In the end, it was James Blake who successfully handled the grueling physical demands of five-set tennis. When Fabrice Santoro stepped off the court and entered the hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium, four USTA medical staffers stood ready with a wheelchair and a bottle of water waiting for him. (He wound up going into the men’s locker room instead.)When he went to sit down in an interview room about an hour later, he tried to stretch his legs and grimaced and groaned.
Meanwhile, after signing some balls and shirts after he won, Blake came walking off the court in the men’s locker room with barely a limp.
“I feel fine physically,” Blake said he told himself as the fifth set began. “That’s not going to be an issue. I know I have a game plan that can be effective against him. I know what I need to do, I just need to go out and execute.”
The match offered some truly spectacular drama. With the fifth set all square at 3-3, the Arthur Ashe Stadium suddenly erupted into a such enthusiastic and prolonged applause that James Blake had to wait an extra 30 seconds before he could serve.
Then Blake needed to play clutch tennis. At 4-4 in the Fifth, he had to save three break points. Blake wouldn’t be unnerved.
“I think two of them I think I had to hit second serves, and I saw that he wasn’t really going after my second serve,” he said. “He very rarely did that. So I kind of just rolled them in with little pace and did a little ‘Fabricing’ to him by giving him no pace to work with.”
That set up some passing winners, he saved the breaks, and then he laid Santoro to rest.
Of course, Blake hardly played flawless tennis and his post-game stats are nearly inexcusable for the second round. In the match, he made 71 unforced errors and his first-serve percentage was an anemic 49. He countered that with 83 winners.
And that tells the story: Blake dictated the match because he had to. Santoro offered up moon shots, slicing backhands and forehands, all in the name of keeping the point alive for just long enough to let Blake screw it up. As a strategy, it nearly worked.
But at match point — his first and only — Blake hit a screaming backhand passing winner that clinched it.
When Blake greeted Santoro at the net he congratulated him and told him that he loved him. (Adrenaline flowing much?)
“That was just an unbelievable feeling at the end of the match to look up and see how pumped my box was, and to see how pumped the J Block was, and to know that they all believed in me when many people at desks in front of computers and in front of microphones didn’t, I know that.”
Blake moves onto the third round.