SACRAMENTO, Calif. --
Bradley Klahn is happy just to be playing tennis, let alone facing James Blake on Friday in the quarterfinals of the $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger.
Almost one year ago, the former NCAA singles champion from Stanford underwent surgery for a herniated disc. He missed 5 1/2 months and returned with a greater appreciation for his sport.
"One of the biggest things about going through back surgery, or any surgery, is that I'm very fortunate to play tennis," the 22-year-old wild card from the San Diego suburb of Poway said after beating qualifier Greg Jones of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 Thursday at the Natomas Racquet Club. "There's a lot of people out there who never get the opportunity, and I'm very grateful to be able to play professionally and travel to a lot of great places.
"It certainly hasn't come without a lot of hard work, but I guess I've been trying to enjoy it a little bit more and soak it in a little bit more because at this time last year, I was in a lot of pain. I had my surgery in mid-October last year, and you never really know if you're going to get back to the same level. I'm very happy that my back has held up."
The second-seeded Blake, who dispatched fellow 32-year-old and inaugural (2005) Sacramento champion Rik de Voest of South Africa 6-4, 6-4, endured an even more harrowing experience. He broke his neck in 2004 while practicing in Rome.
Blake slipped on a wet clay court while racing to return a drop shot and struck the net post. Had he not moved his head at the last moment, doctors said he could have been paralyzed. Two months later, he lost his father to cancer and developed zoster (shingles), a viral disease often caused by stress.
But in the following three years, Blake was named the ATP Comeback Player of the Year, reached a career-high No. 4 in the world and helped the United States end its longest Davis Cup title drought, 12 years.
Blake and Klahn have practiced together but never met in a match.
"He's extremely fast and a very offensive player," said Klahn, who qualified for the recent U.S. Open and beat former top-10 player Jurgen Melzer in the first round before losing to No. 14 Richard Gasquet of France in straight sets. "You really have to be focused and diligent and just be ready for another ball to come back and ready for it to come back fast because he's going to get over there, and he's going to take his cuts. He's going to hit his winners by you. He attacks, just like (Jones) today."
Klahn, who won the 2010 NCAA title and graduated this year in economics, rallied from a set and a break down against Jones, the boys singles runner-up in the 2007 French Open.
"He's a good player," Klahn, a diminutive left-hander with a devastating forehand, said after evening his career record to 1-1 against the 6-foot-3 Jones. "He hits the ball big, attacks well and has a good serve. The real key was I thought I started making him play more on his service games. In the first set, I didn't get many returns in. I started getting a better read on it, and that helped me out."