x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Opening day blow for Blake

The amiable American, who as the 17th seed was moved in the draw to help to balance out the loss of Rafael Nadal, is puzzled by his defeat.

James Blake looks to the sky for inspiration during his loss to Italy's Andrea Seppi.
James Blake looks to the sky for inspiration during his loss to Italy's Andrea Seppi.

LONDON // James Blake, the crowd-pleasing American who suggested by reaching the final of the recent Queen's Club tournament that he might break a sequence of depressingly early Wimbledon exits, was yet again a big name casualty last night. Blake, who as the 17th seed was moved in the draw to help to balance out the loss of world No 1 Rafael Nadal, was left wishing he had retained his original first round opponent Fabrice Santoro because he found the Italian Andreas Seppi, a man on a mission.

"There are 127 people in this tournament who are going home a loser," was Blake's sardonic departure message after a 7-5 6-4 7-6 (7-5) elimination at the hands of the 50th-ranked Italian. "This has probably been my worst slam and I don't understand why," added Blake, who was suffering from an upset stomach. "I just didn't feel myself out there today which is puzzling because I have been playing great in practice. I've had success at Queen's, I've done OK at Halle [the other main warm-up tournament] but never done well here. It's pretty frustrating."

Blake was joined on the opening day casualty list by another of the crowd favourites - Feliciano Lopez, who reached the quarter-finals for the second time here a year ago and was hoping to step into the Spanish void created by Nadal's withdrawal. Slovakia's Karol Beck, who entered the draw as a "lucky loser" following injury to the Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, left Court 18 a whooping winner after outstaying Lopez in a fluctuating thriller.

Beck recovered from a shaky start to go through 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 in a match lasting three and three-quarters of an hour and will now face another Spaniard Nicolas Almagro who needed even more time - two minutes short of four hours to get the better of Argentina's Juan Monaco 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 8-6. There were no such exertions for Roger Federer, who began his challenge for a sixth title here with a nice little Centre Court work out against Taipei's Yen-Hsun Lu, the Swiss coasting through 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.

Federer introduced a new version of his trademark white jacket as he made the familiar opening day walk to launch the Centre Court programme - an honour which was bestowed on him in the absence of the defending champion and he admitted to being overcome by the occasion, despite its familiarity. "It gets your heart beating that's for sure," he said. "Rafa deserves it more than I do this year but somebody had to do it and I am happy that they chose me."

Federer claimed that he had forgotten this was his first grass court appearance since his epic final against Nadal last year. He opted against making his usual visit to the German lawns of Halle. The Swiss's next opponent is Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who made short work of Argentina's Augustin Calleri to raise his haul of Wimbledon victories to five in as many years. In other matches, French Open runner-up Robin Soderling of Sweden continued his run of form by triumphing over Gilles Muller 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga led the French charge in the competition when he got the better of Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6. Meanwhile, Mardy Fish moved into the second round after Sergio Roitman retired with the score on 6-3, 6-2, 4-1. Philipp Kohlschreiber, who is coming up well, overcame Florent Serra 7-6(3) 6-1 6-4, while Marc Gicquel won his match against Adrian Mannarino 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

wjohnson@thenational.ae