Blake to face Federer in quarterfinals
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
MELBOURNE, Australia ” James Blake is in a predicament.
He’s being asked if he thinks Roger Federer is vulnerable at the Australian Open after being taken to 10-8 in the fifth set of a third-round match and a few close calls in his fourth-round win over Tomas Berdych.
Should Blake talk up his chances and risk aggravating Federer before their quarterfinal, or play down his expectations and quietly hope it’s true?
“It’s just a reminder that everyone’s human. You can have a bad day,” Blake said, taking the cautious route, after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over 19-year-old Croatian Marin Cilic on Monday.
Blake has only taken one set off Federer in seven previous matches and reached the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time in seven trips to Melbourne Park.
The 28-year-old American made it this far at a Grand Slam tournament twice before ” both at the U.S. Open. He lost to Andre Agassi in 2005 and Federer in four sets in ’06.
Federer is aiming for a third consecutive Australian title ” a fourth in five years ” and a 13th major to get within one of Pete Sampras’ record.
But he came to Melbourne Park with limited training because a stomach illness forced him out of his regular tournament at Kooyong.
The Swiss star had to come back from a set down in his 4-hour, 27-minute third-round match against Janko Tipsaravic that prolonged the longest day of tennis at any Grand Slam.
And, uncharacteristically, he disputed umpiring decisions Monday and had to fend off set points in his 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-3 win and admitted No. 13-seeded Berdych played better in the second set.
“I’m not going to worry too much about the matches before or him seeming edgy,” Blake said. “I don’t think he’s going to give me anything for free because he’s edgy or anything like that.
“I’m not going to think it’s going to be any easier, because I know once he gets this deep in a Slam, I’m sure his mind is thinking about winning it and getting closer to that record. Hopefully I’m going to have a little say in that, but we’ll see.”
Blake never discounts his chances.
“Every time I’ve stepped out on the court with him I’ve felt if I play my best, I give myself a shot with anyone in the world,” he said.
“Janko taking him to 10-8 in the fifth shows that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can play your best and take him to the limit. A couple breaks here and there, that obviously could have been Janko’s match.”
The Tipsarevic match was the first time in six years Federer has been taken to five sets in the first week of a Grand Slam, two years before he won his first major at Wimbledon in 2003.
“It throws off your rhythm a little bit, playing a five-setter, especially during a tournament,” Federer conceded. “Usually I play five-setters in finals, like in Miami, Rome, Wimbledon. So it’s a bit different to back it up.
“But honestly, I felt good. Looking forward to see how I feel in the next match.”
Federer is now 30-1 at Melbourne Park since the start of his winning run in 2004.
Serena Williams’ run has been almost as impressive, running to 27-1 dating back to the first of her three title here in 2003.
The defending champion puts that on the line Tuesday against No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, while top-ranked Justine Henin takes No. 5 Maria Sharapova, the losing finalist last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, No. 2 Rafael Nadal is against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland and No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
Fifth-seeded David Ferrer beat fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday night and next faces third-ranked Novak Djokovic, who ousted the last Australian hope when he defeated No. 19 Lleyton Hewitt 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
Hewitt didn’t have his usual high energy level after beating Marcos Baghdatis in five sets in his previous match, which didn’t end until 4:33 a.m. Sunday.
Venus Williams had to rally from service breaks in the first set before advancing to the quarters here for the first time in five years with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Marta Domachowska, a qualifier from Poland.
She next faces No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, who had a 6-1, 7-6 (2) win over Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki.
No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova is also back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003 after beating No. 27 Maria Kirilenko 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 and will next play Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, who upset No. 14 Nadia Petrova 1-6, 7-5, 6-0.
Being in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam is something Blake never imagined after the year he had in 2004. So whenever he gets the chance, he’ll make the most of it.
In May of that year, he sustained fractured vertebrae in his neck after crashing into a net post while practicing in Rome, forcing him out for two months.
In the final stages of recovery, he came down with Zoster, a shingles-like condition which affects hearing, sight and caused paralysis on one side of his face.
Not that he wasn’t use to all things medical ” at the age of 13, he was diagnosed with severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which forced him to wear a back brace 18 hours a day.
Doctors laughed, he said, when he told them he wanted to be a professional tennis player.
He has beaten Nicholas Massu, Mark Russell and came back from two sets down to beat French veteran Sebastien Grosjean in five in the third round.
Federer is noticing.
“He’s improved a lot the last couple years. Plays incredibly aggressive tennis,” Federer said. “Improved his serve a lot, his backhand. So I have to be very careful.
“I know his game sort of suits my game ” I’ve had some great matches against him where I always play my very best.
“I definitely got to play offensive myself, put him on the back foot as well.
“I’m excited to play against him. He’s one of the nicest guys on tour, very respected on tour, very sportsmanlike.”
Blake said whatever happens Wednesday, he’ll be satisfied with how far he’s got.
“It’s just a matter of if my talent will take me there and if I’ll be able to execute my best tennis at the right times,” Blake said. “I’m hopefully going to do that on Wednesday. But if I don’t, I might be a little upset, but I’ll walk out of here with my head held high.”
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