James Blake rallies to win in Atlanta
NORCROSS, Ga. -- At 31 and a longtime member of the ATP world tour, James Blake knew what to expect coming back from a long rain delay.
"I think generally it favors the person who's down because they've got a chance to stop the momentum and get back out there with a new attitude where they feel like they're the underdog," he said. "You've got a little bit of a nothing-to-lose attitude and you can play your best tennis."
Blake rallied to win a second-set tiebreaker and overcame a 1-hour, 18-minute rain delay Monday night for a 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over Ernests Gulbis of Latvia in the first round of the Atlanta Tennis Championships.
"I wanted to really focus on getting that hold and once I did, I definitely let loose in that 4-2 game where he was serving," Blake said. "I felt like if I could get a break there, it would make life a little easier for me."
Blake will face No. 3 seed John Isner, his friend and doubles partner, in the second round.
Isner, the runner-up to defending champion and top-seeded Mardy Fish last year in Atlanta, isn't exactly looking forward to facing Blake.
"He is always going to be a tough out," Isner said. "To be honest if he wins tonight I would rather not play him only because he is a good friend of mine. It's a tough dynamic when you play a good friend but it is what it is so we will see."
Isner, who starred at the University of Georgia and is ranked 35th in the world, is looking forward to playing the crowd favorite for the second straight year even though the event has moved seven miles south from the swank Atlanta Athletic Club.
"This is definitely a kind of a hometown feel for me given all the Georgia fans in this area and in this state," Isner said. "I remember all the support I had last year. It was phenomenal, so I hope to get that same support this year. That's one of the main reasons I played well and made it all the way to the finals last year."
For Blake, the key to beating Gulbis timing his opponent's serve.
"It was tough," Blake said. "He can be very sneaky. He can play great, especially with the way he served at the end of the first set and at the beginning of the second set. There wasn't really much I could do. There wasn't really much anybody could do with the way he was serving there."
Blake had to manage an emotional letdown even though the stadium court of the Racquet Club of the South had nearly cleared out after the rain delay.
"Just kind of staying the course, I played a couple of loose points there at 4-all in the second but I didn't want to hang my head and get down and say that it was impossible to break him," he said. "Anyone, no matter how good they are, they feel that pressure when they're serving out the match. I almost gave it back at the end, too. Got down 30-love on a couple of big serves by him and then got some looks at a couple of second serves and took advantage."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press