FLUSHING MEADOWS – James Blake knows the time was coming and now, he is hearing it.
He’s become the old man of the tournament at the tender age of 32.
And those young ones are letting him hear about, every single time he plays.
“I have been that way for a while,” Blake said after he sent Lucas Lacko packing in four sets, 7-5 6-2 3-6 6-3 for his first Grand Slam win of the year. “The thing is I knew I was going to get them, because when I was a kid starting out around here I dished them out. So I knew they would come back to haunt me.
“I remember I used to make fun of Todd Martin. Todd Martin was one of my key guys I would get. I made fun of him for taking so long to warm up, for his gray hair, for all that kind of stuff, for just in general being old.
“He said, Just wait, just wait. You will be, too. Now I’m getting it from everyone. I deserve it, because if I dish it out, I’ve got to be able to take it. I’m getting the old jokes, the grandpa jokes, and I’m okay with that.”
Even with his advanced ago, grandpa…err.. Blake, may have a chance of advancing pretty far this Open. His knee is healed and he says he is the healthiest he has been this decade.
“My knee was giving me problems for a while and I didn’t bring it up a lot,” he said. “I didn’t want to talk about it because it was something that would nag at me. Then it would go, I could be okay for half a match, and then it starts getting worse. Then I know the next day is going to be terrible.
“It just eventually got to a point where I couldn’t even make it through a match and it got worse and worse. Eventually the only option was surgery. It was a while, but I kind of battled with that and it feels good.”
And now he is ready for the 2012 Open. Blake is still obviously a long shot. He is a long way from being No. 4 in the world. But this is the tournament that pumps him up. Being from Yonkers, Blake considers this his hometown tournament and tries to play his best tennis at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “You know, every time I come back here it’s still sort of the goosebumps walking out on Louis Armstrong or Arthur Ashe. I’m excited, and I get a lot of ticket requests. I get to see my fans and friends having a good time. That definitely keeps my spirits up, keeps my head up throughout the whole match.
“You know, I can’t believe that it’s been I think 12 years I have been playing here just about every year. You know, it still doesn’t feel normal. It’s still an incredible feeling to be here and to be doing what I dreamed of as a kid.”
He has a new sponsor in Travis Matthew and a new outlook on life with a young daughter. He looks thinker and ready, something the Slovak Lacko found out today.
But still, it’s a long shot and for Blake to make any kind of noise, he needs to take it the proverbial one match at a time.
“Well, you know, for me, I think I need to get there,” he said. “I need to worry about one match at a time. I can’t worry about quarters or semis or finals right now.
“I’m still kind of scratching to get through these matches and get my confidence back and feel like I’m ready to compete. I don’t think that will change if I’m playing someone that’s 1, 2, or 3 in the world.
“I have been fortunate enough. I am an elder statesman. I have been around and have won a lot of matches. I have beaten guys 1 in the world, I’ve beaten guys that are top 3, top 4, top 5 plenty of times. There is no reason for me to go out there and play one of those guys and be scared.
“I think it will take an unbelievable effort. I will have to play my best tennis.”
Maybe he will endure a few more grandpa jokes over the next few weeks.