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James Blake, Wimbledon, June 24, 2008
   

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The Championships Wimbledon
at Wimbledon, England

 

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

 

James Blake def. Olivier Rochus 3‑6, 6‑3, 6‑1, 6‑4

Q. Andy was talking before about how the first match of a Grand Slam is always nerve‑wracking. As many times as you've been here, is that what you find, too?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, definitely, and especially when you lose in that first set. It can be a little nerve‑wracking because you definitely want to have a good result, and crashing out in the first round is not a good result when you've had the success that Andy has, and to a smaller degree the success that I've had.

It can be a little nerve‑wracking, because you definitely don't want to have that happen to you. You know you can, though. These guys are good, they're talented, and they're playing ‑‑ if they're playing a top ten player on a big court it's kind of their Super Bowl. You know they're going to be excited. You know they're not going to have a letdown, and you just try to get through it.

Today I didn't feel like I played my best tennis. It's not to try to discredit Christophe, I just was a little shaky at times and had a couple more double faults than I would have liked and I didn't feel like I returned as well.

But I'm actually kind of proud of that, that I got through a match where I wasn't playing my best tennis so I'm excited to get through.

 

Q. We talk about how tall guys have an edge on grass. What about little guys? Is there something about playing a little scooter like that?

JAMES BLAKE: It's sometimes tricky, because the guys can move really well. I think Ollie Rochus has had success here at Wimbledon before, done pretty well. Guys like Hewitt isn't a huge guy, he just moves really well. I think that's important, is the movement. They stay low.

The balls seem to bounce a little higher than they used to in the days of Sampras winning titles here. But it's still important to stay low and keep your balance. So the shorter guys might have a little bit of an edge there, but I still wouldn't mind being a couple inches taller. I'll stick with 6'1".

 

Q. Have you figured out the right formula on grass for your game now?

JAMES BLAKE: I hope so. You know, but it's ‑‑ my career, my entire career, I assume, is a learning process. Every time you think you've figured everything out, there's something new to learn.

I feel like I played the right way, the right balance, coming in enough, attacking second serves enough and doing the things right. It was just a matter of execution today, especially in that first set.

But you never know. I'll keep trying and keep working. Sometimes it takes playing someone that's playing better than you to teach you that, to figure out a way to overcome that challenge.

Today I played well enough to win, but I feel like there are things I could have executed a little better. The next round I'm sure I'll get pushed even harder, and hopefully I'll come through again and execute a little better.

 

Q. Given how well you've played on fast surfaces, third round of Wimbledon probably isn't good enough for you at this point.

JAMES BLAKE: No, but it's not something I worry about or think about, because I've had some success on fast surfaces: Semis at Halle, finals at Queen's, beating players like Andy Roddick and Robby Ginepri.

Hopefully it's going to come, but I can't worry about the fact that I haven't been as far as I would have liked here. Came up against Juan Carlos when he was playing great last year, and Max Mirnyi when he was a dangerous player on this kind of surface.

Right now I'm worried about Rainer Schuettler. Getting past the third round will be great, but Schuettler has been as high as 4 in the world.

If he comes out and plays lights out, his best match, I'm a little off, I could easily be out of here.

The way I've been playing, the way I'm hitting the ball in practice, I like my chances, and I think I can go further.

 

Q. What about the rest of the guys? Not quite the anecdote for clay that we would expect necessarily.

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, some tough draws. Robby, Fernando seems to be a little bit of his nemesis. He plays him close every time and seems like he's right in it, and then can't quite get over the hurdle. Fernando is an excellent player. He's tough to beat in those close situations.

I sat in there and watched some of his match today, and maybe a little bit of match inexperience, not playing as well in the big moments, and Gulbis just playing well at those times.

I'm sure he's riding high in confidence after the French Open, so that could be the difference in a tight match like that.

 

Q. How much is it experience on grass? I mean, it's such a short part of the season. Can you really improve and become more comfortable on this surface?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I think you can. But also, I was talking about more just about match experience on tour in general. Playing those big points the right way, playing them with the confidence that you need, and not getting out of your comfort zone or trying anything a little different at that time. Just playing your best point at 5‑All or 6‑5 or anything like that.

Gulbis, although he's younger than John, he probably little a little bit more experience right now. Those kind of things can happen. Hopefully John will learn from it. He's a bright kid and he'll pick up and hopefully do great in the hard court season.

 

Q. It's a little far ahead, but you and Andy have never met in a Slam as far as I can recall. It might be kind of cool, huh?

JAMES BLAKE: It would be great. I'm sure the American fans would appreciate it. We've played some great matches, especially our last couple. Of course that's probably because I'm biased and I won those two, but we've had some great battles.

He got me pretty bad a couple times early in our career, and he's, in my opinion, probably the second or third best grass court player in the world.

So it wouldn't be easy. Going into playing him at Queen's I kind of had that thought in my head, that I had nothing to lose. If I were to play him here I'd feel the same way, because I feel like he really is so dangerous on this surface that he could be in the top four or five contenders, for sure, to win this title this year and most years.

If I want to be considered a contender, I'd have to go through one of the top guys like him. I know it won't be easy, and he definitely won't make it easy on me. That serve is the biggest weapon in the game right now, and he competes so hard. He plays defense and moves really well, so it would be a fun match. No matter what, afterwards, the winner I'm sure, will go buy the loser some dinner or something and we'll have a good laugh about it, I'm sure, the next time we play or the next time we play or we see each other in wherever, Toronto or Cincy.

We'll see. We both have a couple matches to go to get there, though.

 

Q. What's your explanation for the Spanish success on grass? Is it slower courts? Is it just a better group of players? Is it a Rafa effect? What is it?

JAMES BLAKE: I think it's a little bit ‑‑ I don't think the courts have slowed down as much. I'm terrible at judging that. But I think the only thing that maybe has slowed is the balls a little bit. I think they've maybe gotten a little heavier, and that's maybe helped them.

But they do see Rafa and they see how well he can play. He's one of the few guys that came out and just almost stubbornly in a positive way said, I'm going to play my game with just minor adjustments. He maybe moves his serves around a little bit more, goes for a little bit more on that, but just plays his game. He's been very effective, and I think some other Spaniards get encouraged by that.

Because I think it was just in their heads for many years that after the French, Okay, it's a month‑long vacation. I'm going to forget about this and not care.

Now that the balls have slowed down a little bit and you see a guy like Rafa having success, it's maybe making them think, All right, I can train on this for another couple weeks and maybe put up a good result here.

Of course it helps that they've got some of the most talented guys in the world with Rafa, Ferrero, Almagro, Robredo, Moya, so many guys. It's just so deep that they have a lot of ability there.

But I think it really helps to see one guy come through playing the way Rafa has played and give them the confidence to go after their shots and play that way, too.

 

Q. I know you've got a lot of fans in Banbury. I just wondered how that felt, if it's important, and if it helps you when you come over to England?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's great. The biggest thing is I see my mom's smiling face. I see how happy she is to be here and to how excited she is to eat some of the things she used to eat and get her accent back even more than what it is when she is in the States.

She told the story again this morning about the Banbury Cross. It's a great thing to see her over here and so excited. She comes to a few tournaments, and it's always fun to have her in the stands.

But here it's fun because she feels at home. It's like another home Grand Slam for me. Probably not as comfortable on the surface as I am at the US Open. But, still, it's so great to see her smiling and to see her happy to be home again and to have relatives to visit and everything. She feels at home.

 

Q. Are you looking forward to going back to Banbury then after the Championships is over?

JAMES BLAKE: We'll see. Depends how it goes. I've been there once before with her. Back in '02 it was when I went back there. That was a lot of fun to see where she grew up.

Actually, we went to a place for lunch, and the guy actually remembered her mom, which is pretty crazy. It's such a small town that they remember. She has a pretty unique maiden name, too, so they remembered the name. It's fun to see where your parents come from.

 

Q. You've been involved with the players council, and I know there's always politics in tennis. But it seems like it's been a fevered pitch for the last few months. Has it been distracting? Are you optimistic that even in the end, even if there's some turmoil, that things are going to get on track?

JAMES BLAKE: I'm definitely optimistic. Try to always be that way. In terms of a distraction, I think every player has a life outside of tennis. I remember the days of reading about Boris Becker saying he was in a tunnel the times he did well in Grand Slams.

I've never felt that way, and I think that may work for some people, but for me I'm not like that. I'm going to be reading a book. I'm going to be talking to my friends back home. I'm going to be interested in what's going on in their lives.

This is another thing that's not only interesting about other people's lives, but it's interesting because it's going to affect me and many players in the future.

I like being involved in it, and it was an eye‑opening experience. I'm going to refrain from replying to Todd Martin's comments about us being naive until I actually get to talk to him one‑on‑one.

But I do feel like I learned a lot. It's important what is going on right now, and we have to have confidence in our board now, our representatives. We have to be confident in them, and I am.

I'm excited about hopefully very positive things coming into this sport. There's so much good about this sport. There's so many great stories and so many great athletes, and the rivalries at the top right now are just fantastic.

There's just so much positive going on that I can't imagine so many ‑‑ anything negative really coming up. That's what's unfortunately being talked about sometimes, and I just wish more positive stuff was being talked about.

 

Q. Does everything pivot on Hamburg?

JAMES BLAKE: That's a big case right now obviously for the ATP. We hope obviously the ATP comes out on top and the players have a little more say and the tour is very strong going forward from that point.

But that's out of our hands as players now. We have no say in it. We're just going to kind of be innocent bystanders and see what happens. Hopefully at that point it's either kind of picking up the pieces for the board or moving forward with the strength that we will hopefully have.

I really have confidence in this board, that they're going to do that, and we're going to hopefully turn it into a positive.

 

Q. Do you have any sense of what the new council sort of wants to achieve or what their agenda is, the changes they'd like to see?

JAMES BLAKE: For me, one of the biggest things, the reason I'm not on the council anymore, the reason I got a little disillusioned, was just making sure the players had a greater voice.

As players we're ‑‑ every day we're living this, whether we're off the tour with an injury or whether we're out here. We know what's going on with the tour. We know what's going on in the locker room. We know the sentiment.

So in that regard we're the experts on that. Anyone that lives through something that's a part of it is going to be an expert on that subject. We feel like we need to be heard. If we're not heard, we've got to do something about it.

Because as much as it takes, sponsors, it takes so many things to run a tour, without the players, there's no tour. So we need to make sure that that's known and that we're going to be the ones that have a say.

 

Q. The ATP is looking into the match‑fixing situation. What do you think the penalty should be if a player gets caught fixing a match?

JAMES BLAKE: Out for life. I'm all for being very thorough in the research and the investigation and everything, but if something is proven and it's black and white, it's for sure that a match was thrown, then I have no problem with the stiffest penalty possible because that would be a disgrace to the game, and it's a game I love.

Being a one‑on‑one sport makes it susceptible to that kind of behavior, and I wouldn't want to be a part of a sport that gets looked upon the way professional wrestling is going to be seen.

I want it to be fair and I want guys competing with everything they've got, and then at the end of the day see who's the best. I think those people need to be thrown out if they were to ever do it.

But having said that, I really don't believe that anyone has done that. I really don't believe anyone is guilty. I've seen the class of many of the guys in the locker room, so I couldn't imagine anyone doing that.

 

Q. Are you guys collectively frustrated with how long it's taken for the Davydenko investigation to be wrapped up?

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, to be honest I've kind of stopped following it. After they subpoenaed the records and did all that and didn't find anything, at that point I kind of moved on. I've lost track of exactly what they're still looking for, because it seems to me they looked, they didn't find anything, and now they're searching for ‑‑ kind of for anything. I've lost track of it.

I hope it doesn't affect Nikolay, because he's a great talent, a great player. He deserves better than if they're really just kind of looking for skeletons in his closet.

 

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