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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.