American Donald Young, up to # 105 in the world (above).

In an absolute clash of the titans yesterday in Atlanta, world # 94 Taylor Dent, defeated world # 115, “Where have you gone, James Blake?” Dent, who we have made fun of since the dawn of time, despite playing a style we admire, being the serve and volley dinosaur that he is.  The only problem is, you have to be good enough to pull it off.  And not just against the Ivan Navarros of the world. 

Dent, who looked fat at the US Open last year, made an improbable run to the third round at Flushing, and has also improbably won a round at each of the majors this year, including Roland Garros, where he had yet to win a match in his career.  All this a level of success that his opponent yesterday, James Blake could only dream of.  Blake has fallen off the face of the Earth since beating Roger Federer in 2008 at the Olympics in Beijing, and as a Blake fan, a crushing defeat he suffered to Fernando Gonzalez in the bronze medal match has seem to linger with Blake and seems unshakable for the exciting American with all the talent in the world, but who may never put it all together, we must assume at this point with Blake nearing 30 years old.

Had Blake won that bronze medal, he would have attained his singular best achievement to date in the game.  I am not a lover of Olympic medals.  Ridiculous people have won golds.  In my lifetime, I have seen Tim Mayotte, Jordi Arresse, Agassi, Arnaud Di Pasquale, Nicolas Massu, and Mardy Fish, among others medal.  Yes, Fish won a silver.  Does that make him more successful overall than Blake?  It’s a tough call, but I would say that it does.  Neither has won a major and neither has done more than quarter-final at a major.  Blake finished in the top 10 a few times, and once faced Roger Federer in the finals of the Year End Championships in China. 

But Fish is younger and his game is in much better shape than Blake’s.  And you could almost see where Fish surpassed Blake.  I believe it was a few weeks after that Olympic games in 2008.  Blake and Fish were facing each other in the 2nd round of the US Open, and Blake had owned the head to head, to that point.  But Fish came out and served big and Blake missed a lot of first serves, and really, ir was never a match.  Now I have called Mardy Fish an embarrassment to the American game in the past, because he was a chubby kid with a weird haircut, and he served big but never moved his feet, and usually lost in the big spot.  But Fish has gotten it together, has gotten into great shape and now has the requisite footwork to pull off keeping 2 hands on the racquet on the backhand side as much as he does.  Fish also is an excellent volleyer, and he gets to the net quite a bit.

Does he do anything better than James Blake does at his best?  No.  Perhaps the serve is a little bigger than Blake at best for argument’s sake.  But Blake pulls off everything a lot easier and more athletically when he is right.  So Blake doesn’t have the footwork anymore in a 5 set match to beat guys who can bomb first serves, but to try to sneak Taylor Dent into that category, which Blake did yesterday, lauding Dent’s serve and saying that when Dent “gets it going like that, there’s not much I can do” is laughable. 

There isn’t much Blake can do when Federer gets it going like that.  At this point, that much is obvious, with Blake beating Roger one time out of 18 I believe, in his career.  An astute commentator once remarked of Blake when he was rallying with Roger Federer, that Roger has more pace on his backhand than Blake does on his forehand.  I believe Blake’s brother made the same observation when interviewed after the match.  I can’t kill Blake for that.  Won’t kill him for losing to Sam Querrey and standing there and getting aced ten points in a row–still a record, I believe.  Should a quick guy like Blake be able to get 1 or 2 of Big Sam Q’s serves back in that span.  I should think so.  But Querrey can make the gun read 140 and he’s very tall so he’s got the angle to his serve as well.

But Arnaud Clement for 2 plus sets in Melbourne is unacceptable.  Taylor Dent is unacceptable.  Yesterday, James Blake only converted on two of fourteen break points, losing to Taylor Dent, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour and 51 minutes, and Dent won despite hitting 21 double faults.  Dent then won today’s 2nd round match, defeating 4th seeded Horacio Zeballos, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, and earning a date in the quarter-finals, along with American Michael Russell on Friday, in a matches that will be televised in America on either The Tennis Channel or ESPN2.

Russell at world # 89, Dent at # 94, Fish, who just cracked the top 50, Robby Ginepri at # 75, and even Donald Young, up to # 105, are all guys that Blake, if his footwork is right, should demolish.  If Craig Boynton, Blake’s new coach, is listening and can get Blake’s feet going so that he can maximize what’s left of his career.

Mardy Fish leads Atlanta’s own, Robby Ginepri, 6-1 at the start of the 2nd set of their 2nd round match.  The winner makes the quarter-finals Friday.  John Isner survived talented touch player and Luxembourgian, Gilles Muller, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7).

Donald young will face the talented 6’7 South African Kevin Anderson for a date in the quarter-finals.  Andy Roddick faces American Rajeev Ram for the other spot in the quarters.

–Crack (