Blake Falls Short and Roddick Gets Lucky

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James Blake failed in five sets while Andy Roddick didn’t even need two.

James Blake had already won the first set in his match with Tommy Haas and now he had his fifth break point in the first game of the second set. He finally broke Haas with the help of a beautiful touch volley and I have to say that I’ve never seen Blake go to the net as often as he has here at the US Open and I like it.

If he could keep the momentum going, he’d join Andy Roddick as the second US player in the quarterfinals. He could not. He gave the break back in the next game then put an overhead into the net.

When these two play, the tennis is almost secondary to the psychological ups and downs. You can chart the match by their temperaments rather than the score so here goes.

Blake was angry and he gave up a second break by smashing a ball into the net. When Haas served for the second set, it was his turn to unravel. He hit two loose errors, let out an f-bomb, and a got a warning from the chair umpire. Yep, Tommy Haas is in the house.

Haas lost that game but he managed to break Blake to take the second set and even the match at one set all. Haas may be combustible but he’s also a smart cookie. As soon as Blake started to falter, Haas became the aggressor and took the net away from Blake by getting there first.

Haas is not a natural at the net, though, and an overaggressive volley early in the third set gave Blake a break point and sent the momentum back his way. Nothing helps one’s temperament like an early break. One more break and Blake had the third set.

And here it got interesting. Haas got the early break in the fourth set and that propelled him into the stratosphere. He was killing the ball. He won seven straight games and that included breaking Blake in the first game of the fifth set.

Blake was down but his shoulders weren’t slumping. There were signs of life and a bit of luck. Haas had a break point to go up 5-2 in the fifth set but he hit an error else it would have been all over for Blake. In the next game, Haas put a volley into the net to lose his serve. I couldn’t believe it. Blake was back on serve!

It gets better. Haas attacked again and Blake hit a shot at his belly and followed that up with a lob. Haas ran down the lob but it dribbled just over the net where Blake got to it then hit it past a diving Haas. The crown was on its feet. Blake had come back and now he had a 5-4 lead.

It gets even better. In the next game, Blake got three separate match points but each time Haas served his way out of trouble. The match would end with a fifth set tiebreaker and they saved the best for last.

With the score at 3-3 in the tiebreaker, Haas hit a drop shot then lobbed Blake who spun around and tore off for the baseline. When he got there he hit an over the shoulder looper that landed deep in the corner. Haas’ response was short and Blake came to the net again. This time Haas’ lob was too high. Blake jumped up but all he got was air. The crowd was going crazy. Sitting in the stands, his mother shook her head just the slightest bit.

That was all we’d get out of Blake in this match. He hit a double fault and an error and Haas finally finished it off with an ace to win the match, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-6(4). Blake had almost won his second fifth set match in a row after losing his first nine. And he’d rebounded from a horrible 0-6 fourth set. After the match Blake explained it pretty well:

I did everything I could. Fought as hard as I could. Broke back in the fifth set. Had the momentum. Felt like I was playing great. He came up big. I feel like I just pushed a couple of balls and ended up playing a little tentative in that tiebreaker.

He also explained that the media makes too big a deal out of his five set losses. Yes we do and so should he if he wants to reach a slam semifinal or two. Nonetheless, I do count this as progress and did I tell you this before:


Andy Roddick Gets Lucky

It’s a good thing Tomas Berdych wasn’t feeling well. If he’d been 100% he might have sent Andy Roddick packing.

Berdych couldn’t get his first serve in but he was smart enough to hit to Roddick’s backhand. He also discovered that hitting a few inside out forehands followed by a shot to the opposite corner was a winning combination. Roddick couldn’t get to the opposite corner. It looked like he’d exhausted his reservoir of balletic moves in his dominating win over Thomas Johansson.

Berdych broke Roddick and served for the first set at 5-4 but he couldn’t hold his serve and now he was his usual grumpy self. Honestly, this guy doesn’t need a psychologist, he needs to go to a laughing club.

Perhaps I’m being unfair because Berdych was suffering from breathing problems and an upset stomach. The men appear to be getting the flu that marched its way through the women’s locker room last month. Richard Gasquet didn’t even go onto the court for his second round match after he woke up with a fever and sore throat.

Berdych used the inside out forehand/opposite corner pattern to get a set point in the first set tiebreaker but then he really fell apart. Three straight errors and Roddick won the tiebreaker. Two games into the second set, Berdych shook his hands and gave the “no mas” signal and the match was over.

Here’s guessing that Roddick will not be anywhere near that lucky against his next opponent, one Roger Federer.

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Read more about James Blake’s victory over Fabrice Santoro