James Blake Broken at French Open

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James Blake Broken at French Open
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Just when we thought American, James Blake was getting out of his recent funk, the soon to be 30-year old crashed out of the first round at Roland Garros earlier this week; at the hands of qualifier, Leonardo Mayer no less.

I’m not taking anything away from Mayer here, the guy can play ball, but let’s be frank here for a moment, he is simply not in James Blake’s league. I know many of you will suggest that Blake has never excelled on clay, and that his third round finish in 2006 (his best run to date), was nothing to write home about. But my concerns for the American are of a different nature.

Sure Blake is not that good on clay, and he is getting older (by tennis standards), which will inevitably make his trademark first step and forehand less effective. But with only one quarter-final showing in the majors during the last three years, the former J-Block leader needs to reevaluate.

After another inexplicable loss in the early stages of a grand slam event, Blake had this to say after his match with Mayer.

“Nothing went right. I wasn’t ?? served pretty well in the first set or two, and then that wasn’t going well”.

You don’t say James, usually when you lose to a guy that is ranked 78 places below you, your serve could not have been the lone factor in your poor performance?

Perhaps the most disappointing point brought up by Blake in his presser yesterday, was his outlook on how Americans approach clay tennis.

“For the Americans, a lot of times this isn’t our main goal of the year. Ours is generally Wimbledon and the US Open. I think if we were to try to prepare completely for the French Open, we would be giving away some of our advantage at the Wimbledon and the US Open. That’s where we excel.”

We’d rather, I think, prepare best for what our strengths are. I think Andy has proved that by winning the US Open and getting to the finals of Wimbledon a bunch of times.”

So what you are saying James is that American players would prefer to bypass one of the four most important tournaments of the year in order to, perhaps play well at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open? I see–not being too picky here or anything, but when was the last time any American player won either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open? A distant 2003 comes to mind.

With that being said, I’m not hating on Blake or the American boys, they are all fine tennis players. But the truth never seems to hurt less with each passing year in Paris — you guys are just not that good on clay. Nevertheless, I for one would like to see Blake pick up his mediocre start to the 2009 season, by adding a few words of wisdom to the former number four ranked player in the world.

First off–James my man, you need a new coach. I’ve said this time and time again, Brain Barker is just not cutting it anymore. I know the relationship is strong, but if you want to continue to be a top player, a new voice in your ear is necessary. At the bare minimum hybrid a new coach into your system, a la Andy Murray.

Secondly, work on your slice backhand and volleys. That business about not being able to a teach an old dog new tricks is so Tomas Muster. Blake possess great athleticism, and if harnessed by a more feel oriented game, the semi-Harvard grad would see plenty more opinions on court, instead of his day to day surf and turf forehand routine.

Thirdly, bring back the sleeveless. No I’m serious! When the going gets tough, go back to what worked the best. With players being so ritualistic these days, and with Blake’s best days consisting of no farmers tan, let the poor guys biceps see some sun. My memo to Fila is in the mail!

Lastly, keep enjoying the game JB. We all know about the adversity that you went through in 2004. But as of late, Blake’s on court demeanor is portraying more sentiments of tennis being more of a chore than a privilege.

One of my fondest memories of Blake was during his epic classic at the 2005 U.S. Open against Andre Agassi. Even though Blake had given up a two sets to love lead during that quarter-final, a standing ovation by a rocking Ashe stadium, followed by an ear-to-ear smile by Blake, proved that even during the hardest of on court moments, everything needs to be put into perspective.

With two slams still on tap in 2009, I sure hope Blake was right when he said that Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are the tournaments that the American guys excel in the most.

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