Shannon Russell reports:
James Blake has a lot of fond memories of Mason.
It was the first place he ever ate at a Waffle House. It was where he won his first tournament, a Western & Southern Open doubles title in 2002 with Todd Martin. And it’s where he finished as a finalist to Roger Federer in the 2007 singles championship.
Sunday, he added another mark to the list: A 7-5, 6-4 Center Court upset of World No. 32 Kevin Anderson in a W&S Open first-round match.
Blake, a wild card, dispatched the South African in 85 minutes in the first night match of the main draw.
“I think anytime you break Kevin Anderson – what did I break him, four times? Five times? – you’re doing something right on the return. That’s what I’ve been focusing on a little bit,” said Blake, ranked 106th on the ATP World Tour. “That’s what I generally did well when I was playing my best. I was attacking guys’ serves, especially their second serves, and getting a lot of breaks.”
After receiving a warm reception from the crowd, Blake fell behind by two games. Fans shouted “Blake!” and clapped as he appeared peeved by his play.
“I had a couple bad starts lately and I felt like I didn’t used to do that,” Blake said. “I always thought I was a pretty good starter.”
He responded by breaking Anderson and holding serve to knot the score at two. Anderson pulled ahead 5-4 following two more ties, but Blake broke him at love and punctuated the first-set win with one of his eight aces.
Then it was Anderson who felt frustration.
“It was tough. James played a couple games where I missed a few first serves (and) he really made me pay for it. Two or three return winners,” Anderson said. “Just needed to serve a little bit better. Not that I was serving poorly – just not making enough first serves. I think he made it pretty tough for me.”
Anderson converted 62 percent of his first serves. The former Illinois standout couldn’t find his stride in the match, a trait that has been all too familiar lately.
Anderson arrived in Mason by way of Toronto, where he lost his first Rogers Cup match to Mikhail Youzhny. Before that he lost to Sam Querrey in a Citi Open quarterfinal in Washington, D.C.
The 26-year-old called a tennis career “a pretty long journey” and said he would regroup for the next tournament.
“I just have to try to move on, use the following days just to try to keep getting better, maybe try to find a little bit more rhythm, and hopefully have a good Winton Salem leading up to the (U.S.) Open,” Anderson said.
As for Blake: He’ll face Kei Nishikori or Marcel Granollers in the next round. In the meantime he has his hands full with tennis preparations and a robust personal life that includes fiancee Emily Snider and their 2-month-old daughter, Riley. Blake said he and Emily will marry in November.
Blake, 32, is eager to continue his tournament climb at a place that he considers special, before fans that treat him well.
“I feel great when I go out there and hear the reception when I win a match, and to know that they’re happy that I’m back here in Cincinnati and playing well again,” Blake said.