Facing Roger Federer or better still beating him is among the primary goals for several tennis players. And James Blake was fortunate enough to fulfill both of those goals during the span of his career.
The American faced Roger Federer 11 times in the early 2000s, and emerged victorious on one occasion. But that one win was supremely important, as it came in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In a recent podcast with David Law and Catherine Whitaker (The Tennis Podcast), James Blake spoke about his experience of beating Roger Federer, as well as how the Swiss made him look completely clueless at other times.
Win over Roger Federer was the biggest moment in my career: James Blake
Going into the 2008 Olympics, Roger Federer was the dominant player on the tour and the World No. 1. All he lacked at that point was an Olympics medal and the French Open title.
In the run-up to the Olympics, Federer had won at Halle and finished runner-up at Hamburg, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The Swiss, together with Rafael Nadal, were the favorites to bag the gold medal in Beijing.
But Federer's hopes were dashed much before he could face off against his nemesis.
Roger Federer overcame the likes of Dmitry Tursunov and Tomas Berdych in the early rounds with relative ease, and was widely expected to get the better of James Blake as well. After all, the American had fallen short in all of their previous eight meetings on tour.
However, on that particular day the tables turned and Roger Federer succumbed to a straight sets defeat (6-4, 7-6). This was the biggest win of Blake’s career, and he said as much during the podcast.
“The win over Fed obviously for me was my biggest moment in my career individually because he’s still in my opinion the greatest of all time. That may change based on all the results coming up but he was the person I could not beat,” Blake said.
Blake admitted he was lucky that Roger Federer wasn't at his free-flowing best in the contest, but added that that didn't take anything away from his satisfaction at winning.
“He had beat me at that point 8 or 9 times and I just played an unbelievable match for me," Blake said. "I’m sure he wasn’t at his best. When he was at his best he kind of toyed with me (laughs). It was a pretty incredible experience for me.”
James Blake lost out on a potential silver medal in rather controversial circumstances against Fernando Gonzalez in the semifinals. But the tournament as a whole was one of the best performances of his life, with the highlight being the win over Roger Federer.
Blake believes it was the pride of representing his nation that made it all possible.
“Well, you know I’d like to say it was an overwhelming feeling and support of USA," he said. "It was just really a good day for me. I tended to play a little bit more focused when I had the ‘USA’ on my chest. I really think I put it together that day and played some of my best tennis against Federer.”
Roger Federer ended up winning the gold medal in the doubles event that year, but a medal in the singles event eluded him until 2012 - when he won silver.
Even now, despite nearing the age of 40, Roger Federer has targeted a medal at Tokyo 2021. The Swiss has a lot of respect and pride towards playing in the Olympics, and James Blake highlighted this very aspect when he retrospectively evaluated his achievement.
“It was more special to me because it was a moment where you know Roger’s had every accomplishment possible in his career with the exception of a gold medal in singles. I know it was a time when he really wanted to win it as well," Blake said.
"You can see it from the fact that he still won doubles there. He was intent on winning. That makes me feel even more special that it wasn’t a 1st round of a 250 where he may not have the same motivation. To do it in the Olympics is even more special because you know it’s an event Federer gets excited for and you know it’s an event he wants to win,” the American added.
James Blake’s achievement didn’t go unnoticed, as many of his countrymen felicitated him for it. Amongst them was the gold-winning USA men’s basketball team featuring the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony.
Considered to be absolutely giants of the sport, they took note of their Blake's win over Roger Federer and sent a congratulatory message.
“Right after the Dream Team called me and said ‘congratulations’ because Deron Williams' mom was sitting there and watching and so she told all the NBA guys. I got back to my room and there were signs saying congratulations and it just felt different," Blake said.Published 07 Aug 2020, 16:18 IST