James Blake is enthusiastic about tennis. He is full of plans on how to move his ranking up from 115 so that he won't have to rely on tournament directors to give him a wild card into the main draw.
Blake, who once reached No. 4 in the world, needed that wild card to get into the Farmers Classic tournament that begins Monday at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
And if being enthusiastic about the game doesn't seem news bulletin material, it is a big change from when most tennis fans last noticed Blake.
He left Wimbledon as a cranky first-round loser to Robin Haase. He was bothered by right knee pain, and after the defeat Blake spoke in a monotone about possibly quitting. The words coming from Blake were not uplifting for anyone who has appreciated the gracious but ferocious tennis player.
"I've done a complete 180," Blake said last week. "Wimbledon was a pretty disappointing time. I wasn't able to train, but now I'm feeling great, the knee is feeling good."
Blake will play Argentine veteran Leonardo Mayer in the first round of the Farmers Classic at UCLA, in which fourth-ranked Andy Murray is seeded No. 1 and defending champion Sam Querrey is No. 2.
Twin brothers Mike and Bob Bryan of Camarillo will be aiming for their 62nd tournament win, which would break the Open Era record for men's doubles titles they share with Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge.
Blake has rediscovered optimism after losing, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, to Haase. He had been despondent on that day in June. The knee ached even after 10 weeks of rest.
"If it doesn't get better soon," Blake said then, "I'm not sure how much longer I want to play in pain."
The knee feels better, Blake said, partly because he decided to change a long-held belief that he didn't want to take anti-inflammatory medication.
"That was something since I was a kid," Blake said. "I've sort of been a bit of a health nut and thought they were something that can mess up your stomach in the long run."
Kelly Jones, Blake's coach and a former Pepperdine player, said that simple addition to Blake's regimen has made a difference since Wimbledon.
"It's helping his knee recover, and a big part of that at this stage is having the inflammation being tamed so James can go at 100%," Jones said. "He is feeling the best he's felt in almost a year."
Blake, 30, said he had fears at Wimbledon that his career might be ending. A year ago he was 21st in the world, and two years ago he was in the top 10. Then came those 10 weeks off this spring — and the knee still hurt.
"It wasn't a matter so much of pain I couldn't bear, but it was enough pain I couldn't play at a high level and it was on my mind that I wouldn't be able to compete at a top level again," Blake said.
"I was thinking [retirement] was a possibility. Now, it's not even a thought."
Blake is eager to play as many matches as he can leading to the U.S. Open, where he has had his biggest and most emotional moments, none more so than in the 2005 quarterfinals when he played a nearly retired Andre Agassi on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.
Blake won the first two sets in front of a crowd torn between its adoration of the then-35-year-old Agassi and Blake, who was born and raised near New York. But Agassi prevailed in five sets.
And it is the anticipation of having another Open moment like that, in front of a raucous nighttime crowd with adrenaline running as high in the fans as it does in the players, that has put Blake hard at work to reenergize his body and his psyche.
Also for the first time in his career, Blake is debuting his own brand of clothing for Fila. The line is called Thomas Reynolds, named after his late father, Thomas Reynolds Blake.
Blake finds it incredible that he has his own line. "I don't have the credentials for that," he said. " LeBron James I'm not."
But Blake thinks he has the credentials still to be something better than the 115th-ranked player in the world. "I'm not done yet," he said.