James Blake never disappoints when he comes to Winston-Salem, and that was the case again on Monday afternoon as he dispatched Rhyne Williams 6-1, 7-5 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open.
Blake won the first set handily, came back from down a break in the second, and eventually ended the match with a sizzling forehand down the line that brought a huge roar from his long-faithful Winston-Salem tennis fans.
It was reminiscent of his glory days when he reached as high as No. 4 in the world, a sight that Wisnton-Salem tennis fans have seen many times before over the years.
"That last one was fun," Blake said. "As soon as I hit it felt good, I knew that. I’ve hit so many over the years, but they all feel good. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s fun that I can still be out there entertaining crowds. This whole life has been a dream to be out there doing something I love and have people enjoy it and be entertained, so that’s what I love about this, that I can still do that at this age. Fourteen years into my career I can still have fun moments out on the court, I can still entertain people, and they still like seeing me. As long as that happens I’m going to keep loving it."
The 33-year-old acknowledged that something about Winston-Salem seems to bring out the best in him. He was 6-0 in three Davis Cup ties at Joel Coliseum and, coupled with two previous appearances in the WSO, is now 9-2 all-time in the Twin City.
"It’s always good to be in Winston-Salem," Blake said. "Driving up here brings up a lot of fond memories of some great Davis Cup times, so it’s a lot of fun being here. I really appreciate the tournament having me. They had offered me a wild card whether I got in, I was lucky enough to get in on my ranking, but they’ve been very generous. Bill Oakes has always been great and Don Flow, all he does to support the tournament, it’s a good run for it already. It’s tough sometimes the week before a Slam to put together a tournament, but they’ve done a really good job."
Blake came into the tournament ranked No. 100, so the consistency is not always there these days. That was the case at times on Monday, especially early in the second set. But there are still flashes of brilliance, and that was evident as well.
Blake said his first-round win over No. 14 Jerzy Janowicz last week in Cincinnati showed that he still has plenty of good tennis in him.
"The state of my game at times is really good," he said. "When I played Janowicz last week it was really good. It’s just that the consistency isn’t there. I played that one really well and then the next day my serve kind of let me down at the end of each set.
"It’s tough, because when I was playing my best I would play at the level I played against Janowicz and I’d be comfortable and confident that it would come every day. But now, there are days when I don’t feel like I’m as good, whether my body’s a little weary or whether I didn’t sleep well or whatever. The recovery isn’t as quick as it used to be. So the fact is, when I’m playing well like that I’ve proven I can still play with some of the best players in the world, and it’s just a matter of stringing some of those together."
Blake will play fifth-seeded Benoit Paire on Tuesday.
On a day when rain forced play to be suspended for more than three hours early in the afternoon, other winners included Steve Johnson over Bobby Reynolds 6-1, 6-2; Guido Pella over Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5); Nicolas Mahut over Kukasz Kubot 6-3, 6-1; and Roberto Bautista Agut over Frederik Nielsen 6-1, 6-3.