At the biggest hardcourt stop yet of this sumer’s Olympus Series, on the way to the US Open, it’s good to see aggressive players, young and old, bringing some much needed flair to the men’s game as the tour returns to the right type of hardcourt: Decoturf. In action today are five one-handers, with 3 on the courts as we speak. American James Blake (above), who dropped off the face of the earth in the last year and a half, is enjoying a surprising renaissance at the moment, leading former Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian 6-2, 1-0 (a break to the good already in the 2nd) taking that first set in a little more than 30 minutes. Blake’s free swinging style and hard bang ball crushing are a bad matchup for Nalbandian, who tries to dictate without gving up much ground on the baseline with his 2-handed backhand. Blake is a difficult guy to do so against because he hits with too much pace for Nalbandian not to give up some feet on the baseline. If Blake is on, it is impossible for a tight two hander to take the ball early against him. Blake doesn’t give them enough time. That’s why Blake has given Nadal so much difficulty over the years, especially before Blake’s demise.
Fortunately for Blake, Nalbandian has suffered an injury related demise as well and seems to be struggling to regain his form. Blake’s demolition at the hands of the almost unbeatable Novak Djokovic in Miami looked like a fait accompli for the once 2nd most talented player in the game. Blake, complaining about tendinitis in his knee, mused aloud about retirement, and getting smoked by the Djoker in that manner made us wonder if hadn’t already retired mentally. But Blake has was worked hard with new coach Craig Boynton, who has done wonders with Giant John Isner, and that hard work seems to be paying off right now. You will remember that Blake, loyal to a fault, refused to fire his previous and one and only coach, Brian Barker, even as the wheels were coming off of his career. Sometimes you have to change to grow though. We are glad to see Blake, who is one of the best athletes on the tour when healthy, holding his serve and concentrating again on big points. We consider Blake a young thirty and feel he can recapture some of the magic his enormous potential and natural ability holds. Blake is now serving, up 3-2 in the 2nd set. Go James!
Thirty-one year old Tommy Haas has had a very hard road back from a hip that effectively ruined his last year and a half on tour. Since returning in April, Haas has shown flashes of the wealth of talent he possesses, but had only won one match, which came at Newport in July against countryman Michael Berrer. In his next match, Haas was forced to retire down 5-2 in the 1st set. Today Haas took out former American collegiate star and solid doubles player, Amer Delic, 6-2, 6-3. Haas’s high risk, high reward style, which has seen him rise as high as world #2, making 4 major semi-finals (3 down under, 1 at Wimbledon), has been sorely missed. Remember that Haas was only 5 points from closing out Roger Federer in the round of 16 at Roland Garros in 09, the year that Federer won the crown, and that Federer also defeated Haas in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, on his way to his last Wimbledon crown. That year, Haas defeated Marin Cilic 10-8 in the 5th on the lawns in one of the most entertaining matches in recent memory, and then blitzed Novak Djokovic, upsetting the Serb star in the quarter-final round.
The Blake match is now final, with the American winning 6-2, 6-4 in 1:12. Blake struck 7 aces and was not broken in the lopsided contest. He will face the winner of Isner-Kamke, which is just under way, in the 4th round. Tommy Haas will face another very talented one hander on the comeback trail in the second round, Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who upset Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr. at Wimbledon (we called it!).
Up and coming one handed Bulgarian prodigy Grigor Dimitrov just came through a few minutes ago against putrid American Tim Smyczek in a 3rd set breaker. Dimitrov is a kid we’ve had our eyes on for a long time because we see him as having the most potential of any young one hander in the game. Dimitrov, who has patterned himself after Roger Federer and who was coached by Roger’s same developmental coach, Peter Lundgren, broke into the top 60 for the first time this summer, and has risen relatively quickly in the last year after a rough first year on tour. Dimitrov has yet to do much on hardcourts, and if he wishes to here, he will have to go through another talented one hander, Frenchman Michael Llodra, in the 2nd round.
Michael Berrer, German one hander, defeated refreshing Italian serve and volleyer Paolo Lorenzi in straights earlier and will face our favorite techno ace, Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the next round, with an opportunity to meet the Llodra/Dimitrov winner in the round of 16. Big Aussie redheaded one handed serve and volleyer Chris Guccione has just gone to a decisive 3rd set with giant South African Kevin Anderson, a teammate of Amer Delic’s at Illinois. Notable Americans Donald Young and Ryan Harrison, who is having an excellent summer so far, won their first round encounters as well.