Sunday Preview: Blake Faces Uphill Battle Against Djokovic
by Sandra Harwitt|
There’s always a debate as to who is the best player in the world. There’s even those who contemplate who is the best of all time but, in truth, that is like comparing apples and oranges.
Here’s one fact that we know for sure. At the moment the best men’s player in the world is Novak Djokovic. You want proof – he’s 21-0 for the year, winning titles at the Australian Open, Dubai and Indian Wells. At Indian Wells he beat Roger Federer and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in consecutive matches to grab the trophy. And Federer, who dropped back to No. 3 to make room for Djokovic at No. 2 after Indian Wells, has only lost three matches in 22 played this year and those losses all were to Serbian.
Djokovic is no stranger to success at Miami, winning in 2007 and reaching the final in 2009. But he’s also experienced trouble at Crandon Park, losing in the second round in 2006, ’08, and ’10. The Serbian sensation has now won 21 career titles and is hoping No. 22 will be reeled in at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Standing in the way of Djokovic and a fourth round slot is former top 10 star, James Blake. The American once ranked No. 4 in the world back in 2006, but is now trying to work his way back to the upper echelon of the game from a No. 173 ranking. Last year was frustrating for Blake, who struggled with injuries.
At 31, Blake is showing that he still has great interest in playing the game. He battled through two three-set marathons to reach this date with Djokovic. In both matches – fellow American Michael Russell in the first round, Thomas Bellucci of Brazil in the second round – Blake lose the opening set and closed out the encounter in a third set tiebreaker.
These two guys have played twice in the past and Djokovic stood the test: at the Beijing Olympics and at last year’s U.S. Open. Playing two tough matches is bound to find Blake a bit tired. And even if he was top o’ the morning, he’d find it hard to handle the Djokovic dance these days.
In women’s third round action, reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone will showcase her very special game. Unlike many of her compatriots, she plays a fun and varied game – a powerful baseline shot this time, a crafty drop shot the next time. She has it all and she doesn’t mind letting people see her skill.
In 2011, the Italian’s best result was reaching the Australian Open quarterfinal where she lost to top seed Caroline Wozniacki. But it was her dramatic fourth round match in Melbourne that stands out in most minds – she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 16-14 in the third set in a match that lasted four hours, 44 minutes, the longest-recorded women’s singles match in Grand Slam history.
It took Schiavone a while to get her act together. She lost her first eight career finals before winning the first of four singles titles at the 2007 Bad Gastein tournament. But where she really made her name was in becoming the first Italian woman in history to win a Grand Slam title at last year’s French Open. That victory led her to the top 10 of the world, following countrywoman Flavia Penetta into that distinguished group – they are the only two Italian women to rank in the top 10.
Next up on the 30-year-old Schiavone’s card is Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain. The Spaniard is practically a birthday lady as she turns 30 in five days time. Dominguez Lino won her second WTA Tour title at the Bogota tournament this year.
These two have played three times in the past, and all of those matches took place on clay. Hard courts will present a different challenge. Schiavone holds a 2-1 edge over Dominguez Lino and when Sunday is over the Italian will increase that lead to 3-1.
Mardy Fish (United States) v Richard Gasquet (France) – Here’s two guys who have oodles of talent but have struggled to make the most of their gifts. Fish has figured it out, while Gasquet is still working on it. Evenly matched, Fish will draw on family and friends from nearby Vero Beach to usher him into the fourth round.
John Isner (United States) v Alex Bogomolov Jr. – Bogomolov made headlines the other day when he upset No. 5 seed Andy Murray in the second round. Isner towers over Bogomolov, but is struggling in the confidence department. This is a golden opportunity for Bogey to continue on in the draw. But players often have a let-down after a big win and Bogomolov will be no exception.
Sam Querrey (United States) v Viktor Triocki (Serbia) – All the Serbians are brimming with confidence since delivering a first Davis Cup title to the country last December. Triocki is only ranked four ranking spots ahead of the No. 21 Querrey, but that’s enough of an edge to bypass the American.
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