2006 MEDIBANK INTERNATIONAL
January 12, 2006
J. BLAKE/A. Clement
3-6, 6-1, 6-4
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. You've had a funny tournament so far with a walkover early on, and the match today, you had to fight pretty hard against Clement.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, definitely today was a little more what I expected of this tournament, playing a really good player, someone that's going to make me work pretty hard, in the heat, and perfect preparation for Melbourne. It's interesting to get a walkover. I don't think I've ever had one of those before this in my career. Moya defaulted against me before going into Melbourne, but I had to play a lucky loser then. I don't think I've ever had a match where I didn't even have to step on the court in singles. That was very welcome the other day when it was so hot. I'm sure it helped me today playing a three-setter, having that time off and just practicing yesterday. But I've definitely gotten good preparation already playing Sanguinetti and Clement, two guys that make you play a ton of balls. Before this year I'd never won even a first round here, so all this is icing on the cake for me.
Q. So your rhythm is coming along?
JAMES BLAKE: Oh, yeah, feeling great. I was telling my coach today this is kind of the best I've felt on the court so far this year. It just keeps getting better and better. I had about two and a half weeks before I came down here where I was practicing indoors. I was in Chicago and then I was in Fairfield, Connecticut, with my family. I was practicing indoors the whole time. It's always a little tricky getting outdoors, especially on Rebound Ace. Usually the courts in Connecticut and Chicago are a little bit faster when it's indoors. Then coming here, it bounces so high, you're in the heat, there's wind, sun, everything. You got to get used to it. I feel like now that's why I'm here at these kind of tournaments, is getting used to it, getting a chance to play in front of a good crowd, getting the chance to feel this heat and be ready for Melbourne. But not just that, I mean, I think at this point now, a lot of guys say that, "Just getting ready for Melbourne, just getting ready for Melbourne," but at this point I'm in the semifinals now, it's not just, "Just getting ready for Melbourne." It's, "I want to win this tournament, too." Once you're into the semis, you know, anything can happen. It's two matches to possibly win and to get a title. Whether or not some of the fans forget about that by next week in Melbourne, it's something that I feel like almost every player, unless you're Roger Federer or Andre Agassi, you kind of remember each title you win. So for me it would be exciting to get that opportunity and play in the finals on Saturday.
Q. What's going well for you at the moment?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, my serve really picked up after the first set today. First set I didn't serve great. Then it really picked up. It was giving me a lot of free points which was big because I never really had that in my game a long time ago. It's come along nicely. Then always my weapon is my forehand. I'm trying to end points or set up points with my forehand and use my backhand kind of to get forehands. I feel like, I mean, my forehand, generally, if that's not working, I'm not going to win. That's, I mean, pretty much a fact. But if my backhand is working really well to set up my forehand, that's when I feel like I'm playing my best. My backhand today was better than it has been in the past. And Arnaud makes you play a lot of balls and makes you kind of think out there a little bit. He's so smart, he's so fast, he's really crafty even though, I mean, he's only 26 or 27 years old. But he's been around the tour for a while and he knows how to win matches, which is a great credit to him. He gets the most out of his ability and has proven that he can be a top 10 player which is impressive especially at his size to be competing with guys out here like Ivo Karlovic, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, the bigger guys out there.
Q. What about Davydenko?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, he's another great player, someone that's improved a whole lot over the last year and a half. I've played him three times now, but I think two of them were really before his marked improvement that he's had, so I got to throw those successes out the window because he's a different player than he was two years ago or three years ago. He hits the ball really heavy from the baseline now which is very impressive because he's also a smaller guy, but he hits the ball like a big guy. I mean, he really rips his ground strokes, makes you pay if you kind of float a ball, and gets some cheap points off his serve, too, which is impressive. He hits it for a good percentage. He's always in the top 10 of first serve percentages on tour, and that's something that is tough to deal with. With the size of men's serves today, if you're making 70% of them, you have a good chance of holding most times. So you kind of look for your opportunities. I'm going to try to take advantage, when I do see a second serve, try to take advantage of those and see if I can make him pay. But he also returns very well. That's why he's top 10 in the world and made the quarters of Australia last year. He's had success on this surface. He's had success on really every surface. Clay, he's made the semis of the French. It's going to be a very tough match, but it's also going to be a really good test because he's someone that hits so many balls, makes you play. It's not a match where you can play bad and win, where you can kind of just get a little lucky or whatever; you really have to play well to beat him.
Q. You've had your tussles with Lleyton over the years. Are you surprised by his slow start to the summer, the result today?
JAMES BLAKE: It's funny. My coach and some of my friends have been talking about kind of all the matches, and we'll look through the schedule almost every day and just joke and we say, "Well, this person's going to win this one, this person's going to win this one, this person's..." We're, I mean, supposedly in the know here on the ATP Tour, that's why we probably wouldn't be allowed to share that with anyone who's actually betting or anything. But we're wrong almost every time. I mean, at the beginning of the year it's crazy to see how many upsets, how many just, you know, strange things are happening on tour because you don't know how guys have spent their off-season. It's two months where a guy could have been sitting on the couch eating chips, you know, but someone else could have been out in the gym for five hours a day. And you just don't know that, how people have prepared. And the even stranger thing is that you can't tell just by how they're replying. Two results - Andreas Seppi obviously is an incredible player. I lost to him last week and I didn't play that badly. He can play great tennis. Then he lost the next round to Malisse 0-1. He's very up and down, and you saw his up today against Lleyton Hewitt. Anyone out here can beat just about anyone with the exception of possibly Roger. But it's really so close that if someone had a better preparation in the off-season, someone, you know, just, you know, had a bad night's sleep, someone had, you know -- obviously now he might not be getting as much sleep now that he's got a crying baby in the house, I don't know. But, I mean, all these things can factor in to just playing one bad match. That's one thing I'm going to try to do this year about my game is not worry if I have two bad weeks, three bad weeks, even six bad weeks in a row. I've gained confidence from the fact that at the end of last year I put together a stretch where I was playing some of the best tennis in the world at New Haven, the US Open and Stockholm. Lleyton, I assume, can draw tons of confidence in the fact that he's put together seasons where he's been No. 1 in the world. I mean, I wouldn't expect him to lose any confidence over two weeks. It is unfortunate that it's in Australia, his home country, where I'm sure the press is going to have a field day with a slow start. But, you know, that's just unfortunate for him, but I really doubt it's going to affect him one bit once he steps on the court in Melbourne Park and has the same confidence of being a top 3 or 4 player in the world and one of the favorites really to win Australia, as much as anyone can be a favorite outside of Roger.
Q. Talk about Roger Federer. Is he beatable in Melbourne?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, Tommy Haas proved that he is beatable to some extent. You really just have to play your best tennis, and there are guys that can be tricky. You see a guy like Andreas Seppi play as well as he did today. I think everyone on their best day has their chance, but it's really to the point now where I think he's -- also you don't know after the off-season. But it's to the point at the end of last year where you really have to play your best and you have to hope he's a little off. But, I mean, there's always that chance. I think at his best, when he's playing his best, he's going to beat just about anyone in the world, and that's what we all work for. That's why I put in the hours in the off-season, is 'cause you know he's still improving and he's -- at this point I think he's head and shoulders above the rest of the field, but there is that day where you can play your best tennis and, I mean, if he gets a little nervous... Being No. 1 in the world, I can only imagine the pressure of every time you're the favorite and, you know, people are cheering for the underdog and they have no pressure on them. And, I mean, I've talked to Andre a little bit about it. He talks about the fact that no one has a bad day against him, no one just comes and doesn't feel like playing or tanks a little bit; everyone comes out. So Roger's got to deal with that. He's done an incredible job of doing that for two years, but you never know when that's going to break. And if he does continue his mental fortitude that he's had for the last two years, then in a few years we're going to be talking about whether or not he's going to break Sampras' record. That's going to be exciting for the fans I think. It's exciting for us to see. I think everyone, any kind of sports fan loves seeing history being made. You want to see if Barry Bonds is going to break Hank Aaron's record, you want to see in football if a sack's record is going to be broken, if Brett Favre is going to break, you know, games played. I would give some rugby or cricket records but I don't know any of them, so sorry.
Q. Considering the level you showed at the last US Open and your level today, have you made improvements? You think you are at the same level?
JAMES BLAKE: No, I've definitely improved. It's funny that now people actually believe me as opposed to when I said it when I was ranked about 200 in the world and I told people I felt like I was a better player than I was when I was 22 in the world. No one believed me then until I kind of went on that run at the end of last year. I was saying that on the clay, I was saying that when I got to the grass courts, and then I was saying it when I got to the hard courts, and people started believing me maybe after New Haven or after the US Open. I definitely feel like I've improved and I feel like the tour improves every year. I mean, if Roger is the benchmark, he keeps getting better, so the tour kind of has to follow. We keep getting better, and I've definitely gotten better, and I'm not ranked as high as I was when I was at my highest so it's very interesting to see. I don't worry as much about the rankings. I really definitely -- the main thing for me is I've improved as much as I possibly can and I keep improving. Even matches like today, matches where I'm winning, where I'm losing, I feel like I can learn from them and I can continue to improve. The level that everyone saw at the US Open I think is giving me confidence to keep improving because, you know, a lot of people thought maybe my potential was reached when I got to 20-something in the world or whatever, but I feel like it's shown I can do even better hopefully, and I'm excited about that. We'll see where the ranking takes me, but that's not going to worry me. I just feel like I'm getting better as a player and that's giving me confidence going into the next Grand Slam here in Australia, possibly the first one I've ever looked at as a success -- as possibly having the success of going into the second week and really challenging for the title as opposed to the last few years most of the Grand Slams I went into I felt like, "Oh, maybe if I play really well I can make it into second week, I can get to the quarterfinals or get to the Round of 16 and that's good for me." Now I feel like I'm not going to be upset if that happens if I play well, but I know that if I'm playing well, there's no reason why I can't be in the semis or the finals or maybe holding up a trophy one of these days. I know I'm -- I was two points away from being in the semis against one of my good friends, Robby Ginepri, in the semis, then one match away from the finals. The way Roger played that day I might have been one sprained ankle away from a trophy, but you're so close that it's interesting to me now to give me that confidence and see how I feel when I go out on the court there with the thought process of it's a winnable tournament.
Q. Are you worth a bet?
JAMES BLAKE: Am I worth a bet? I don't know. I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about that. If I ever tell people that, I feel bad because I remember after the Andre Agassi match, you know, feeling good about the way I played and you're still down. I heard it for months, "That was a great match, that was a great match." But then once I was out in New York and some guy comes up to me in a bar and was like, "Man, I lost 15 grand on that match." I'm like, "Sorry, I tried my best. Can I get you a beer?" You know? There's nothing I can say about that. So I won't tell anyone to bet on me; I don't want to have to buy everyone a beer (smiling).