- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

James Blake doesn’t have many questions about his game right now. Paul Goldstein isn’t quite so fortunate.

Hours after Blake advanced to the round of 16 last night at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over fourth-seeded Radek Stepanek, Goldstein squandered three match points in falling to No. 13 Paradorn Srichaphan 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

“This is the type of loss that in the past has really affected and decimated me for weeks at a time,” Goldstein said. “I’m happy that’s happened in the past, because I don’t want to let a match like this affect me over the course of the next few weeks.”

While Goldstein pondered his devastating loss, Blake must be pleased that he once again resembles the player who won the 2002 Legg Mason title and was ranked as high as 22nd in the world.

“I don’t think I have a long way to go,” said Blake, who earned only his second victory over a top-20 player this year. “I think I’m playing just about as well as when I was 20-something in the world. I feel like I’m a more mature player, a more controlled player, but not so much in control that it takes away from my game.”

Goldstein didn’t seem to have control at pivotal moments, failing to keep Paradorn on the run even after it was clear the Thai star was battling a stomach ailment. After splitting the first two sets, the pair remained on serve until Goldstein secured a break in the ninth game.

He proceeded to earn three match points on his serve, but he couldn’t force the injured Paradorn to move around the court. Showing some nerves, Goldstein’s shots began to go astray to further invigorate Paradorn.

“What’s on my mind is, I’m hoping he’s going to miss,” Goldstein said. “That’s not the way you win matches. That’s the definition of playing not to lose.”

Paradorn eventually earned the break back, then held his serve to take a 6-5 lead. Paradorn won the final four points, falling to the court on the clincher to cap the 2-hour, 32-minute match before rising to the cheers of a section of Thai fans.

“I was running out of energy,” Paradorn said. “My battery was really low.”

Blake was among five players to oust a seed at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, leaving just seven in the upset-ravaged tournament. Other winners included Luis Horna (in a third-set tiebreaker over No. 5 Dominik Hrbaty), Gilles Muller (over No. 9 Nicolas Massu), Robby Ginepri (in straight sets over No. 12 Karol Beck) and wild card Bobby Reynolds (in three sets against No. 15 Ricardo Mello).

Those results aren’t shocking, especially since Blake has a strong history in the District, Muller was a finalist here last year and Ginepri is two weeks removed from a hardcourt victory in Indianapolis.

Those three, along with top-seeded Andy Roddick, probably represent the most recognizable faces in a tournament that lost Andre Agassi (withdrawal) and Tim Henman (upset victim) early in the week. With that in mind, fans are receiving a first-hand look at the sport’s unpredictability.

“If you look at most tournaments all year, it’s so rare to see the top two seeds in the final or to see a No. 1 seed win, unless it’s Roger [Federer] because he always wins,” Blake said.”Other than that, the sport is so deep.”

Blake, who entered the week ranked 101st, has dealt with injuries (including zoster, a condition that affects hearing and vision) and endured the death of his father since May 2004. But buoyed by a supportive crowd, Blake played his usual aggressive style in the first set before dropping the second.

Blake took a 3-1 lead in the third but could muster little against Stepanek’s powerful serve. He faced two break points at 4-3, but saved them both to avoid going back on serve. After dropping the next game on four aces by Stepanek, Blake clinched the match as Stepanek sent his final two returns beyond the baseline.

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