I went to the USO Day 4 evening session with Djokovic vs Petschner, but I hoped to catch the end of James Blake’s day match against Canadian, Peter Polansky. Given Blake’s poor summer hard court season and rumors of a possible rest after the USO and a likely retirement, I expected to find an athlete on his last legs. Yet, there must be something about Blake and New York, because he seemed to be firing on all cylinders to me. His backhand was crisp and as penetrating as ever. Though he lost the first set in a tiebreaker, I never had any doubts that he would pull through even though Polansky was serving well and hung with Blake in their scintillating baseline rallies. The Blake I saw didn’t have the usual shoulder slump and when he made errors, he didn’t beat himself up as he’s wont to do, but quickly got back to the baseline ready for the next point.
In the post match interview when asked about his mixed results this year, Blake was quick to take a very positive spin on his situation. He said something along the lines of “I love what I do. I get to put on shorts and a t-shirt and go to work and play tennis.” He seems to recognize that he’s still one of the fortunate few who get to live his dream every day. While you could perceive his reflections as the sober recognition of a man who sees a career with an approaching deadline, his tone suggests a kind of renewed appreciation of his talent, success and luck. His comments were warmly received by a clearly loving and supportive crowd, particularly when he talked about being a kid sneaking down into the stands to catch a glimpse of tennis stars and now he sees that the roles are reversed and a kid may be doing the same thing to catch a glimpse of him. For Blake playing in New York is a return to home soil. He certainly struck the ball like he was feeling the love.