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James Blake Blogs From Sydney

Celebrating after the final with Evan, Brian and Bob ATPCelebrating after the final with Evan, Brian and Bob

Saturday, January 14, 2006   
 
I couldn't be happier to win the Sydney title on the eve of the Australian Open, particularly coming through in a final-set tie-break. I've missed out in a few of those situations in the past.

If you're looking for me in Melbourne next week I should be pretty easy to find - I'll be standing next to a guy with a shiny gold tooth. When I won my first ATP title my coach Brian said he would go skydiving. He was so scared. He did it, but he hated it. Then we had a bet that after winning my second tournament he would wear a gold tooth at the next Grand Slam tournament I played.

Last August I won New Haven right before the US Open and we went down to New York but we didn't have time to look for a gold tooth. But now it's time to pay up at the Australian Open. We went to a costume store and got him the gold tooth. He's supposed to put that on from the moment we walk into Melbourne Park to the moment I'm out of the tournament. I feel a little bad because he has enough trouble as it is meeting girls, but now it's really going to be tough.

After winning the semifinal yesterday I got a bunch of emails and apparently there are a lot of people reading my blog. I'm excited about that. It's great that I could keep the perfect blogging record alive. Two blogs for two titles following Ljubicic's win in Chennai last week. Everybody will be asking to do the next blog. (Editor's note: The next blog will be in the week after the Australian Open.) It's a good record to have and hopefully the luck will keep up for the next guy who does it. If I play whoever is blogging I may as well not show up.

A lot of my buddies have been staying up pretty late at home watching the scores on the computer. I apologize to them for that because that's the worst way to watch a match. I wish these matches were on TV back in the US. But I appreciate them staying up and all the congratulatory emails they have sent. After winning the final today I'm sure my inbox will be pretty full when I check it.

I am someone who doesn't get an international cell phone because it's a welcome relief sometimes to go on these trips when people can't really contact me. I'll call or email people when I get a chance, and I'm sure I'll be making some calls back home tonight and tomorrow. Winning a title is great but it's even better when you can share it with friends who are genuinely happy for you. I remember being able to share the title in New Haven last year with my family and friends meant a lot.

I will play my first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday. So I'll only have one day off but on the upside I'm just going to ride the wave of confidence. I was in a similar situation last year when I won the New Haven title before the US Open, and I went on to make the quarterfinals and lost to Andre in a fifth-set tie-break.

My body is in good shape. The courts and the balls will be the same as they were this week. I don't think my rhythm is going anywhere in the space of just one day and I like the way I am hitting the ball, so I couldn't ask for a better preparation for the Open.

Thanks for reading the blog this week.

James

 
Friday, January 13, 2006  

It's great to be through to the Sydney final, particularly after beating a solid Top 10 guy like Davydenko one week before a Grand Slam.

The day itself was frustrating and boring leading into the match because of a rain delay that ultimately forced my semifinal to be moved to Court 2. I haven't played on center court this week. The two times I played on center in my other two appearances in Sydney I lost first-round matches. So maybe I should ask the organizers to switch tomorrow's final to Court 2, where I have a 3-0 record.

I passed the time playing some cards with the Bryans. For the record, I dominated! It was a game called 'killer,' which I just learned. It's similar to a drinking game Bob had played in the past. Obviously there was no alcohol involved in this game on the day of a match! Other than that it was just hanging around, trying to figure out when to eat, when we were going to go on and what was going to happen with the schedule.

Before I went out to play the draw for the Australian Open was released. We're all extremely selfish so the first thing I did was look at who I played. I play Jose Acasuso, whom I beat a couple of years ago in Melbourne, so hopefully I can have the same result. He's a dangerous player with a huge serve - he beat Andy on clay at the French Open and he's had some success in Grand Slams.

Then as soon as I see who I play I look for Andy, for Robby and Taylor. It's interesting that they're all in the same section. Andy and Taylor could meet pretty early and then Robby could be next up if all goes according to plan. It's a tough situation for us when we're all on the same side, but hopefully that means that one of us will get through to the final and even hold up the trophy. And we're not in Roger's half - that's always a good thing.

Before I left for Australia I had a bunch of shoes sent to my house. Unfortunately they were the wrong size. But Nike's great at sending me what I need and they sent me a few that were my size and in Melbourne there will be a distribution where I'll get a whole lot more.

I don't use new shoes on Rebound Ace because the courts are sticky to begin with and you can roll your ankle when you try to stop. What happened to Nicolas Kiefer can happen to anybody. I wear them in at practice and try to scuff them up a bit. Now that these shoes have been lucky for me this week I'l definitely wear them in the final.

At the Aussie Open I'll probably start with a new pair - particularly if I get a day off - because if they also bring me luck I'll be able to wear them throughout the whole tournament.

James

 
Thursday, January 12, 2006  
 
I'm starting today's blog with something pretty dramatic that happened Tuesday involving my friend Bob, who is here with me this week along with another buddy Evan and my coach Brian.

Bob is a terrible, terrible swimmer, so he had no business being in the ocean at Bondi Beach to begin with. He noticed that there was a lifeguard on a jetski rescuing people all the time as people kept getting pulled out in the riptide.

Bob saw a woman who was struggling so much that she couldn't even get her arm up to signal the lifeguard. Bob went out to help her to get the attention of the lifeguard. When the lifeguard came over on the jetski she pushed off Bob, pushing him under the water. He sunk, then came back up and, as I said, he's a terrible, terrible swimmer. He couldn't get back to the shore.

As soon as they had taken her on the jetski Bob then had to put his hand up because he needed to be saved as well. So another guy on a longboard came over to save Bob. Apparently there was just a very small area of waves that he couldn't get over. It was only like 10 feet. So the guy swam Bob in those 10 feet and then just let him off and said 'You can make it from here.' He felt a little foolish, but the guy probably saved Bob's life.

Bob's not the type of guy who needs a new perspective on life but it always helps to have a life-saving experience to keep things in perspective.

On a happier note I had fun earlier in the week sitting down with Justin Gimelstob and the Bryan brothers as we reflected on some of our days in the juniors. I wasn't very good in the juniors. I was the guy they beat one and one then would go home and think that it was a good performance. I was happy just to get the free t-shirt.

I warmed up with Brian today - he beat Evan in their baseline game challenge yesterday so we decided Brian was the better of the two - which isn't saying a whole lot.

Before the Clement match we talked about the scouting report. I'd played Arnaud three times before. But generally when you're playing your best you want to impose your own game on someone else rather than worrying about your opponent's game.

Arnaud's a great guy to play as you prepare for a Grand Slam because he'll get a lot of balls back and you know you have to play well to beat him. You know he's going to make you work hard. It's perfect preparation.

After the match I went for a five minute run to cool down. You're body is heated up from playing two hours in this heat, so it's better to allow your muscles to cool down gradually rather than going straight into the air conditioning. I'll also do a little stretching and then get the trainer to stretch me, just to make sure I'm taking good care of my body. I like to get a massage when I can but often at a tournament like this there are a lot of guys vying for a position on the massage table, and there's only one massage therapist.

Before the match I had a chicken sandwich and just hung out watching Paradorn and Ivo because that was the match I was following. I figured we'd see some tie-breaks and I was preparing to play as soon as that second tie-break was over. Now I'm in the semis and it's a great opportunity to win a title because I'm only two wins away. That's always exciting for any player - unless you're Andre or Roger who have won so many tournaments.

Wish me luck.

James

 
Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
 
I went on site pretty early in the morning, getting there at about 9.30 to prepare for my match. I had a hit at 10 with Dmitry Tursunov. It was so hot though that we only hit for about 20 minutes. I was eating something at about 11.30 when the ATP Tour Manager came up to me and told me that Carlos had pulled out. I think it's the first time that's ever happened to me, to go through on a walkover. I've had a few retirements but never a walkover.

At the time I found out, I was just sitting with Justin Gimelstob. Straight away he offered to hit with me in the afternoon, so I was lucky that he was right there. So I got my second practice of the day in with him, hitting for about an hour which was enough to get a set in.

It was lucky not to play a match today as it was pretty rough weather out there. It wouldn't have been fun to play at any point today. It was sweltering early on before the storm came, and then once it had passed it got really windy so it was a good day to get a walkover!

I still spent most of the afternoon over at the courts and in the players' lounge. I met with Australian singer Alex Lloyd and had a quick chat with him and took some photos. Otherwise I was just sitting around watching the tennis, hanging around on the couches with my buddies, listening to my music. I got back to the hotel around five o'clock and left my buddy Evan and my coach Brian at the site. They are still out there playing baseline games, getting their work out. Bryan will probably stay over there until the order of play comes out for tomorrow.

I'm probably gonna play some poker before we go out to dinner. I don't have enough time to play any tournament online, though. It's been a pretty good week so far on the poker front. I won a tournament on Saturday, winning about $5,000. You need about four hours to play a tournament though.

Tonight, we'll probably just go out for dinner. We usually just walk along the harbor here and pick out one of the restaurants. I haven't really been noticed too much out on the street here, definitely not as much as back home. Maybe it's because I cut off all my hair. People come up to me a lot though on-site when I'm on my way to practice or after my matches.

I've had a couple of emails about my blog this week, quite a few from my friends back home and also some from Evan's mom, who've been following it this week.

James

 
Tuesday, January 10, 2006  

It was starting to get late when I got back to the hotel after the first-round win against Sanguinetti so the celebration was pretty reserved. I just ordered some room service and caught up on some emails. This morning I got up at 9.15 am and practiced with Ferrero for an hour from 11 am. I got a massage and actually fell asleep on the table.

Two minutes before walking out for practice my coach told me I was hitting with Ferrero instead of Taylor Dent, which was fine with me. I guess Ferrero saw that Taylor had canceled after losing his match the day before. Switching from indoors at the Hopman Cup to outdoors in Sydney can be tough, but hopefully Taylor will use the extra practice time he'll now get in Melbourne to have a great Australian Open.

Ferrero and I warmed up for a long time and then played a set. For me the most important thing is to play as much as I can outdoors, in the heat and on Rebound Ace before the Australian Open. For practice, I'm not as picky with stringing as a lot of the guys. There are some players who get a ton of racquets restrung before every practice. Today I pretty much used the same racquet as I used in last night's match against Sanguinetti. As long as they're pretty tight I'm happy. But of course I'll get fresh strings for a match.

I also did an autograph session with some kids. It's always entertaining to listen to some of the different questions that kids have. It makes you feel good that you can make somebody's day just by signing a piece of paper for them. I won't be able to do that forever. I'm sure people won't remember me once I've been off the tour for a year or two. We are public figures and it's our responsibility to make kids realize there are good role models out there. That's something I take very seriously and I try to make a difference while I still can.

My buddies are playing golf today and once they get back I'm sure we'll get some dinner together. It's a little annoying that I can't be out there golfing with them but I'll get them back in December when they're up in Connecticut and I'm playing golf in Tampa. I'm sure that will annoy them more! We've spoken about going over to Bondi Beach for dinner but we'll see if that's too much of an effort. I do get lazy when I'm on the road so we may just walk around the hotel and get something close by.

James


Monday, January 9, 2006  

I woke up around 9.30 am and the first thing I did was switch on the TV to watch the NFL playoff game between the Steelers and Bengals. Any time there is football on the TV here I have to watch it because it makes me feel like I'm back at home. I got some breakfast at half time. It was way too early for me to watch the Giants, of whom I'm a big fan, and given that they got beaten so badly that was a good thing. I would have had to get up about 4. 30am for that one. I love my Giants, but I love winning tennis matches more.

Being scheduled to play (Davide Sanguinetti) not before 6 pm is a tricky time to play. It makes for a somewhat lazy and wasted day in the lead-up. You don't want to go shopping or do the tourist thing in the heat or do anything at all strenuous. So I just sat around my room watching TV. Luckily my buddies are here so I hung out with Evan, who was playing poker on my computer and winning some money. I always enjoy watching him do that.

I had lunch at the hotel around 1 pm or 1. 30 pm and then rode out to the site with my coach Brian Barker, who also is one of my best friends, one of his best friends from growing up and Evan. We were cracking up the whole way. The two buddies who are here this week, who don't normally travel with us, are two of the biggest jokesters in the world. This time we were talking about relationships with the women we know and who some of the good ones are, some of the 'keepers,' and who are some others that may be a little more difficult to live with.

I got to the site around 3 pm and at 3.30 pm I practiced for around half an hour with Andreas Seppi. That was nice of him given that I was playing one of his countrymen.

I had half a sandwich and a banana about an hour before I was scheduled to play. Eating for a 6 pm match is tricky because you can't have a full dinner. And if you just had lunch you'd be out of fuel by the time you hit the second set. I took a little bread out with me on the court. That's something that is easy to diget.

Before matches I will listen to my iPod. For the past six months the routine has been to listen to some calming music before I go on the court. I used to listen to rap or hard rock to fire me up, but I'm pretty good these days about firing myself up.

First-round matches can be a little trickier than other matches because you're not sure how well you're playing on the courts or if the wind or sun will be different. I hadn't practiced on court 2. Just little things you want to be familiar with. And I'd never won a first-round match here before so there was a little pressure on me to get through to the second round. I hadn't seen Davide play since Paris last year so I had no idea how his off season had been. He hasn't seen me play. So it's a little trickier. That's maybe why I got broken in the first game. But fortunately I came away with a win.

There's a different feel to being back on tour again. I feel when I get on the road my life slows down a little because there is less to worry about. When you're on tour you have to be singularly focussed on preparing to win tennins matches. When you're at home you're making sure your girlfriend is happy, that you've answered all your emails, that all the bills are paid - all the little things that go with normal life.

Now, we live in a dream world. We don't have a normal life out here. I just worry about tennis and go home to the hotel. My room is clean, everything is in order.

James

 
Sunday, January 8, 2006  

Greetings from Sydney, Australia. After an early loss in Adelaide I've been here since Friday to prepare for the Sydney International. I've been to Sydney twice before and it's a very beautiful city with the water, the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. I like it here so much that I've brought a couple of good buddies with me from Connecticut. I'm sure they're happy to have swapped a Connecticut winter for an Australian summer.

The player hotel at Darling Harbor is in a great location and there is a casino on the corner. That could be dangerous for me because I'm addicted to poker.

It's tough being away from the US when the football playoffs are underway. I try to follow the games online at ESPN.com and my team, the New York Giants, are playing Sunday. The Giants play Carolina at 1 pm US time, which is 5 am over here. You've got to be pretty commited to get up and follow the scores at that time of the morning. I may not make it for kickoff but I may get up around 7am or so to follow some of the second half. I do play a first round match Monday against Davide Sanguinneti on Court 2, not before 5 pm.

I remember two years ago being in Australia when the Giants had their huge collapse against the 49ers. They had a huge lead when I went out to practice and after practice Mardy Fish told me they had lost. I didn't believe him for a couple of hours. I hope history doesn't repeat itself.

A game I really would have loved to have seen was the Rose Bowl between USC and Texas. It's fun to see the good players like Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young before they embark on their NFL careers. Will they be the next Peyton Manning or the next Akili Smith? USC had won so many in a row it was good to see Texas win. I haven't spoken to Andy since the game - he may have been in the stands for all I know - but I'm sure he was going crazy.

James

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