It seems an almost casual thing for Andy Murray. He's a late-arriving but welcome guest to the Farmers Classic tennis tournament, his RSVP coming after the world's second-ranked player, Novak Djokovic, backed away from his commitment at the last minute.
Murray was substituted into the draw last Friday and he made his debut Thursday night. Murray, seeded No. 1 in the tournament and ranked fourth in the world, is still working out some vacation kinks from his game
It took him three sets and nearly two hours, but Murray finally beat American qualifier Tim Smyczek, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2.
Also successfully working out some kinks is 30-year-old American and former top-10 player James Blake. Blake, whose ranking has dropped to 117th in the world as he struggles with knee tendinitis, moved to the quarterfinals with a 7-5, 7-6 (5) win over Germany's Benjamin Becker.
Murray said after his 1 hour, 54-minute win that he hoped his fortitude in fighting through a rough patch in the second set foretold a good start to his summer season. "I hope I'll have a good run here," he said.
Blake is striving to become positive this summer after he made a depressed first-round exit from Wimbledon last month. Blake, who has historically thrived during the American hard-court summer season, wore an ice pack on his right knee but said that was only a precaution.
He played with no caution against Becker and said afterward, "That was a ton of fun, a lot of fun."
Blake will play fourth-seeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain in a Friday quarterfinal. Lopez beat Israel's Dudi Sela, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Murray will play Thursday's other singles winner, Alejandro Falla.
Falla, who led Roger Federer two sets to none in the first round of Wimbledon before losing in five, upset fifth-seeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Gulbis was cranky during the match, smashing his racket and pounding the net with his fists.
The 23-year-old Murray, an Australian Open finalist this year, seemed to need some lessons in positive thinking as well Thursday. Especially in the third set, when he knocked backhands into the net or made errors after chasing down crosscourt forehands from the indefatigable Smyczek, Murray would hang his head or shrug his shoulders.
Blake is trying to make one more late-career splash at the Open, his favorite event.
"When you hit age 30, very apparently you realize your career is finite," Blake said. "And having an injury is an eye-opening experience because you realize your career is finite."
While his enthusiastic tennis play roused the crowd at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, Blake might want to keep quiet about one of his other passions — the Boston Celtics. Celtics center Kevin Garnett was in the crowd Thursday rooting for Blake.
Blake said he and Garnett became friends when Garnett came to the U.S. Open a couple of times. "I've been to a bunch of Celtics games," Blake said. "I saw them beat the Lakers at [Boston] Garden and it's been so much fun. His intensity on court, that's something really exciting to watch. He and Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce], I hope they can do it again next year."
If Lopez wants to get some support Friday, maybe he should wear a Lakers jersey.