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Blake And Barker Have Parted, Is It Too Late?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's James Blake Coach Change In ShanghaiJames Blake, USA
(Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

American James Blake had a brief glimpse at winning again when he took out Croatia's Ivo Karlovic 3-6, 7-64, 6-3 on Monday in the first round of the Shanghai ATP Masters, but the victory was short lived.

On Wednesday Spaniard Rafael Nadal defeated Blake in three sets 6-2, 6-74, 6-4. And the hits just keep on coming... perhaps not for good though. Blake is now working with former pro and longtime friend American Kelly Jones. Shockers!

After 17 years on the job, American Brian Barker can now contemplate doing something different with his days, as he is no longer coaching Blake. Nevertheless, Blake states that they continue to have a strong relationship and that this parting is on good terms.

"It's not like we're ending our relationship, we're still good friends, which will never change. Right now we both feel like I need to hear some things from a different voice. Kelly's been close to both of us for a long time, and he's a perfect fit for now. If things go well with him, every one's happy. Brian wants nothing but the best for me. If they don't, then I go back to Brian and we know there's a reason I'm back. It was just time to take a little break and see how it goes with someone else.''

Of the change Barker stated, "I told him that the most important thing in his tennis career is to have a clear head and peace of mind for the rest of your life that you did everything you possibly could to get better, maximize your potential and not leave anything on the table. He eventually agreed that was a good idea."

Barker anticipates that Blake will "... hear the same things in a different way. Sometimes when you're not playing your best, the thinking is that you stir the pot. You put your hat on backwards. There are no guarantees, but you need to look at every option."

After mounting more loss in Cincinnati in August, Blake also stated that he and Barker again discussed the possibilities of a change. "We were going through the same things over and over, and I was looking for answers that probably weren't there. It may not have had anything to do with the coaching. Going into the Open, we had both had come to the understanding that we were going to stop, but we didn't want to change anything during or before the Open, being so important. The comfort level between us is very good and will always be very good."

In response to a cry from various persons that he should get rid of Barker, Blake stated, "If they're talking about you that much, you must have earned that pressure that you've gotten. We never let it affect us. I didn't keep him just to spite people. I'm going to do what's best for me. Now I've hit a point where I need to try something a little different. Kelly's a great coach and people he worked with clearly improved when they worked with him.''

Well, we'll see how it goes, I truly hope that this is a change for the better.

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Posted by Shelia
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USA TODAY: With Coaches, Blake, Roddick Take Different Paths To Success

Thursday, March 12, 2009

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 12: James Blake fields questions from the media at a press conference during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden March 12, 2009 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

By Douglas Robson, Special for USA TODAY

Since turning pro within a year of each other nearly a decade ago, Andy Roddick and James Blake have become friends and travel partners, shared Davis Cup duties and carried American hopes on their backs.

But the best male players of the current generation have taken a radically different approach when it comes to the voice in their ears.

Since joining the circuit in 2000, the cannon-serving, forthright Roddick has engaged no less than seven coaches on a part- or full-time basis. Blake, who spent two years at Harvard before jumping to the pros in 1999, has had one.

"I've always said about tennis, it's a very individual sport," 13th-ranked Blake said in a conference call last month. "What works for one will never work for another."

Roddick and Blake will be vying for the BNP Paribas Open title at Indian Wells, Calif., during the next 10 days

"I don't think it was a conscious decision or anything I set out at 18 years old" to have so many different voices over the course of the career, Roddick says. "I don't think it's something that you can generalize."

Roddick began his 2009 campaign with new coach Larry Stefanki, a former pro and veteran coach who has worked with a number of top players. Stefanki replaced Jimmy Connors, who Roddick parted ways with last spring.

Blake is in Indian Wells with Brian Barker, the only coach he has had since age 11.

Blake is much more the exception than the rule. Most players switch coaches throughout their playing days as priorities change and relationships become stale. Compensation, travel and logistics also play a role.

Finding the right mix can be tricky, as Roger Federer learned last week. The Swiss No. 2 could not come to terms with former pro and ESPN commentator Darren Cahill after inviting him for a trial run to his second home in Dubai last week. Cahill, with two young children, didn't want to travel as much as Federer required.

Both Americans say there are pros and cons to their different approaches.

"For me, I would not be nearly as successful with someone that didn't know me as a person, and know my strengths and weaknesses on the court," says Blake, who at 29 has finished in the top 10 two of the last three years.

Roddick joked that mimicking Blake would "require me finding a coach that could put up with me for nine years."

Blake praised Barker for knowing the nuances of his game and for being as much friend as mentor, as when he supported Blake through his comeback in 2004 following a broken neck, the death of his father and a vision-blurring disease.

"I credit him with making me the best player I can possibly be, and absolutely maximizing my potential," says Blake, adding that "we are going to be friends for life, that's not even a question."

"One of the things that makes our bond strong is that there have been so many ups and downs," Barker says.

Former No. 1 Roddick, 26, likes to pick the brain of some of game's best minds, and it has often paid quick dividends.

He rode his early association with Brad Gilbert in 2003 by storming through the summer hardcourt swing and winning the U.S. Open. He has also started strong with Stefanki, reaching the Australian Open semifinals and winning last month's indoor tournament at Memphis.

"There's been a couple of times in my career where it's really jump-started my playing just by having a fresh voice," Roddick says.

The downside is the getting-to-know-you process, along with periods of transition.

"Obviously, continuity is a good thing, and there have certainly been times where I've been without someone or in transition and you're just kind of trying to make due," Roddick said.

With 37 titles and a Davis Cup championship between them, the two Americans must be doing something right, even if they have chosen opposing coaching paths.

"If he had the same coach the whole time he wouldn't be as good as he is, said Blake of Roddick. "If I had changed coaches, the way he has, I wouldn't be as good."

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Posted by Shelia
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