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Interview with Andrew Friedman, Co-Author of "Breaking Back"
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    Interview with Andrew Friedman, Co-Author of "Breaking Back"

    [tptwrap][/tptwrap]Interview with Andrew Friedman
    Known throughout the publishing industry for more than a decade as a food writer with the ability to capture the distinct personalities and voices of disparate chefs in cookbooks and related projects, Andrew Friedman has devoted the past two years to expanding beyond the land of measuring cups and cooking times: He collaborated on White House Chef (Wiley, 2007), a memoir with recipes, with former White House toque Walter Scheib, and co-edited, with Kimberly Witherspoon, Don't Try This at Home (Bloomsbury USA, 2005), an anthology of kitchen disaster stories from some of the world's greatest chefs. He is also extremely proud to have collaborated on Breaking Back, a personal memoir with the worldís ninth-highest ranked tennis player, James Blake, published by Harper Collins in July 2007. The book recounts Blake's return from severe emotional and physical challenges in 2004 to the top of the tennis world in 2006.

    Weíd like to thank Andrew for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions about the book.

    TAT: How did you get involved in the project in the first place?

    AF: Itís a very long story, actually. The short version is that Lisa Queen, the literary agent who sells books for IMG (Jamesí sports agency) recommended me for the project. The longer story is that about five years ago I switched agents for the express purpose of getting involved in a tennis projectóI had done mostly food books up until that time, so it was something of a tough sell. My new agent (and now good friend) David Black put the word out to some sports people that he had a new client interested in anything tennis related. Shortly before James decided to work on a book, I finished collaborating on a memoir by the former chef of the White House that Lisa also represented Ė she really liked my work on that book, and remembered me as the tennis lover David told her about years earlier. So, when Jamesí project came across her desk, she put me in the running for the job. Happily, it worked out.

    TAT: I'm curious to know Mr. Friedman's feelings about the tennis tour, assuming he's now spent some time around various players, events, etc. There is rumored to be one situation (Feinstein) where the author reportedly vowed he would never cover tennis again.

    AF: First off, things would have to be pretty awful for me to never cover tennis again. Iím a tennis junkie, and junkies make bad decisions when it comes to their vicesÖ. But seriously, my feeling about the Tour is that Iím more intrigued than I was before I worked with James. Iím sure I was spoiled by working with him and his team Ė they are professional, polite, and smart. And Iíd be lying if I said that I didnít see things on the edges of my work that gave me a little pause about wanting to delve deeper into this world. (Translation: not sure everybodyís as nice as Team Blake.) But this question reminds me of something somebody told me about the film business when I was an intern for a studio while in college. I had dreamed of being in the film biz since I was a kid and I asked an executive who kind of took me under his wing if the reputation the film business had as being populated by insane egomaniacs was accurate. "Sure it is," he said, "but there are people like that in any industry Ė you just donít read about them in the New York Times Magazine." Point being Ė there are good and bad people in tennis as there are everywhere else. My goal, as it has been in each of my three careers (somewhere in there I misspent five years in marketing), is to try to stay near the good and minimize my involvement with the bad.

    TAT: How is writing with a Harvard-educated person different than writing with other celebrities?

    AF: Let me come at this sideways: For the purposes of Breaking Back, what distinguished James from many of the people (mostly star chefs) Iíve worked with is that he READS. I donít mean that he can read; I mean that he DOES read. James reads a lot of books. Heís been reading a lot his whole life Ė itís something we actually talk about in the book. I think we both wanted this to be a "real book," not just a bunch of anecdotes and feel-good clichťs strung together with pat, sports-bio language. The goal was to write a nuanced book with a compelling structure that anybody, whether or not they were tennis fans, could read. Iím not sure that would have been the starting point with somebody who didnít read as much as he does.

    TAT: What impressed you most about James Blake?

    AF:You mean besides the fact that he became the number 4 player in the world after what he went through in 2004? I was pretty impressed by his relationships Ė I interviewed people from throughout Jamesí life, from his high school tennis coach to his juniors doubles partner to current and former housemates and of course his mom, brother, coach, and agent. The fondness with which all of these people talk about him is pretty stunning, as is the fact that heís been able to maintain these relationships despite the demands of his life as a pro tennis player. I guess the other thing that impressed me was Jamesí modesty. Heís pretty matter of fact about everything heís been through, even the fact that he had scoliosis as a kid.

    TAT: Did you get to follow James around on the tour at all, or were all interviews scheduled for in between tournaments?

    AF: I blew this one. From the first meeting we had, Jamesí agent, IMGís Carlos Fleming, thought it would be a good idea for me to shadow James for a tournament. So, we began working in August, and I thought, Iím not going to DC or Canada, Iím going to trail him at the US Open. So as the Open draws near, I say to James, "Hey, Carlos thought I should trail you at a tournament," and he said "thatíd be great Ė just not New Haven or the US Open because I try to spend a lot of time with my friends when Iím home those weeks." (James owns a house in his hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.) I couldíve gone overseas to Stockholm or Bangkok, I guess, but Iím not big on international travel right now, so I passed. I did, however, spend a lot of time with James right after his quarterfinal match at the Open Ė I actually spent the afternoon with him in Fairfield the day of the US Open final, and then met him a few days later in New York City right before he and the Davis Cup team headed to Moscow. I also spent some time with him at benefit events in December, which turned out to be a lot of fun and was probably a more relaxed way to hang with him than during a tournamentóI also got to see him play Agassi one more time, after Andreís retirementóthere wasnít a title on the line, or even points, but it was a great memory.

    TAT: How did you meet James and have you all stayed in touch since the book?

    We met via his book agent. We stay in touch, but not all that muchóhis schedule is insane (I mean, really, I had no idea what it was like for these guys until I got to see it up close). And Iím pretty busy myself. Weíll trade emails on big book days, like the day it was officially published or if he has a good booksigning. And I hope to see him in New Haven and New York and say hi early in those tournaments.

    TAT: Having now written about both top chefs and a top tennis professional, would you say there's similarities between the two when you look at what it takes for both to attain the best results possible?

    Yes and no. The importance of natural talent and the commitment to discipline and technique are quite similar. But tennis is an individual sport and cooking is, if you will, a team sport. So thatís one big differenceóchefs rely on a big team. Another big difference is that there are only so many big tennis events in a given yearófour Slams, nine Masters tournaments, etc. But if youíre a good chef, you can find investors and create your own restaurant. One personís success doesnít take success away from somebody else. Thereís no equivalent to a Federer Era in cooking where you have a bunch of disgruntled chefs who couldnít get four stars because another chef kept hoarding all the stars. Iíve never heard of a chef having to retire because of a recurring injury. Iím sure itís happened, but itís rare, so thatís something they donít have hanging over their head. Thereís also the not-so-small matter of constant travel that tennis players have to contend with, which is a major quality of life issue. I guess what Iím trying to say is that the life of a professional tennis player, in my opinion, is much more physically and psychologically demanding than that of a chef. Of course, on the flip side, no tennis player ever had his career decimated by a bad review. So thatís one area where chefs have it tougher than players; barring injuries and bad lines calls, tennis players lead a very fair existence; chefs are often at the mercy of something very subjective: the taste of others.

    TAT: How different is James' personality off-court versus on-court, if at all?

    AF: Well, if youíve seen Jamesí play and seen him interviewed, then you already know that heís a pretty soft-spoken guy off the court. On the court, especially when he has friends in the stands, he can be very fiery and intense. He pretty much lives up to this description in person, at least from my experience.

    TAT: This might be a testy question... James hasn't been having as great a year on tour this year as he did last year. Having spent time with him, what do you think he needs to do to bring back the fire he showed in 2006?

    If I had any real insight into thisÖ.I sure wouldnít share it with anybody else. Thereís something of an unspoken pact between collaborators and this falls well within it. But I will say this: remember that last year, James did not do well in DC, Canada, or New Haven, then he made it to the quarters of the US Open, won Stockholm and Thailand, and made it to the finals of the Masters Cup. So, donít write off his year just yet.

    TAT: Are there any stories that didn't make it into the book that you wished did (that you are also allowed to tell us)?

    Iím a big believer that in order to tell somebodyís story, you need to get the WHOLE story, then whittle it down into a tightly focused narrative. So the first thing we did was to go through Jamesí entire life, from earliest childhood through high school, college, first years on the tour, etc. There are snippets of all those parts of his life in the book, but tons of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. I guess for me the most interesting stuff that had to be sacrificed in the name of focus was about his first year or two on the tour and what that was like, especially stories about being a practice partner for the US Davis Cup team about a month or two after he decided to leave Harvard to go pro. Not specific stories, really, just the surreal feeling of being back in Boston, where heíd been a student just weeks earlier, and hanging out with Sampras and Courier, practicing with them by day, then playing poker with them and going to baseball games at night, that magical time when he was entering the world of a professional athlete.

    Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life by James Blake (with Andrew Friedman) is available at and at bookstores nationally.

  2. #2
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    Re: Interview with Andrew Friedman, Co-Author of "Breaking B

    Excellent interview!

    Thanks to GVGirl for putting it together and to Mr. Friedman for taking the time.
    Oh Grigor. You silly man.

  3. #3
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    Re: Interview with Andrew Friedman, Co-Author of "Breaking B

    Cool stuff, GVGirl! I couldn't think of any questions to ask except for the ones already posted. Great job!

    Winston, a.k.a. Alvena Rae Risley Hiatt (1944-2019), RIP

  4. #4

    Re: Interview with Andrew Friedman, Co-Author of "Breaking B

    Mr. Friedman and GVG.... That was nice, very nice indeed. And I was pleasantly surprised by his answers to certain questions. If anything, I'd have thought a top chef, regardless of his team, was under a huge amount of psychological stress to keep creating, keep inventing and keep at the top of his game. Anyways... Time to get my hands on this book of his...
    Coach Marion, at your service!


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