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this article focuses on James Blake but i find Safin's comments very interesting. it begs the question, is the problem really the length of th season or the "power" style of play...

Blake of U.S. Graduates to Next Grand Slam Step


MELBOURNE, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 18 — The education of James Blake continues and, as befits a former Harvard student, he is learning rather quickly. After making his big leap into the top 30 last season, he took another meaningful step forward today, reaching the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alberto Martín of Spain.

Blake was making his first appearance in Rod Laver Arena, the Australian Open's main stage, and his victory came with a minimum of angst and a high number of forehand winners and flashy all-court play.

Other young men might have needed more time to digest all that has happened in the last six months. Instead, Blake appears to be feeding on the success, beating the world's No. 1 player, Lleyton Hewitt, in a team competition in Perth before this event and taking his late-blooming game to a higher level.

Andy Roddick of the United States, seeded ninth, also appears to be rising, reaching the fourth round today with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 dismissal of another Spanish baseliner, Fernando Vicente. Roddick next faces Mikhail Youzhny, who won the decisive match in Russia's Davis Cup victory in December.

Blake would have expected to face Marat Safin, the third-seeded player and a former United States Open champion. Instead, he will play the significantly less threatening No. 31 Rainer Schuettler of Germany.

Safin withdrew from the Open today, shortly before his scheduled third-round encounter with Schuettler, citing a partially torn ligament in his left wrist. His withdrawal leaves the Open without its men's finalists from last year. Thomas Johansson of Sweden, who defeated Safin, could not defend his title because of a knee injury.

"Everybody's getting injured; as you can see, tennis is becoming too physical," said Safin, who said he would miss two to three weeks. "Everybody's trying to play tournaments, and everybody, because the level of tennis is so high, the bodies of the players, they cannot anymore."

Complaints about the length of the season are not new, but injuries are an increasing concern. Twelve men withdrew from the Open before it started because of physical problems. Through three rounds of play, there have been seven retirements during matches, along with Safin's withdrawal. The Open-era record for retirements during a Grand Slam event is nine, established at last year's United States Open.
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