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Blake comfy with role as lone American man
By TIMES WIRES
Published June 3, 2006
PARIS - It was there in the scrambling, side-to-side defense along the baseline, forcing his foe to hit an extra shot. It was there in the delicate drop shots, the sleight of hand at the right moment. And, too, in the well-timed returns.
James Blake, an American, looked at home on the red clay of the French Open, moving into the third round by beating Nicolas Almagro of Spain 6-7 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 Friday in a match suspended the night before.
That's right: The same James Blake who never before went beyond the second round in three trips to Paris. Who lost his opening match at three of his previous four clay-court events. Who is the only U.S. man left in the tournament and first to reach the round of 32 at Roland Garros since Andre Agassi in 2003.
"I definitely feel so much more comfortable on the surface now," the Tampa resident said. "I'm not going into the clay-court part of the year with dread. It's exciting at 26 years old to be getting better."
So what's it like to be the last American standing?
"It's an interesting role, because Andy (Roddick) has played that role for so long, for the last few years. We've had Andre kind of holding down the fort, as well," Blake said. "But as long as we've got one, that's a good sign."
The other U.S. man who reached the second round - Agassi didn't come, Roddick quit his opener with an ankle injury, and four others lost in the first round - was Kevin Kim. He faced defending champion Rafael Nadal.
Nadal won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 for his 55th victory in a row on clay, extending his Open-era record.
"I was happy for the record, but for me the most important thing is Roland Garros," said Nadal, who is 9-0 there. "I was especially nervous in the first round and second round for Roland Garros. I'm playing a difficult tournament."
Kim would say he faced a difficult opponent in Nadal.
"It felt like you're in the Sahara and you just see the hills and there's no ending," Kim said. "You know he's going to go all day. I mean, he's going to stay out there five, 10 hours if he has to. ... It's a little bit demoralizing."
Thanks to bad weather, 10 singles matches were postponed or suspended Thursday. But the backlog was cleared as one top player after another took the court under more pleasant conditions Friday - and won - from Venus Williams to Martina Hingis, from Amelie Mauresmo to Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, from Roger Federer to David Nalbandian.
No. 11 Williams advanced to the fourth round by beating Karolina Sprem 7-5, 6-3. Sprem had upset Williams two years ago in the second round at Wimbledon.
Top-ranked Amelie Mauresmo, bidding for her second successive Grand Slam title, defeated Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-3.
"It's getting better and better with the blue sky, the sun and a game that improves with every round," Mauresmo said.
CLIJSTERS STICKS BY DECISION:
Kim Clijsters is the reigning U.S. Open champion, is ranked No. 2 and is all of 22 years old. Yet she still plans to quit after next season.
The Belgian confirmed what she announced last year - that she'll retire in 2007 because of the injuries she'd endured, including a bad left wrist, and assorted ankle, knee and back problems.
"I don't want to be having injuries that cause me to not be able to do all the things that I want to do when I stop playing tennis," Clijsters said after a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Conchita Martinez Granados in the second round that took 55 minutes.
RODDICK TO LONDON:
When Andy Roddick left Roland Garros after a left ankle injury forced him to quit during his first-round match, he decided to head straight to London to rest, then prepare for grass-court play at Queen's Club before Wimbledon starts June 26. He's been a Wimbledon finalist the last two years.
MORE PLAY ON CLAY:
U.S. Tennis Association president Franklin Johnson said the USTA is close to switching its Florida training center from Key Biscayne to a facility with more clay courts, Chris Evert's Academy in Boca Raton.
"It may be a little premature, because we haven't firmed it up yet," Johnson said. "If we do a deal with the Evert Academy, most of their courts are clay, so at our training center most of the training would be on clay."
By using the academy, the USTA would be able to offer year-round housing for top prospects, he said.