LONGBOAT KEY -- James Blake kept his cool as the game went on.
Blake was in an epic second set tiebreaker during Saturday’s $75,000 ATP Challenger Tour Sarasota Open semifinal against Ryan Sweeting at Longboat Key Club’s Tennis Gardens.
The 31-year-old used his experience to catch some shade that formed on one end of center court in the grueling and scorching hot clay-court match.
“I’ve been through it before, so I know if you’ve got time off you might as well take it in the shade,” Blake said. “(Sweeting) probably could go all day, but I’m getting a little older, so I’ve learned all the tricks of the trade.”
Blake outlasted Sweeting for a 6-2, 7-6 (15) victory that places him in today’s final against Alex Bogomolov Jr., who won the first semifinal in three sets.
A key to his victory over the tournament’s top seed was his consistent serving – never allowing Sweeting to break it, saving five break points in the match.
He also cashed in on the seventh match point in the tiebreaker.
“If you can get some free points on your serve, it makes a big difference,” said Blake, who won 69 percent of service points. “He got some, and I got some ... I was able to come through one more than he did. That’s the difference at this level. He’s playing top-50 level now, and I’m hoping to get back there.”
Blake is on the comeback trail after reaching No. 4 in the world just a few years ago.
Since then, tendinitis in his right knee has plagued the Tampa-based right-hander.
“It’s been very frustrating, because you want your body to cooperate with the things you know you can do,” said Blake, who has had the knee injury for about two years. “It just gets more and more painful, the more you’re playing on it. I’m a guy that thrives on practice and hard work.”
Blake said he’s done that his entire career.
He added the knee is a day-to-day thing, where some days it feels 100 percent and other times it feels 70 percent.
Saturday’s performance looked like a healthy knee and gave the plethora of fans in attendance a glimpse into Blake’s abilities that made him a top American player.
The many spectators -- tournament director Tony Driscoll said about 2,200 tickets were sold Saturday morning -- gave Blake and Sweeting a standing ovation following the marathon second set tiebreaker.
“James (was) just hitting the ball too hard (Saturday),” said Sweeting, who is heading to Rome and other European tournaments as additional tune-ups for the French Open. “He played really aggressive, and I just wasn’t prepared. He served really well today, so there wasn’t much I could do.”
Meanwhile, Bogomolov reached the final in both the singles portion and the doubles side of the bracket.
First, he rallied to defeat Canadian Frank Dancevic 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. Then he partnered with Alex Kuznetsov to down top-seeded Rik De Voest and Izak Van Der Merwe 7-5, 6-3.
The pivotal moment in the singles semifinal was early in the second set.
“I was down a set -- I broke him -- but he broke right back and then held pretty easy,” said Bogomolov, who hails from West Long Branch, N.J. “He was up 2-1 and a break point against me. I saved it, and from there on, I sort of started playing more aggressive on his serve.”
Sports, and more importantly tennis, runs through the American’s genes. His father and mother have coached tennis. His sister played collegiately at the University of Miami and his grandfather was an Olympic handball gold medalist for the old Soviet Union.
It’ll be a family affair when the finals begin at 1 p.m. today with Blake and Bogomolov.
Blake’s brother, Thomas Jr., serves as a hitting partner and travels with him a lot.
Bogomolov’s fiancé also travels with him to most tournaments.