Impressive Blake gets Federer in quarters

An impressive straight-sets win over Tomas Berdych has James Blake in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Next up for the local favorite is No. 1 Roger Federer.

Updated: September 6, 2006, 8:56 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- In the crucible of the fifth and ultimate set, where conditioning and confidence rule, James Blake and Tomas Berdych are at opposite ends of the spectrum that defines grace under pressure. Heading into Wednesday's round-of-16 match at the U.S. Open, they had each gone the distance nine times, but Berdych was 9-0 and Blake was 0-9 -- the best and tied for worst five-set records in the Open Era.

That is a heavy, heavy number, and maybe it's why Blake came out swinging with an elevated sense of urgency. Looking at last like his soaring 2005 self, Blake knocked the big-hitting 20-year-old from the Czech Republic off the court, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. The match required only 97 minutes.

It was Berdych, not Blake, who failed in the big moments, double-faulting on set point in the first and second frames. Berdych had 15 break-point opportunities and, incredibly, failed to convert one.

James Blake
Ann Heisenfelt/AP PhotoBlake will play Roger Federer on Thursday. The American is 0-4 in his career against the top-seeded Federer.

In terms of games lost (eight), it was the most emphatic of the 13 wins Blake has played here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Last year, Blake also won his first four matches, then ran into Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals. This time around, he gets Roger Federer, who is not only the best player in the world, but has the additional motivation of attempting a rare three-peat.

"If I play my best, then I don't see any reason why I can't win," Blake said with a straight face. "But if he's playing his best, then I can see a reason why I might not win, but…"

Blake's face broke into a smile.

"It's possible," he continued. "I mean, he lost to [Andy] Murray [in Cincinnati]. He's lost before. He is human. So I've got to go out there and see what I can do."

They will meet on Thursday night in what promises to be a raucous crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"I haven't had an Arthur Ashe night session yet, so I would love to get that one," Federer said earlier, after beating Marc Gicquel in straight sets. "The players I'm getting are more experienced. So it's going to be a hard tournament from now on, that's for sure."

Said Blake, "The atmosphere here at a night match is just unparalleled. There's nothing else like it. It definitely helps me. It's probably the reason I've played my best here."

Blake, after winning titles in Sydney and Las Vegas, has had an indifferent summer. He was sent home after the third round at Wimbledon and, after his victory in Indianapolis (beating Andy Roddick in the final), his record is a disappointing 3-4.

But, slowly, Blake has recalibrated his gifts -- a big serve and a bigger forehand -- and added an increasingly lethal return of serve. Enjoying the best overall season of his career at 26, Blake reached the No. 5 ranking in July and is currently hovering at No. 7. He will believe he has a chance against Federer, who has not been playing to his ridiculously high standards this fortnight.

It is worth noting that Federer and Blake have the most hard-court victories among ATP players, 39 and 34, respectively.

Berdych had an opportunity to climb back into the match early in the second set when, trailing 0-1, he rang up three break points. Two forehands flew out and a third clipped the line -- but the linesman's call was out and Berdych didn't challenge quickly enough. An ace down the middle eventually secured the game and Blake was on his way. Berdych, who argued his right to challenge strenuously, seemed to lose interest after that.

"I had many chances to break him," Berdych said. "I think that was the key of the match. If I, say, made one of them, everything can change and be different."

In theory, Berdych should have played a better match. He is ranked No. 14 in the world and beat Federer in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He reached the round of 16 at the French Open and Wimbledon, but had the misfortune of running into Federer both times.

Back in early July, J.J. Henry of Fairfield, Conn., won the Buick Championship in nearby Cromwell, Conn. And now, there is the possibility of the ever-so-rare Fairfield Quinella. Nothing would please the J-Block, Blake's boisterous boosters from his hometown of Fairfield, more.

They were in their usual club-level suite, sponsored by Nike, drinking their beers courtesy of Heineken. They kept up a steady stream of chatter, along the lines of "Come on, Jimmy, fire it up one more time!"

And that will be the mantra when he steps out to face Federer. Blake acknowledged it would be the biggest win of his career.

"Yeah, at this point, I probably would be," he said. "If I can get a win over someone that at the end of their career has 15, 16, 17 Grand Slams, I'd be pretty happy with that, especially do it in the quarterfinals of my favorite tournament."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.