going to look past someone who's ranked top 20 in the world because you can't do that. There's way too much talent in a top 20 player in the world -- I don't think Roger Federer looks past anyone in the top 20, so I didn't do that. It was just a day when his decisions were right and mine maybe weren't.
Q. I guess going off of that, now you come to San Jose, and I'm thinking about some of the top players that are going to be there and how they like to finish points. Andy looks to crack big serves and then get a sitter or maybe hit some big forehands. If your game goes well, where do you want most of your points to end? Where are you at on the court and what are you doing to finish off a point?
JAMES BLAKE: Amazing what I'm doing. Not necessarily having to end every point at the net, but with that focus, it ends up -- when you're looking to move in and attack the net, for me at least I end up winning more points that way even before I get to the net because I'm not necessarily looking to hit a winner with my forehand or with a backhand from the back of the court. I'm looking to push the other person back.
And when I do that, amazingly, when I'm not trying to hit winners, I hit winners a lot more than if I'm trying to hit a cold winner from the baseline. That's generally not going to be effective because the setup is longer and people have that extra split second of seeing where you're going to go and you end up missing more.
My goal generally is to be moving forward and a decent amount of points -- I think mine is more of a balance. I'll end some of them while I have gotten to the net, and some of them will just end without me even getting to the net even though I was trying to get there.
Q. I wanted to ask you a two-part question. First, what's your status for Davis Cup? I know he's supposed to select a team next week. And secondly, seeing Baghdatis and how the crowd really supports him and responded to him, he reminds me of you with the crowd in New Haven and at the Open. What kind of effect can a crowd have on you, and are you surprised by what Baghdatis has done?
JAMES BLAKE: First of all, I always go for the Davis Cup, and I don't know if he has made a decision, but I think he's going to announce it very soon. I'd like to be a part of that team again with Andy and Brian. That's such a strong team that we'll hopefully this year go all the way. I think that's something Andy has always looked forward to in his career is winning a Davis Cup, and I'd love to be a part of that process. I do respect all those guys, and I'm happy to call them teammates any time I get a chance.
As far as Baghdatis, it was a fun crowd. I was down there in the first two rounds. If I was playing on a court near him warming up, in the first few rounds he was kind of on the back court and hearing the crowd go crazy. It seemed like they were almost a soccer crowd because I don't think they were all real tennis fans at the beginning of these few weeks, but by now I'm sure they are. It really does help and make a big difference when you know you have people cheering for you.
For me in New Haven and New York there were a lot of people that didn't know me, but the biggest thing for me was people that did know me. A lot of my friends, I guess it's come to be known as the J-Block. A lot of my buddies that took time off work or missing school, whatever they were doing, they were all coming to watch me play. It was a task of getting 80 tickets or something each day. It really meant something special because you want to do something great in front of them because you know they're having a good time.
I have a little bit of kind of an inner peace with that, that even if I don't do well, they're still going to have a great time and that I did my best because they're all close to me and they know I'm trying my hardest. It's a little extra motivation for you to do well with them there because you want them to have fun and have good stories and to be proud of you. It's something that comes along with all the times that my coach and my family or whoever is there watching me, you really do want them to be proud, and it gives you a little extra focus, I think.
Q. I know you started playing with Prince rackets this year. What model are you using and are they going to do a Blake model frame? I read they were sort of working on a design with you. What are you using now and are they going to do anything specifically for you?
JAMES BLAKE: Right now I'm using an experimental frame. It's one that isn't out yet. They are working with me and we're working together, and I'm extremely excited about it because it's kind of the first time I've had a real opportunity to work with the designers, with the people who kind of tailor make them for me. I really do hope, and in a lot of the tests, Tom Ross who I work with at Prince that does the rackets, has told me that he's made these models for me and we're getting closer to the one that's going to be on the shelves and stuff.
He's kind of had a few other people trying them, and they all seem to like it. It's exciting to me to know that people are liking what I like in terms of a racket. Once they come to the conclusion of what's best for going on the shelves and what's best for me to be using out there, I might even have some creative design input, which would be fun, and something I never really expected, for me to be helping to design a racket.
I think that's going to be a great thing for Prince and definitely a great thing for me. I think they're planning on doing a -- I don't know if they're going to call it a James Blake model, but I think I'll be kind of the spokesperson for that racket, and that will be something exciting for me.
Q. From New Haven to now, given how your game has developed, is top 5 a realistic goal for you this year?
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know. I've never set goals like that. Well, I haven't in a long time. I try not to set goals like that because if I were to get to top 5 and have not really worked as hard and kind of rested on those good results so far and just gotten a few good draws where I've played guys that aren't playing that well or injured or something and get in the top 5, but I don't feel like I've improved that much, it would be a little empty to me I suppose. Where if I've worked as hard as I possibly can and got some good draws, played a lot of good matches, had some close ones, had an injury, and I get to No. 15, I don't want to be disappointed I didn't get to top 5 because rankings aren't something that are totally 100 percent within your control. There are injuries and other things that can happen, scheduling mistakes; anything can happen to hurt your ranking.
My goals are generally just to keep improving. Obviously I've improved quite a bit in the last year, and your ranking ends up showing that, but my end goal isn't the ranking; my end goal is to keep getting better. I think it's possible, but I don't set a goal like I'm going to be a success or I'm not going to be a success by making No. 5 in the world.
Q. Let's go back to Davis Cup. When you guys all started first playing together, yourself and the other guys in your age group, a young group of guys the expectations aren't that high, but now you're a little bit more of a veteran team. You don't have kids out there, you've got Slam winners, guys who have gone deep in Slams. Should this be the year that you guys win it, and do you have an all-around good enough team to win an all-tie on clay against another good team?
JAMES BLAKE: There's a few different parts. I think we definitely have the ability to go win Davis Cup this year. If you put Andy Roddick and Bryan just by themselves, there's a chance to win it. Andy can win -- at times he can definitely win those. And Bryan has got to be a favorite against anyone in the world. Right there, there's a chance of three points.
The other two that I would want to watch are Mardy Fish or Taylor Dent; in that group I think there's enough talent to win one or hopefully two matches, as well. I definitely like our chances against just about anyone in the world.
Obviously a win or tie on clay would be our least likely or our least favorite position to be in. But if that comes to the path -- Andy has made strides on clay; he played one of the better matches I've seen him play against Ollie Rochus, and that was very impressive. I've had some success on clay in Rome and a couple other smaller court tournaments. But I don't mind it as much as some of the other Americans I don't think.
I think we've all improved a little bit, and I think we can still be a factor on clay as well if Bryan had won the French Open.
I like our chances, and right now we need to focus on our first round being at home and on a hard court the way we like it.
Q. Did you preview Baghdatis against Federer? Do you give him a real shot?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, he's got a shot. The way he's playing he's going to go in with absolutely no pressure whatsoever. He's played Roger a couple times, which I think will help him. He doesn't go out without having played against, without seeing his pace, without seeing how he moves, how well he defends and everything. He's seen all that.
So in my opinion after I've seen a guy like that play or played against him, I don't feel the same kind of -- you're not going out there with the idea of he might do something that's going to wow me or shock me or put me in awe of him.
I think Baghdatis has seen it all, so he knows what to expect and he knows how well he's going to have to play to win. So with no pressure and having played against him before, and I believe he took a set off him at the Open, so he's taken a set off of him. And Todd Martin always told me if you can win one, you can win two, and if you can win two, you can win three. I think he'll go in with that attitude.
He's young and the crowd is going to be on his side. So there's definitely a chance, but there's also the record of Roger, how many finals in a row he won.
He's obviously an incredible player, possibly the greatest of all time, and he's making a run at that, especially with how well he plays in finals. It's not going to be easy, but there's always a chance.
I think Baghdatis has a good mindset to play him I would think.
Q. A lot was made with the Americans in Australia. What do you think the state is of American tennis at this point?
JAMES BLAKE: I think American tennis is pretty darn good. We have Andy Roddick, who's a contender for every Grand Slam he goes into, and if it wasn't for Roger Federer being possibly the greatest of all time, Andy I think would have at least three Slams by now and possibly more, and plenty of serious titles to go with that because Roger has just been -- he's taken all those titles away from everyone. Everyone has had chances to win them and he's just been eating them up.
It's no fault of Andy's I don't think. He's one of the best players in the world, and he's just coming at a time when there's one of the best players ever.
I think he's very excited and very motivated to prove that he can beat Roger and he can beat one of the greatest of all time, as well. And I think he's on his way and he does have that chance. He had one tough match in the Australian Open, but I think he also has a great attitude where he doesn't necessarily dwell on that one match. Or if he does dwell on it, it's more motivation. It's not going to get him down.
I think he's going to come out and play Del Rey and play Davis Cup with even more of a motivating factor to prove that it was just one bad match and he's still one of the best players in the world.
And then after that you've got Andre Agassi, who's becoming a legend, and when he does play -- he obviously hasn't played yet this year, but when he does play, he's well a contender for a Grand Slam for a Masters Series title. He's going to make his debut first in Del Rey, and then he'll be in San Jose, and he's won that so many times I think he'll be comfortable there and have some success.
There's Robby who had a great year, myself, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish. So I think we're doing fine. And then now there's probably going to be some young guys starting to play a little better, Amer Delic, Rajeev Ram, Brian Baker. But right now we've got guys that are kind of in the heart of their career that I think are going to play great tennis.
Like I said, I think we definitely have as good a chance as anyone to win the Davis Cup this year. As well as having our singles players, we have the best doubles in the world. I think American tennis is looking great, and hopefully we have quite a few years to look forward to Roddick, myself, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish having a lot of success on Tour.
Q. Along those lines, would you say then that the American Tennis Organizations are doing enough to promote the sport here in the United States? When I look at the division 1, division 2, some of the top schools and the rosters, looks like some of them are the ITF satellite at times. Are they truly promoting it or do we have a few pieces of cream rising to the top like Roddick and yourself and Ginepri?
JAMES BLAKE: I always think more can be done. Promotion, they want the game promoted more because we are competing in America with a very difficult market where we're competing with the major team sports, baseball, basketball, football and hockey. So it's tough to find that real group of fans.
I think Tennis Channel is help, getting a few more people aware of things, coming from behind the scenes, and I think if we can get on ESPN more and into the news a little more, people will appreciate the fact that there are Americans doing well. Unfortunately at times it kind of -- which came first, I think having the cream rise to the top like an Andy Roddick is going to help promote the game.
It makes the USTA's job easier, showcasing him; he came to our program and he did it and we can help you guys do the same.
I think they've been helped by Andy and hopefully myself and Robby, but they've also played a role in our development. I think that needs to be shown to the young kids. And then it's just a matter of tapping the potential we have because obviously we're one of the most popular nations and I assume the USTA is one of the wealthiest tennis associations, having the U.S. Open to support it.
So when you have a Grand Slam, I think you need to make that money and devote a lot of it to junior programs, making sure kids are coming through and improving and then hopefully improving to the point where they're holding up the U.S. Open trophy one day.
Q. Referring to that Robredo match earlier, you said sometimes when you're a little bit off, your tendency is to attack more, and obviously you're at your best when you do attack, but at the same time you have the greatest speed and you hustle to defend. How do you sort of balance that tendency to attack and the necessity to defend sometimes and get yourself back in the point? The second question is you mentioned Mardy. Have you hit with him at all? How is he feeling? How does he look?
JAMES BLAKE: Let's talk about my game. My game, I balance it through years of experience, and those years of experience included a few lean years. When I first started on Tour, I was hearing a lot of different conditions, a lot of coaches telling you one thing, some coaches saying another. They all think they can help.
There's definitely a case of too many chefs spoil the soup. I was hearing you need to attack, lay back and defend, you're so fast, use that. Basically then I just went through -- unfortunately it was a few years of really trial and error, what works best for me, what doesn't work and how I need to play.
I know now how I need to play, which is one of the most improved things of my game, which I don't have the wavering moments of -- when I say I changed to go for my shots a little more, it really is 2 percent more. It's not like I completely change my game in the middle of a match anymore. Whereas I used to go from playing six feet behind the baseline and just pushing to serving and volleying because I didn't know which part of my game I needed to use.
It's something that I know now how to play, and it's something that I've worked with my coach a whole bunch, and now every match I go out for, we talk about what my game plan is and what I know I need to do and what my game is.
Now that I know that, it makes it so much easier so I don't have to make as many decisions where I'm thinking, and then almost any shot -- almost anything you're doing, any plan is better if you have the one mindset as opposed to thinking too much and hesitating like a lot of people do when they have a little nagging injury; they end up playing their best because you know you have to go for your shots, you know you don't want to be on that injury too long. So you have one unwavering way of how to play.
Even if that's not necessarily your game, it ends up working well because there's no hesitation.
Q. There's no decision?
JAMES BLAKE: Exactly, and I have that now, which is great. My game is to attack. It is great to have that ability to defend because you have to do that sometimes. Roger Federer attacks most of the time, but he also has the ability to lay back, but it's not necessary. For me it's not plan A. It's always kind of last resort. You use your speed and you use that.
And then there's Mardy. I hit with him the last few days here in Tampa. He's hitting the ball well. He's very excited to get back on the road and go to Del Rey Beach, and he's looking better. That's something that I think will just take a little time to get back. But he's in much better shape than he was when he played a few years ago. He's been working out at Saddlebrook very religiously. He's been up at 6:00 a.m. and working out and going for extra jogs and everything he can.
I definitely sympathize with him because I remember the times when you don't have a tournament coming up and you're injured or sick and you can't do anything else and you want to get back. It sometimes manifests in working out and getting into better shape and knowing that hopefully it's going to help you out in the long run. I think it'll help him out in the long run because he's in better shape, and that breeds confidence when he works harder.
He definitely feels like he's worked harder over the last couple months that most of the guys who are on Tour. I think that's definitely going to help him. It's going to take time because no matter how good you are or how hard you've worked, there's no substitute for playing matches. I think he needs to get a few matches in, and then once he gets a little bit of confidence in match play, I think he's going to get that ranking right back up there.
Q. Donald Young made his debut in San Jose and went through the whole year and played seven pro tournaments and didn't win a set, 0 and 15 in sets. Too much too fast for him? What does he need to do to get back on track?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, you're only 15. I think what you need to get back on track is a few wins. I've hit with him I think just once, but he's clearly got a lot of talent. Being the youngest ever at No. 1 in the world in juniors is a remarkable accomplishment.
The thing I think that would help him is just keeping things in perspective because if you look at someone that's No. 1 in the world in juniors, you've got players like Brian Dunn, who unfortunately, partly due to injury, never quite transferred his game to the senior games. Then you've got guys like Marcelo Rios who went on to be No. 1 in the world in the pros, as well. It could go either way.
It doesn't guarantee that you're going to be successful that you're No. 1 in the world in juniors. I think he needs to keep that in perspective and make sure that there is no halting in the training right now. It doesn't mean you've done anything that you're No. 1 in juniors. It's something you can look back on at the end of your career and say I'm proud of it, but if you need to change something in your game or improve something, it shouldn't be, no, I don't want to change it because I've done so well in juniors. There needs to be a continued progression forward.
I hope he doesn't -- I don't know him that well so I can't speak to what he is doing, but I hope he isn't kind of buying into all the hype. A lot of people said he was so good, and he is so good so young, people are already kind of handing him trophies in the seniors or on the real Tour, and you can't do that.
There's no way to win tournaments on hype. You have to be a good player, you have to be a great player really to win tournaments. I think he needs to realize that, and I hope he does. He's still got plenty of time.
Even though he lost a whole bunch of matches, I'll tell you one thing, he is miles beyond where I was when I was 16 or 17 years old. I could only imagine me going out there. I would be 0 and 15 but if you multiply that by six, I'd be 0 and 100 in games. I wouldn't have won a game at that age.
I know that it's possible to improve at a very quick rate, and he's got the talent so I think he can improve very rapidly. I just hope he doesn't lose perspective in the fact that he lost a few matches when he's 15 years old. There's guys that are seasoned pros, it's nothing to be ashamed of, just go out and keep trying and really keep progressing, keep moving forward and not rest on your junior success.
Q. (Inaudible) -- Scoville Jenkins and the press release is coming out here in a couple hours, but can you talk a little bit about Scoville?
JAMES BLAKE: Scoville is a great kid. I like him a lot. He was my practice partner last year in South Carolina at the Davis Cup when I was invited to be part of the team as kind of a practice partner or more like a guy for the guys to hang out with because they had known that I was so down and been sick. So I was a part of the team with him.
He's a kid that works so hard. He works with Coach Torrey, who is a hard worker and pushes him, and Scoville seems like the type who doesn't need the extra motivation because he really has it internally. He enjoys the game, he loves playing, and he's pretty quiet and a very respectful kid.
We tried to knock that quietness out of him on the Davis Cup team, but he really is just a good kid overall, and I like him a lot. I hope he continues to have success. I was proud of the way he was playing going into the U.S. Open last year at New Haven, beating a top player like Nieminen, and then I think he won a round in the U.S. Open, as well.
He plays really unafraid tennis. He played Nadal pretty darn tough. If you look at Nadal, he didn't look at that match as a pushover or look at it like he played badly. I think Scoville showed that he can play with just about anybody in the world. I hope he takes some confidence from that, and I think he's going to be a really good player coming up soon.