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Great Expectations

Sunday, January 25, 2009

By Douglas Robson, Special for USA TODAY

LONDON — James Blake has mastered the comeback.

The 27-year-old American rose to a best-ever No. 4 finish to close 2006 after battling back from career-threatening illness and injury and the death of his father three years ago. But he has struggled for much of 2007 and heads into Wimbledon looking to avoid another fall-and-rise chapter to his story.

As usual, Blake can find a silver lining in his season, which has seen him drop to No. 9 and fail to win more than two matches in nine of his last 10 tournaments.

"To be honest, sometimes I laugh about it and take it as a compliment," the former Harvard standout says of critics picking apart his performance.

"I'm top 10 in the world, and people are saying I'm playing horrible. It means they are expecting more from me."

Blake — who chronicles his journey in a new book, Breaking Back, which hits stores next month — has usually been strongest in the second half of the season, when the circuit swings to outdoor and indoor hardcourts. The question is whether he can jump-start his surge a bit early on the lawns of London.

Davis Cup teammate Andy Roddick doesn't see why not.

"He's not hitting the ball any differently," No. 3 seed Roddick says. "It's just a matter of being confident enough and having played enough matches to be able to step up and do it at a deuce point. It's not an overly complicated answer, but it's the truth."

For the full story, please visit Douglas Robson's article in USA Today.

- A.S.