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Blake Can't Shake a Five-Set Stigma

The 8th-ranked player's serve goes haywire, fueling a losing trend and giving Mirnyi a victory at Wimbledon. Hingis is defeated too.

July 01, 2006|Charles Bricker | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WIMBLEDON, England — James Blake's mind was as blank as his win column as he groped to explain why he is 0-9 in five-set matches.

"I lose them. That's the problem. I don't know what it is," he said finally. He won't use the word "curse" and he doesn't think this succession of late-match flops has anything to do with fitness.

But from the beginning of the final set Friday, in which he won only nine points, he looked like a man with an empty chamber and it took Max Mirnyi only 25 minutes more to dispatch him, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, and move into the fourth round at Wimbledon.

It was Blake's third five-set loss this season and second in a month after Gael Monfils took him out at the French Open.

He can point to the progress he has made on grass and clay this year and his vastly improved ranking, but at No. 8 in the world more was expected of him and he didn't deliver in a tournament that offered him splendid chances to at least make the quarterfinals.

Mirnyi will play 34-year-old Jonas Bjorkman, his doubles partner, in the round of 16 with the winner facing either Radek Stepanek or Fernando Verdasco for a place in the final four.

Wimbledon's fifth day was a tough one for several favorites.

Fourth-seeded David Nalbandian, a former finalist, was upset by left-hander Fernando Verdasco, 7-6 (9), 7-6 (9), 6-2; No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova was stunned by China's Li Na, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3; and No. 12 Martina Hingis, who appears to have hit a stubborn plateau in her comeback from a three-year, injury-induced retirement, was beaten, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, by Ai Sugiyama.

No. 1 Roger Federer, broken for the first time in the tournament, moved into the round of 16 with a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over risky-serving Nicolas Mahut.

In the women's tournament, No. 2 Kim Clijsters and No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne won easily; Nicole Vaidisova, seeded 10th, struggled past Karolina Sprem, 7-5, 7-5.

Mirnyi put on a spectacular display of volleying in the first set, constantly leaving Blake exasperated. But finally, on break point at 3-2 in the second set, Blake slammed a running forehand pass down the line that blazed by Mirnyi, who was moving to cover cross-court.

From that point through the third set, Blake seemed in command. Then his first serve, inexplicably, went off. He slipped from 73%, 62% and 71% in for the first three sets to 43% and 54% in the last two.

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Wimbledon glance

Men's seeded winners: No. 1 Roger Federer, No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 13 Tomas Berdych, No. 14 Radek Stepanek, No. 28 Fernando Verdasco.

* Men's seeded losers: No. 4 David Nalbandian to Verdasco, No. 8 James Blake to Max Mirnyi, No. 19 Tommy Haas to Berdych, No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero to Stepanek.

* Women's seeded winners: No. 2 Kim Clijsters, No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 10 Nicole Vaidisova, No. 15 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 18 Ai Sugiyama, No. 27 Li Na.

* Women's seeded losers: No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova to Na, No. 12 Martina Hingis to Sugiyama, No. 21 Katarina Srebotnik to Hantuchova, No. 30 Anna Chakvetadze to Henin-Hardenne, No. 31 Gisela Dulko to Severine Bremond.

*

TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES

Men

* No. 25 Andre Agassi vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal

* Andy Murray vs. No. 3 Andy Roddick

* No. 15 Sebastien Grosjean vs. No. 18 Marcos Baghdatis

Women

* No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo vs. Nicole Pratt

* No. 25 Elena Likhovtseva vs. No. 7 Elena Dementieva

* No. 26 Jelena Jankovic (26) vs. No. 6 Venus Williams

Source: The Associated Press

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