Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August 19, Jockeying for Slam Position

Greetings tennis fans,

As the 2nd week of Masters 1000 competition approaches it's midpoint, there are many players who, while present in body, seem to be absent in spirit. 

Mr. James Blake, the former world No. 4, is the perfect example of a spiritless body at the moment.  As Blake battled to a three set defeat against Igor Kunitsyn of Russia, the lack of joy was so obvious on Jame's side of the court that it was painful to watch.  Even when James sealed the 2nd set with some impressive tennis he wore the same look of stoic disinterest on his face as he walked to his chair.  

I'd never go so far as to speak for Blake, but it seems to me that he's unhappy out there. Perhaps he's feeling the weight of our expectations for him, or the weight of his own expectations.  Perhaps his toe is killing him and he's just playing because it's the only thing he knows how to do in August, less than two weeks before the U.S. Open starts.  

Whatever the reason, it's difficult to watch Blake these days, and not because he's losing (and we all know he's doing plenty of that), but because he seems to hate being on the court.  He wears this perpetual scowl and it appears that his soul is being squeezed in some sort of vice.  

I hope that for Blake's sake he can learn to smile again.  He's a sweet guy who should just tap into the unbearable lightness of being a little more.  Stop worrying about what American tennis fans want from you James.  Just enjoy playing your game, and if you can't, well maybe it's time to hang up the headband.  

And Blake isn't the only lonely soul seeking tennis sustenance.  

Marin Cilic, frequently thought of as the next 6'6" behemoth to enter the top-10, appears to be dead set on taking his time at the moment. After a tough 5 set loss to Tommy Haas on the grass at Wimbledon, Cilic was instrumental in Croatia's Davis Cup victory over the Americans when he beat Mardy Fish in a come from behind thriller, and then finished off James Blake in 4 sets.  Since then he's gone horribly cold however.  A first round loss to No. 153-ranked Somdev Devvarman in D.C. was a harbinger of things to come.  After No. 65-ranked Mikhail Youzhny thumped him to the tune of 6-1 in the third set in his opener in Montreal, it was apparent that Cilic was indeed in a funk.  

The youngest player in the draw in Cincy, Cilic did manage a first round win against Juan Carlos Ferrero (6-3, 6-4) but he quickly got back to his losing ways against David Ferrer yesterday, losing 7-6(4), 6-2.  

Time is on the side of the 20-year-old Croatian, but for a kid who has the potential to dominate with his lethal serve-forehand combo, his late summer results are a clear indication that a much anticipated run on the top-10 will have to wait until next year, if it is to come at all. His high risk forehand is resulting in more errors than winners, and when it goes awry, Cilic seems to have nothing else to fall back on.  

The two Masters events that lead up to the U.S. Open give players an excellent chance to build some momentum heading into the American slam.  Unfortunately for Blake and Cilic, both will have to step on the court in Flushing meadows devoid of the confidence that is so integral to a successful run at the open.  

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