Another Shot Of Redemption
Blake Beats Llodra, Avenges Davis Cup Loss
August 24, 2005
By JEFF GOLDBERG, Courant Staff Writer
NEW HAVEN -- This has been a year of redemption for James Blake. A year ago, the 25-year-old from Fairfield lost most of his season to injury and illness. Now he is regaining the form that placed him in the class of up-and-coming American players just three years ago.
It was during his ascension in 2002 that Blake took part in a Davis Cup loss to France in Paris. And there was a little redemption for that Tuesday night.
In his first match on Stadium Court at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, in front of a decidedly partisan crowd of 7,409, Blake easily dispatched Michael Llodra of France 6-1, 6-4 in the first round of the Pilot Pen.
"We got him back," Blake said. "He was one of the team members when they beat us in Paris. It's a good feeling. I knew it was going to be this way when I heard how many fans were coming out and how many of my fans were going to be here. It's a good feeling when they're on your side."
Blake's victory was particularly pleasing to those occupying the "J-Block," a section devoted to Blake fans who made their presence known throughout the match.
"It's a lot of fun," Blake said. "Just being home, staying in my own bed, being around so many friends, people that go way back ... it's something that's very rare on tour. To be back so close to my hometown is a great feeling."
Blake won despite being on the wrong end of an unusual chair umpire's ruling in the second set - the kind of call one doesn't expect on a home court, and one that sometimes changes the course of a match.
Leading 3-2 and with a break point, Blake was called for hindering Llodra by vocally celebrating an apparent winner before Llodra could return it. Chair umpire Carlos Bernades gave the point to Llodra, forcing deuce.
Instead of falling behind a break, Llodra held serve for 3-3, then took a 15-40 lead on Blake's subsequent service game. But Blake responded with two points, including an ace, before winning the game after a long deuce rally. Blake then broke Llodra in the 10th game to win the match.
"He said it was a hindrance, because I said `Come on,' too early, although I'm really not sure Michael had a chance at that," Blake said. "That's what I expressed to [Bernades] and he said that in his judgment he could have had it, so we left it at that. But I've never seen that ever called in my career and my coach [Bryan Barker] said he's never seen it as long as he's been in tennis.
"It's just one of those things that luckily I was able to move on. He made some great serves after that hold, and then that next game was the one where I had some trouble holding. But once I got through that, I knew it was behind me."
Blake will face No.10 seed Filippo Volandri of Italy in a second-round match this afternoon on Stadium Court.
Blake dominated the first set Tuesday, breaking Llodra in the opening game, then adding two more breaks to take the set, 6-1. Blake had Llodra looking to the heavens and muttering to himself with a series of backhand winners.
"I figure most people, it's going to be their game plan to attack my backhand," Blake said. "I got a lot more confidence in it. When I have time to hit it, I feel like I can really go after it and hurt people with it, as opposed to playing defense all the time. I think I passed him with three backhands that first game and that's probably something he wasn't expecting."
Earlier Tuesday, American Mardy Fish lost his first-round match 6-4, 6-4 to Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, a setback in his recovery from left wrist surgery that was performed in Hartford in May. It was Fish's first match since retiring during a tournament in Indianapolis last month.
Fish, ranked 140th on the ATP Tour, said he was able to return serves without pain, but it hurt when he tried to create pace on his own shots. The pain was not a welcome development six days before the U.S. Open.
"It hurt more than I thought it was going to," said Fish, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist. "It kind of wore down. I've been practicing for three months now in Tampa and I don't think I was really rusty. The doctor reassured me that I couldn't hurt my wrist any worse, but that didn't take away the fact that it still hurts.
"Obviously my goal was to try and play next week and do well. I would definitely be happy just being able to play with minimal pain."
In second-round matches, No. 4 seed Tommy Robredo of Spain defeated American Scoville Jenkins 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, and No. 5 Feliciano Lopez of Spain defeated Italian Davide Sanguinetti, 6-4, 6-3. Fernando Verdasco of Spain eliminated 14th-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).
Romanian Victor Hanescu defeated Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2 after Minar replaced ninth-seeded Greg Rusedski, who withdrew Tuesday citing fatigue.