Top Americans with little trouble
Americans Andy Roddick and Venus Williams were sharp in advancing to the third round at Wimbledon. In all, five Americans remain alive this year.
BLAKE, VENUS ROLL INTO THIRD ROUND
WIMBLEDON, England -- Lately, nothing is automatic for American tennis players, but Venus Williams and James Blake essentially held serve Thursday, beating Eastern Europeans ranked outside the top 100.
Blake ho-hummed Andrei Pavel of Romania 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and Williams hammered the Czech Republic's Hana Sromova 6-2, 6-2.
And so, they have safely arrived in the third round. Blake will face 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Williams will take on Ai Sugiyama.
The Americans won so easily, so predictably, that there were few questions from the inquiring minds of the media about their matches.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Tim Henman waves goodbye to his home crowd after a five-set loss to Feliciano Lopez in the second round at Wimbledon.
JAMES BLAKE'S SIGNATURE SHOT
STAT OF THE DAY0 -- Number of top-10 seeds, men and women combined, that have lost at Wimbledon this year. The highest seed to lose so far is No. 11, Tommy Robredo, who was sent packing by Wayne Arthurs.
The Williams question scoreboard: fashion 4, doubles 3, music 1, match 0.
Blake: confidence 2, fashion 2, English heritage 2, match 1.
Although Williams is accustomed to winning here -- she has a sterling 45-7 record at the All England Club -- Blake has not been as fortunate. Coming into the event, he was a mediocre 4-4 at Wimbledon, a surface that should complement his power game nicely.
The difference, distilled, is confidence. Williams exudes it. Sometimes, she has too much; she fell behind Alla Kudryavtseva a set and a break in Round 1 before finally toning down her groundstrokes. With Blake, it has been the opposite.
"I think I'm a confidence player," Blake said. "That's something that, as a young player, I wasn't consistent with. I would lose a match, lose confidence immediately. That could spiral in three, four, five losses in a row.
"Now, I won't let that happen. I don't let the dips in confidence happen."
Blake, who has recorded his best Grand Slam singles efforts by reaching the quarterfinals of the past two U.S. Opens, followed it up with a fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open in January. Although the French Open was forgettable -- like the eight other American men, Blake lost in the first round -- he's feeling a small surge of momentum.
"Wins like I've had the last two days that have been straight sets against two, in my opinion, very good players is a good feeling and should take me to the next round with a lot of confidence. I'm excited about that."
There are now two American men (Blake and Andy Roddick) and three women (Venus and Serena Williams and Laura Granville) still alive in the singles draws. Meilen Tu, Bethanie Mattek and Amer Delic all lost -- as expected -- to highly seeded players.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONEWIMBLEDON, England -- James Blake feels an affinity for Great Britain because his mother, Betty, was born in England and grew up in Oxfordshire.
After his second-round victory over Andrei Pavel, Blake was musing about his fondness for the country.
"I like the fact that I do have a bit of a kinship with the country," he said. "It seems like, I guess, I'm the closest thing to a Brit left in this tournament.
In fact, Blake was right. Tim Henman, the British icon, had just lost to Feliciano Lopez after a second straight gallant struggle. Lopez won the first two sets in tiebreakers, but Henman forced the match to a fifth set. That was when the 32-year-old from Oxford hit the wall. Lopez prevailed 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 2-6, 6-1.
Katie O'Brien, the last Englishwoman in the draw, lost to Michaella Krajicek 6-0, 6-1.
Henman had surprised Carlos Moya in the first round, and a nation always hungry for a winner turned its lonely eyes to him.
"When you get into the fifth, you've got to try and maintain that momentum," Henman said. "You know, suddenly, he just hits two or three good shots in one game and he's in the driving seat."
And the sun had set again on the British tennis system at the tournament it prizes above all others.
"It's depressing," Henman said. "But, you know, it's reality. That's where we're at. I think for years we've been far too accepting of mediocrity. I think you look at some of the players, they need a bit of a wake-up call to realize the level of play and their competition worldwide is very, very high."