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.

 

 

Fish and Querrey Split Against Colombia

Patrick McEnroe wanted to make a statement with this Davis Cup team. Instead of going with the veterans, who have helped him over the past 10 years, he decided to make his swan song with youth by taking Ryan Harrison, John Isner, and Sam Querrey with him to Bogota.

Yet, it was the old man of the team in Mardy Fish who save the United States in their Davis Cup match against Colombia.

The 28 year-old Fish, who has made a tremendous comeback this year, pulled out a five set thriller over Alejandro Falla 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the best-of-five.

And it came in handy, because Querrey was not able to pull off the sweep, being downed Santiago Giraldo, 2-6 4-6 7-5.

“We’ve been in this situation before a few times — in a relegation match at 1-1 going into doubles,” McEnroe said to reporters in Bogota. “I feel good about our doubles. We have three players who have played together so there are a lot of options. I like that we have three or four players available tomorrow and Sunday.”

Both Fish and Querrey seemed to have problems adjusting to the altitude. At an estimated 8700 feet, it is the highest elevation either player has played. And McEnroe believes the higher elevation was the reason both players dropped the first set of their respective matches.

“The first set of both matches was pretty rough for us,” McEnroe said. “We practiced well all week, but you can’t simulate match conditions. Moving forward I think we’re in good shape now that the guys have gotten a match under their belts at the altitude.”

Querrey also said he was caught off guard during his match.

“I wasn’t surprised how well he (Giraldo) played,” Querrey said. “I have seen him play before and he hits the ball low and flat which is perfect for these conditions. It is difficult to adjust to the altitude.”

Fish, though, was able to adjust to the heights and even took the send and third sets in the match, but couldn’t close it out in the fourth. It took a veteran’s fifth set for Fish to pull out the match.

“The key was staying ahead in the fifth set,” Fish said. “I had some tough games to hold but was always able to stay ahead of him. When he (Falla) had to serve to stay into it at 5-4, that’s when all the pressure kicked in.”

It was also difficult to get adjusted to the surface. After two months on the hard courts, this series will be played on red clay, something most of the Americans consider their worst surface.

“He (Falla) hits the ball flat and I think he would have preferred a hard court,” Fish said. “We both would have preferred to play on a hard court. Maybe the tennis would be a little bit better.”

Tomorrow it may be as doubles take place. Colombia is expected to field the team of Robert Farah and Carlos Salamanca. The Americans have announced they will counter with Ryan Harrison and John Isner, although Fish said to reporters after his singles victory that he would be ready to step in.

Reverse singles are Sunday.

If the U.S. loses this quarterfinal, then it will be eliminated from Davis Cup play in 2011, only the second time in the country’s history.