NEW YORK -- It looked exactly as a James Blake match at the U.S. Open should: stadium packed to the rafters, cameras trained on his every move, big-time opponent on the other side of the net. And yet most everything about his 4-6, 3-6, 4-6 defeat to Spaniard David Ferrer on Friday seemed small.
It was shortly after the conclusion of the 2005 Davis Cup, won by Croatia on the strength of Ivan Ljubicic's 11-1 record, when someone asked Roger Federer about the tall, bald fellow at the center of things. "He's very secure, you know," Federer said. "He doesn't really look like he's going to panic."
1. We quite often wonder whether Player X can win a big title. More often than not, the answer is "yes." And here's why: in tennis, it's fairly easy to catch lightning in a bottle. Get hot for two weeks, catch a few breaks with the draw, serve well on crucial points and ... presto. The latest exemplar of this is Ivan (Northern Iowa) Ljubicic. Rumored to be headed into retirement last fall, the Croatian veteran played the tournament of his life week at the BNP Paribas event in Indian Wells. First, Roger Federer fell unexpectedly to Marcos Baghdatis. Then Ljubicic "caught a gear" with his tennis and took out Novak Djokovic, a resurgent Rafael Nadal and then Andy Roddick to take the title. Ljubicic, 31, might not have been the marquee choice of the tournament or the sponsors. But his title ought to fire the rest of the field with some optimism. If he can do it, why not me?
We have a week left and only one defending champion still standing. Like the weather, Serena Williams is unusually hot. The American men have given a terrific accounting of themselves. Herewith, our midterm grades from the year's first major: