- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

Overcoming adversity is nothing new to James Blake. His tennis career has fluctuated wildly, at times propelling him to top-10 status, and at times dangling by a thread, forcing him to contemplate retirement.

Blake encountered a major obstacle just last year, when a knee injury forced him to take the clay court season off. After an emotional loss at Wimbledon, he announced that he would stop playing if his knee problems did not subside.

The 31-year-old took another step down another comeback road on Monday night, defeating Tatsuma Ito of Japan 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Blake, who lost his first match in the 2010 tournament, will face defending champion David Nalbadian in Tuesday’s second round.

Blake, who won the first of 10 career titles in Washington in 2002, suffered his first major setback when he broke his neck during a practice in 2004. He was named Comeback Player of the Year after his recovery, and he worked his way up to a career-high No. 4 ranking in 2006.

Rankings have never been a cause for concern for Blake, who is currently No. 90. But the beginning of 2011 was the first time since 2005 when he was not in the top 150 to start a season.

“I probably agonized over [rankings] more when I was a junior, ranked No. 120 in the country, than when I was top 10 in the world,” Blake said. “If you just play your game, prepare for every situation, do everything the right way, it’ll sort itself out. Everything will work out. You’ll have some good draws, you’ll have some bad draws, and it’ll all even out in the end.”

Although he appeared at a post-match press conference with a knee brace on Monday, Blake insisted that last year’s injury is no longer a problem.

“It’s just preventative – making sure it’s safe that way,” Blake said. “I’ve been moving well the last three or four weeks. I felt great, just a little bit of nagging – a little bit of pain here and there. It’s something I’ve gotten used to now, and I’m feeling good about the way I can move on it.”

Blake used his powerful serve to gain an early advantage over Ito, notching two aces on his way to winning the first game. He broke Ito’s serve four times, including the final game of the second set, on his way to victory.

“What I miss the most when I’m off or when I’m injured is that feeling at break point where you’re out there and there’s pressure on it and the crowd is behind you or against you,” he said. “It’s just fun.”

Throughout all the fluctuations in his career, Blake said the only complaint he has about his job is the travel it involves. Though the road to recovery is particularly difficult to travel, his love of the game is the only thing that has never wavered.

“That’s always been there. If that ever changed, I wouldn’t still be playing. I do love the game,” Blake said. “I love the competition … I don’t think that’ll ever change.”

 

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