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Roland Garros: James Blake, May 25, 2008

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Roland Garros
Sunday, May 25, 2008

Interview with James Blake

Q. Good start for you on clay today. At least in his before life he was pretty competent clay court player. Can you talk about how you felt out there?

JAMES BLAKE: I felt good. Definitely had a pretty good clay court season so far this year, and it could always to be a little better.

Hopefully this will prove I can put a bunch of wins together. We'll see. But today was a good start. A little earlier than I would have expected to start.

To be playing on a Sunday at a Slam is a little tough, especially coming from another tournament. Really I feel like it limits your preparation time.

I don't know why this one gets to be different, but it's a little tough to be playing on a Sunday. Great to get it out of the way now and have a couple of days to really practice on these courts and be ready for Wednesday.

Q. Have you been in touch with Andy at all to know what progress he's making with his injury?

JAMES BLAKE: I talked to Patrick a little today, and he said he's feeling pretty good, definitely getting better, and hopefully be ready for the grass.

I think he's still in high spirits that he'll be fine for the grass.

Q. Although Andy is not here, do you expect more from the Americans because of some of the good results you guys have had?

JAMES BLAKE: We've already done more, so... (laughter.) We set the bar low enough that we're over the bar by 3:00 on Sunday afternoon. It was a tough situation last year, but now maybe it's just like playing with house money this year.

We all feel like, you know, last year was an aberration that should never happen again, and this year we're definitely looking for better results.

There are a few guys here that are definitely competent. Sam's played well on clay. He drew a relatively tough first round here. I've played better. Mardy in past years had a little more success on the clay.

Robby's playing a little better again. At least one American has to get through him and Donald, but definitely feels like the Americans are little more confident on the clay. We feel like we've learned and gotten a little more experience.

Q. Some of that from Davis Cup, getting more experience on clay?

JAMES BLAKE: For me, it's helped, especially playing Koubek, a very tough clay courter, away, a somewhat hostile environment and playing as well as I did. Especially being down a set and a break and coming back and playing as well as I did, that definitely gave me the confidence to beat a lot of guys on clay.

As I said before, I've had a lot of good clay court wins. I've beaten Moya, Calleri, Murray, Almagro. It's just a matter of putting it all together in one tournament. That would make it more effective. It's a matter of time hopefully.

I feel like I'm playing a little bit better, a little bit more experience on the clay. Hopefully this will be the year I put it all together.

Q. Last year we not only got anybody to the second round, but we didn't qualify anyone. This year Scoville Jenkins qualified. What do you know about Scoville Jenkins' upside? How much game does he have?

JAMES BLAKE: You know, when I first saw him on tour I think was in '05 at the Open when he played Nadal. He had beaten Jarkko Nieminen in New Haven and beat and beat Bastl in the Open, and then played a really good match with Nadal.

I thought right then he was up and coming and ready to break free pretty quickly. He struggled a little with his confidence. He started losing confidence in his forehand. But he's got a huge serve and he's a good athlete in terms of the way he moves. He moves really well, and it's just a matter of his strokes, getting confidence in the actual strokes.

I feel like he's doing that now. I haven't seen him play in a little while, but to qualify here is pretty impressive. I gave him the trivia of who was the last American to qualify and he got it right.

That was me in 2005, so I was proud to be a part of a trivia question. But he's got a lot of upside with how big he serves and how well he moves. Hopefully he's going to do some good things.

I wouldn't exactly expect clay to be his best surface, but impressive that he fights as hard as he does. I know he's down a break in the third set in the qualifying match, and to come through and play that well, it was a good feeling for him I'm sure.

Q. That was a Spanish clay courter he beat?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. A guy that beat me on hard courts, too. It's a good effort by him.

Q. You may have noticed in Rome in that VIP area there was a betting shop. Same in Austria last week. Do you reckon that's a bit odd compared to the ATP anticorruption...

JAMES BLAKE: I actually didn't notice it in Rome. I wasn't in Portschach last year. I feel like those kind of things probably happen in a ton of other sports, too. But obviously being a one‑on‑one sport, it opens us up to possibilities into the ‑‑ the unfortunate case of someone ‑‑ you know, bad nature getting involved.

But I think our anticorruption ‑‑ all the media lately has showed that we're not corrupt. It's not a sport that's been infiltrated by the seedier folks. We have done a great job of that.

If other people want to gamble on tennis, then that's their right. They can do whatever they want. As long as the tennis players aren't doing it, I have no problem with it. It's annoying when I go out and I hear people tell me that they lost money on me. Makes me feel even worse when they tell you, I bet a thousand dollars on you. I'm like, Sorry, I tried my best.

They don't tell me when I won them money, just when I lost them so I have to buy them a drink or something. (laughter.)

I have no problem as long as it's done legitimately, fairly, as long as no one in tennis is involved in it. If I hear about it in the locker room, then it becomes a serious problem.

Q. How much do you adjust your game when you play on clay, and is that still sort of an ongoing process for you?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. I mean, every bit of tennis, every bit of my career has been trial and error. You learn from your mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes I made early was adjusting my game too much.

I tried to be a clay courter, and I'm not. I'm not a natural mover, playing defensively on the stuff, looping balls back, standing eight feet behind the baseline to return serves and just pushing it in. That's not my game. I'm not good at it.

I can't try to be that person, that type of player. I'm going to lose to guys who are much more skilled at that. So I need to play my game and adjust a little bit, be a little bit more patient, learn to play defense a little bit better, maybe work in the dropshot a little bit more, but not completely changing my game.

That's what I found to be the most effective way through a little bit of trial and error. Of course every match is still a little trial and error. I always feel like every match I can do something a little better. So I learn from each mistake, and even some of the successes I learn from.

Q. They didn't like the clay either. The last generation of Americans has three champions here, and Sampras even got to the semifinal. Do you think maybe they were better on the clay, or were there less dedicated clay court players in their generation? That might have accounted for some of that, or maybe little bit of both.

JAMES BLAKE: I don't think there were as many of the specialists back then. The guys that play on clay all year that are just getting their points there that are also as skilled as the guys are now.

There are guys 60, 70, 80 in the world that get all their points on clay, and they're ‑‑ I mean, this is their one big tournament to really make a move. So it's difficult to get through those guys no matter if you're top 10, top 20 player, those guys know how to play on clay.

Also, you look at that group of guys, they're champions all around: Courier, Agassi, Sampras. We've been compared to them a lot. It's a tough comparison for anyone. Just about any generation from any country, it's tough to compare with those guys.

So we know what we're dealing with. We know the expectations are very, very high. But those guys were excellent. Jim Courier was an excellent clay court player, Chang was an excellent clay court player. Agassi, the way he struck the ball was effective on any court.

Like I said as well, they weren't dealing with the same kind of depth, same kind of specialists that we are now. Let's not take anything away from them. It's amazing what they did and how many champions and how many championships they won as a group is just incredible and most likely never to be duplicated.

But we have to do our best to deal with the situations we're in.

Q. What was going on in the third set there after 5‑1?

JAMES BLAKE: He started playing pretty well. You know, looked like he was just about ready to throw in the towel at 5‑1, and I made a couple of loose errors in that game.

Then after that, he just ‑‑ he played like the Schettler of old: The guy top 10 in the world, the guy I remember. He just didn't miss a ball. He wasn't giving me any free points. He was taking advantage when he had chances.

That can happen on clay. Clay is ‑‑ I've learned it teaches you how to really close out a match, because no one's going to give it to you for free. You're not going to get a lot of free points like you can on hard courts or grass with just making a couple first serves.

He made me work for it today, and I expected nothing less from a player of his caliber. It's a good one to get through. I definitely would have liked to have gotten through at 6‑1 on the third set, but maybe this will help my confidence even more to know that no matter what happens I can deal ups and downs in matches.

Every time I go out for a match I talk to my coach about the fact that there's going to be ups and downs. Deal with the ups and downs better than the other person and you're already ahead.

There was quite a few of ups until that point, and then there's one little valley. I dealt with it, so I'm happy about that.

Q. The French have a pretty big group, rich group, crop of young players, talented players. Why do you think they don't produce more champions, particularly here?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, it's pretty tough. This country is about as big as half of our states in America, so it's ‑‑ it's impressive how many talented players have come out of here just with the kind of the talent pool they're kind of swimming in.

They have ‑‑ they have so few people compared to us, and they're ‑‑ they still have, I don't know, 15, 20 guys in the top 100? It's really incredible.

But we've been asking about just about every country except for Switzerland and Spain lately why there haven't more Grand Slam champions. But it's because they're all going to Switzerland and Spain right now.

It's a tough era we're in, dealing with most likely the greatest player of all time and most likely the greatest clay court player of all time. For the French it's not easy. When you got a guy that's 21‑0 in his matches here, no other country is having a shot, so...

Q. It's been 25 years since they've won a tournament, so it's not just the last few.

JAMES BLAKE: Well, I mean, if you take the state of Texas, when is the last time they won one? It's pretty tough coming from a small country. I know they have a lot of resources with having a Grand Slam here and so they have the facilities, they have the training methods.

But when you just don't have as many people to choose from it's tougher. But I think what they've done is impressive. I'm not going to say that they need to have a champion to be successful. They were Davis Cup champions a few years ago. I feel like they've overachieved for the amount of people in this country.

I wouldn't take anything away from them. It's tough to have a champion. It's not easy to win here.

Q. Your next opponent is either Simon Greul or Ernests Gulbis, two guys that not many people know a whole lot about. What is Brian's method of either scouting or preparing a scouting report for you on players that are fairly obscure that you haven't ‑‑ you haven't played Gulbis. I think you played Greul once. How does he get ready for that?

JAMES BLAKE: He's going to watch their match.

Q. Is he?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah. He's going to go watch the whole thing today and see how he plays. Then what he'll most likely do ‑‑ which I'm real happy I have a coach like Brian ‑‑ he'll talk to other people. He's not afraid. He doesn't have the kind of ego that he can't learn from others.

So if we know another guy, another American that's played one of them, whoever wins, if we know an American that's played him recently, or even just any of our other friends on tour that have seen him or any of the commentaries. If Patrick has done a match of his or something, we'll go talk to him.

We'll talk to anyone that knows and see if it links up with exactly what Brian saw and take all that into account and talk it over and see what we think works.

Of course, every time we come up with a scouting report we have to put the caveat on that if that's not working you have to change. Or if, you know, he was just doing that because of the opponent's weaknesses or because of something else, you don't necessarily have to stick to it so rigidly that you're down 6‑3 or 5‑3 and wondering why.

You have to figure out other things out there. That's why tennis is a little different, because you have to make adjustments on your own as well out there. He'll watch the match and have, I'm sure, a pretty good scouting report. If he watches three out of five sets, he'll have a pretty good scouting report.

Q. When you sit down to finally go over the report, usually how long does it take to get all the questions out of the way and the points being made and...

JAMES BLAKE: We don't need to go through, you know, a million details. We go through the general parts of what I need to do and what the other person does well and what he doesn't do well.

So he'll take ‑‑ you know, we usually go over it for no more than 10 minutes. I mean, I'm not the type of person ‑‑ some players love having more and more information at all times. I'm not that type of person. I don't want to go out there with a hundred things on my mind. I want to go out there with a few clear plans, few clear ideas of what exactly I need to do, and go out there and execute.

Q. As a member of the players council, what's your position on the current ATP leadership, and why was Perry voted off by the council?

JAMES BLAKE: That's really council business, so that was a decision the council made, and made it behind closed doors for a reason. But the current leadership is one that I hope to communicate with very well as a player council member.

We as council members want to have a voice, and we want to be heard, we want to be involved in all of the decisions made.

That's all we're asking, is having a fair say, because we don't have union leader like a lot of other sports that have collective bargaining agreements. They're all kind of in the same pool, as opposed to us. There's different sections where there's clay courters, top players, there's doubles players.

And so we want to make sure ‑‑ the council is what represents all of those players, because we have some top players, we have some European players, we have some Asian players.

The council is the representative voice of our tour, and we want to make sure our council is heard. That's what I hope for with the ATP leadership.


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