Sportsbeat – 9/3/12

No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s side, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he would be calling it a career at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.

Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt that he had the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now use the time to concentrate running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Texas where he now makes his home.

When asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he has never been fond of the fourth estate. More often than not, he has acted peevish when asked legitimate questions that he would have preferred not been raised.

I remember asking him after he won his first round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about taking part in American Express’s bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?”ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and my opinion hasn’t changed now.

It was hard not feel a bit sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who got bounced after losing his second round match despite being seeded fifth on the men’s side. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) and himself. “I would have to be say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then gave a variation on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he works on the court, “he never gets rewarded” at the Grand Slam tournaments.

I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at this year’s Open before being eliminated, if it was good for his sport that one per cent of the male tennis players win 99% of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is. When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense. “Novak, Roger, and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone,” he said.

Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.

Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally, wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead a short and hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an L.A.-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.

Roger Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seat belt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all,  suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)

Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by  the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.

I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.

The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of an extra-costing sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, they neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public, nor did they have a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.

The Golf Channel, which has obviously a similar niche appeal as the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth, Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why they should promote themselves where they can such as at American tennis’s marquee event.

The United States Tennis Association held a kick-off event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)

It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them. OK, call me Rip Van Winkle.

After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaning September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.

 

Blake Makes It To The Third Round

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Andy Roddick may be retiring, but James Blake is still going strong.

Actually, he’s better than strong, he looks downright deadly after today’s second round win over No. 24 seed Marcel Granollers, 6-1 6-4 6-2.

“Yeah, today’s match was one of the best matches I played in years I think,” Blake said.  “I served really well.  I took care of my serve.  I don’t think he had a breakpoint all match.  That doesn’t happen with me.  I’m not Andy Roddick.  I don’t go through matches like that that often, especially against a guy that’s 20‑something in the world that’s known to be a pretty darn good returner and very solid.

“I think that was a good testament to how well I was serving and how well I was taking care of my serve, which puts a lot of pressure on him, which is going to work out for me.  Any time I get to take chances to take rips on my returns, because I’m serving so well, I think it’s going to be a good matchup for me.”

Blake was able to take the match from the beginning with Granollers not able to handle the veteran’s serves. He looked strong and made very few mistakes.

He credits himself from being healthy and now playing his best tennis in years. In fact, if it wasn’t for this run, Blake may have had a presser today to announce his retirement.

“Everyone’s at different points,” he said.  “I’d say if this was going on three months ago, I might have had a different answer.  I might have been thinking a lot more seriously about it, too.

“It’s funny now, I feel like I’ve got sort of a youthful exuberance out there again.  My match tonight, I think a couple years ago, five years ago, six years ago, I would think this is a relatively routine win, get through it, get to the next round, thinking about that.

“I’m going to try to enjoy this.  I’m excited now.  It’s a lot of fun because I went through a pretty tough time.  With my knee injury and surgery, I really thought it might be time.  It might be time to call it a career.  Now that it’s not and I feel good again, it’s fun.

“It’s so much fun to keep getting better because for six months or so earlier this year, I didn’t feel like I was getting better.  I didn’t feel like I could improve or compete.”

Blake also credits fatherhood for giving him a new lease on life. With the birth of his new daughter, he now sees why life short and to enjoy everything every day.

“Fatherhood has been unbelievable,” he said.  “Now it’s tough to imagine it beforehand.  I didn’t expect it to be so great, so exciting so fast.  It was something where I think I was thinking about it, and I thought, I kind of want the kid to come out at two or three years old, walking and talking and stuff.  I didn’t realize the baby stage can be so much fun, when they fall asleep on your chest, when they’re cooing a little bit, thrashing around on their play mat.  Everything about it is so much fun.

“Now I can’t imagine life before Riley”

And we can’t imagine tennis without Blake. So hopefully he postpones his retirement for a number of years.

 

 

Tennis Reacts To Roddick’s Retirement

The news of Andy Roddick’s retirement sent some shockwaves through the tennis world and many of his contemporaries gave their thoughts on what the 2003 US Open Champion meant to them.

James Blake was getting ready to play when the press conference happened. He wasn’t told by Roddick but did see the presser before his second round win.

“I had an inclination from the beginning of the year,” he said. “But I really thought his success at Eastbourne, success at Atlanta, the fact he was playing well again could have possibly changed that.

“To be honest, I thought it would have changed his mind when he beat Federer in Miami. To me that showed he could still beat the top guys.”

Serena Williams, said she knew about the announcement, so it didn’t come as a surprise.

“He told me a while ago, last year, this would be it,” Williams said. “I was at his house at Austin and we were talking about it.

“He’s been great for American men’s tennis, great for the US Open, doing so much and playing so well, just being a great player. A great attitude, incredibly fun to watch. You know, I know a lot of people look up to Andy Roddick. That’s who I want to be like.”

Sam Querrey also described him as his idol and a great help.

“He’s been my biggest role model the last 10 years playing tennis,” Querrey said. “He’s been a great guy, great leader to us all. Nice and kind. Real generous to the up-and-comers.

“For me, for [Ryan] Harrison, for the 18 year-olds now, he’s just been an unbelievable champion, a Hall of Famer, just a great guy, great person for the sport of tennis.”

Then there is Roger Federer, the man he just never could beat.

“Look you are always going to have someone around,” he said. “I had many guys who denied me many things. That was the last thing that came to my mind when he told me he was going to retire.

“He was happy to go into retirement. He had an amazing career. Some expected better; some expected worse. But I am sure he is happy with what he achieved because he achieved everything he wanted.

“Maybe to lose that Wimbledon title potentially, but let’s forget about that. He was in those Wimbledon titles. He could have gotten that title. That’s what I said when I beat him in ’09. He deserves this title as well. In my mind, he is a Wimbledon Champion as well, a wonderful ambassador for the game.

“I’m thankful for everything he’s done for the game, especially here for tennis in America. It’s not been easy after Agassi and Sampras, Currier, Chang, Connors, McEnroe, you name it.”

Querrey The Forgotten Man

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – With all the attention going to Andy Roddick, John Isner, Mardy Fish and at this tournament, James Blake, Sam Querrey has become the forgotten man at the US Open.

And it was just a year ago when he was 17th in the world but then fell to 120th after a knee injury.

Now he’s back to 28th in the world and is the No. 27 seed at the Open.

“I was hurt last year and dropped from 17 to 120,” he said. “But it was very tough to get back to where I am now at 28.”

Today he made a step to continue his climb by beating Yen-Hsun, 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 to move onto the second round of the Open.

“Lu is a tough player,” he said.  “A little windy.  Hits the ball low and flat.  It’s tough for me because I’m a taller guy, I like it up a little higher.

“I didn’t play my best out there, but I just stuck with it so I’m happy to move on.”

Believe it or not, Querrey could be the face of American’s tennis in the near future. He is only 24 and by today’s standards approaching his prime. A former Top 20 player in the world, Querrey has a chance to make some noise.

But he has to keep on track and that includes staying healthy and keep on winning.

“I need to keep winning like I’ve been doing,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been playing at a higher level than 28.  I feel like if I keep doing what I’m doing, I can get back into the top 15 and hopefully top 10.

“I want to keep serving big, hitting big forehands and taking risks and going for it more like I’ve been doing.”

He said we are in a period where guys in late 20s have been taking center stage. He things eventually the cycle will swing back to the teenagers eventually but that’s not anytime soon.

So with some of the top players getting older, Querrey has a chance to make some noise, even at this Open where he feels like he’s playing his best tennis.

But the second round comes first with a match against Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo.

“I play Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo who I played once before on grass in Newport like four years ago,” he said. “So I don’t really remember a whole lot.  I feel like if I serve well and do what I did today, hit big forehands, I have a good chance to win that and hopefully move on to the next round.”

If he does, he may not be the forgotten man in American men’s tennis anymore.

 

 

A New Lease on Life For Blake

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.

 

 

The New Blake

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – James Blake seemed very pleased when asked about his bloved New York Mets. Last year he was blunt about his feelings about the management, saying general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel “must go.”

And now that Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins took their places he seemed like a very happy fan.

“That is good,” he said with a smile. “I wish we could have kept Beltran and will keep Reyes. This year was a tough one as the last few have been. We are a little more optimistic than we were last year.”

Yet, even though he wears his trademark Mets cap after every match, baseball is his hobby and tennis is his job and after a tough 2010 where he was injured, Blake seems very content with his 2011 performance.

So much so that he wants to continue playing even after this season.

“I want to play this year and I want to play next year and the year after that. My body was worse off last year. I have ice on now, but that’s just preventative,” he said after he won his first round match against Jesse Huta Galung, 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-4. “I feel good. My legs are back under me and I am feeling great. I am happy to be playing here at 60 in the world and hopefully I am on the path moving upward. I am having fun and I love playing here with as much fun as I am having.”

With a bad shoulder and bad knee, tennis became a chore for the 31 year-old New Yorker. He struggled through matches last year and ultimately looked for different answers. He found that less is more and let his body heal itself.

“I think it was just general healing. My trainer and I have been on the path to get this healthy. At one point we were at a little bit of pain and we just accepted it. We tried to get it to perfect. At 31 years-old there will be nagging things and it will be hard to be this old and not have things after beating up my body for 12 years.

“Once that happened and once I relaxed and didn’t stress about it, there was less pain. I didn’t think about it as much and it’s really been incredible. All the treatment have been the same, but we did change a little bit on how we did with the ibuprofen and message and stuff, but no huge changes. We just worked smarter.”

And it worked against Huta Galung with a four set win. He was in total control during the first two sets, but has a bit of a hiccup in the third, ultimately finishing off the Dutchman in four sets.

Blake was very pleased with the results.

“It’s never easy when you are playing guys who are hungry to win, are talented and have the confidence to win,” Blake said. “I played the first two sets. In the third set he stepped his game up. I played one bad game and broke myself but he played hard to get back into that set. That was on him. He played great.

“The fourth set, I was in control getting more looks than his looks and I just played a good game to break me. I just broke back and the crowd helped me there. He looked uncomfortable at that time when I was up. I don’t know how many matches he played here, but nerves can get to you. That can definitely be a factor.

“When I got that break I was real confident.”

He hopes to continue that confidence in the second round against fifth ranked David Ferrer, a buzz saw of a second round matchup, although Blake had success against the Spaniard in the past with a 2-0 record.

“I have a ton of respect for him,” Blake said. “He played in incredible match in the Davis Cup to beat Mardy [Fish]. I have a tremendous respect for him. I am 2-0 against him and I hope to continue that pattern. He’s a tremendous player and I have been seeded up there and not seeded and if you want to go deep you have to beat some seeded players. It’s what I have to deal with it from where I am.”

Last year you had to wonder if Blake could win, but this is a new James Blake or rather the old James Blake.

“I hope it’s more like the old James Blake before the knee injury and before the shoulder was back,” he said. “Either way I am having a lot of fun and I am trying to get back to getting better and having fun doing that.”

Now if only the Mets could have the same success.

The College Conundrum

Professional tennis players and especially American professional tennis players face the decision at some point in their careers. Men and women. To go to college or not go to college?

Players from outside of the United States like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal invariably choose to turn professional at an early age. There is less pressure on young tennis stars to attend college in many foreign countries than there is in the United States. There is also less precedent.

As early as 30 years ago, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had to make the decision. Mac attended Stanford for two years and won the NCAA’s. He has never regretted his college decision.Same with Jimmy Connors at UCLA. He went for one year and also won the NCAA’s.

Three years ago, John Isner and Sam Querry burst on the scene.Isner went to the University of Georgia for four years and led his team to an NCAA crown.He finished second in singles. He wasn’t ready as a player to turn pro out of high school.Sam Querry, on the other hand turned down a full scholarship at USC. They are both about equally ranked now.

The college scene has changed dramatically over the past decade or so. More foreign players are attending colleges in the States  and that makes the competition better for Americans who continue on with their educations. Benjamin Becker is a prime example. He attended Baylor and is now No. 50 in the world.

The US Open Junior Finals this year pitted Jack Sock against Denis Kudla. Sock won the event and is torn between college and turning pro. Kudla has already turned pro. Sock and his family were approached by countless agents at the Open.

In our opinion, players should take a page from the James Blake playbook. The former Fairfield, Connecticut high school star attended Harvard for two years and then turned pro. He honed his skills at Harvard and picked up many valuable life tools in the process.He rose to as high as no. 6 in the world and was an endorsement guru. College did not hurt him a bit.

Jesse Levine turned pro after one year at the University of Florida. He stated, “You can always go back to school but not to pro tennis.” That is true but Levine has had a somewhat undistinguished pro career and probably wasn’t ready physically to turn pro when he did. Perhaps four years in college would have made Levine a better pro and a more well rounded individual.

Clearly, there is no easy answer to this conundrum facing many young tennis players.

Richard Kent is the autor of Inside the US Open and The Racket.

The Djoker Is Not Foiled by the Great Fish Caper

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Mardy Fish reshaped his body and resculpted his game but couldn’t revise his past history with Novak Djokovic. Fish’s inspired run through this US Open Series came to a halt at the hands of Djokovic, who fried Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his sixth straight major quarterfinal at the US Open.

Worn out from a long summer in which he won back-to-back championships in Newport and Atlanta, producing a career-best 11-match winning streak in the process, and went on to reach the Cincinnati final, a flat Fish lacked both the energy and execution to pose problems for Djokovic.

“I tried to, you know, get to the net, tried to stay more, you know, be a little more aggressive towards the middle part of the match,” Fish said. “I had some chances.  I just didn’t execute, generally.  He played great.  He kicked my butt.  He played great.”

It was a match that was never much in doubt as Djokovic, who took the court with a 5-0 lifetime record against Fish, asserted his authority at the outset.

The third-seeded Serbian swept American wild card James Blake, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, and wisely took the pro-Fish American crowd completely out of the match in surging out to a 4-1 lead.

Djokovic’s superior speed around the court and his ability to extend Fish in baseline exchanges were key components to the win. The 2007 US Open runner-up remains one of the best hard-court returners in the game and picked Fish apart in longer rallies.

“I was making him play an extra shot and I was using the court very well,” Djokovic said. “This (win) gives me a lot of confidence, definitely. It’s great to raise the level of my performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple of years for me in New York so hopefully I can go on.”

Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.

In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.

“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”

Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.

Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.

Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.

“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

No Joke, Blake Exits Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – A streaking James Blake caught up to the ball before it expired, pushed a precise pass up the line and danced across the court with a fist-pump during the second-set tie breaker against Novak Djokovic tonight. Blake still has a burst, but Djokovic put an end to his US Open run.

Playing pivotal points with precision, Djokovic won five consecutive games to open the match and quell the crowd then put down a second-set uprising in registering a 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory on a windy night to advance to the US Open fourth round.

Because he plays with more variety and can put more air under his shots, Djokovic can dial down his play when the elements require more safety and net clearance, whereas Blake basically hits the same hard flat shots time after time that gave him little margin for error.

“It’s a big mental struggle when you have such a strong wind to find a way how to try to play good tennis, especially if you have somebody across the net who is so aggressive, taking everything early and playing a risky game,” Djokovic said. “I think I was serving very well. It was a high percentage of first serves in. It was important in these conditions.”

Blake earned break points in the first game of the match only to see Djokovic, whose serve has been shaky at times this season, drill successive aces to erase both break points and ignite his first-set run. Djokovic plays with more spin than Blake, he takes the shorter preparation steps to set up for his shots and controls his game amid the bluster better than Blake.

“It was tough, tough conditions. He did a great job of handling them,” Blake said. “He’s one of the best defenders in the game, which makes it tough on a night like that where I need to rely on my power and speed to sort of dictate and move forward. It’s tough when you need to get into position and the ball can move one way or the other. You are not going to hit it cleanly. If I don’t hit it perfect, he’s too good of a counter-puncher. He hurt me too many times when I was in position and in my head to win the point. He did a great job of turning it around.”

Since Djokovic’s draining five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round in which he found back from a two set to one deficit to earn a 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory, he’s run through six straight sets. And tonight’s match was ideal preparation for his fourth-round clash with Blake’s former Florida neighbor and long-time golfing buddy Mardy Fish.

“We had a tough one here a couple of years back at the US Open,” Djokovic said. “I think he’s playing his best tennis at this moment. He’s moving really well. He’s serving good as he served always. He has a lot of talent. He’s recognizing the moment, coming to net. He has a lot of variety in the game. I guess I have to be on top of the game to be able to win.”

Though Djokovic is unbeaten in four matches with Fish, the Vero Beach, Florida native has taken a set in three of those four meetings. Djokovic beat Fish, 7-6(5), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) in the 2006 US Open before Fish transformed himself with a fitness and nutrition regimen. They faced off most recently in Indian Wells in March with Djokovic prevailing 6-1, 0-6, 6-2.

Five-time US Open champion Roger Federer said Fish earned his respect before his 30-pound weight loss.

“I always thought he was an incredibly good player, regardless of his weight, to be honest.  I think it’s great to show maybe other players, too, to see what’s possible at a later stage in your career, if you come up with some new ideas,” Federer said. “It’s great to see him playing well, doing well.  He’s a nice guy.  He’s always been talented, so we knew that.”

Fish is playing for his second trip to the US Open quarterfinals.

New York fans showed two-time quarterfinalist Blake their appreciation when he was honored on opening night of the US Open. Djokovic showed Blake the door tonight.

The inevitable “is Blake done?” speculation began before Blake was even done walking out the door of his post-match press conference. Blake insists he’s intent on playing next season.

“I really hope that wasn’t my last match on Arthur Ashe Stadium,” Blake said. “I definitely want to be back next year. If it was (my last match), you know, I competed my heart out. I did everything I could. But I think I got more in me and I think I’m going to be back there. Maybe more night matches, some more excitement for the crowds, some good times. I definitely believe that. I hope it comes true next year.”

Clearly, it’s unlikely Blake will ever return to the heights he ascended when he reached No. 4 in the world, but to suggest Blake is done because he was swept by the No. 3 in the world after an injury-plagued season in which he never really found his form is foolish.

This is a man who came back from a broken bone in his neck after his horrific collision with a net post and a bout with Zoster that left one side of his face frozen to play the best tennis of his life. If Blake has shown you anything aside from a ferocious forehand and lighting speed around the court, it’s his willingness to work his way back and not back down from a challenge.

“Once I got hurt in ’04 and got sick, I never planned on this career as a marathon,” Blake said. “I tried to treat it as a sprint, every match being its own sort of entity, working hard to win that. If it’s my last, it’s my last. If that came at 25 when I blew out my knee, if that came at 30 when I do something to my back so be it. I’m going to treat every match as a sprint and just do my best every time. When it ends, it ends. I don’t feel like right now I’m out there looking for charity. I think I can play with just about anyone still and I don’t think I’m at my best physically right now.”

If Blake can regain his health, is he willing to make the adjustments to his game to make the best use of his ability. Contrast the court sense and dynamic all-court game Ryan Harrison showed in his five-set loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky with the tennis Blake played tonight. Harrison, who is not nearly as quick around the court as Blake, understands that tennis is a sport that requires the ability to play offense and defense and the knowledge of when to transition.

The former Harvard all American doesn’t need tennis and tennis doesn’t need him, but Blake still brings the buzz and class to court and still believes he’s got something left in the tank.

“Even if I’m not 100 percent right now I don’t feel like I’m hurting the game by being out here,” Blake said. “I’m not on a pity tour just getting beat up first round every week by kind of nobodies. I lost to a pretty darn good player. I’m playing okay and I know I can play better because the preparation can be better.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

What’s Next For James Blake?

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It didn’t outright say he’s done, but you have to wonder if James Blake played his last match at Arthur Ashe Stadium when he went down to Novak Djokovic , 6-1 7-6 6-3.

“I really hope that wasn’t my last match on Arthur Ashe Stadium,” Blake said. “I definitely want to be back here next year.  If it was, you know, I competed my heart out.  I did everything I could.  But I think I got more in me and I think I’m going to be back there.  Maybe more night matches, some more excitement for the crowds, some more good times.

“You know, I definitely believe that.  I hope it comes true next year”.

So Blake is not packing it up yet. In fact, he is just taking a few weeks off and then playing in Stockholm. This is a guy who made the third round of the Open and lost to the No. 3 in the world, so life is okay right now for the Yonkers native.

But it’s his health that’s the big question. At 30, you have to wonder how healthy he can stay as he goes though the grind of the season. Sure the money is good, but this is a guy who lost a year and a half with a broken neck and another injury that keeps him on the shelf may be his last.

That’s why he calls it a “sprint and not a marathon” and he attacks each match with all out effort.

“I lost in straight sets, but I put a little scare in the No. 3 player in the world,” he said.  “And I beat two pretty good players.  So even if I’m not at 100% right now, I don’t feel like I’m, you know, hurting the game by being out here.  I’m not on a pity tour just getting beat up first round every week by kind of nobodies.  I lost to a pretty darn good player.  I’m playing okay and I know I can play better because, yeah, the preparation can be better.”

With his ranking below 100, Blake may have to go back to qualifiers if he wants to get invited to international tournaments. So that may be a problem, but with the money he is making from his contract with FILA, along with the money he makes on the tour, the former World No. 4 would be a fool to hang it up if he can compete.

Of course, he doesn’t want to be what he calls a charity case and just be the guy who loses in the first round all the time.

As you know that wasn’t the case this year and if he can keep it going while staying healthy, Blake expects to play until 34 or 35 years old.

And when that time comes, the Harvard graduate will have a number of options on his play, be it in tennis, such as a broadcaster or coach or doing something outside the game.

One thing’s for certain, though, after he is done this US Open favorite will not miss the travel and has one thing in mind for his first six months after hanging it up.

“I know I’ve already told all my friends that some of them are going to come visit me and I’m going to be playing golf for six months once I’m done,” he said.  “I’m going to be home.  I travel 30 weeks out of year.  I’m going to be in my bed for at least six months straight where I’m not getting on a plane, I’m not getting on a train, I’m not getting on a bus, I’m not doing anything.  I’m staying at home, playing some golf and relaxing.  Then I’ll see what motivates me.”