PostHeaderIcon Courier-Sampras-Blake: Burning Questions, Poignant Answers at the Champions Shootout

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Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and James Blake
(Sampras and Blake pics courtesy of David Sweet Photography)

At an event like the Champions Shootout in Sacramento, the most important aspect of the night isn’t always what it seems. Though we saw great tennis from Pete Sampras, James Blake, Jim Courier, and John McEnroe, it’s not necessarily the result of the tennis that matters.

(Results: James Blake beat John McEnroe 6-3 for his second PowerShares win in as many days.)

For most of the fans who braved the blustery winds and rain to see them, it’s the enduring interest in these iconic players, old and new, and what they have to say about today’s crop of icons-in-the-making.

Johnny Mac wasn’t in the most talkative of moods after the VIP hit with local players, so I focused my attentions on the other three guys. I had a few burning questions for each that I managed to get answered. I hope you enjoy their responses.

Jim Courier (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

Jim Courier

What is your take away from this latest Davis Cup experience in San Diego?

My take away is that I should’ve been a little bit more firm with Sam earlier in the week to really get him to play full throttle tennis. I made a mistake there in not really getting on him to play the way that he plays best.

Sam is not a great defensive player. And if I would have been as forceful as I was with him prior to the (Andy) Murray match, I think we would have been in much better shape. And we would have found ourselves in a fifth match.

But I love working with these guys. I make lots of mistakes. And that’s how I learn. Hopefully we’ll get more chances to help these guys win this thing. It’s been a great time for me. I really do enjoy those weeks even though they’re very stressful. I really do like them.

What you can’t control are injuries, and weather, and different things like that. But we do a pretty good job as a team I think, overall, of controlling most what we can control. But I can do a better job of getting out in front that going forward and I certainly won’t be shy about doing that.

So you don’t view that experience as a setback?

It’s a learning curve, you know. Athletes have to look forward. So you have to learn from what’s behind you, but you can’t dwell on it. You need to move forward.  So that’s what I’ll do from my perspective, and I’m hoping that’s what Sam’s doing too.

Magnus Norman has never been put into the “super coach” category, but what he did with Stan (Wawrinka) over the time they’ve worked together…

…and (Robin) Soderling. He’s two for two.

Yes. Do you think he’s been given short shrift by the tennis commentating community?

Not inside the belt. Inside the game he has immense respect as both a player and a coach. He’s a guy who was cut down in his prime by a hip injury, and he has done a terrific low-key job of getting the best out of his players so far. And he’ll continue to get opportunities to work with great players because of that.

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Pete Sampras (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

Pete Sampras

Did you feel for Stan (Wawrinka) when he was struggling against Rafa to close out his win at the Australian Open?

I’ve been in that situation. With Rafa, you felt at some point he was gonna retire. It gets awkward, and the whole stadium carries that awkward feeling. I think Stan was a little anxious, and Rafa started playing better. The crowd got behind Rafa a little bit…

He managed to do it in the end. But Rafa was obviously in pain. Stan played well though. Up until that point he was outplaying him. Up a set and a break in control of the match.

What do you think would have happened if Rafa had taken that fourth set and the match went to a fifth?

<laughs> I don’t know…

Have you ever joked with Roger (Federer) about when he’s going to hang it up? Is that something you could even joke about with him?

NO! <laughing>

We had one conversation at Indian Wells, a few years back. We were talking about how much longer he might play and I said, “Aw you gotta a couple, 2  more years.” And he says, “I don’t know. I think Mirka wants me out there six more years.”

You know, Roger deserves the right to do whatever he wants. He could play another two days or six more years. But I tell ya, if he doesn’t feel like he’s as competitive…

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James Blake (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

James Blake

You still have rankings points in the ATP system. If someone were to offer you a wildcard to play doubles at a US tournament, would you consider it? Is there any temptation?

None. I think it would be fun, but I just don’t think I’m physically prepared for it. I physically prepared for all my matches, and always did everything I could. At this stage (in my life) I’m not prepared. I’m prepared to come out and play with these guys one set at a time. But if I go out there competing with the big boys I’d be hurting in a whole different way.

(Stay tuned for my feature post on James and his post-tour life.)

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