Blake takes aim at U.S. supremacy
March 21, 2006
Hang the rankings. It's time to say what we all know, that at this moment in the history of the universe James Blake is the No. 1 American player.
We could have had an argument about this before Indian Wells, but to see Blake take down Rafael Nadal a second time in a row while Andy Roddick was being beaten earlier by Igor Andreev settles it.
Of course, all things are changeable, and Roddick could get his limping game squared away at the Nasdaq-100 Open, which begins Wednesday, while Blake falters early.
They might even play each other, though that could only happen in a semifinal, and Blake would have to get through Roger Federer in the quarters to reach the final four while Roddick could be looking at Marat Safin or Lleyton Hewitt in the round of 16 ... if he gets that far.
The past two years have said a lot about both players. Blake took his personal breakthrough at the U.S. Open, where he reached the quarters and was up two sets on Andre Agassi before losing and refused to let up.
Where Robby Ginepri, who reached the semis at the Open, has retreated considerably the first three months of this year, Blake has gone from No. 25 to No. 9 this week.
This is not the women's tour, where Martina Hingis can start out without a point and rise to No. 26 going into the Nasdaq. The jump from 25 to 9 is considerable.
From the time Blake turned pro in 1999 until he was injured so severely in 2004, he had two things to overcome. He needed to find the mental strength to know he was capable of being a top-10 player and he needed to punch up a second serve that was good enough to be top-100 but not good enough to beat the elite on the ATP Tour. He's done both, though from time to time that second serve still seems more guided than walloped.
Roddick, meanwhile, has been brilliant at Wimbledon but disappointing in other major events, and his declining play won't be excused here. But there is a bit of a foolish feeding frenzy going on by people eager to bury him.
How many times have you been told in the past week that Roddick has now lost to four players outside the top 50 in newspaper stories designed to make you think he's being beaten by a bunch of bums.
Two of those losses were to Marcos Baghdatis (No. 54 when he beat Roddick at the Australian Open) and Andy Murray (No. 60 when he took Roddick down at San Jose).
Baghdatis, 20, and Murray, 18, are hardly mediocre players. They were outside the top 50 because they're both quickly on the way to top 20 and perhaps even top 10. You have to pass through 50 at some point, right?
Today, Baghdatis is No. 26 and Murray No. 41. You'll have a difficult time finding any player who doesn't think both of these young men are supremely talented.
Roddick is No. 4 while Blake is No. 9, but that's not so important. What is important is that Blake is now our leading player and slipping to No. 2 might just give Roddick some additional motivation.
Sunrise post-mortem: Dmitry Tursunov, who won the $100,000 BMW Championships, got a 14-spot bump out of winning the title and improved his ranking to a career-best No. 36. If I were promoting this tournament for next year, I'd want to point out in the brochure that Tursunov came within three spots of getting a seeding into the Nasdaq, and earning Wednesday and Thursday off. ...
The tournament was not so good, however, for Rainer Schuettler, who was upset in the first round, then contracted the flu, then had to retire with the illness from his first-round qualifying match here Monday. ...
Fernando Gonzales, the Chilean who reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year, isn't happy to be playing Davis Cup against the U.S. on grass, but he says, "You can do well if you get good preparation." And he and countryman Nicolas Massu are staying in South Florida after the Nasdaq to work on the grass court on nearby Fisher Island before heading to Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the April 7-9 tie. Playing on grass with Roddick and Blake isn't even close to a guarantee for the United States, and don't forget these Chileans won the Olympics doubles. That was on a hardcourt, but so what. It's doubles, where a great number of the balls are volleyed.
Charles Bricker can be reached at email@example.com
and his tennis blog read at sun-sentinel.com/sports.