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James Blake at home on grass in swift victory

James Blake in action during his First Round match.
by Helen Gilbert
Tuesday 25 June 2013

The old adage that age is just a number certainly rang true on the second day of The Championships when James Blake joined fellow veterans Kimiko Date-Krumm and Tommy Haas in the second round.

The former top five player, who at 33 is nine years younger than Date-Krumm and two years behind Haas, disposed of 24-year-old Thiemo De Bakker 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in 71 minutes in glorious conditions on Court 17.

On paper the match should have been a relatively close affair – at 87 Blake sits just six places above De Bakker in the world rankings and the men are no strangers to the SW19 lawns. But the contest was anything but with Blake, a former world No.4 riding high on the back of his three qualifying wins at Eastbourne.

“I played pretty well. I felt like [I] took advantage of opportunities,” Blake said. “I got a little lucky here and there. Just one of those days where all of those things are going together and it worked out well.”

De Bakker won the toss and elected to receive but immediately regretted it when Blake held his serve to love and rattled through the next three points to carve out three break points. The game was handed to him on the second when the world No.93 ballooned a ball long.

Such mistakes would become an all too familiar characteristic of the contest in which De Bakker, who recorded a career high of No.40 in July 2010, struggled to get going. Misjudged forays to the net, inconsistent baseline play and troubles on serve contributed to an error-strewn performance which helped Blake swipe the first set in 21 minutes.

The Dutchman’s fortunes went from bad to worse early in the second set when he received a code violation for smashing his racket in anger. Blake, who has 10 singles titles and this year collected the Delray Beach doubles title with fellow countryman Jack Sock, showed no sign of the back and knee injuries that have beset his career but afterwards admitted he finds the transition from clay to grass a tricky one.

“I do feel (my movement) suffers more on grass. I just feel I have a little bit more trouble stopping and cutting out of corners,” he said. “On clay I feel like I know maybe a little better how to slide and then adjust. And get back on grass, I think I'm a little tentative because I feel like I'm not sure if I can slide with the nubs on the bottom of the shoes and whether you're going to roll your ankle or stop and slip.”

At the end of 2010 Blake finished outside the top 100 for the first time since 2000, having skipped the majority of the clay court season due to a right knee injury.

“I feel like I'm more tentative on grass than I am on clay,” he added. “Other guys are dealing obviously with the same issues, some are adjusting better than others. I have never felt like I was a great mover on grass. Throughout my career I felt like my movement is one of my strengths, and on grass I feel like it's a little bit nullified.”

There was little evidence of that as Blake moved comfortably around the court, firing off penetrating groundstrokes that more often than not left De Bakker looking on in disbelief. The last point of the match illustrated the point when Blake answered an overhead with a cross-court winner.

De Bakker’s 17 unforced errors proved his undoing against Blake’s seven. The American was also well ahead on clean winners, hitting 31 to the Dutchman’s 23.

Blake, who last June became a father, will face either Bernard Tomic or countryman and No.21 seed Sam Querrey in the second round.

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