Basle, Switzerland - Personable James Blake just can't say enough nice things about Roger Federer, with the American first to insist that the Swiss has been getting a raw deal off court during a season where his elite level has dropped a fraction.
"Most guys would kill to have what is considered for Roger a poor season," said Blake, a career-best quarter-finalist at the Swiss Indoors.
"It's so unfair to say he's had a bad year. I'm happy that he won Olympic doubles gold and I certainly expected him to be back in New York," he added in reference to Federer's fifth consecutive US Open title earned last month over Andy Murray.
While Blake usually has a kind word for everyone, he's especially pleased to call Federer a friend. He can even forget about his failure to beat the former Number 1 over of a grim period five years and eight losses.
That barrier was finally breached in spectacular fashion in the Beijing Olympic quarter-finals two months ago.
But the 28-year-old Blake is wise enough not to be counting on a repeat of that result when he and the Swiss next play. And admiration can never extend into hero worship among strong-willed players who are battling for their livelihoods on the ATP.
Blake quickly dialled back his gusher of compliments to inject a note of reality: "I'm certainly not losing sleep over Roger Federer," he said of the player poised to pull level with the all-time best of 14 Grand Slam singles title held by Pete Sampras.
"We players all know he's still doing well, but he's had a tough time in the media. Guys are writing that he's finished just because he didn't win three Slams this season.
"I'm proud to have him on the Tour, it's great to have him on the world stage."
Blake hinted that mere mortals - ie, the rest of the ATP world outside of perhaps the Top 5 - have little conception of how tough it has been for Federer to achieve and keep his exalted status.
For the first time since 2004, the 27-year-old will lose the year- end top ranking to Rafael Nadal after holding the top position for a record 237 straight weeks from February 2, 2004 to August 17, 2008.
"All of us (players) know how tough it is to do what he's done. To do so well for so long and never really lose his temper.. that's exceptional.
"The players appreciate how gracious he is and what he's done for the sport."
But it's certainly not all about the other guy for Blake, who is thick in the chase for one of the three remaining spots at the year- end Masters Cup from November 8 in Shanghai.
The American is hoping to qualify along with Andy Roddick - also not quite over the line yet - and could dream of repeating his 2006 final. But the nightmare finish two years ago - a straight-sets hammering by Federer remains a nightmare.
Blake is not stressed. "We'll see what happens. If I get in great, if not, then there's a silver lining of one more week at home and a longer off-season." (dpa)