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Is James Blake in denial about having confidence problems? Depends how you look at it.
After James Blake won his second round match at Wimbledon, a journalist told him that Patrick McEnroe called him a confidence player – in other words, a player who needs a few wins before his confidence starts to build in a tournament. Blake agreed with the assessment:
I hope Patrick’s right, that everyone needs to watch out when I do get some confidence. That’s the way I always feel.
He also talked about confidence problems when he was young:
… as a young player, I wasn’t consistent. I would lose a match, lose confidence immediately. That could spiral in[to] three, four, five losses in a row. Now I don’t let that happen. I don’t let the dips in confidence happen.
Blake has transformed himself from an average player with model goods looks into a top ten player. Along the way, he’s shown a propensity to get easily discouraged. It happened in his next match – he lost in the third round to Juan Carlos Ferrero – and it’s fair to ask whether Blake is in denial about having dips in confidence.
Ferrero discouraged Blake by winning the second set without losing a point on his serve. Still, it was only the second set and Blake had already won the first set. You’ve heard it a million times before but here it is again: Blake has never won a five set match, he’s 0-9.
In any match, it’s entirely possible that your opponent will enter the “zone” and experience a temporary period of perfection. It seldom lasts the entire match and it almost never happens throughout a best of five match. It if does happen, it’s imperative that you try something to nudge your opponent out of his perfection. Mix up your strokes, come to the net. Hell, stand halfway between the baseline and service line on the return if you have to. It’s been done before.
While Ferrero was getting 85% of his first serves in, Blake didn’t change anything. He stood in the same place and played the same way. And when he gets discouraged, he starts speeding up his play and hitting the ball as hard as he can therefore producing more errors. I recognize this behavior: “Oh yeah, I’ll show you. You won’t beat me because I’ll beat myself.”
Is that not a dip in confidence?
Eventually Blake got his feet moving and those hard hits were staying in the court. After losing the third set, he played Ferrero even in the fourth set and got to the tiebreaker. At 4-5 in the tiebreaker, Blake hit an easy volley into the net and Ferrero took the match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4).
You could say that Blake’s approach improved his play. He got mad and got even, at least in the fourth set. And it is an improvement over his performance here last year. After going up two sets to one on Max Mirnyi in the third round, he proceeded to win exactly one game in the last two sets.
Blake lost in the third round again but having a smaller meltdown this year than last year counts as progress. You could also see it as an improvement in confidence.
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