The Tennis Phile

January 20, 2010 5:25 AM


australian open.jpgIt's rare when a Grand Slam tournament delivers one extraordinary match in the second round involving a marquee player. But tonight the Australian Open offerred up two such encounters in one of the more riveting early-tournament action from a Slam that this writer can recall. It was truly a night made for insomniacs - and for this father of a two-month old, the nocturnal sleeplessness finally paid off.

The always underachieving James Blake, now 30, played one of the great matches of his career but it wasn't quite enough as he went down to defeat to #4 seed and reigning US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets, 10-8 in the fifth. After blowing a chance to win the match while serving at 6-5, Del Potro withstood an impressive onslaught of vicious ground strokes and, most surprisingly, constant forays to the net from the 30 year old American and eked out the victory. Though he couldn't pull it out, Blake's effort was remarkable and a testament to his massive talent, even this late in his career. 

This was truly a bittersweet effort for Blake. Why has it been so long since he's put forth such an effort, even in a loss? ? Even with all the dramatics he's supplied at the US Open Blake has still yet to ever reach a semifinal of a Grand Slam. With all his talent and speed it seems criminal that this is the case. And it is now obvious that Blake is on the downside of his tenure - as his ranking of 45 indicates - but he must get loads of credit for hiring a new coach and recommitting himself this late in the game.

Though more error-prone and lacking the shot-making acumen that the Blake-Del Potro encounter provided, the match between fifth seeded Elena Dementiava and Justine Henin, in just her second tournament back since cutting short her early retirement, was filled with its own set of dramatics. After winning the opening set,  Henin survived four consecutive service breaks - which were gifted back by the always suspect serving Elena - and  finally triumphed in a tiebreak in the second winning the match 7-5, 7-6. Henin is now on a collision course to meet her countrywoman and that other incredible comeback story, Kim Clijsters, in the quarterfinals.

A Member Of