June 22, 2009
James Blake used to make a habit out of overcoming obstacles. Now, he's making a habit of letting them overcome him.
For the second straight Slam, Blake has come in on a roll, only to go out with a whimper in the first round. Today's 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (5) upset at the hands of unseeded Italian Andreas Seppi is a major disappointment for American tennis fans who are desperately seeking a reason to believe that their heroes are more than just one-dimensional hard court gurus.
The 29-year-old Blake is undoubtedly one of the good guys in the sport. He's a charming kid who conducts himself with dignity on and off the court, and he's a perfect example of the kind of sportsman we should all aspire to be.
Unfortunately, Blake's sportsmanship seems to drain him of his killer instinct. He's prone to firing blanks in the big matches, and he seems resolved to accept this fate rather than to push himself through the obvious barriers that are separating him from the major players on tour.
Blake has fought through hardship ever since he was diagnosed with scoliosis as a 13-year-old. He wore a back brace for 18 hours a day.
The mere fact that he has been a force in professional tennis given his obvious physical limitations is miraculous. Add to that his recovery from a freak injury in which he broke his back on the tennis court, and his subsequent return to the upper echelons of the men's game, and you'd think that there is nothing that can stop this guy.
But Blake seems to lose his sense of resolve at the most inopportune moments, and for his supporters it can be painful to watch.
After fighting his way to the finals of the grass court tune-up in Eastbourne, James should have been high on confidence. He wasn't, and much to American tennis fans' chagrin, he was bounced like a fresh Slazenger out of the Championships.
At 29, Blake's days at the top of the sport are numbered. Regardless of how he finishes his career, he will always be remembered as an inspirational figure for tennis fans and players alike.
Sadly, however, his lack of a breakthrough major, in spite of all his great play, will also be remembered.
He's got a few years to get over this one final hump. He's never been past the quarters of a slam, and with the type of athletic prowess that he possesses, it'll be a shame if he never does.
As one of the true shining stars in the murky celestial body known as American tennis, it would be a beautiful thing if Blake could summon the spirit that got him where he is today and crank out a big-time performance on a grand stage.
Sadly, he squandered another opportunity without much of that fighting spirit that we all know Blake possesses.
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