The American will be making his Wimbledon debut in singles this month.
James Blake will be the top
seed at next month's Miller Lite Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in
Newport. Blake, who joins us from London, is enjoying his best season
on the ATP circuit with a 13-17 match record. He's 28th on the ATP Champions
Race and No. 37 on the ATP entry system.
Blake reached his first ATP
final in Memphis earlier this year, and he was a quarterfinalist in
San Jose, Houston, and Tennis Masters Series - Rome. He's also helped
the U.S. to the Davis Cup semifinals against France coming up in September,
and he has a 3-0 record this year and he's undefeated in his career
in Davis Cup play with a 5-0 mark. A week from Monday, Blake will be
making his Wimbledon debut in singles at the All England Club. He's
played doubles the last two years there, and I know he's looking forward
to his first Wimbledon singles main draw.
Q. Hey, obviously, you know,
you started this tournament last year at No. 140 in the world. You've
worked your way up to, well, Top 40, Top 30. This obviously gave you
a lot of confidence, making the semifinals here last year. Can you talk
a little bit about that and how it went.
JAMES BLAKE: Sure. Before
going in to the grass court season, I felt like I had a good chance
there to get some points and maybe get a few wins. And, unfortunately,
I injured myself a little bit right at the beginning there so I didn't
-- I really didn't play my best in Wimbledon and Queen's Club here.
And then I went to Newport. It finally healed, and I was healthy and
it was an opportunity for me. And I was also very comfortable since
I was back near home, and I had some of my friends there.
Actually, it started out
looking kind of bleak with a tough draw, playing the top seed first
round and then the defending champion in the second round. So I just
felt like I had nothing to lose and I was just having fun. And I happened
to start playing well there and got some confidence. And then once you
get a little bit of confidence, you can kind of get on a roll on this
tour. And that's, fortunately, what happened. It started there last
Q. Great. Tell me about the
semifinal match. I guess you had a lot of your friends from Harvard
JAMES BLAKE: Uh-huh.
Q. Obviously, it was kind
of a heart-breaker, but still, you were right in it.
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it was
a tough one. It was -- I didn't really expect to be there kind of, because
I told a couple of friends of mine if I got to the weekend, they had
to come up. Because I thought they were going to maybe make it during
the week. I wasn't in touch with the whole real world of people that
have jobs during the week. So they had to work.
Then they said they'd come
up if I made it to the semifinals. Since it was my first semi, no one
really expected me to get there, I don't think. So I had some friends
coming to watch. And I just played a pretty good match up until it really
got tight at the end. Serving for the match, you know, that's something
you probably should win on grass. But Martin came up with some good
shots, and I unfortunately just didn't play quite the same way I did
to get me there.
That was part of the learning
process that I'm still going through about how to win matches like that.
Q. Could you talk a little
bit about coming back to play for Hartford, how you made your decision.
JAMES BLAKE: Sure. When I
played there two years ago, I had a great time. It's a lot of fun. Last
year, it just really didn't fit into my schedule because it was right
around Newport and I wanted to play Newport.
I think I just needed that
to help with my confidence on tour. Winning matches that were for, you
know, the tour level and just to get points and move my ranking up since
it wasn't kind of where I hoped it would be at that time.
Now I feel like I'm starting
to be a legitimate part of the ATP Tour. I wanted to play it again because
it was fun, and you get a lot of practice and a really good atmosphere.
It's just totally different from a normal tour match. You have a crowd
that's really into it and excited, and they can move around and they
don't necessarily have to be extremely knowledgeable about knowing all
the rules of when to talk, when not to. You got a deejay there playing
music, and it's just a lot more fun and lively.
Also, I've always had a good
time in any kind of team atmosphere - college, I had a good time playing
for my team; high school, I played on a team. And now, I've been privileged
to be a part of the Davis Cup team. So any kind of team atmosphere is
a lot of fun when you have other people that you can hang out with,
go out to dinner with, and just be in a sport that's an individual sport,
but have a whole team around you.
Q. Can you talk a little
bit about going in to Wimbledon, making your debut in singles. That
must be pretty exciting?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, it's definitely
exciting, especially since my mother is British. So she loves coming
over here, coming back to see where she grew up and everything.
Having my parents come over
and see me play in Wimbledon, I don't think they ever really expected
that to happen. Now it's a reality, and I actually have a chance to
be seeded there. It's really a dream come true. Now I'm definitely going
to take it all in while I'm on the grounds and appreciate how far I've
come to get there and how hard I've worked.
I'm sure the first couple
of games out there will be a little nerve-racking and maybe a little
tense, but then once the match starts, you really just have to let your
competitive nature take over and just think of it as another match and
try to win that. Then from there, you know, hopefully good things can
We'll see how I do. I think
I can do well on grass courts. I'm kind of nursing a little bit of an
injury now, but hopefully it will be better by Wimbledon.
Q. What's the injury?
JAMES BLAKE: I sprained my
ankle at the French Open. I actually re-did it here my second day practicing
at Queen's. So it's still not quite 100 percent.
Q. You think you've exceeded
people's expectations the last couple years? You've really burst on
JAMES BLAKE: Well, I think
-- I don't really know what a lot of people's expectations are. When
I wasn't doing so well, I just don't think there were a whole lot of
people that were taking an interest in my career. Once I finally started
doing well, I think just about everyone was talking to me and saying
that, you know, they thought I was going to do it the whole time.
So I can't really say whether
or not they actually mean that, or if they just kind of jumped on later.
But I feel like people have always kind of cheered for me and hoped
I'd done well. But I can't see too many people really expecting what
has happened, because I probably would have never expected it.
And no one can really tell
- especially when a kid's 17, 18 years old - how their mind is, how
mentally tough they're going to be, if they're going to work hard, if
they're going to be ready for the tour and all the traveling, all the
losses. Sometimes being in a foreign country, you don't speak the language.
Just a lot of little things, and no one can really tell for sure. When
anyone says they know for sure or something like that, it's just not
possible, I don't think.
So I think I've gotten --
I've improved at a much quicker rate than I ever expected. And, I mean,
I think my coach has always believed in me, Brian Barker, and my parents
have known me. I mean, the people that have known me really well like
that knew that I was going to work as hard as I could to get as far
as possible. That's all they can really do. I don't think any of them
knew if I was going to be Top 30, Top 10, Top 100 or what, but they
knew I'd work my hardest.
Q. James, you talked before
about you had confidence and your learning experience from last year
in the semifinals. How about this year coming in to Newport, at this
point you're going to be the top seed. How is that going to be different
for you, or is it going to be different at all?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, yeah,
it will be a little different. Of course I do actually remember last
year when I was playing the top seed. They mentioned that in the history
of the tournament the top seed has never won the tournament, so I'd
like to come back and change that, that statistic.
But definitely it's different
when you're the top seed and you're really the hunted instead of the
hunter. When guys are -- when whoever plays me first round, they'll
see it as a great opportunity where they have nothing to lose, I think,
and they're ready to play their best and have nothing to worry about.
So it's definitely a different position.
But at that point, it's kind
of like being up a break or something and serving - you have to kind
of play the same way that got you there. You can't think -- play a little
tentative, maybe your name will win you a match or a few points or anything.
Guys out here are too strong mentally and too talented to give you anything
like that. If anything, they're going to play better, I think, against
a higher-ranked player.
So I think it will actually
make it tougher. Maybe it will help a little bit in the fact that I
can't play a seed until the quarters, but I think all the matches are
going to be pretty tough.
Q. I was just wondering if
you feel, James, that you're entering a different stage of your career.
Do you expect and/or feel pressure to win? Maybe you always have, I
don't know. Have you ever been happy-go-lucky as you appear on the court,
or do you feel like you should be winning now?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, these
days I'm definitely kind of happy-go-lucky, as I appear on the court.
I'm just having a great time out on the court. That's something I learned
when I wasn't quite so happy-go-lucky. I was kind of a brat when I was
a kid, and yelling and whining and crying and throwing my racquet.
Eventually, with the help
of my coach and my parents, they got me to change that attitude, which
got me to have a lot more fun on the court and just kind of relax a
little bit more and know that it's not the end of the world if you lose
I think that was a great
balance. Since I'm extremely competitive, which is why I used to get
so mad, I kind of always want to win. And they balance that out by making
sure that I was sill just having fun.
You got to be competitive
on the court, but then after the match there's really nothing you can
do. You played your best, and you worked as hard as you could to prepare
for that match. So what else can you do really but enjoy the time you're
It's something -- I mean, it's a much better thing to be doing, I think,
during the day than a lot of other things. So I'm definitely having
a good time on the court. I feel like if I just think about that, then
the wins will come. And if they don't, then, you know, I'll still try
to find a way to have some fun while I'm losing.
It's something that I've
talked about a lot with my coach. When you're winning so much, you can't
think about it too much and get, you know, too confident or too cocky
in thinking that you're going to win all the time, because then you're
setting yourself up for a crash. If you're losing too much, losing first
round after first round, you just can't get too down because then you'll
never be able to pick yourself back up. You got to try to always keep
pretty stable. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm not necessarily putting
any pressure that I have to win now, I'm just trying to keep the mindset
that, you know, wins that are coming, that's great, I put in the hard
work to earn those. The losses that are coming, everyone else is putting
in a lot of hard work, too, and they probably deserve those. But I just
have to have confidence that I'll keep getting some wins.
Q. Last year you mentioned
that you were hoping you'd get to the weekend and your friends could
come out and see you. Are they almost expecting you to get to the weekend
JAMES BLAKE: I don't know
if they're expecting me to. I mean, I might have to make the same bet.
Like I said, other people have, you know, real work-week jobs, so they
might only be able to come out during the weekend.
But I'm definitely not expecting
to get there. Everyone -- like I think Mark Stenning said, no top seed's
ever won it. So I know it's going to be tough. But I would love to get
there. I mean, I would feel like it was a success if I'd won three tough
matches and someone just happened to play better than me, there's nothing
I can do.
But I feel like if I am playing
really well, there's no reason any more why I can't get to the weekend
and can't get to the semis or even farther this year. I definitely have
the confidence, and I feel like I have the ability. Last year I don't
know if I had the confidence. Like I said, I was the hunter last year,
where I was hunting the top seed and the defending champion and playing
a little above myself.
This year I feel like I can
just play within myself. And, you know, if I get a little luck here
and there, which is - you always need on grass courts - then I think
I could possibly get to the semis or further.
Q. Is there an excitement
level, knowing that your friends are going to be watching you?
JAMES BLAKE: Sorry, I didn't
hear all of that.
Q. I'm sorry. I said did
it increase your excitement level a little bit last year where you were
hoping friends would come down to visit that you hadn't seen in a little
while if you could make it to the weekend?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I think
it's great. I mean, little incentives like that I think have always
been fun for me to think about. I mean, I think my parents used to do
little things like that where if I would win a tournament, they'd get
me a pair of shoes that I wanted or something like that.
So it was just another, you
know, little incentive where I'd love to get to see my friends. If not,
you know, hopefully I'll get to see them some other time down the road.
It wasn't something I was thinking about while I was on the court. But
beforehand and afterwards, it's nice to think I'm one step closer to
maybe getting to see my friends.
Then when I did get to see
them, I really appreciated it. I felt like it was something that was
great because I had won some matches and I got to see my friends. So
it's kind of a doubly exciting thing for me to make it to my first semis
and to see a bunch of my friends.
Q. You said at the beginning
of the call that you are starting to feel like a legitimate part of
the ATP Tour. Can you pinpoint when that feeling started to surface
for you and how it manifested itself.
JAMES BLAKE: Sure. I think,
you know, Newport, I still was playing a lot of challengers and working
my way up. I felt like I had the ability to maybe get there, but I didn't
have the confidence.
And then when I got through
Newport, I know that's a grass court tournament where kind of anything
can happen. So I thought, you know, maybe "I hope that's not just,
you know, one fluke thing," like there have been guys that have
had one great tournament and then kind of fallen off the next year.
So I didn't really feel it then.
Then I was still getting
wildcards into tournaments. But then I think it really helped at Cincinnati
when I first beat Julien Boutter who was around 50 in the world at the
time, and then Arnaud Clement, who was around maybe 13 or 14 in the
world at the time. And getting two wins like that, that were just solid
tour-level wins - and Clement at that time was my best win ever - that
made me feel really good.
I didn't play unbelievable;
I played really well, but I didn't play so much above myself that it
was just, you know, one of those days where nothing was going wrong,
it was just a really good day.
Then playing Pat Rafter,
someone who was obviously at the top of his game at that time - I think
he made it to the finals there and was playing really well - and I took
him to a tiebreaker in the first set and had a set point, really could
have won that set point. Then, you know, anything could have happened.
But after the match, he just
told me, you know, "The only difference was that I didn't believe
I could beat him." He said, you know, "Now do you believe
you can beat me? I hope you do." And having someone as accomplished
as him and, you know, still going in the tournament, could be, you know
-- a lot of times the sport is a very selfish sport. He was not selfish
at all. He was there to help me. He kind of picked me up even though,
like I said, I'm pretty competitive so when I lose, I'm very disappointed
for a little while.
But hearing him say that,
that I was just that close and he didn't play badly, that that was just
a normal match, he made me feel really good about that. And I think
I took that confidence into the US Open and played really well there.
And then, I mean, I think
at that point I was starting to feel it. It was kind of starting to
snowball at that point, where I was getting more confidence.
Then the match with Hewitt
where I was actually leading him two-sets-to-one and playing - I felt
like I was playing as well or better than him at that time, before I
started cramping and just my body gave out at that time. So then extending
the eventual champion to five sets and playing such a good match, high-level
tennis there, made me feel like on any given day I can play with the
best in the world. So why shouldn't I feel like I'm a part of the tour
And those matches really
Q. Are you at all disappointed
that Andre Agassi still is sticking by the fact that he says he won't
come to Paris for the Davis Cup? Do you think your team can go ahead
and do well anyway?
JAMES BLAKE: I would never,
you know, judge anyone else' decisions because tennis is a very individual
sport. What works for one individual might not work for others.
I mean, there's so many different
ways to get to the top. Some people go through a tennis academy, some
people go through a public school, some people quit school. There are
so many different ways, different attitudes. I mean, just in the styles
of play - serve and volley, baseline. It's very individual.
So I can't question his decision.
Andre's had so much success in his career in Davis Cup, in Grand Slams,
in everything he's done. There's really no way for me to question that.
All I can do is prepare the best I can, and I know that in my mind if
Patrick calls me, I take it as a privilege, you know, to go and represent
And I'm going to do my best
whether he feels -- I mean, it's Patrick's decision totally whether
he wants me to play at all, whether he wants me to play singles, whether
he wants me to play doubles. And I just have to be as prepared as possible
to get ready to do that.
I'm not in a position to
worry or to have any statement about what Andre's doing. I mean, I think
if we had him on our team, it would make our team extremely strong and
a force there on the clay. He's proven he can do unbelievable on any
surface, but especially on the clay. I definitely think it would help.
But I don't see why another
team that the U.S. fields can't win that match. I think we've got Andy,
who's ready and willing to play, who can play some great tennis on clay.
I think he had a tough draw at the French Open, but he proved in Rome
he can play well. I've had a little bit of success on the clay. Obviously,
Pete Sampras has come back this year to play on the team. And he hasn't
had so much success at the French Open, but in two matches you can never
really count out Pete Sampras. And Todd Martin has had some success
on clay. I mean, I think we have options. It's just up to Patrick McEnroe
to make those tough decisions. He's made a lot of good decisions so
far, I think, and I don't see why he'll stop now.