James Blake survives Goldstein and Spadea

Two thirtysomething players make life difficult for James Blake.

When I do my fantasy team picks each week, I don’t pick every match in every draw because it takes too long and sometimes I miss something big. Here’s one I missed: Vince Spadea had a 6-1 record over James Blake before their match today here in Los Angeles at the Countrywide Classic.

Blake hasn’t beaten Spadea since they met in Vienna in 2002. Spadea has been around for a while, he celebrated his 33rd birthday this week. I didn’t watch those Spadea-Blake matches but after watching Blake play Paul Goldstein last night, I can guess how Spadea won all those matches.

Goldstein is 30-years-old himself and had beaten Blake in their only previous meeting. He must have been exhausted because his wife Abbie gave birth to their first child just five weeks ago. It showed in the first set. Blake won it 6-0 by smashing each of Goldstein’s second serves down his throat and blasting forehands. In the second set, though, Goldstein eased into his specialty – he calls it “being the wall” and it includes literally throwing himself at a ball if necessary – and it frustrated Blake.

Blake was still firing away but now he was missing. Players like Goldstein and Spadea are grinders. They keep the ball in play and since they don’t go for tons of winners, you don’t get many angles to work with. Blake is the opposite. In an ESPN interview with Patrick McEnroe and Cliff Drysdale, he said that the only way he he’ll get deep into a slam is by playing high risk tennis. He’s going for winners no matter what.

Goldstein won the second set easily and actually got a match point at 5-5 in the third set. Blake fought it off and broke Goldstein in the next game then served out the set with three aces to win the match, 6-0, 1-6, 7-5. Spadea went down in straight sets today but it wasn’t easy, the difference was only one break as Blake won, 7-6(2), 6-4, and moved onto the semifinals.

After the match with Spadea, I reminded Blake about his high risk comment and I asked him what happens when he gets into a match in a slam and he can’t keep his high risk shots in the court. What does he do then?

His first plan is just what we saw against Goldstein and Spadea, keep firing away:

I don’t think I go directly to plan B. I think I keep going after my shots…

There is a plan B though:

…there’s also other ways of just trying to figure out what can make the other person ineffective. If it’s chipping a lot of balls and they don’t like moving in, something like that.

I have seen Blake try to get to the net when he’s behind but I’ve seldom seen him chipping very much. If you’ve seen it, leave a comment. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he gets discouraged at times, if he can’t overpower his opponent, he’s not as confident with his other options.

Pam Shriver was sitting in the stands and she interviewed Blake’s temporary coach – his regular coach Brian Barker is taking the week off. She asked him if Blake’s camp talks about the mental game and he said they don’t talk about it much. That’s rather hard to believe.

I’d like to know what Blake’s coach says to him when he plays a match like his loss to Max Mirnyi last year at Wimbledon. Blake went up two sets to one then lost the last two sets, 1-6, 0-6. I’ll ask him tomorrow after his match.

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Read other articles about Los Angeles:
Interview with a Modest James Blake
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Do You Pick Nadal or Not?
The Greatest Road Trip in Sports Hits California
Safin, Nalbandian, and Gonzalez Hit the Wall