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Davis Cup: For Openers, Blake and Roddick Roll

May 25, 2008 01:28 PM

Home Cooking Boosts Blake in Opening Win; Roddick Extends U.S. Lead

By Jason Brown, USTA.com

Roddick 225w
Winston-Salem, N.C.
– If there were any lingering doubts about his game, James Blake is now officially back.

Emphatically responding to his critics while paying tribute to the site of his Davis Cup debut six years ago in 2001, Blake sprinted onto the court at the Joel Coliseum with a purpose and let loose, defeating Spain’s Tommy Robredo in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

“People who really do believe in me were in the stands today and they’re the ones that know that I’ll be back to my old self in no time,” said Blake, criticized in recent weeks after early losses in Indian Wells and Miami.

“This was a big step for me today to play as well as I did. It couldn’t have been a better feeling with this atmosphere and some really important people for me in the stands. I’m confident in me, I’m confident in Andy, I’m confident in this team.”

The nightcap of a clean sweep for the U.S. on Friday, No. 1 singles player Andy Roddick found a will and a way to get past Fernando Verdasco of Spain, winning 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-4.

Fighting his way back from a 2-5 deficit in the first set, Roddick dug deep and forced a tie-breaker, which he would win. Deflated and frustrated, the errors mounted for Verdasco, who would win just five games over the second and third sets.

Converting on his sixth match point, Roddick fought through unsettled nerves and defeated the 35th-ranked Verdasco.

“You say six, but it felt like 12,” Roddick joked after the match about his number of match point tries. “But you’ve got to really credit James who really stepped up today and rose to the occasion.”

Improving his Davis Cup singles record to 23-9, Roddick is now just one win behind Vic Seixas for fifth all time in U.S. history, and two behind the great Bill Tilden.

By defeating Spain's surprise substitute, the Americans are now in prime position to clinch the quarterfinal series in the doubles rubber scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Bob and Mike Bryan, the top-ranked doubles team in the world, are an impressive 10-1 in Davis Cup play, and are carrying a five-match winning streak in the team competition.

If all goes according to script, the Californian twins have the opportunity to clinch their first tie for the U.S. since lifting the team to victory twice in 2004, at the Mohegan Sun Arena against Austria and in Charleston during a sweep of Belarus.

A particularly meaningful victory for Blake, his mother, Betty, and older brother, Thomas, watched from their seats about five rows behind the team bench, bolstered by the patriotic sold-out crowd.

After the match, Blake climbed into the stands and hugged his mother and brother, softly speaking into her ear.

“I just want to always let her know how much it means to have her here,” said Blake. “I know what it means to her. I know how many memories she has of this place from the first time. Obviously there's nothing we can do about that. But I just have to let her know how much she means to me to have her here.”

Improved his Davis Cup singles record to 10-7, Blake’s contribution to the team was immense, taking an important point against Spain’s No. 1 player.

“It’s hard for me to express,” said Blake on his family’s presence following the emotional victory. “All of the memories of the first time that I was in here. Hearing the people in the stands, my mom and my brother – It’s taken the voice that sounds so familiar of my father. To know that my Dad believed in me in 2001, that I would be a part of this team”

The team that he is now an integral part of, Roddick and the Bryan brothers with the guidance of team captain Patrick McEnroe and the steady voice of personal coach Brian Barker, have helped replace the father that he lost.

“These guys are brothers,” smiled Blake, who has forged an intimate connection with his teammates, a group of players that have bonded together over their experiences together on the Davis Cup team.

“To go in there, see the faces in the locker room, they definitely feel like brothers. It feels so comfortable. You don't have that many friends out there in the world, or family members where you can have a disagreement and come back and be fine with them. You can have competitive nature, go crazy on the court and then two hours later go to dinner and be joking about it. I think we have that. It definitely feels like a family. They all feel like brothers to me.”

Reminiscing back to the year 2001, the city of Winston-Salem clearly is a special place for Blake with deep meaning, resonating in his family history.

Blake is introduced at opening ceremonies.
“I'll never get that smile he had out of my memory when he was watching me play. That was the only match I've ever really been nervous at, that first Davis Cup match. To get through it because I knew they were there, I knew they were so proud of me. And he knew I was going to win. I was nervous. I was so uptight and scared. And he had that big smile on his face. Just happy that I was playing, proud of me, knew I would do my best.

Coming off the court, he had a huge smile on his face. So did my mom. They were so happy for me and I was so happy for them. That's something that I'll remember forever. So coming back to the same place, my mom is sitting in a very similar position, and seeing her there with my brother, hearing his voice just as loud as my dad's in the crowd, and looking over and seeing them, it was just something that brings back memories and makes me want to win this match even more.”

Entering the match, neither player, Blake or Robredo, had ever won an opening match in Davis Cup competition. Something had to give in this match-up and that someone was Blake.

Improving his career record against Robredo to 5-2, Blake broke the sixth-ranked Robredo four times in the match, including set points on Robredo’s serve in the first and second frames.

The opening ceremonies, which included contortionists, pyrotechnics during the player introductions, and the national anthem sung by the reigning Miss North Carolina, set the stage for a raucous atmosphere inside the Joel Coliseum.

A tight first set, Blake and Robredo stayed on serve, until the timely break by Blake returning up 5-4. Blake began percolating in the third game with a confident forehand volley that he punched deep into the corner, followed by a series of flowing one-handed backhands two games later.

In the driver’s seat, Blake took charge in the second game. After hustling back and forth across the court, retrieving the Spaniard’s strokes, the American stabbed a backhand volley at net for the break. Consolidating the break with a held service game, Blake easily captured the second set, 6-3.

The most important hold of the match, Blake steadied his nerves and held service in the opening game of the third set, punctuated by his fourth ace.

At 3-1, Blake came up with three break points and finally converted as a desperation backhand overhead lob fell softly out of the reach of a lunging Robredo.

Clearly tightening up in his first attempt to serve out the match, Blake hit a pair of tight forehands into the net that set the stage for Robredo’s sole break.

Blake didn’t let his second chance to serve out go by the wayside. Striking his seventh ace followed by two Robredo baseline errors gave Blake three more match points. On the fourth and final attempt, Blake guided a backhand volley into the open court for the win.

After watching from home in Tampa two years ago as his best friend and current Winston-Salem practice partner Mardy Fish played in the Davis Cup final, Blake was up to the task today.

“You don't ever want to let your family down, especially on your home court,” said Blake. “We don't want to go out of here with anyone celebrating on our home court.”

In the quarterfinal that directly impacts the U.S.-Spain series, Sweden got wins from Thomas Johansson and Robin Soderling and lead Argentina, 2-0. The winner of the tie between the U.S. and Spain will meet either Sweden or Argentina in the World Group Semifinals. If the U.S. advances, they are guaranteed to travel abroad for the semifinals in late September.

 

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