Blake Returns in Style, Wins Easily
There’s something about Winston-Salem that brings out the best in James Blake.
Blake ran his record in the city to a perfect 7-0 on Sunday night as he beat Mikhail Kukushkin 7-5, 6-1 in his first-round match in the Winston-Salem Open.
This came on Center Court at the new Wake Forest tennis complex, not across the street at Joel Coliseum, where Blake is unbeaten in six Davis Cup matches. But that didn’t seem to matter to the 31-year-old New Yorker.
"It’s great coming back here," Blake said. "Just across the street. It’s a little different being out in this heat and humidity, but it still feels great. The crowd obviously was incredibly supportive. A little different atmosphere than Davis Cup, but it’s still a lot of fun. I remember the area well and it’s good to be back and hopefully I’ll continue to play the way I did tonight, and maybe even better."
Blake won twice here in his Davis Cup debut in 2001 when the U.S. beat India in a relegation match. He tacked on two more wins in the U.S.’s quarterfinal win over Spain in 2007, then won two more in a quarterfinal win over France the following year.
"Winston-Salem has been good to me," he said. "It was such an emotional week that first time playing against India, right after 9-11, my first Davis Cup, with Andy Roddick. We had a blast. I still remember so much from that whole week, really. To be back here, it seems like not long ago, but it’s been over a decade, so that’s a little crazy. But it’s been a lot of fun from then to now, and hopefully I’ll get some more wins, too."
Blake started slowly against Kukushkin, who came into the match ranked No. 62 in the South African Airways ATP rankings. He was broken in the first game, and again later in the set. But he broke Kukushkin three times, including in the 12th game to win the set.
He then broke Kukushkin twice more in the second set.
"He has a second serve that I feel I can attack," Blake said. "One of my biggest weapons is my second serve return, being able to hurt guys with that and make them think about it a lot. I was able to do that today. I feel like the courts are pretty good for that. Hardcourts are always better for me, but these feel like they grab the ball a little bit and it gives me time to go after the second serve. Today it was effective. I feel like the only times I didn’t return it well were when I was just trying to get the ball in the court and was getting a little too tentative. Which is something I do less and less the more confident I am. But in the second set I was pretty confident going after him the whole time."
Confidence, Blake said, seems to be coming to him more and more as the summer goes on. He won two matches in Cincinnati last week before losing to Roger Federer in the third round.
"I’ve won a decent number of matches this summer and I’ve been playing pretty well and feeling like once you get into that routine, that rhythm of winning matches, it seems to snowball," Blake said. "You just feel when it’s 5-all you’re going to win that set. You just feel good out there on the court and you can go for your shots. That’s what happened at the end of the first set and then in the second."
In other first-round singles matches, Ryan Sweeting beat Olivier Rochus 6-3, 7-5; Tobias Kamke beat Alejandro Falla 6-1, 6-1; Igor Andreev beat Bernard Tomic 6-7, 6-3, 6-4; and Donald Young beat Micheal Berrer 6-3, 6-4.
In the only doubles match of the day, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares beat Paul Hanley and Dick Norman 5-7, 6-2 (10-5).
Qualifying wrapped up Sunday afternoon with Kei Nishikori, Michael Russell, Ricardo Mello and Julien Benneteau – the top four seeds – advancing to the Main Draw along with Lucky Loser Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Nishikori beat Carsten Ball 6-4, 6-4; Russell beat Luka Gregoric 6-3, 7-6; Mello beat Pierre-Ludovic Duclos 6-1, 6-1; and Benneteau beat Roger-Vasselin 6-4, 6-4.
Nishikori will meet Gilles Muller in the first round; Russell will meet Adrian Mannarino; Mello and Benneteau will meet each other by a quirk of the draw; and Roger-Vasselin will meet Lukas Rosol. Roger-Vasselin takes the place of Albert Ramos, who withdrew.