Last dance, Andy
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: New York New Englander
Re: James News!
James is the Mercedes-Benz Play of the Week
Also, Peter Bodo writes about James in his blog entry. Lots of comments, most of it junk (check out the ignorant comments from Fanoftennis
) but some good ones in there too. He's very popular this week, James is.
Tennis World blog entry
James Blake. Who Would've Thunk It?
Posted 3/20/2006 @ 10:42 PM
In retrospect, we could have figured out when James Blake returned to the tour last summer with that Slick Watts (Seattle Supersonics) dome, complete with the whack white terry cloth headband. The signal Blake was sending – consciously or not – is now clear: I’m no pretty boy, east coast Ivy League softie, nor some dying-to-be-fly hip-hop wannabe. I am old school, baby.
And in tennis, old school means day-in, day-out tough; walk the walk tough, win consistently tough and – this is the big one, folks – scare the daylights out of the Big Dogs tough.
James Blake. Who would’ve thunk it?
By now, you all know that Blake beat raging Rafael Nadal in the semis of the Pacific Life Open. He got off to a good start the next day against Roger Federer before the World No. 1 dialed in his game and ended up playing one of his best matches of the year (details here) - he thereby became the first player to win the Palm Springs/Indian Wells event three times in a row. I think the run Blake had in the California desert represents a quantum leap, and he said one thing in its aftermath that almost leaped off the transcript when I read it:
”I’ve said it for a little while, seems like I say things and then it takes some results for people to actually believe them. I said I want to feel like I can contend for those kind of (important) titles and stuff, even though I’ve never been past the quarters. Now I feel like hopefully proven that I can be a contender for some of these kind of titles, at least on hard courts, and hopefully I can continue to do that.”Translation: I’ve been saying I’m for real for quite a while; now do you believe me?
I think Blake nailed it here, and I’ll be the first to step up and say I almost felt like he made that comment for my benefit. Oh, it’s not that I’ve been critical of him in print – in fact, I’ve worked on a few stories with James in the past, and always walked away feeling good about my job and what I was doing. But the very things that make Blake so appealing – his charisma, good manners, and compliant nature can subtly prejudice you against him. This guy is too nice to be a big winner, the logic goes. Or, James is too smart and decent to survive at the highest level of a game dominated by driven, ill-educated, self-absorbed, idiot savants. Federer changed that paradigm some, but that’s only happened recently.
In some ways, skepticism about Blake’s long-term staying power wasn’t entirely unfounded. There’s the whole thing about Blake’s respectable but less than overpowering junior record – the reputations of the players who dominate the game these days usually precede them: Long before Marat Safin broke out on the tour, the cognoscenti were talking about him. Rafael Nadal won an ATP match before he turned 16. Federer won the Orange Bowl – handily – at age 16 (beating Guillermo Coria). And so on.
Then there’s that Harvard thing. I’m no more awed by the Harvard University affiliation than any other pedigree, but the idea that someone who attended an Ivy League University for even one year can make it on the pro tour really is far-fetched. No matter how you cut it, Harvard screams entitlement, and the only entitlement that works for you in tennis is a tennis-based one: a degree from the Nick Bollettieri school of Forehands, victory in the junior Wimbledon at age 11. Tennis players who emerge from the Ivies are even rarer than NFL or NBA stars who went that route. A top pro out of the Ivy Leagues? No way. A college tennis factory, a la Stanford or Illinois, maybe – but Harvard?
And finally, who can forget how easily Blake leaped to the forefront of what the Aussies call the SNAG (Sensitive New Age Male) pack? This is a guy who signed with IMG models and was all over GQ and People magazine before he got past the third round of a Grand Slam event. If you’re cynical about Maria Sharapova and bitterly resent her having gotten too much, too soon, how do you feel about Blake? He certainly attracted a lot of the kind of attention that will never visit, oh, Nikolay Davydenko, or David Nalbandian. It was entirely justifiable, if ultimately insupportable, to ponder Blake’s future with a healthy measure of skepticism.
Looking at the technical side, Blake’s game is not exactly coin-of-the-realm on today’s tour. Twice in his post-match presser, Nadal pointedly acknowledged that Blake played “inside the court,” and pegged him as playing Top 5 tennis (In fact, read the entire Nadal transcript of you want to see the definition of a gracious loser). Blake’s own analysis was that the win hinged on his much improved backhand combined with his general strategy. The money quote from his presser:
”. . . It came down to a couple big points here and there, and having to make some gets like he does to everyone else, too, maybe frustrated him a little bit that way. Translation: I can do things that the Lleyton Hewitts and Guillermo Corias and even Marcos Baghdatis’s of this word cannot. I can take the game directly to Nadal.
But then as soon as I got my chances, I knew he's the type of guy that you have to kind of jump on that first chance.
You can't wait for two and three and four opportunities in a point, you got to take that first chance to get on the offensive. If you let him get on the offensive, big trouble. He plays defense so well. If you let him get on offense, you're in big trouble. . .If you're running from eight feet behind the baseline, I think the only guy that could defend against that is him possibly. It's pretty tricky to do. I needed to take my first opportunities.
It's kind of good when you have that clear mentality in your head. I think that helped in bringing out the best in me, is that you know you have to come through on that first opportunity. You can't get complacent. You can't just rest and kind of lay back and wait. You got to go after it.
When you have just kind of a singular focus, sometimes you play your best”.
It’s clear now that it was critical for Blake to continue to build upon his great run of last summer. The fact that he’s done that, despite the natural year-end break and fresh start for 2006, is a strong statement. He’s the real deal alright, and all he needs now is a good nickname derived form those skinny pins of his: Chicken Legs, as one comment poster at a previous blog entry suggested? Big Bird, because of the obvious resemblance? Crazy Legs, out of respect for Blake and in homage to former NFL star Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch?
Something like that, something less GQ and more old school. Just like James Blake.
Tennis.com's Steve Tignor chimes in with his own backhanded comments about James' run last week:
James Blake has unique talents—and limitations
Blake was the story of the week from an American point of view. After years of whiplash-inducing streakiness, he ‘s turning into the reliable American, while Andy Roddick has slipped into a strategic morass where every move he makes is exactly the wrong one.
Blake can do things that no one else can, and he’s never less than entertaining. His running forehand is as dangerous, if less consistent, than Pete Sampras’ was, and his ability to wrist a crosscourt winner at full stretch is unprecedented. Blake’s also one of the few players who is equally lethal to either corner when he sets up for a forehand. But his recent success has come because of an improved backhand, and, more importantly, a smoother service motion. On Sunday, though, he reached his limit. Federer can do everything Blake can, but he’s not trapped by his explosiveness the way Blake often is. The American remains beholden to the spectacular forehand winner, which he tries to hit from pretty much any position on the court.
You can tell Blake is getting comfortable with success because he’s mastering the art of star speak, in which a player smiles and reveals absolutely nothing—other than how hard he’s working, and how proud he is of his work, and how he knows he’s put in the work. But maybe Blake has always had this skill. No less an authority on tennis stardom than Serena Williams once said of Blake that she should take speaking lessons from him because “he always knows just what to say.” A backhanded compliment, perhaps?
ESPN's resident Fedtard Bonnie DeSimone had some things to say about James (and Martina):
Don't call it a comeback ... anymore
By Bonnie DeSimone
Special to ESPN.com
As members of the massive combined caravan of the men's and women's tours reapply sunscreen during the quick turnaround between Indian Wells and Miami, it's worth considering whether to drop the word "comeback" from future references to James Blake. That time might be swiftly approaching for Martina Hingis, as well.
Neither won at the Pacific Life Open, but heading into this week's NASDAQ-100, both are playing as if they hadn't missed a beat -- or a recent season, or two, or three. What might have appeared to be early-season adrenaline seems to be something with more staying power.
Newly minted No. 9 Blake started strongly against No. 1 Roger Federer in the Pacific Life final but bowed in straight sets and was shut out in the third. Nonetheless, Blake broke into the top 10 for the first time in his career and is second in 2006 prize earnings ($417,720) only to Federer ($1.66 million).
The dough and the upper-crust ranking apparently haven't gone to Blake's head. He jokingly told reporters after beating No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals at Indian Wells that the perk he most wanted was the ability to practice shirtless at the Saddle Brook tennis center in Tampa where only top-10 players were accorded the privilege.
"I don't get to take my shorts off when I get to top five or anything," he said. "No other big incentives."
Indian Wells marked Blake's third final of the season. He won titles in Sydney and Las Vegas earlier this year, the latter following a mini-slump in which he'd been ousted in the first round of back-to-back tournaments.
Blake's solid first quarter may make Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe 's next selection easier and harder -- easier because he has a hot singles player and harder because it makes No. 10 Andre Agassi the odd man out.
Agassi had made it clear he was available for the April 7-9 quarterfinal tie on grass against Chile in Rancho Mirage, Calif. (for the uninitiated, a "tie" is the tennis term for a Davis Cup round). There was a time when all Agassi had to do was raise his hand to book his trip, but Blake has earned his passage and No. 4 Andy Roddick, despite his recent floundering, is as good a bet as anyone on grass (he was 11-1 last year on the surface).
Hingis' next action will take place at a promotional event prior to her first match in Miami, when she'll drive what the NASDAQ-100's marketing folks are describing as "a gas-powered, street-worthy IndyCar Series" vehicle under the tutelage of two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. (He is to receive tennis tips in return.)
That's rather apt as Hingis, hands firmly on the steering wheel, is methodically lapping more and more of the women's field with each event. She has reached at least the quarterfinal of all but one of the seven tournaments she has entered this season, the only exception being a first-round loss to current No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne in Sydney.
Hingis' quarterfinal defeat of No. 5 Lindsay Davenport was as important a victory as she's had since her comeba... er, re-entry on the scene, even if Davenport did reveal afterwards that she was in pain from a bulging disc. Hingis pushed eventual tournament winner and No. 4 Maria Sharapova in their semifinal match that was, cliché-police forgive us, closer than the 6-3, 6-3 result indicated.
"That's still the deficit I have not having played for three years, not having the stamina," Hingis told reporters. "In a semifinals match, you have to go out there and give it all, not just like for a certain amount of time. I didn't start off like that. Maybe if I had, it would be a different story."
The next questioner inquired about the 18-year-old Sharapova's power. Like the scrappy point guard forever interrogated about how to score over the towering center, Hingis reacted with some weariness. "That's not intimidating anymore,'' she said. "All the players always do the same thing, so you're kind of used to that. She just played really smart today."
Now at No. 26 on the charts and rising fast, Hingis' gas-powered, street-worthy tear through the rankings inevitably raises the question of whether it reflects more about her or about the current state of women's tennis. The Magic 8-Ball would surely answer: Ask again later.
So far, Hingis has done about what you might expect for a fit, motivated, sage 25-year-old player following a long layoff: handled the lower-ranked players and had her hands full against the top 10, where she is 2-6 compared to a 20-7 record overall.
The Miami field will be missing at least two power players -- Davenport, who had planned to play but withdrew citing the back injury, and Serena Williams, who has tumbled to No. 61 and no longer feels the need to cite anything in particular. Jennifer Capriati also is delaying her return to the tour as she continues to rehab a shoulder injury.
Quote of the Week: From Sharapova, inspired by a heckler who hollered out that she looked tired in the match against Hingis: "That kind of pumped me up a little bit. I hit two winners in a row. I looked back at them, and I'm like, 'Tired, my butt.' So don't mess with a truck. You're going to become a pancake."
We Take It Back: Remember all the angry declarations from the Shanghai organizers of the ATP year-end championships last year following the pullout of five top players? Something calmed the ruffled waters, because Shanghai just extended its commitment from three to four years, though 2008. Chinese authorities are promoting a sports theme that year because of the Summer Olympic Games that will take place in Beijing.
And also predictably, some in the media seem keen to crown James the "New Top American" while the funeral procession continues for a slumping Andy Roddick....as if there weren't enough room in the rankings for both players to do well enough to represent America.
From Fox News:
5. Can James Blake do some damage in Miami?
Yes, but it's hard to envision him winning the tournament. The 26-year-old American is off to a great start this year, with a record of 19-5 and two titles. After his runner-up finish in Indian Wells on Sunday, Blake's ranking rose to a career best ninth in the world.
He has added patience and resolve to his physical weaponry, which no one ever challenged. So now he's a threat to beat anyone in the world, as he has proven in taking out Nadal in their last two matches. But Blake choked when presented with an opportunity early against Federer last weekend, and it remains unclear whether he's mentally ready to win a big event.
7. What's happening to Andy Roddick?
The 23-year-old American seems to be suffering from a bout of self doubt. He's still ranked No. 4 in the world, but he hasn't reached the final of any tournaments this year and has — at least in his case — a lackluster record of 11-5. The technical flaws in his game have been well chronicled — a shaky volley and a tendency to stand too far behind the baseline. But he had these same flaws when he won the U.S. Open in 2003 and held the No. 1 ranking. The six straight losses he has suffered to Federer seem to have gotten inside Roddick's head, and he may have been too quick to dump Brad Gilbert as his coach in 2004.
And now for the "James is the REAL American star, Andy Sucks"-types articles:
Is James Blake America's new top dog?
By Scott Riley, Tennis Editor
With all due respect to Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, James Blake appears to be laying his claim to the American men's tennis throne.
It's Blake who's already garnered two titles on the ATP this season and is fresh off a final appearance at the first Masters Series event of the year, the Pacific Life Open, where, unfortunately, he lost to the great Roger Federer in straight sets at Indian Wells.
But by reaching the final in the California desert, Blake became the first African-American man since Arthur Ashe to crack the men's top 10, which now features a trio of Americans for the first time since 2000.
The amicable Blake has been playing superb tennis since the middle of last year and has been rewarded with a career-high No. 9 spot in the world rankings, just ahead of the former No. 1 Agassi and only five spots behind the former top-ranked Roddick, who, like Agassi, has yet to reach a final in 2006.
The 26-year-old Blake is off to a 19-5 start this year and has appeared in finals in three of his seven tournaments, including victories in Sydney and Las Vegas. He may have lost to Federer at Indian Wells, but opened plenty of eyes with a huge semifinal victory over Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal at the prestigious Pac Life event. As a matter of fact, he straight-setted the reigning Roland Garros champion Nadal, who was riding a hot nine-match winning streak, including a stunning title match victory over Federer in Dubai earlier this month.
FYI, Blake also beat Nadal (in the 3rd round) at last year's U.S. Open and is 2-0 versus the excitable lefty.
Blake is an eight-year pro who turned his career around last year with the help of a couple titles and a trip into the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, where he blew a two-sets-to-love lead over Agassi before ultimately dropping a five-set epic at Flushing Meadows. It marked his best-ever showing at a Grand Slam tourney.
This year, the resurgent Blake has beaten a former world No. 1, in Lleyton Hewitt, and, of course, the aspiring No. 1 Nadal, who, by all accounts, appears to be the top threat to the amazing Federer's throne. The Yonkers, New York native stopped the two-time major titlist Hewitt in the Vegas finale three weeks ago, marking his first victory against the fiery Aussie in seven tries.
Sure, you can sit here and say that Blake has yet to do anything at the majors (has never reached a Grand Slam semi) and he's a dismal 1-12 combined against Roddick and Agassi, including 0-8 versus A-Rod, and who could argue with you. But the athletic racquet man is certainly playing the best tennis of any of the Americans right now.
Blake's a solid 41-11 since last August, including four titles and the quality run into the U.S. Open quarters. And his stellar 2005 campaign came on the heels of his nightmarish 2004.
Two years ago, Blake lost his beloved father, Thomas, to cancer; suffered a fractured vertebrae in his neck after running into a net post during a practice session in Rome; and fell ill with Zoster, a condition that affected his hearing, his vision and paralyzed him on one side of his face.
He was ranked as low as 210th in the world in April of last year.
Prior to joining the ATP, Blake played two years of tennis at Harvard, where he finished as the No. 1 collegiate player in the country in his sophomore year. He possesses great speed, is a quality returner of serve and is blessed with a monster forehand. The knock on him in the past had everything to do with the mental aspect of the game. Dare I say he had a tendency to choke.
But Blake does have as much talent as just about anyone in the game, he just needs to carry confidence onto the court and maintain that mental strength throughout his big matches, which is exactly what he's been doing in recent months.
With Roddick struggling in the early part of this season and the aging Agassi barely playing any tennis at all, it would appear as though Blake might have the inside track as the highest-ranked American this year.
Blake is rich and famous, has his game in top gear and is dating the beautiful Jennifer Scholle. Simply put, life is pretty good for JB right now.
find article at:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and his tennis blog read at sun-sentinel.com/sports.
"What kind of shape am I in now? Well round is a shape." said Roddick with a laugh. "I had a very detailed retirement plan, and I feel like I've met every aspect of it: a lot of golf, a lot of carbs, a lot of fried food, and some booze, occasionally — I've been completely committed ... The results have shown."
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