Fifth set does in Blake ... again

James Blake is one of the 10 best players in the world. But, as Keith Hawkins writes, there is no one worse in five-set matches than the American.

Updated: July 1, 2006, 5:52 AM ET
By Keith Hawkins | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- James Blake's story has been well-documented.

An up-and-comer on the men's tour whose world became derailed with an illness, injury and the death of his father -- all in the same year. When he returned to the game, Blake was ranked outside the top 200, but he is now a top-10 player on the verge of passing Andy Roddick as the highest-ranked men's player in the United States.

James Blake
Phil Cole/Getty ImagesJames Blake has yet to advance past the third round this year at three Grand Slam events.

One hurdle Blake has yet to clear in his professional career is the ability to win a five-set match.

The eighth-seeded American, close to reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time, fell to 0-9 in his career in five-set matches with a 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 loss to Max Mirnyi on Friday.

Blake joins Markus Hipfl (remember him?) as the only two players in the Open era (since 1968) with nine losses and no wins in five-set matches. Statistically speaking, no player has a worse record in five-set matches than Blake does.

And he had no explanation when Boston Globe columnist Bud Collins' asked why he can't win in five sets.

"I don't know," Blake said. "I lose 'em. That's the problem. I don't know what it is. Today, [Mirnyi] played unbelievable and I missed first serves. Against Fernando González, he played great. Against Lleyton Hewitt, I was cramping. I can't pinpoint one thing. Against [Stanislas] Wawrinka, I was cramping a little bit, as well.

"There's no one thing that I'm doing wrong in fifth sets, I don't think. But if anyone can figure out one thing, I'd love to hear it."

Worst five-set W-L, Open Era
James Blake 0-9
Markus Hipfl 0-9
Juan Ignacio Chela 0-8

Blake has lost in the third round of all three Grand Slam events this year -- and twice has gone the distance in the match only to fall short. At the French Open earlier this month, Blake lost to Gael Monfils in five, although the score of the final set was a respectable 6-4.

Blake is having the best year of his career. He's ranked No. 7 on the ATP Tour and is closing in on Roddick. So how did Blake -- who won nine of 10 games at one point spanning the second and third sets and seemed to have control of the match -- win just one of the last 13 games?

"I wasn't making my first serves," Blake explained. "Just went off for a little while. That hasn't happened to me in a long time. But it happened today against the worst guy."

"Sure, sure," Mirnyi answered when asked whether he noticed a change in Blake's serve. "[That's] one of the main reasons it helped me to get on top of the second serve and dictate play."

This was Mirnyi's second match in 2006 in which he won a fifth set at love, and he improved to 6-7 overall in five-setters.

Even U.S. Davis Cup captain and ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe was at a loss for words when asked why Blake is winless in this situation.

"I wish I knew," McEnroe said. "He got really down on himself and … the fifth set is all about guts and heart. He's got to look in the mirror a little bit, but James is too good a player and has showed too much in the past year to not be able to figure this out."

Keith Hawkins is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.