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Blake's Fatal Flaw 09/03/2007 - 11:00 PM

Blake In the end, the match was a heartbreaker, but you're unlikely ever to see a guy who handles getting his heart broke with more style, grace, and unflinching honesty than James Blake.

But before we get into that, I'd suggest you're also unlikely ever to see a match that better demonstrates the value of Hawkeye electronic line-calling than today's compelling, 7-6 in the fifth win by Tommy Haas over Blake. The last two points of the tiebreaker were both decided by Hawkeye; the first one, a blazing, slap-shot service return by Blake (who was down match-point) was called good but challenged by Haas, but original call was shown to be correct.

The very next point was another match-point with Haas serving. He hit an apparent ace wide to the deuce court, and Blake challenged; Hawkeye confirmed that the ball was, indeed, a match-ending ace. In both cases, the ball was in by a hair. And while we don't know how either player would have reacted if Hawkeye had not been in use (they might have just played the call; both men are good sports), the fact that it was there simply eliminated any possibility of the match ending in controversy.

And perhaps more importantly, Hawkeye's presence kept either player from freaking out when the call was made, because each man knew that he had recourse to as much justice as any tennis player has a right to expect, and certainly loads more than he had two years ago, before Hawkeye. So Hawkeye is not just an electronic line-calling system, it could just as easily be called the Hawkeye Emotional Meltdown-Averting System.

You saw both of those balls; they were as close to being "out" as you can get.

I did raise this issue with Blake at his press conference after the match, asking: Did this match demonstrate the value of Hawk Eye conclusively?

He replied: 

"Yeah, there are a couple of points that could have gone either way.  I think at this level, with the amount that's on the line, the amount that can be changed by a quarter of an inch, yeah, it's a great thing. But I think we're also accepting of human error (my italics).  If the fans don't like it, if the fans think it's not accurate or anything, we need to go back to one with human error, then I'm accepting of that, too. But the fans seem to like it.  So it's a great thing.  I don't need to go to bed tonight wondering if that serve really was in or out.  I looked up.  It's in.  There's no need to worry about that tonight."

Of course, this is the kind of reasonableness we've come to expect from Blake, and it's also appears to be one of the reasons a fair number of people regard him with mild contempt and cynicism, and link his fine character to whatever "weakness" it is that prevents a guy who is clearly one of the six or eight or 10 best players in the world from being ranked higher. You want proof positive that human nature is dark, restless, and - this may be the fundamental problem - jealous of the good? Look how eager some people are to position Blake's decency as some sort of fatal flaw, or sign of "softness".

That decency was on full display yesterday during the post-mortems. During his presser, Blake had a number of opportunities to cop-out or take a plea, and on a number of issues. That he didn't was telling and refreshing. When he was asked if fatigue played a factor in the match, given that he'd been on court for 12 hours in 4 matches, he said:

"Not at all. My legs feel great. I like my chances to go out there and play another five setter right now.  I feel fine.  I'm not physically ailing at all.  My legs feel actually good.  I was somewhat surprised. I know I've done a lot of hard work.  I was aware I'd been on the court a lot.  But I still feel great, like I could run down balls no matter where they were in that fifth set. It had nothing to do with that."

Liz Clark of the Washington Post asked Blake what place getting that first five-set win under his belt at this US Open would find in his trove of memories, and he answered:

"I'm not going to make as big a deal out of it as a lot of other people will. . .    That, to me, seems likes ancient history, when I was a little younger, my body was breaking down.  Now it's just a matter of a point here or there.  If it's not physically, I know it's not really that big of an issue because I've won a whole lot of third sets in two out of three set matches.  It's not like I get too nervous or anything.

You know, in reflecting right now, I will say that years ago when I was so bummed I lost the USTA National 18 and Under, my coach and I talked about how as you get better and better the matches sting more and more when you lose.  Because it hurts right now to lose in the fourth round of the US Open.  It hurts so badly to lose in the quarterfinals of the US Open.

We just talk about the fact that that shows how well you're playing, that these hurt so much, because maybe it wouldn't hurt as much if I kept losing first rounds of New Haven, of here, of other places.  When the stakes are higher, that means you've done something that you should be proud of when you reflect on it. I hope in days to come, weeks to come, years to come, I am proud of the efforts I put in.  I'm not going to hang my head too low about losing to some great players."

Among other things, this is a kind thing to say because of the way it is likely to make Tommy Haas feel; why should Blake feel badly about losing to a player of Haas's class? Which leads to another moment that helped make this one of those press conferences that could make a reporter feel pretty good about what he was doing - and who he was doing it with. When someone pointed out that Haas, like Blake, has been through some rough sailing, Blake said:

"Yeah.  I remember when I first came back in '05 I did an interview and people asked me, Who is someone that you look up to on the tour?  I actually said Tommy Haas, because at that point he came back from a very serious shoulder injury.  A lot of doctors said he would never be the same, whether or not he was able to play was up in the air.  He came back and got back to the top 10 in the world and is back playing at the top of the game. 

He's someone that did what I did before I did it.  It's someone that is impressive. . . For him to bounce back, we're all happy to see that.  He's a great player and a great champion.  Has a ton of talent."

I was curious about how Blake felt about fifth-set tiebreakers, and asked if he liked them, and to comment on how tough it is to play them in a situation like today's. He said:

"It's pretty tough, but I feel like I had all the conditions in my favor today.  I had the crowd on my side.  Court conditions.  The courts are suited to my game.  It's also suited to Tommy's game. Any time you get in a fifth set tiebreaker, it's clearly a crapshoot.  Just about anyone can beat anyone on this tour in a tiebreaker.  When it comes down to one tiebreaker for a match, absolutely anything can happen.

I feel like it's extremely exciting for the fans.  It's even exciting for the players.  It's a bit nerve wracking for the players, probably for the fans as well that are close to it.  But that's the way it's always been done at the US Open.  I feel like it's the American way.  I love it.

I love seeing 'em as a fan. Tough to play 'em as a player.  But, you know, it shows that it's been a pretty fair match up to get to a fifth set tiebreaker.  It's probably going to come down to a point or two here or there anyway, so might as well do it with a sudden death type of mentality."

Anyway, I recommend reading the entire press conference transcript. It was truly a humble and classy performance, and I say that even though Blake called me out when he was asked to ask how sharply the loss hurt:

""It's going to sting for a little while.  Hopefully in a day or two I'll look back and say it's still not a terrible summer.  Made the finals of Cincinnati.  Won New Haven.  Fourth round here.  Finals of L.A.  As Peter liked to point out, that was a terrible loss to Stepanek. Otherwise I felt I was playing pretty well."

Okay, okay. . .so it wasn't such a terrible loss to Stepanek - especially in light of the way Stepanek played this summer. I take the point and promise to cut you some slack on a future occasion when you need it.

But today, James, you don't  need it.

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Posted by laffytaffy 09/03/2007 at 11:07 PM


Posted by Jenn 09/03/2007 at 11:21 PM

Thanks for that insight into his presser. I felt absolutely terrible for him in that that loss, particularly after he had the 3 match points. I was very impressed with the fact that he was willing to do an on-court interview after the match was over. I don't think most players would have even considered that. I wonder if it was right for CBS to even ask him to do that.

Did Blake talk about how he was leading 2 sets to 1 and then gets bageled in the 4th? To me, that was the surprising and unfortunate thing about the match. The 5th set was close and I sensed that Haas was more nervous than Blake based on some of his balls into the net and long. Blake played a good 5th set, but how do you drop the 4th 6-0? To me, that was the curiosity.

Well, it was a will be interesting to see if Haas can back up his great win with another win.

Posted by ndk 09/03/2007 at 11:24 PM

Great post Pete..

Evidently Blake's Mom called out Bud Collins as well..

Posted by vuvu 09/03/2007 at 11:25 PM

I like Blake a whole lot more than than the J Block. Nice post Pete. Blake is clearly an intelligent man with a lot of humility and grit.

Posted by hiccup 09/03/2007 at 11:33 PM

Blake is a true gentleman and class act. He has given us so many wonderful classic matches at the uso. I hope one day he will win it he deserves to.

Posted by Brenda 09/03/2007 at 11:34 PM

The J-block were really annoying when I watched the match on tv. I was telling them to shut up when they cheered tommy's misses. So rude and obnoxious.

Posted by Seth 09/03/2007 at 11:36 PM

I agree about the J-Block. Their obnoxiousness seems oddly incongruous with Blake's low-key classiness.

Posted by Pete 09/03/2007 at 11:40 PM

Yeah, I am with y;all on the J-Block, but I imagine it would be pretty tough for James to tell them to cool it. . . still, I think it actually causes some resentment of Blake, but another way to look at that is to say it shows that Blake can be as self-interested and "tough" as anyone, but STILL have this other, very decent side.

Hey NDK! Good trip back?

Posted by jb 09/03/2007 at 11:48 PM

Nice Pete. What i flove about blake is his perspective. The fact that he has some about his own game and that its perceived as 'weakness' just makes me go pfft. James has always conducted himself beautifully off the court. He folks did a good job with him.

Interesting his take on the 'mental' part of the 5 setter monkey on his back; that winning a 3 setter equates with holding your nerve in a 5th set. He does have a point there...

*off to read the interview.*

Posted by Jenn 09/03/2007 at 11:51 PM

Interesting article by Collins posted by NDK, above (thanks for the link!). I didn't read what Collins wrote before. I think "calling Blake out" (or whatever you want to call it) for failing to come through in many tight 5-set matches is simply recounting history. Trying to blame tight losses on his good character (implying that he is "too nice" etc. that Pete aluded to) is different, IMO. Unfortunately, this was another big occasion that Blake did not come through, but credit Tommy Haas who kept his cool and played extremely well (and very un-Haas-like when he was down).

Posted by Andrew 09/03/2007 at 11:54 PM

Well, while I was watching the match, I was struck by how respectful the crowd was as players got ready to serve. They knew that they'd lucked into a pretty special match, and treated both players appropriately, I thought.

And I also saw Tommy Haas bang his racquet with his hand in applause for one Blake winner, while Blake had a few "too good!"s
There wasn't a single snarl directed at an opponent, but no quarter was asked or given. Haas laid himself out flat on a hard court three times - I believe he wanted to win.

I honestly can't remember a GS tournament with so many enjoyable matches eight days in. Djokovic - Stepanek was quite good, and it may not make the top 5 by the time we're done.

Posted by Ro'ee 09/03/2007 at 11:56 PM

Twenty fifth!
Have been taking a lead from Fox News?
"Bye Bye Blake"..."Stumbling"...
Who writes these tabloid headlines?

Posted by Jenn 09/04/2007 at 12:02 AM

Andrew - which matches are you putting ahead of Djokovic-Stepanek right now in terms of entertainment value? Bud Collins in his article said that this Blake match was better, but I disagree. First, you had the non-competitive 4th set in this match that takes away from the drama (compare the Djoko/Radek scoreline). I also felt like there were more points being lost on errors in this match than in Djoko/Radek, where there were so many winners hit at crucial times.

Posted by Sam 09/04/2007 at 12:03 AM

Great post Pete.

ndk: Thanks for the Bud Collins link. I wasn't aware of his previous comments on Blake.

Posted by Bob 09/04/2007 at 12:11 AM

This clearly demonstrates we need unlimited challenges. Either of these players could have challenged equally close calls earlier and lost their ability to challenge. At some point an important match will be decided on a bad call, if they keep this limitation in place.

Posted by Andrew 09/04/2007 at 12:17 AM

Jenn: matches which are up there are Blake - Haas, Blake - Santoro, Ferrer - Nalbandian, Moya - Kohlschreiber. Didn't see any of the matches all the way through, so I'm honestly not able to judge the true running order.

Just noting that we're halfway into the Men's R16 matches, with the QF/SF/Fs to come, and we've had some very decent 5 set matches. WImbledon had one or two, but I don't remember that many from RG. AO 2007 had Roddick - Ancic and Murray - Nadal, I think.

Posted by Jenn 09/04/2007 at 12:23 AM

Agreed, Andrew. I think there have been many more great matches here so far than in the other slams. Djokovic/Stepanek still gets my vote so far.

Posted by Andrew 09/04/2007 at 12:38 AM

Jenn: I liked the end of Djokovic/Stepanek. Great sportsmanship from both players. SImilarly today from Haas and Blake.

I think we're coming close to a golden period in Mens tennis, with great depth and variety. We may look back in 2020 and say, hail, we should have watched more tennis between 2006 and 2010...

Posted by Jenn 09/04/2007 at 12:50 AM

If I was watching any more tennis right now, I would have to quit my job! (probably I'm on thin ice as it is...) If one or two other players can start challenging Fed/Nadal/Djokovic regularly for entire (important) matches, then we will indeed have a Golden Age on our hands.

Posted by KG 09/04/2007 at 12:51 AM

Great post Pete.

I love J Blake. He's such a gentleman and a class act to have on the tour. He may not win a GS (and I highly doubt he will) but his experiences esp with the injury have made him appreciate this new level he's at and see life w/ a new perspective; and its awesome. He'll always be a #1 in my book.

Posted by GS 09/04/2007 at 01:37 AM

This is the first year I've been less than a fan of Blake's. I think it's because the US press talks about him too much. He's a nice guy, obviously, with a decent game, and certainly has handled his share of bad luck with grace, but if the press is to be believed, he is always "on the verge" of tennis greatness. And he falls short time and again. His matches are entertaining, but I just don't see greatness. When he won the match against Santoro the other day, I could not help feeling that beating a cramping opponent in the 5th doesn't quite qualify as getting the proverbial monkey off his back. When pressed against the backboards today, it didn't happen! He has reason to be proud of the fight, and I wish him luck, but please, can we not go into every tournament with the American press wanting to crown him king.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 09/04/2007 at 01:42 AM

Kind and appropriate words, Mr. Bodo. James Blake is clearly a classy and intelligent individual. Unfortunately, that's what makes watching him play tennis so maddening. It seems like he is an objective spectator at his own matches: celebrating his brilliant winners, applauding his opponents', and acknowledging his errors; yet he never changes strategy or makes adjustments. Blake continues to play like Mary Carillo once said some of the women do: as if all points are worth the same. How can he not see the turning points in this match, occasions when he had the opening and failed to break through it?

BTW, register another vote for unlimited challenges. They really don't take much more time (viz. '06 Davis Cup final), although the system seems slower at the Open this year.

Posted by Sher 09/04/2007 at 01:46 AM

I like Blake (JBlock notwithstanding) but you have to feel the let down when given a cushy draw to the semis he doesn't make it even to his usual standard of QF. I was certain he would make it this time, but I was wrong. Still, you kind of feel that he's achieved what he most wanted which is to play a _respectable_ level of the game.

Posted by svelterogue 09/04/2007 at 03:03 AM

I actually said Tommy Haas, because at that point he came back from a very serious shoulder injury. A lot of doctors said he would never be the same, whether or not he was able to play was up in the air. He came back and got back to the top 10 in the world and is back playing at the top of the game.
since he beat marat in last year's fourth round at the grand stand, i have admired tommy haas immensely and reading blake's words above did a choke hold within the chest, forcing out lacrimonial fluids.

Posted by Jase 09/04/2007 at 04:31 AM

Guys, I didn't get the Stepanek joke. Could someone please elaborate? Thanks.

Posted by michaelo 09/04/2007 at 04:58 AM

I am also a great admirer of Tommy Haas and I'm delighted he came through. Not only has he had the courage and determination to come back from what should have been a career-ending injury, he's had a dreadful personal tragedy and its aftermath to deal with for the last few years.

By all means feel a pang of sympathy for James Blake who of course has come through his own rough times, but please, let's not go overboard. After everything Tommy's been through, he is at least as deserving a winner.

Posted by chloe02 09/04/2007 at 05:53 AM

Great to read that, Pete. James Blake is a really 'old fashioned' sporting hero who plays with heart and grace. It may not be edgy and cut-throat enough for some, but it means a hell of a lot to the rest of us. If winning the really big silverware means for Blake betraying his fundamental decency, maybe the price is too high. Another player who demonstrates very similar values of intelligence and fair play is Djokovic. Winning or losing, he handles those two imposters just the same. Go Djoko!

Posted by memory1124 09/04/2007 at 06:02 AM

oh,why his Tennis racket is always changed again and again?
i am so difficult to adjust a new racket~~

Posted by Shannon 09/04/2007 at 06:59 AM

I don't see why it'd be so tough for James to tell the J-Block to cool it a little and show some respect for his opponents. They're his friends, right? They make him look bad and yes, provoke more than a little resentment towards him. I was pulling for Tommy Haas despite not really being a Haas fan because I wanted someone to shut them up. Not only does he not try to calm them down, he thanks them all the time and encourages them to behave like that. I'm sorry but I see that as a reflection on his character. I don't really buy his Mr Nice Guy routine.

Posted by Shannon 09/04/2007 at 07:02 AM

I don't see why it'd be so tough for James to tell the J-Block to cool it a little and show some respect for his opponents. They're his friends, right? They make him look bad and yes, provoke more than a little resentment towards him. I was pulling for Tommy Haas despite not really being a Haas fan because I wanted someone to shut them up. Not only does he not try to calm them down, he thanks them all the time and encourages them to behave like that. I'm sorry but I see that as a reflection on his character. I don't really buy his Mr Nice Guy routine.

Posted by Shannon 09/04/2007 at 07:02 AM

woops, didn't mean to post that twice. My computer hates me.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 09/04/2007 at 07:22 AM

first I think that james and the j-block are 2 different/separate things. I'm not sure whether they are his "friends" (in the proper, personal sense of the word) but they certainly do root for him and I don't see how, blake could tell them anything: I mean what could he say? "please, don't cheer me up", "please, don't follow the score and the tension of the match?", "please don't be happy for me, when I score a friggin mega return of serve against my opponent?". It's a game of athletic sports not a game of croquet

However, did it really bother haas ? Don't think so, actually, tommy was smiling during their antics. It's just that childish antics !!!Everybody knows about them and is prepared (and probably roll their eyes), so why get offended? Not only did it push haas even more -6-0 remember?-, but he "got back at them" in a way. It also helped blake during difficult moments. Also,in spite of whatever was happening in the stands, these two great players, gave us one on the best match of the tournament ! So where is the problem?

That being said, I certainly do find them obnoxious at times.

Where it bothered me a bit more was during a match against gabashvili like one year ago perhaps. The russian was ranked in the hundreds at that time and completely unknown and what the j-block did (the screams, etc..) was limit bullying; blake was even embarrassed during play but the russian (who lost) hold on. Good for him.

Posted by ajv 09/04/2007 at 07:24 AM

I don't know if this has been mentioned before in J-Block discussions, but the group consists mostly of folks associated with the tennis club in Trumbull, Ct. where James did his early training. It's also the club where his mom worked for many years. Most of the Block members are tennis pros from that club, as well as players and their families. The group got put together at a time when James was trying to come back from his injuries, and was way down in the rankings. Rooting for him as they did seemed like a good idea, a much needed boost for a favorite son in hard times. Things have obviously changed over the last two years, with James having risen into the top ten, and stayed there, despite having to defend so many points. It's much harder to condone aggressive cheerleading when the object of the cheers is in the top ten in the world and clearly not in need of that kind of boosterism. The whole NIKE connection also makes the whole thing seem contrived: they are selling t-shirts; there's probably a web site, etc. I would hope they tone it down, or save it for New Haven's Pilot Penn, which is our local tourney, and low-key enough for the folks not to get upset over the aggressive cheering. Anyway, it should at least be understood that the whole thing was a heartfelt and spontaneous attempt to help a native son in his time of need. The way TV is treating it, by the way, is ridiculous: Carillo at one point asked, facetiously, wether some of them had jobs, implying that they were crazed fans. Nonsense.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 09/04/2007 at 07:38 AM

Very interesting: I always thought the j-block were university students not pro-club players !!!!

I did know that they were selling LOADS of t-shirts though ("fire it up, one more time-bam!"): it could be good idea if that money could go to charity.

Posted by skip1515 09/04/2007 at 07:53 AM

This is a fine column about someone who's clearly a fine man. I wasn't able to watch the match, but did see a bit of the post match press conference, and I thought it was admirable that Blake didn't simply keep repeating, "Hey, can we make this short? I don't really feel like being here now...."

I'd be curious to know how those three match points were won by Haas. In the past, what I've found frustrating about watching Blake is that he so rarely makes his opponent beat him when crunch time comes around; all too often opportunities seem to be there for him, and he goes for too much and misses. Or, worse yet, fails to get a service return in play (the same, but different).

I know he sees himself as an initiator of the dynamic of any point, and that's fine. But at some point a review of how those important points slip away might indicate that a soup├žon of extra margin for error would pay big dividends.

It's bittersweet, but the flip side of a tough loss for one is a good win for another.

Posted by Andrew 09/04/2007 at 08:20 AM

skip1515: all three MPs were to the ad court, 30-40 then two ad points. There were approximately six deuces. From memory:

MP 1: Wide first serve, good stab BH return by Blake to mid court, Haas hits winner FH topspin drive to deuce court.

MP2, 3: Big first serve down T, not returned.

In none of the points could Blake take a genuine swing at the ball, by virtue of Haas' effective serve.

Posted by Ray Stonada 09/04/2007 at 08:28 AM

Skip, on the first match point Haas came behind a good approach and Blake missed the pass. On the other two he hit unreturnable first serves. Pretty solid under pressure.

Great piece, Pete - the Hawkeye stuff has made me a believer.

Posted by Ruth 09/04/2007 at 08:35 AM

I love this post. It's great when a post like that is the first thing that I read after weeding through all the overnight junk e-mails and before diving into the mostly depressing news in my daily newspaper.

The loss yesterday must be a huge disappointment for James, but he handled it well; and he'll continue to handle both his victories and his losses with class. After having read Breaking Point,in which Andrew (Friedman) wrote a wonderful inscription for me on Friday night at the TW party, I am even more appreciative of all that Blake has done and will, I'm sure, continue to do.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 09/04/2007 at 08:38 AM

Hass is an excellent example of how injury can derail anyone's plan, no matter the talent. These guys have a lot in common and most matches contain tons of respect.

Watched Fed last night and was struck by two things.

1) from down love forty to start the third set, the fabled "turning on the extra gear" was on full display. Those short angle and down the line passes were off some pretty tough shots. I think he only lost a couple more points on serve for the rest of the match.

2) In answer to how Fed maintains motivation and what drives him, I think simply the ability to produce that sort of tennis and shotmaking against a quality opponent playing that well in important monents, must be a large part of it. More than the records or winning, one almost gets the feel it really is in the moment. Stunning shotmaking.

Lastly anyone noticed how Ted R. actually said, "Here's Johnny" in intro for JMac? Think they read Pete?

Posted by federer fan 09/04/2007 at 09:17 AM

Excuse the lengthy post : thoughts on Fed/Nadal rivalry, leading off from todays Feli match.

[Moved by Moderator to MNP/CC - federer fan, this thread is reserved for Blake - Haas comments, as set up by Pete's post]

Posted by federer fan 09/04/2007 at 09:41 AM

sorry posted my previous one in the wrong post by mistake!
Yes, Blake is a class act, whether he ever wins a GS or not.

Posted by Schwab 09/04/2007 at 09:42 AM

Tough for James to lose a match having 3 MP. But, all MP was on Haas' racquet and he came up with the goods but I do agree with Jenn that Blake lost the match in the 4th set when he got bageled. Haas was in cruise control until James found a way to brake Tommy's serve in the 5th set.

Posted by marron 09/04/2007 at 09:52 AM

Quite a match! I was rooting for Tommy, but would have been just as happy had James won that one. Both have come back from such adversity - and both are wonderful young men with a better perspective on life, competition, and tennis.

I still think Blake has the goods to win a slam - he can only learn from this loss.

Posted by jb 09/04/2007 at 09:54 AM

original frenchie - the jblock isn't composed of randam uni students - they actually are friends and family of his. Keep in mind this is his home slam - as he grew up an hour or so out of the city. (without traffic) So its easy for his pals to get to the open.

also the proceeds from the sale of the jblock items go to charity; they're not sold for profit.

I think they got a bit too rowdy in new haven this year, and were asked to tone it down a bit. honestly, i didnt see james play live, but on tv, i haven't seen them be that bad. not during james / tommy's match anyhow.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 09/04/2007 at 10:12 AM

What a great match, we watched it with some tennis nuts from the neighborhood (we had co-hosted a block party BBQ). My jingoist side of me was rooting for Blake to take it in the fifth, but I've always had a soft spot for Tommy boy as well. In the end, Tommy deserved that win.

Certainly could have gone either way multiple times, though for me as the match wore on Haas' serve never let him down (especially his second serve), his hands at the net were quite remarkable, and he had one or two points where he simply played bigger.

Blake has nothing to be ashamed of -- he had a great run and left it all on the court.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 09/04/2007 at 10:28 AM

jb: ok, I didn't realize the personal component of the j-block ! I'm glad the proceeds of the t-shirt sales go to charity, that's a mindful move.

On Eurosport, they've shown the j-block only once (or at least I think so) and at the end of the match, so actually it did not take to much "space" away from what was going on the court...
instead they've shown tommy's girl like 25878 times, every 10 minutes or so !!! (they've shown also thomas blake a lot with close-ups on his green eyes). It was all very cool watching blake and haas -who are both lookers themselves- playing such grand tennis.I had a great time watching the match: I'm going to remember that for some time.

Posted by Syd 09/04/2007 at 10:33 AM

A great, great, thrilling match. One that would be worth of a final. Haas also had the match points on his racket and failed. But he showed Tremendous Heart. He stayed within himself even as the dreaded J-Bloc were doing everything they could to defeat him. In defeat I felt horrible for James, even though I was pulling for Tommy during match. But it's a form of cheating when you have a group acting in unison against your opponent. No, it's not like Davis Cup. Why is James the only player with this crazy mechanism in place? He'd do better without them. They make him look awful.And he doesn't deserve that. Sahara Peer's support was ugly too. completely unnerved her young opponent.

Posted by creig bryan 09/04/2007 at 10:46 AM

Disagree. Crowd noise, organized or not, should be something a professional tennis player has learned (long ago) to ignore(or enjoy).

These fans (the J-block or the Peer Power Pack(TM) or even Mirza's Million Mouths) are staying within the guidelines of tennis (i.e. not making noise during points). Calling fans, cheering in the stands, during a sporting event, rude and obnoxious? Excuse me, but don't fans cheer? Whistle? Clap?

Let's go to the ballet.


Posted by Ray Stonada 09/04/2007 at 10:58 AM

Nick Bolletieri was really excited and happy about it, too - I ran into him on the grounds and he said "Just came through a marathon with my boy Tommy!!"

Posted by jb 09/04/2007 at 11:07 AM

TOF - agreed the match was very easy on the eyes! and they did keep showing tommy's girl - which just cracked me up. She was totally into it though at least she wasn't sitting there filing her nails and just lookin' hott.

It was a great match to watch. Since Tommy's injuries this year sidelined him for so long, its really nice to see him playing at this level again. He started the year so strongly and I just felt so badly when he got hurt. I get the feeling he just can't really catch a break. And like James, I gotta respect that the guy is still there coming back, over n' over.

But I felt so badly for James - like they say, it takes 2 to make a great match.

Posted by ad 09/04/2007 at 11:13 AM

This morning I still feel bad for James, my favorite player. I often wonder why he is my favorite when I don't really like his game. My family says it's the combination of sexy and intelligent.

I hope Haas wins his next match. He showed a lot last night.

Posted by Suresh 09/04/2007 at 11:24 AM

That was a great piece on Blake - not sure if one of the reasons why Blake loses is because he is 'nice' , but apparently a fair number of people think so.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why he loses could be attributed more to 'mental smarts' than being nice. Tennis players do suffer from mental lapses and one can have them without the lapse being linked to Blake's fine character.

The other reason beinh technical - he is a shot maker and his go for broke style will provide entertaining tennis , but not consistent enough over seven best of five matches to win a major.

I hoped I am proved wrong, but for that to happen he will have to combine aggressive tennis judiciously with percentage tennis and recognize important moments in a match.


About hawk-eye technology - close calls at crucial junctures have certainly vindicated the introduction of the electronic aid. At the same time, there is a need to incerease the number of challenges per set and also possibly to include more courts under its ambit.

I fail to understand why certain quarters are aginst it though. Carillo for example is against the technology citing the percentage of challenges that the players the players were proved right.

This ignores two things though - it is not a competition to see who are correct more often - the linespeople or the players. The point is a certain percentage of calls were corrected and the closer the percentage of correct calls is to 100%, the better it is.

Secondly, players challenge a few calls for the heck of it and if the players are wrong they lower the 'percentage' of successful challenges , but that is not the point here.

Of course, the electronic aid allows players to play more freely without meltdowns instead of doubting about the previous close calls had there been no technology.

Posted by Sam 09/04/2007 at 11:26 AM

skip: Haas hit really good serves on all three match points for Blake. At least one was unreturnable. On the first MP, I believe he hit a big serve out wide followed by and unreturnable forehand (not sure if it was a winner).

Posted by Suresh 09/04/2007 at 11:26 AM

"Carillo for example is against the technology citing the percentage of challenges that the players the players were proved right."

shoud read "Carillo for example is against the technology citing the percentage of challenges that the players have been proved wrong"

Posted by ndk 09/04/2007 at 11:32 AM

More blake articles...

Posted by Sam 09/04/2007 at 11:48 AM

Thanks for the links, ndk. I especially liked the Newsday one.

Posted by Sam 09/04/2007 at 11:53 AM

This will sound cliche, but to me there was no loser in this match, just one player that won and one that lost. I liked the warm exchange at the net after the match. Congrats to both players for a tremendous effort, and to Haas for the win.

Posted by Suresh 09/04/2007 at 11:58 AM

"This will sound cliche, but to me there was no loser in this match" - not for Blake and his supporters ... lol

Posted by svelterogue 09/04/2007 at 12:44 PM

creig bryan

i cheer at the ballet. ooooh rowdy me! LOL

Posted by federer fan 09/04/2007 at 12:59 PM

I hope Blake doesnt fall off the radar and reappear only at the open in 08, he has lotsa points to defend at the year end championships...isnt it? assuming he qualifies, ofcourse.

Posted by Scott 09/04/2007 at 02:26 PM

Great post Pete. Shows Blake to be the man of class and grace that he aspires to be. And Creig Bryan, could not agree with you more about the J-Block (10:46 am post). Tennis players are strong to withstand (gasp) cheering fans.

Posted by KAM 09/04/2007 at 03:27 PM

This article is a perfect example of why James Blake has never made it to a grand slam final. James is too nice. He doesn't have the killer instinct that Sampras, Agassi, Federer, and Nadal have (just to name a few). James should be leary of the "nicest guy in the locker room" title that he seems to hold. Watching that match last night I knew he was going to lose even though he had the complete home court advantage, he finds a way to choke his way out of matches in the big tournaments. Tommy Haas wanted it more.

Posted by gcchung 09/04/2007 at 05:02 PM

There are those who will sell their souls to win:


There are those who like to win:

Serena & Venus

There are those who want to win:


There are those that agonize about winning:


and then there are those that are happy to making a living playing tennis;


Posted by Lady T 09/04/2007 at 05:36 PM

For those who have nothing else to do but slam James Blake for being what his parents raised him to be: A man of character, class and decency, I have this to say - You should be so lucky to have a son like him or to be like him yourself. Playing tennis is what he does, not who he is. Who he is is the man you see during the interviews - win or lose. He makes no excuses for losses and accepts praise when he wins all while praising his opponent. Some people like a little controversy and a little drama but save the drama for the court and when its over, leave it there. James will rise above his critics and prove to everyone that he still have what it takes.

Posted by Jerry 09/04/2007 at 06:36 PM

Has anyone every figured out how decides when to close a blog? Seems like whenever anyone writes anything non favorable to a top american player they suddenly pull the plug on the blog... Please notice this trend with future topics they throw out... especially if you say something negative about

Posted by Jake 09/04/2007 at 07:08 PM

After reading Bodo's article obviously the title is misleading. This was a love-fest about how nice a person Blake is. I don't think there's one single post on this blog that would not give Blake the nicest guy in the top ten award!

I am a Federer and Blake fan. I rooted hard for Blake a few years back when he beat Nadal and then faced a slow, aged, icon, Agassi. What I saw in the 5th set disturbed me a bit. He appeared to be so enamored and in love with the legend Agassi that on the big points he simple couldn't or wouldn't hit the big shots to put him away. That day Blake was a better player than Agassi and was hitting crisp sharp shots. However, in the end he appeared to be too nice to take advantage of that. This is the message we tell our children in little league; we play not to win but for fun and sportsmanship. I'm not sure the same can be said for Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters.

Let's still applaud Blake for his niceness, fortunately for us there are plenty more nice players ranked in the two hundreds and lower.

Posted by Jerry 09/04/2007 at 07:11 PM

Enough about Blake -- we wont hear his name mentioned again until next summers hard court season.

My question is -- can anyone name just one up and coming potential american star on the womens side? Just one? Seems like there are a bunch of early 20 something american women who are floating around 100 in the rankings -- but nobody that's any good. Where are the next true american star like evert? austin, williams', or even capriati?

The womens game is in DESPERATE need of an american superstar. Watching all these european teens at the US open is soooo booring. they all play and look exactly the same... same style of play, same inconsistent play, same long braid, etc..

Posted by FloridaTao 09/04/2007 at 09:08 PM

To me, James Blake is in the top 10 for one reason and one reason only: he is a gifted, brilliant shotmaker. But unlike other top players, he doesn't have much to rely on outside of that. As Mary Carillo said, it is very difficult to win majors, and even best-of-5-set matches, relying on shotmaking alone. Shotmakers can go up and down with a match; they can get leads, blow leads, get them and blow them again. These are the exact reasons why Blake has a 1-10 five-set record. It's no real mystery at all.

Posted by FloridaTao 09/04/2007 at 09:26 PM

Just one more thing on Blake: Not only does he have probably the worst 5-set record of anyone ever to be in the top 10, but he is one of only 3 men in the Open Era who was in the Top 5 but never made it to a Grand Slam semifinal.

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 09/04/2007 at 09:58 PM

Original Frenchie, and others - I'll bypass the whole J-Block discussion, but fyi, the J-Block merchandise proceeds DO go to charity, and have since Nike began producing them - the funds go to inner-city tennis programs and such.

Posted by Jerry 09/05/2007 at 01:35 AM

J block should be gay-Block.

Posted by KAM 09/05/2007 at 07:36 AM

I feel like James Blake is shoved down our throats every summer, put on coverpages with actual grand slam champions, and this is what he gives us every year.

Jerry...I agree there are no exciting womens players right now, which is a complete reversal of what everyone was saying after Sampras and Agassi retired. The men now have Isner and Young (although I'm not completely sold on either yet), but it gives us something to look foward to. The U.S. women have virtually no young talented players, so we are forced to watch the Europeans whose names we cannot even pronounce. It seems like a new young European is popping up every month, the U.S. hasn't had one in years.

Posted by KAM 09/05/2007 at 07:39 AM

Lady T, lighten up. This isn't a debate on James Blake's character as much as it is his ability, or lack of, to win big matches. We all agree he is an extremely nice guy, and a becon to the community etc. etc., but that doesnt win you grand slams. James is a great guy, I just wouldn't want him playing for us when its tied at 2-2 in the Davis Cup final.

Posted by jb 09/05/2007 at 11:01 AM

madison brengle. upcoming young woman from the US

Its been made even more clear to me after last nites matches, that what james has before everything else, is charecter. And oddly enough - I value that more than slam titles.

So I'll continue to root for James, and hope that on a given day he produces his best tennis, that those unfreakinbelievable shots all go in and he wins. But if he doesn't, I'm confident he'll come out the next tourney and start anew. And I guess I'm ok with that.

Posted by Cristina Manzanares 09/05/2007 at 12:57 PM

The fact that James Blake is, in your words, "such a reasonable man", makes him a respected fellow worldwide. And it's definitely not a flaw. Many of us are sick of those who want to win at all costs. We like Federer's and Blake's attitudes. And dislike Hewitt's or Nadal's behaviour which suits a boxing ring better than a tennis court!

Posted by Todd 09/05/2007 at 04:42 PM

I'll fall into the minority here, but I actually found Blake's on court and post match interviews to be rather contrived. It seemed like he was thinking that he took some heat for taking losses to Agassi and Federer in the past too well. So, this time he was going to make sure that he looked really upset and disappointed by the loss.

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