If Stockholm Open Quarterfinals, 22 October 2010

Nieminen d. Blake 6/0 6/2
Here is a pressing question. Of these three players, whose career is the most depressing to contemplate:

  • James Blake
  • Lleyton Hewitt
  • Juan Carlos Ferrero

Hmm, I posed the question flippantly by way of introducing Blake’s humiliating loss to one-time bunny Jarkko Nieminen, but now it’s piqued my interest. I’ll go into it further some other time, but for now I’ll admit that the more I think about it, the more I honestly can’t decide. Each player’s tale has a certain Lear-esque quality. Then again, unlike King Lear – who foolishly lived before celebrity endorsements – each of these guys has earned squillions in prize money, and many times that pushing product.

Nevertheless, there is indeed something tragic about the arc of James Blake’s career. I’m not American, so I’m not obliged to find it profoundly so, but still, seeing him thrashed by Jarkko Nieminen at the If Stockholm Open mired my spirit. In their six previous meetings, Blake has never lost. He lost today. He looked lost.

For both men, 2006 was the career year. Nieminen gained his highest ranking of 13, while Blake finished at No.4 after storming to the Masters Cup final. Fittingly, they contested the final of the If Stockholm Open that year, with Blake triumphant. They’ve both since fallen away, although no one would call Nieminen’s decline tragic. Of course, he was never a Grand Slam contender. Looking back, I’m not sure Blake was, either. He has never progressed past the quarterfinals at a Slam. Back when this stat seemed relevant, it was surprising. Now, it feels about right.

Coming into the event this year, it’s clear that neither man has had a stellar time of it. Nieminen is ranked 45, and is 23-23 for the year. This places him exactly 90 spots above James Blake, who at No.135 is only present due to a wildcard. He’s won the event twice, and now it’s only by the grace of Bjorkman and Johansson that he gets to play at all.

As for the match, the Finn played well above his ranking, and Blake displayed his usual poise and restraint. He can still belt a mighty forehand – actually, he can still belt all of them – but his movement is not what it once was. You can tell from the way he kept retreating to the backhand corner, a lazy conceit that Nieminen was merciless in exposing.

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