Thoughts on Blake-Roddick and other issues

By Times Staff
Published April 4, 2006

Five burning questions and their possible answers after a week in Key Biscayne:

1. With Andy Roddick struggling and James Blake on the rise, should Blake now be considered America's top player? The answer: Not yet. The take here is that while Blake, a longtime Tampa resident and arguably the nicest guy on tour, is closing ground, he hasn't quite surpassed Roddick. Blake, at a career-best No.8 in the rankings, is four spots behind Roddick and, some might argue, still searching for that one defining win. The odds appear good, however, of him getting it soon.

2. How badly did Maria Sharapova taint her image after taking a bathroom break during the second set of her quarterfinal win over Tatiana Golovin at the Nasdaq-100 Open, a move many perceived as gamesmanship? The talented Russian was booed by fans that night, and it was clear they were in her opponents' corner during the semifinal and final. Some in the sport think Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, has gotten a little full of herself and this latest incident won't help. Eventually, though, fans are likely to forget the bathroom break - unless, of course, it becomes habit.

3. How long can Martina Navratilova keep it going? As long as she wants. At 49, Navratilova reached the doubles final at the Nasdaq and looks to be in better shape than many of the tour's current stars. It wouldn't be a shock to see her win another major or two. My question is: Where does she find room for all the trophies?

4. Is the sport's decision to use instant replay a good one? Yes. It's quick, it's effective and the fans love it. Quite frankly, it's the best thing tennis has done in years.

5. Have we seen the last of Andre Agassi and Wesley Chapel's Jennifer Capriati ? No. Although they have labored through injuries and neither member of the over-30 club is getting any younger, don't be surprised if each shows up in New York for the U.S. Open, where both are big crowd favorites.

STIRRING IT UP: Legend Chris Evert , who will compete in Wednesday's Mercedes-Benz Classic at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, isn't keeping her feelings about Serena Williams to herself. In the May issue of Tennis Magazine , Evert challenges Williams to rededicate herself to the game in an open letter that begins, "Dear Serena, I've been thinking about your career, and something is troubling me."

Evert, who says Williams has a chance to be the greatest ever, writes, "I appreciate that becoming a well-rounded person is important to you, as you've made that desire very clear. Still, a question lingers - do you ever consider your place in history? Is it something you care about? In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life, but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 percent of yourself into tennis. Because whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions are tarnishing your legacy. These are crucial years that you'll never get back. Why not dedicate yourself entirely for the next five years and see what you can achieve?"

Williams owns seven major titles, but has been slowed by injuries and at times has seemed to be preoccupied with off-court ventures such as acting.

BY THE NUMBERS: No.1-ranked Roger Federer has won eight consecutive titles on U.S. soil. ... The Nasdaq-100 Open total attendance was 272,033, a record.

LAST WORD: "I believe the serve is very important in the breaker. But even if that doesn't work, I never panic. I think that's the key in the end. You can't panic. You've got to believe in your game, and that comes through confidence and knowing your game."

- Federer, who defeated Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6) Sunday to win the Nasdaq title.