BLAKE WINS A PAIR ON CHAMPIONS SATURDAY

BLAKE WINS A PAIR ON CHAMPIONS SATURDAY

BLAKE WINS A PAIR ON CHAMPIONS SATURDAY

By STEVE DORSEY

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Delray Beach, Fla. – James Blake and Mardy Fish have been asked to carry the load for Team USA at the ATP Champions Tour’s event at the Delray Beach Open this weekend, and they have responded in grand fashion.

Team USA’s three-man team was reduced to just Blake and Fish on Saturday after fellow American Aaron Krickstein had to withdraw because of a leg injury he sustained Friday night in the first round of the three-day round-robin event. Blake and Fish, however, answered the call by sweeping their matches Saturday to give the Americans a commanding 4-2 lead against Team International heading into Sunday’s final matches.

Blake, 36, began his day early Saturday afternoon with a 7-5, 6-2 win against Sebastien Grosjean and then put the finishing touches on Team USA’s effort with a 6-2, 6-4 win against Wayne Ferreira in the nightcap match.

Blake’s two wins were sandwiched around a 6-3, 3-6, 10-4 tiebreaker victory by Fish, the 2009 Delray Beach Open champion. The two Americans combined to capture 16 ATP World Tour titles during their respective careers.

“Mardy and I are kind of the youngsters on this tour, so we’ll try to carry the load and do what we can for the States,” Blake said. “We’ve done it before as Davis Cup teammates and hopefully here on the (Champions) Tour, too.”

Blake, who retired from the ATP World Tour after the 2013 U. S. Open, said he enjoys playing in Champions Tour events, but he also is at ease with retirement from the main tour.

“It’s so much more laid-back now,” said Blake, a finalist at the Delray Beach Open in 2007 and ’08.. “When you’re on the main tour, everything is so precise. You warm up at a certain time, you eat at a certain time. Here, you still have to stretch and take care of your body to try and not get hurt, but the warm-up can be relaxed, the eating relaxed . . . but once you get out there you still want to win.”

Blake said the rigorous schedule and discipline required to be successful on the main tour is a big reason professional players decide to retire even though they’re capable of still winning.

“To not have to do that 365 days a year is a nice feeling,” Blake said. “It’s nice to be home with my family and not have tennis be the number 1, 2 and 3 priority in your life. I’m so grateful for what I got out of my career and how many years I was able to play on tour and do what I love. I know most 36-year-old dads don’t get a chance to be with their kids morning, noon and night like I do now when I’m home, so I realize how lucky I am and I try to cherish it.”

Blake can clinch the Delray title for Team USA on Sunday afternoon if he defeats Emilio Sanchez in the day’s first match. Sanchez was awarded a point for Team International in a walkover against Krickstein in Saturday’s other Champions Tour match.

Fish will play Ferreira in the final match Sunday afternoon.

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