By John Delong
James Blake lived up to his end of the bargain on Sunday night, and as a result Winston-Salem tennis fans will get a real treat on Monday night.
Blake easily dispatched Albert Ramos 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 11 minutes in his first-round match, setting up a second-round matchup on Monday night against longtime friend Andy Roddick.
It’s a dream matchup for local fans who have cheered on both as teammates on three U.S. Davis Cup teams that have played at Joel Coliseum.
The 32-year-old Blake said he was looking forward to the showdown, which will be the 12th time the two have met during their careers.
"We’ll be buddies before the match, we’ll be buddies after the match, but during the match we’ll try to rip each other’s heads off, and may the best man win," he said.
Roddick, who got a first-round bye as the tournament’s No. 5 seed, holds an 8-3 edge over Blake. The two played for the first time in a Challenger even in 2000, and met most recently at Indian Wells last year.
"It’ll be fun," Blake said. "We’ve played so many times. I think I’ve played him the most of any player on tour, just because we were playing so many of the same tournaments. It’s a good thing because it means we’ve done well. We’ve played in finals and semis and quarters, not usually in the early rounds. We’re both getting later in our careers, we’re both not ranked where we were, but I think we both have the ability to go deep in this tournament or any other tournament. So it’ll be fun for one of us to go through.
"Almost every time we play each other, the guy who wins has got to put up a pretty good effort. Whoever wins tomorrow, I like their chances to go deep in this tournament. If Andy beats me, he’ll feel good about it, and I’m going to do my best to make sure he has to play well to beat me. And the same thing for me, if I beat him it will give me confidence to go on in this tournament."
Blake, who said he is finally feeling 100 percent healthy after suffering shoulder and knee problems earlier this year, received a wildcard for this tournament after his ranking plummeted to No. 106. He dictated play against the No. 47-ranked Ramos with his trademark aggressive play.
He got the only break he needed in the 10th game to win the first set, 6-4. He broke the Spaniard again to take a 2-0 lead in the second set, but Ramos broke back immediately. Blake later broke again to go up 5-3, and served out the match.
"Tonight it was definitely not the cleanest match," Blake said. "There was a little lull there in the second set, but I got through with a win which was really great. I served really well in the first set, did a great job of that, got up a break in the second set and I don’t know if I got lazy or a little relaxed and I played one bad game, which compounded into a couple of loose games, and then I refocused and got right back to serving better. Just a little lull.
"Obviously I can’t let that happen tomorrow. I’m not going to be afforded the luxury of having any kind of lull against Andy. He’s someone I’m going to have to play well from beginning to end against. I’ll have to do a great job with my serve. That’s the pressure he puts on you before you even step on the court. You have to do a great job taking care of your serve because he’s not going to be broken consistently. I’ll really be focused on my serve, and any chance I get on his serve I’ll try to take advantage."
In other Main Draw first-round matches on Sunday, David Goffin defeated Nicolas Mahut 7-6 (3), 6-1; Steve Darcis beat Xavier Malisse 6-3, 6-0; Alex Bogomolov Jr. beat Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-2; and Santiago Giraldo defeated Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-2,2-6, 6-1; and Ryan Harrison beat Go Soeda 6-3, 7-5.
In addition to the Blake-Roddick matchup, Monday matchups include No. 7 seed Sam Querrey against Giraldo, 10th seed Viktor Troicki against David Goffin, Nikolay Davydenko against Robin Haase, and Marcos Baghdatis against Thomaz Bellucci among others.