Friday, August 15, 2008
Gonzalez rallies to beat Blake, will face Nadal in Olympic final
BEIJING -- James Blake could shrug off the three match points he failed to convert, and even the misfire on an easy forehand that would have given him a berth in the Olympic final.
What stuck in his craw was the notion his opponent didn't play fair.
Blake came up one shot short Friday, losing in the semifinal to Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 4-6, 7-5, 11-9. Afterward he accused Gonzalez of failing to fess up on a disputed point two games before the finish.
James Blake was unable to convert three match points in the third set and lost to Fernando Gonzalez on Friday.
"I've spoken all week about how much I've enjoyed the Olympic experience, how much I love the spirit of it," Blake said. "That's a disappointing way to exit the tournament, when you not only lose the match, but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor."
Actually, the No. 8-seeded Blake remains in the tournament. A first-time Olympian at 28, he'll play for a bronze Saturday as the last hope for a U.S. medal in men's or women's singles.
Gonzalez, seeded 12th, will play in Sunday's final against Rafael Nadal, who clinched his first Olympic medal by beating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
Venus and Serena Williams won twice to reach the semifinals in doubles, but the U.S. team lost its other matches. Top-seeded Mike and Bob Bryan were beaten in the semifinals of doubles by Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, 7-6 (6), 6-4. The Swiss team clinched at least a silver -- the first medal for Federer in the three Olympics he has played.
Americans Lindsay Davenport and Liezel Huber were eliminated in the doubles quarterfinals.
The incident that upset Blake occurred with Gonzalez serving at 8-9 in the final set. On the first point, Blake hit a backhand passing shot long but contended the ball ticked Gonzalez's racket before landing, as TV replays confirmed.
Blake appealed in vain to the chair umpire, and said Gonzalez should have conceded the point. Blake went on to lose the game to make it 9-all.
"Playing in the Olympics, in what's supposed to be considered a gentleman's sport, that's a time to call it on yourself," Blake said. "Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn't call it."
Gonzalez said he was uncertain whether the ball hit his racket.
"I didn't feel anything," Gonzalez said. "I mean, it's just one point. There is an umpire. If I'm 100 percent sure about it, I mean, I will give it. But I'm not sure."
Blake described Gonzalez as a great player who does everything in his power to win, "usually" within the rules.
"Whatever he wants to say is fine," Blake said. "Whatever is going to get him to have some sleep tonight, then that's fine."
New No. 1 Jelena Jankovic lost in the women's quarterfinals to No. 6 Dinara Safina of Russia, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. Safina won her 14th match in a row and will play Li Na of China in the semifinals Saturday.
The other women's semifinal will be an all-Russian matchup between No. 5 Elena Dementieva and No. 9 Vera Zvonareva.
Nadal came to Beijing assured of earning the No. 1 ranking for the first time next week, ending Federer's 4½-year reign. Now the Spaniard is one win from adding an Olympic title to the French Open and Wimbledon championships he has already claimed this year.
It was after midnight when Nadal closed out his latest victory in dramatic fashion. On match point he scrambled to retrieve two overhead slams by Djokovic. When the flustered Serb shanked a third overhead, Nadal collapsed to the hard court in jubilation.
Federer, eliminated in singles Thursday by Blake, kept alive his bid for a medal by winning a rain-interrupted match with Wawrinka over Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes of India 6-2, 6-4. Six hours later the Swiss team beat the Bryan brothers, who can still win a bronze.
The Williams sisters, both eliminated in singles Thursday, completed a suspended second-round doubles match and beat Ayumi Morita and Ai Sugiyama of Japan, 7-5, 6-2. The Williamses then defeated Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-0.
Davenport and Huber lost to Anabel Medina Garriguez and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain 5-7, 7-6 (6), 8-6.
Blake and Gonzalez played the first match on center court, and there was tension between them as early as the second set, when Gonzalez slammed an easy forehand at his opponent's head from point-blank range.
Blake glared at Gonzalez, who apologized. Afterward Blake said he was upset only in the "heat of the moment."
As for the later point of dispute, the match wouldn't have reached that stage had Blake converted one of his three match points after Gonzalez fell behind 5-6, love-40 serving in the final set.
At 10-9 it was Gonzalez who struggled to convert match points, but on the fifth one he smacked a service winner for the victory.
"It was really one or two points, and who played those one or two points better," Blake said. "Today he did at the end."
After beating Federer, Blake showed no sign of an upset hangover. He served well, winning 15 consecutive service points at one stretch, and repeatedly negated the big-swinging Chilean's forehand by pinning him deep in baseline rallies.
Blake even pulled off a nifty trick shot, retreating to retrieve a lob and hitting a back-to-the-net, between-the-legs forehand. Gonzalez was so startled he dumped an easy forehand into the net.
Three times in the second set, Blake was two points from victory. But the best opportunity came in the third set, when he went for a winner on his first match point and sailed a forehand long.
Gonzalez then hit four winners in a row to hold for 6-all, and eight games later he was thrusting his arms to sky after clinching a medal.
Four years ago in Athens, Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu won the doubles for Chile's first gold medal in any sport. Gonzalez also won a bronze in singles in 2004, and he's guaranteed at least a silver Sunday.
"I'm happy because the worst thing that can happen is I'm going to have all the medals," he said.