Blake Saves Match Point Against Russell
by Matt Fitzgerald|
Tennis fans who stayed late for the second night match at the Sony Ericsson Open on Wednesday were treated to a thrilling contest between Americans James Blake and Michael Russell. Blake, a wild card entrant, was the victor, saving a match point along the way in a 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) victory.
Russell immediately imposed himself on court, breaking Blake for an early 2-0 lead. Blake failed to find a rhythm on Russell’s serve, failing to create a single break point opportunity, and was then broken again himself to surrender the set in 29 minutes.
The former World No. 4 changed gears in the second set, and made the breakthrough on Russell’s serve by applying more assertive tactics. Russell continued to work hard, though, impressing with his retrieving skills and pulling the trigger from defense to offense when necessary.
His determination paid dividends as he broke Blake midway through the set and after holding for 4-3, broke his countryman’s serve again with an outstanding point - making an athletic diving shot on the baseline as he withstood a Blake barrage before closing with a backhand passing shot off his back foot.
It appeared Russell was set to close it out, but vintage Blake emerged. Competing with nothing to lose, the Tampa, Fla. resident played aggressively and broke Russell back to keep the match alive and force a tie-break.
Despite both holding early mini-break leads, neither player was able to keep their advantage in the tie-break. Russell went up 4-3, but then lost three straight points to give Blake two set points. The drama continued to unfold as Russell reeled off the next three points to set up match point. Blake dug in and denied his fellow American, taking the next two points. Finally, with his third set point, Blake evened the match at one-set-all after Russell sprayed a forehand volley.
“The most dire point tonight was the match point. I made a forehand volley. It may have looked routine but it’s never easy when down match point. It was a good feeling to get it back,” Blake said later.
The final set was just as intense. Russell again had a lead but could not hold onto it and was broken at 4-2. There would be no more breaks of serve and the match was decided by a final set tie-break, a fitting ending to the first night session of the tournament. Unlike the second-set tie-break, one player managed to maintain a lead; Blake quickly jumped out to a 5-0 advantage and finished off Russell in two hours and 19 minutes. The two were given a standing ovation by the crowd near midnight, and it was a special moment for Blake.
“I’m really fortunate the crowd stuck around. I realized it was midnight when I came off court. I appreciate the fact they stayed despite it being a work day. Hopefully they left happy.”
Blake’s win puts him in a second-round match against No. 27 seed Thomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian beat Blake in three sets here last year, and Blake avenged the loss in Stockholm later in the season. He expects Friday’s match to be similar to the previous two.
“We’re pretty evenly matched,” believes Blake. “He’s got a huge lefty serve and forehand. We both like to hit our forehands. It’s going to come down to who can take control on the baseline.”
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