Citi Open tennis tournament: James Blake has no trouble in opening-round match


James Blake returns a shot during his victory over Pablo Andujar. (Carolyn Kaster/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
July 31, 2012

With a gray cap covering his shaved head, James Blake addressed the Citi Open crowd on Monday evening after his opening-round win.

A kid with crazy hair is how Blake recalled himself when he earned his first-career ATP Tour singles win a decade ago here at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

And on Monday, the 32-year-old showed no wear of age. Instead he reflected his maturity as Blake rebounded from a poor start to knock off Spain’s Pablo Andujar, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Blake appeared to play with a sense of confidence in the last two sets; his serve was strong and his return could be vicious. In the third set, Blake met Andujar’s 100 mph serve and quickly swatted it back. Fast enough to gain a shocked reaction from the crowd.

“As soon as I hit it, there wasn’t much doubt with what was happening there,” Blake said.

He recorded eight aces and did not double fault. His serve hovered around 116 mph and topped out at 127.

“I started feeling good, got a rhythm and sort of never let go of that,” Blake said, adding, “I was sort of dictating most of the time , and that’s the way I want to play.”

Blake said he hasn’t been 100 percent healthy for most of the year. His knees are feeling better and his legs are better prone to running, Blake said. He said it was false optimism early in the season which made him think he could compete without being healthy. Monday was just his fifth match win this season.

It was a bit shocking, Blake said, to look into the grandstand and see his name next to 2002, his title year. He said he still remembers advancing past Andre Agassi in the semifinals, his title-clinching match point against Paradorn Srichaphan and the celebrations afterward with his parents.

“I remember it all,” Blake said. “It seems like it went by in a flash.”

Earlier in the evening, Florent Serra was trying to make a name for himself. He was anonymous on the official draw sheet, listed simply as “Qualifier.”

But Serra didn’t seem to mind as he toppled crowd favorite Brian Baker, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in their first-round match.

A native of France, Serra was effective with his forehand as he made Baker play outside the court. Serra’s volleys stretched Baker from side to side. He said it was a tactical move as he hoped Baker would tire out as the match went on.

Also, Serra’s serve appeared to get stronger, topping at 119 mph late in the match. He said he played “tight” early on, which caused his serve to falter.

“I tried to be more cool on the serve,” Serra said.

This weekend, Serra won a pair of qualifying matches just to get a matchup with Baker. He said the evening breeze was a welcomed respite to this weekend’s heat and helped him stay on point.

Ranked 119th, Serra hasn’t won a tour title since 2006.

The crowd was behind Baker, but Serra said it didn’t faze him.

“It’s normal,” said Serra as he shrugged his shoulders. “I know when we play in France the crowd will support me. So that’s fine.”

Baker missed six years of his career due to five surgeries and is in the midst of his first full season since 2005. He said this loss was a missed opportunity as the field was depleted of Olympians, but said he remained hungry.

“I definitely haven’t played my best tennis the last three weeks,” Baker said. “I don’t think I’ve competed poorly, I just haven’t won the big points at all.”

In women’s singles, Sloane Stephens won her opening round match as she downed Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

Stephens recorded a pair of aces and was able to take advantage of her opponent’s seven double faults. Her strong forehand was countered by Karatantcheva’s effectiveness on the defensive side.

“I was just a little bit more consistent in the end,” Stephens said. “And I think that’s what carried me through.”

Edina Gallovits was a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 winner over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in an opening round women’s singles match. Gallovits is also playing this World Team Tennis season with the Washington Kastles.

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