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REBUILDING: Former World No. 4 James Blake Playing Challengers

Sunday, May 29, 2011

written by Donald Heath

Photo by Burkhart/Savannah Morning 
James Blake sees only one challenge at a time. His ultimate challenge is to return to the upper echelon of men’s professional tennis.

Winning at the Savannah Challenger helps get him closer to that goal.

Blake made another positive stride Tuesday. He played solidly, wasn’t broken on serve and defeated qualifier Morgan Phillips from Great Britian 6-3, 6-4 in the opening round of the $50,000 tournament at the Franklin Creek Tennis Center at The Landings on Skidaway Island.

“It was a good match to get into (the tournament), and hopefully it’ll be even better (today),” said Blake, who advanced to meet Ricardo Hocevar from Brazil today on Center Court, approximately at 3 p.m.

“I was hoping for a win, so that was all that really matters.”

The former No. 4 player in the world before being set back by a knee injury is using the Challenger series to build his ranking. He won the $75,000 Sarasota Challenger on Sunday and looked to continue his momentum in Savannah. He is currently the 109th-ranked player in the world. He is the No. 8 seed in the 32-player main draw in Savannah.

“(The knee) felt OK,” Blake said. “It was a little tougher moving my feet today. The wind was tough, and it can get a little tricky. It’s important to move your feet.”

A crowd of about 400, the biggest weekday crowd in the three years of the Savannah Challenger, came out to see probably the biggest name from men’s tennis to ever play here.

Blake gave a show in professionalism, playing at relaxed pace and rarely looking flustered on the breezy afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s.

Blake broke Phillips in the fourth game of the first set and the third game of the second set.

He used crisp ground strokes to keep Phillips off balanced and mixed in big serves and a power game with finesse drop shots.

“I served well, that was good, and that’s one thing that can translate from one court to another,” Blake said. “Otherwise, I need to move my feet better, and if I do that, I think the rest of my game will follow my footwork.”

Phillips admitted being nervous until the fifth game of the match.

“I never played someone in the top 10 so it was a big match for me,” he said. “It took me a little time to realize I didn’t have to be so fine.”

Blake remained in control and even took some time to have a playful interaction with the chair.

After pointing out a ball mark to show a shot “wasn’t even close,” the official came down to check the spot.

“It’s out, but not that far out,” the official said.

Taking a closer look, Blake rethought his original position.

“You’re right, you’re right,” he said, laughing before getting ready to play the next point.

“I give umpires enough of a hard time when they say it’s not even close,” Blake said after the match. “He gave me back what I give to umpires.”

Posted by Shelia

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