Takin' a T/O With BT: Fish Vs. Blake—Best Friends Meeting When It Matters
It's late August, which means that it's time for one thing.
The U.S. Open.
While baseball teams are making late-season moves through the waiver wire, the NFL is just setting it's wheels in motion with the beginning of it's regular season, and NHL training camps are a few weeks away (with NBA camps being even farther), the ATP is in the midst of it's fourth installment of it's Grand Slam, live from Flushing Meadows.
So far, the men's seeds have performed strongly heading into the third round, while aside from Julie Coin's upset of Ana Ivanovic, the women's field has performed just as well.
But before we get to the finals, the semis, or even the round of sixteen, I've found the match that will probably top the Open for me (barring a repeat of the Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal).
In the third round, Mardy Fish, the 35th seed on the ATP will take on James Blake, seed number nine.
For both of these players, this match evokes the kind of feelings that would arise if Bob and Mike Bryan were to face off against each other.
Since they both started on the tour, Fish and Blake took a shining towards each other. As they were both Americans, the bond was a simple enough one to begin with. They were two young players just starting out on the tour (1999 for Blake while Fish began in 2000) that were hungry for success. Despite that, as anyone can attest to, the younger you are, the easier it is to make friends—especially with the people that you can see yourself in, and James and Mardy are so close that they can play off each other perfectly.
As they developed as players and friends, their personalities and attitudes helped them to become extremely close friends, and the well-documented tragedy that Blake succumbed to during 2004 brought them even closer together.
Although Fish remained on the tour during Blake's absence, the two could be seen together every so often, sharing a laugh, or deep in conversation. Prior to the 2004 U.S. Open, Fish used his unorthodox sense of humor to help Blake find a little levity in the Zoster disease that had ravaged his face, and Fish was one of the first to congratulate Blake on his first win during his comeback in a tournament in Delray beach.
To prove how close Fish was with Blake, he was a select few of the players on the tour who knew precisely what was wrong with Blake when he was away from the tour (before it all became public). The other players didn't know.
But despite Fish's busy schedule, and Blake's dedication to returning to the tour, they still found time for each other.
Fish would hit with Blake, and offer him an ear whenever he had anything to say, and Blake offers the exact same thing back to Fish. The two have worked alongside, and hit with each other so often that they know the nuances of the others' games—their strengths, their weaknesses, which shots they can and can't deal with, and how their attitude can affect their performances on the court.
In 2004 when Blake was invited down to visit America's Davis Cup team, the first thing Blake did was hit with Fish, and as James says in his book Breaking Back: "it was just like old times"—Fish hit a drop-shot (a shot that Blake can't stand), and forced Blake to come in. Sure Blake pulled his groin going for the shot, but Fish was able to help Blake enjoy his time on the court once again, and aid in his rehab to get back to the sport he loves.
Going into their third round match, the old times could provide a very close match.
In three career matches against each other, all of them have been on hard courts (San Jose, Memphis, and New Haven). Two of them (Memphis and San Jose) have come in the round of 32, with Blake winning the first in 2002 in a full three sets (the final set ending at seven games to five), while Fish won in 2005, requiring a third set tie-break.
Their most recent meeting was at the finals in New Haven in 2007, where Blake won in straight sets 7-5, 6-4.
So as the remaining seeds of the round of 32 are established, Fish and Blake are left to prepare for each other—something they've seemingly been doing their entire career.
So when I tune into the match, I'll probably be wearing my J-Block t-shirt in hopes that Blake can 'fire it up one time...BAM!', but although I'm pulling for the man from Yonkers, I'm more expectant of a great match between two best friends, rather than a resounding win from my favorite tennis player.
After all, without Mardy Fish, James Blake would have no one to hit him drop shots or help keep his head cleanly shaven. I guess that's what friends are for.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and an NHL Community Leader. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also check out more of his previous work in his archives.
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