RELATED: James Blake Press Conference
Before James Blake’s second-round match against Fabrice Santoro, he held an 0-9 record in matches that stretched to five sets. But on Thursday night, the American favorite overcame his five-set curse in a thrilling 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win.
It was a long-awaited accomplishment for Blake, who admitted a tremendous sense of relief to finally winning a five-set match. “There used to be a monkey right there,” Blake said with a smile, pointing to his back, “and now it’s gone. I got rid of the five-setter.”
“I actually honestly said to myself at the beginning of that fifth set, I'm just not going to lose this match; I'm going to win this,” he later added. “Up until now, the whole five-set jinx, whatever, it had never really entered into my head. When I got in a fifth set, I was just focused on winning and doing what I had to do to get there, but this time I just said to myself, I'm not going let it happen this time.”
But history may threaten to haunt Blake yet again in the next round, as he will face Stefan Koubek, the man responsible for Blake's second five-set defeat.
“Wouldn't mind getting a little revenge,” Blake said of his rematch with the Austrian. “That was many years ago. I think we were two completely different players at that point. He's improved a whole lot, and I really hope I've improved a whole lot, especially mentally I feel like I've improved a lot.”
Leave it to the man nicknamed “The Magician” to put on an amazing show before falling to the No. 6 seed. Santoro’s performance against Blake just might be the most entertaining match of the 2007 tournament. Clad in a flashy colored striped shirt, Santoro kept pace with the speedy Blake, and the 34-year-old French veteran certainly earned himself a few thousand more fans after this match.
Armed with an unusual style of two-handed forehands and backhands, Santoro matched the American shot for shot, covering every inch of the court to get everything back and returning even the most impossible shots. It seemed when Blake had Santoro scrambling far behind the baseline, the Magician still managed to find a way back in the point.
Blake had early success keeping Santoro on the run and forcing him out of position. But while the American found ways to move into the net and create angled shots, Santoro was so quick to return them that Blake consistently had to hit two or three volleys just to end the point.
The second set was much the same, only this time it was Santoro who used the touch volley game to his advantage. Santoro held at love to split sets, but Blake stormed back by taking the next five games to go up 5-0 in the third.
They each took turns putting the other on the defensive, with Blake dominating play at the net. Santoro broke to stay in the third set, but it was a short-lived victory, as he was broken again at 5-2, giving Blake a two-sets-to-one lead.
The middle three sets were riddled with 12 breaks of serve, each highlighted with some spectacular shot-making. A visibly winded Santoro fought through the fourth, setting up impossible angles for winners and using the offensive lob when Blake moved into the net. After two-and-a-half hours of play, Santoro held at 5-4 to force a decisive fifth set.
That final frame went down to the wire, as each player held serve and fought off numerous break points. In the sixth game, Santoro began feeling the effects of the match, and he called for the trainer for a quick treatment on his thighs. He battled through the cramps, however, and continued to hold until his final service game at 5-4.
Match point came at 30-40, and Blake ended his five-set losing streak when a shot from Santoro sailed wide.
Asked if he knew about Blake’s five-set record, Santoro replied, “It was very, very low, no? But he never played a five-set match with a 34-year-old guy, that's why.”
Nevertheless, the Frenchman said he was still happy with the match and the way he played against Blake.
“New York is something special. The night session is special,” Santoro said. “When you have the chance to play in New York in a big tournament like a Grand Slam, night session against an American guy in a great atmosphere, (I) was feeling very lucky on the court, and the battle was just great.”
Considering the fact that the game of tennis has now shifted in favor of heavy baseline rallies, fans in attendance were greatly appreciative of both players’ consistent trips to the net. Blake made 83 net approaches, converting on 57 of them, while Santoro converted on 32 of his 59 net plays.