Carpe diem, James
Blake must get it together for U.S. Davis Cup squad
Posted: Friday April 6, 2007 12:14PM; Updated: Friday April 6, 2007 4:23PM
James Blake has received a lot of flack for his recent slump. But if there's one challenge that will motivate him to break out of it, it's this:
America has never needed him as much as it does now.
The U.S. continues its quest for the 2007 Davis Cup on Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Blake is one the Americans' top guys.
The U.S. team's quarterfinal opponent is Spain and the matches will be played on a lightning-fast, low-bouncing indoor court that heavily favors the home team. Revenge will be on the minds of the U.S. after suffering through a final-round loss at the hands of Spain in '05.
There were some early concerns about Andy Roddick's availability for this weekend's matchup after he retired during his match in Key Biscayne, Fla., but captain Patrick McEnroe has been assured that Roddick is fit and ready to go. McEnroe isn't taking any chances, though, asking Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey to accompany the team in case Roddick's hamstring didn't recover in time.
The American team is loaded with two top-10 players and the No. 1 doubles team in the world in Bob and Mike Bryan, but the onus falls on Blake. Blake has proved himself as a top-tier player, but he needs to come up with a big win this weekend to pull his weight on this team. If Blake can play up to his potential, then the Americans are virtually unbeatable.
The problem is that, in recent years, Blake has been unable to beat opposing teams' No. 1 players. But I believe this time will be different. Blake will be starting off against Tommy Robredo who has four wins in their previous six matches. If Blake can get the first point, it will demoralize Spain's hopes of an upset.
I spoke with McEnroe and Blake's private coach, Brian Barker, and they both feel that Blake has had an excellent week of practice and that the speed of the court perfectly suits him. They also acknowledged that Blake has struggled in recent weeks, but the additional time from an early loss in Key Biscayne gave him the chance to regroup physically and mentally.
Both also agreed that Blake arrived in North Carolina fresh and eager. I know how important representing his country is to Blake, and that Davis Cup is a priority to him. He will play with tremendous passion and intensity and thrive off the energy from the more than 14,000 sellout crowd in North Carolina.
One player who will not be a factor in the matchup is Rafael Nadal. The ATP's No. 2-ranked player withdrew from this weekend's action citing a sore foot, but I think it had more to do with his desire to get on his favored clay courts and prepare for the massive clay swing coming up.
McEnroe knows this year is a tremendous opportunity for his team. His players have never tasted Davis Cup victory, and it is an important goal to each of them. Roddick, Blake and the Bryan twins are all at peak times in their careers, and this is their year to win it all.
But to do so, they'll need Blake to become himself again.