Steve Flink Introduction

January

The Australian Tennis Open

Australian Open

May/June

The French Open

The French Open

Big Opportunity Missed by Blake

While many will remember Federer’s spirited four set skirmish with Roddick in the Open final, Federer endured even more anxious moments against Blake, who has managed to win five tournaments this season, including two since Flushing Meadows. In his quarterfinal battle under the lights at the U.s. Open against Blake, Federer should have wrapped up the first set comfortably. Serving at 5-4, he double faulted to trail 15-30, worked his way back to 30-30, but missed his trademark inside-out forehand for 30-40. Then Blake pressured Federer into a forehand mistake, and it was 5-5.

Blake took that set into a tie-break and, once more, Federer inexplicably squandered a big lead. Serving at 4-1 in that breaker, Federer took his foot off the accelerator, driving a routine forehand into the net for 4-2, missing a relatively easy crosscourt backhand on the next point. Blake responded with a pair of aggressive service points, and when the American produced a stinging return of serve that eventually set up an overhead winner, he held a 6-4, double set point lead. Both players were fully aware that Blake needed this set much more than Federer, and perhaps that weighed too heavily on the American’s mind. Federer saved the first set point with a well disguised wide slice serve for an ace.

It was Blake’s turn to serve at 6-5. He was much too cautious, going for a three-quarter pace first serve to the backhand that Federer handled with ease. Blake lost that critical point when he steered a defensive sliced forehand long. He had his third and last set point with Federer serving at 6-7 but squandered that one when he netted a backhand down the line return off a kick serve. Federer--- on a run of three consecutive points--- sealed that set. The elegant Swiss shot maker swept majestically through the second set and seemed certain to cast aside Blake in straight sets.

At 5-3 in the third set, Federer served for the match, and was two points away from the triumph at 30-30. But he made yet another forehand unforced error and then Blake unleashed a spectacular forehand pass for 5-5. In the third set tie-break, Federer reached match point but Blake released a scintillating backhand down the line winner and went on to win the set.

When Federer raced to 5-1 in the fourth set, he seemed to finally have matters well in hand, but an inspired Blake made one last brilliant run. Sweeping three games in a row, breaking Federer in the eighth game with a pair of superb forehand return placements, a highly charged Blake was soaring. With Federer serving for the match a second time at 5-4, Blake saved two more match points and earned a break point. Federer kicked his second served up high to Blake’s backhand, and the American tried yet another non-percentage topspin backhand return down the line, missing it wide. Federer soon closed out the contest 7-6 (7), 6-0, 6-7 (9), 6-4.

The moral of the story? A quietly apprehensive Federer found a way to win on an evening when he was not at the height of his powers, in a match where he never completely found his rhythm. Meanwhile, Blake--- who had moved into the top five in the world over the summer for the first time in his career--- was not up to the task of bringing Federer down when the chances were there.

His backhand return on the big points cost him dearly. He should have chipped or rolled it crosscourt instead of going for so many difficult down the line shots. Blake played well enough to win against a largely off-form Federer, but made some bad decisions at big moments. He could not have confronted a more vulnerable Federer, but wasted a significant opportunity. Blake has made important progress in 2006 but he needs to do a better job of closing out matches. At the Masters Series event in Madrid, he served for the match against Kristof Vliegen but once again did not close the account.

 

Roddick’s Davis Cup Setback

After reaching the final of the U.S. Open--- his first title round showing at a major since Wimbledon of 2005--- Andy Roddick admirably kept his commitment to represent his country in the semifinals of the Davis Cup against Russia indoors on clay in Moscow. Roddick was beaten in straight sets by a top of the line Marat Safin on the opening day before Blake bowed in four sets against U.S. Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny. But then the Bryan brothers kept the Americans in contention, closing the gap to 2-1 in the best of five match series between the two nations.

And so Roddick faced the gifted Dmitry Tursunov on the final day. Tursunov has been one of the game’s most improved players in 2006, surging into the world’s top 30, demonstrating that he has the tools to bother anyone in his trade. Tursunov was much too solid for Roddick in building a two sets to love lead, displaying time and again better ball control from the backcourt. But Roddick was not going to surrender, and he came back with gusto to take the next two sets.

The two players battled gamely through a compelling and hard fought fifth set. Roddick broke for 6-5, and served for the match in the following game. Here, he let himself down considerably with the match well within his grasp. On the first point of the crucial twelfth game, he ran round his backhand to play an inside-in forehand, but he did not do enough with that shot as Tursunov connected cleanly with a running forehand crosscourt winner into a vacant court. Roddick got back to 15-15 but was caught on his heels by a deep forehand crosscourt return from the Russian. The American netted a forehand half volley from not far inside the baseline. Then Roddick attempted to exploit his big inside-out forehand but he committed a glaring mistake into the net. Down 15-40 he released an unreturnable first serve wide to the forehand. Three points away from victory at 30-40, he made another unprovoked error, taking Tursunov’s mediocre return of serve and pulling a forehand wide crosscourt.

Tursunov was back to 6-6. Roddick battled gamely and gallantly until he lost his serve at 15-16, displaying much grace under pressure during that stretch. He made a remarkable comeback, but he should have served out the match at 6-5 and been victorious. Had Boris Becker been serving for the match under similar circumstances, would he have come through? If Pete Sampras been placed in Roddick’s shoes, would he have served out the match? The answer to both questions is clearly yes. He competed honorably, but Roddick did not exploit his most formidable weapon when he really needed it.

June/July

Wimbledon

Wimbledon

August/September

The U.S. Open

The U.S. Open

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