Today James Blake defeated second seeded Rafael Nadal in a four set upset. Blake had to take over a year off because of facial paralysis and a broken neck, and worked his way back up to the challengers to play some of the best tennis of his career today.
See match statistics here.
Blake broke in the first set, and Nadal failed to respond. Nadal was not able to use his normal strategies of running down balls and hitting shots with high spin. Blake ran just as effectively as Nadal and hit the ball so hard that it became difficult for Nadal to trump Blake with spins. Also, I don’t think that I saw a single successful defensive lob from Nadal. Blake had several nice ones.
I can’t say that I saw this coming, but I expected this to be a good match. I saw Blake play Roddick and some other top players, and he made solid showings.
Both players initially held in the first set, although Blake had an easier time of it than Nadal. Then Blake managed to convert on a break and hold out for the rest of first set.
Blake seemed surprised by his success in the first set and slowed down considerably in the second. His first serve percentage dropped to 43%, which lead Nadal to an early break. Blake was able to break back in the next game, but Nadal promptly broke again and held on to make it 6-4 4-6. Blake was conserving his energy and not going for as many balls as he had in the first set. The commentators speculated that he was trying to conserve his energy.
In the third set Blake presumably realized the folly of that strategy and went back to his style of play from the initial set. His first serve percentage jumped right back up to 70%, and he scored two breaks, with Nadal becoming more frustrated.
Blake didn’t crack in the final set, and won another two breaks to wrap it up in 23 minutes.
Nadal’s exit from the tournament means that Federer will remain in his number one spot. It also means that he has a ways to go as a hard court player. Nadal proved himself as an all courts player by beating Agassi in Montreal, but he still doesn’t play a complete hard-court game. When his opponents deprive him of the strategies that work so well on clay courts, he is vulnerable.
Blake advances to the fourth round. This is his first time playing in the second week of a Grand Slam and his first time to beat a top 10 player in a Grand Slam.
The Americans have been doing very well lately. Blake and Ginepri are consistent players, and when top players play less than consistently, as Nadal did today, Blake and Ginepri can give them trouble.
Blake will play the winner of Grosjean and Robredo, and now has to be considered a favorite to move into the quarter-finals.