Tuesday, March 5
Blake, Roddick are hits in climb up ATP charts
By Greg Garber
James Blake played
his college tennis at Harvard University, but back on Feb. 24 he found
himself trying not to think too much.
"Well, I don't
know if I'm pushing him, really. But he's doing so well it encourages
the rest of us young Americans that it's possible. It helps us want
to get there."
Roddick, 19, defeated
Blake, 22, in a rousing three-set match that had people talking optimistically
about the future of American men's tennis. It was only the third All-American
final in more than five years that didn't include Pete Sampras or Andre
Agassi. With the recently married, 30-something Sampras and Agassi approaching
the end of stellar careers (they have combined for 20 Grand Slam singles
titles), the next generation is beginning to assert itself.
and Blake met again in the San Jose quarterfinals, with Roddick prevailing
in straight sets, it was worth noting that three Americans -- Roddick,
Agassi and 24-year-old Jan-Michael Gambill -- all reached the semifinals
of the tournament eventually won by No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, who himself
turned 21 the day of the Memphis final.
Taylor Dent, 20,
Mardy Fish, 20, and Robby Ginepri, 19, all have made early-season impressions
as well. A year ago, ESPN.com profiled the rise of these young Americans,
and in the intervening 12 months their strides have been impressive.
Roddick is on the cusp of the ATP entry system's top 10, Blake cracked
the top 50 earlier this week for the first time, and Dent, Fish, Ginepri
and 23-year-old Alex Kim all have raised their rankings dramatically.
Ginepri, who attended his high school prom last spring, has shaved more
than 1,000 spots off his ranking and is now a credible No. 148.
rise has overshadowed Blake's gradual evolution.
So, he worked on
his backhand, then worked on it some more. And then some more. Blake
fancied himself a hard worker in college, but he was surprised how much
more work playing for a paycheck required. Gradually, his results improved.
"I had my chances
to win that match, but my body kind of gave out," Blake recalled.
"But that match gave me some confidence. I knew there was no reason
I couldn't play with those guys. It was just a matter of consistency."
Next, Blake won
the Hawaiian Challenger title that had eluded him the year before, and
then he was chosen, along with Roddick and Fish, for the U.S. Davis
Cup team. Blake had two victories in the United States' first-round
victory over against the Slovak Republic. He beat top seed Tommy Haas
at Memphis, then took out the second-seeded Gambill before meeting Roddick
in the final.
It's likely that
Blake will be part of Patrick McEnroe's Davis Cup team that will host
Spain in the April quarterfinals at Houston's Westside Tennis Club.
Blake, for the record, is a perfect 4-0 in Davis Cup matches, although
two of those wins came after the match result had been decided.
I get, I want to be a part of that team," Blake said. "It's
not something I ever expect or that I deserve it, but I feel like if
I get the call it's my duty. I hope I'm the one who gets that opportunity."
While this group
of young Americans may not record the dazzling accomplishments of the
new Brat Pack of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang that emerged in
the late 1980s, there already is a camaraderie developing. There had
better be; these young Americans keep bumping into each other in the
draws of these tournaments. Every week, it seems, there is at least
one All-American match.
"I didn't talk
to the older guys about growing up," Blake said. "But we all
get along. Mardy Fish is probably my best friend on the Tour. Ginepri
is a buddy, and Dent is a friend. I'm genuinely happy for them when
they do well. When I played well against (PatrickRafter
last year in Cincinnati, Mardy and his coach were in the stands; they
were pretty excited.
Said Roddick: "I
think we're coming into our own. It's nice for me to see three guys
on the Davis Cup team under 22, and they are winning matches. I think
that's a very positive sign and I think we're all improving at a pretty
decent pace, so who knows what the future holds?
"I don't think
we've had a group of prospects with this much promise for quite awhile."