Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pounding Young Nails

James Blake took on Donald Young last night in what turned out to be an electrifying late-night match at the US Open, winning 6-4 in the 5th set. The point is, James should have never let it become electrifying; he was up 2 sets to 1 and 2-0, 30-0 in the 4th. That's where the elite players put the hammer down and get out of there with a routine win.

This has become something of a habit with James, particularly with young players. Blake often tells a story of when he was an up-and-comer himself, taking on Patrick Rafter. Until that point Blake never seriously believed in his chances to make it on the pro tour, but he extended Rafter to three sets before losing. At the handshake at the end of the match, Rafter pulled Blake close and said "You could have beaten me today. You could beat me on any given day. It’s just that maybe you didn’t believe you could." James took this advice to heart, but seems too eager to pass the same lesson on.

Blake took on Kei Nishikori in the final of Delray Beach in what was expected to be a white-washing. Nishikori had made an incredible run to the finals all the way from qualifying, but conventional wisdom said that his inexperience in big moments coupled with Blake's superior game would result in a straight-set beating. James got off to a fast start, winning the first set 6-3, but dropped the momentum and the match, losing the next two sets 1-6, 4-6. Contrast that with top dog Andy Roddick, who took on Nishikori a couple of months later in San Jose. Roddick used every tool in his arsenal, including verbal intimidation, to subdue Nishikori 6-2, 6-4.

It's almost as if James holds back on drubbing the young players and destroying their confidence until late in the match, and then it's a dogfight. Blake is 3-1 head to head against Sam Querrey, another young American, and all 4 of their matches have gone the distance. Donald Young, a prodigy trying to live up to high expectations and not known for his mental strength, is the perfect example of a player Blake is hesitant to crush. In his post-match interview Blake talked about Young's potential and future:

Q. Lots of people talked about him having those tools and unfairly or not, put the pressure on like the next wave. What's separating him at this point? You saw a flash tonight but just in your veteran estimation, what was it?

JAMES BLAKE: There really isn't that much separating him. Like I said, him getting down and practicing with the top players more is going to make a big difference. I remember seeing him at Davis Cup last year as a practice partner, and you could almost see him improving by the day. Just getting that confidence of hitting with us and working hard, and putting in the hours is going to make a huge difference. I really don't think there's much difference between him and guys top 20, 30 in the world... Once he gets that little experience and figures out what kind of game style he wants to play and plays matches like this, I don't see any reason he's going to be held back by anything.

You can almost hear the post-script echo off the walls "...including me."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Franklin Templeton arrogance

Well Roger Federer lost today. That's great. Maybe I'll get to that in another post, but no promises. I must have said to Kerry "I still can't believe Federer lost to Blake" 5 times over the course of the day.

No, today I get something off my chest that's been bugging me for months now. You've seen them, those snide, insipid Franklin Templeton commercials. It seems the whole point of these commercials is to point out exactly how much of a n00bifier the viewer is at making investments. "YOU see a troubled steel business. WE see an opportunity to invest in a re-engineered steel company poised for a turnaround." How do they know I don't see a re-engineered steel company poised for a turnaround? In fact, I'm considered one of the world's foremost experts when it comes to evaluating steel companies and whether or not they are going to bite the dust in the next 12 months, or whether they're going to be Working Their Way Back (to you, babe). Ok that's not true, but these commercials make me doubly glad I'm with American Funds.

While I'm riffing; Womens Gymnastics - love Nastia Liukin. Lezzgo, Nastia. But what is the deal with Chellsie Memmel? She seems incapable of an open-eye hug. And did you catch the team final, the way the teammates cheered each other on? "C'mon, Shawn!" They said it with a pitiful desperation, the way I can imagine someone doing alone in the locker room after the meet is over, absently muttering to herself "c'mon shawn...c'mon."