Blake exits early at Wimbledon; Fish, Spadea win

WIMBLEDON, England - James Blake is finding it tough to pinpoint why he keeps losing matches he thinks he should win.


Once ranked in the top 10, once a fairly regular participant in the second week of major championships, Blake is now on a three-match losing streak at Grand Slam tournaments. The American's latest setback came Monday at Wimbledon, where the 17th-seeded Blake was beaten 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (5) by 50th-ranked Andreas Seppi of Italy.

"I still feel like I can play with anyone in the world, but it's just, for some reason lately, it's been very inconsistent," Blake said. "I've been doing all the training. I've been doing all the conditioning. I'm fit as I've been. I just haven't been as confident, I guess. Maybe that's just from not winning a lot of matches."

He also bowed out in the first round at the French Open last month, following a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open in January.

There were chances to get back into the match against Seppi. He held one set point in the third, leading 6-5, but missed a forehand long to end a 23-stroke exchange. Blake then took a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker, before Seppi won the match's last seven points.

"I don't think I've ever done that before," said Seppi, who never has made it past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament. "I didn't think I would win that tiebreaker."

Blake thought he might be ready for a run at Wimbledon after reaching the final at the Queen's Club tuneup tournament on grass.

"I know I still have the ability," said Blake, who reached No. 4 in the rankings in November 2006 and is a three-time major quarterfinalist. "It's just frustrating, because it's happening at big tournaments where I'm having my not-so-good performances."

His best shot is his forehand, but Seppi neutralized that by repeatedly drawing Blake into backhand exchanges.

"Backhand-against-backhand is to my advantage. It's not like his backhand is all that strong," Seppi said. "I played more aggressively than usual, especially on his serve. If you let him take the initiative, especially on his forehand, he's very dangerous."

Not on this day. And not lately on tennis' top stages.

"I've had a lot of success, a lot of wins, but I still want more. That's why it's tough to accept nowadays, because I know I've done that and I know what it feels like to win and to go deep in Slams and to win tournaments, and I just haven't had that feeling lately," said the 29-year-old Blake, who was born in Yonkers, N.Y, and lives in Florida. "I definitely want it back, and I hope I have it enough times before I retire that I won't miss it as much when I retire."

He beat Seppi in their two most recent meetings, but the Italian wasn't intimidated when he found out Blake would be his first-round opponent. Seppi originally was drawn to face No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, but the bracket was changed after defending champion Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tournament.

"Maybe I was a little happier to play against Blake, because del Potro serves very well, is very strong. I thought I'd have a little better chance against Blake," Seppi said. "I knew he was an opponent I could beat, if I played well, if I was aggressive. I went on court pretty determined."

Most other Americans in action Monday fared better than Blake, with No. 28 Mardy Fish, Vince Spadea and Sam Querrey advancing, along with Serena Williams and Jill Craybas. But qualifier Michael Yani, making his Grand Slam debut at age 28, lost to Simon Greul of Germany 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.

Fish moved on when his opponent, Sergio Roitman of Argentina, stopped because of a right shoulder injury. That dropped Roitman's career record at major tournaments to 0-12.

Fish was leading 6-3, 6-2, 4-1.

"James is a hot-and-cold player, like a lot of players are. I'm just the same," Fish said. "When he's playing well, and when he's on his game - when he's playing within himself - he beats everyone. Literally, everyone. We've seen that."

GOSSIP GIRL: For a set Monday at the All England Club, Laura Robson looked on her way to generating some serious hype.

She is, after all, only 15 years old, and ranked 488th. Yet there she was in her Wimbledon main-draw debut, beating 32nd-ranked Daniela Hantuchova. And there is this key fact: Robson is British.

Buzz about her began to grow last year after she won the junior title at Wimbledon. Imagine what would have happened if she beat Hantuchova? Set aside that no British woman has won the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since Virginia Wade in 1977 - no woman from the country is ranked in the top 50 currently.

So there were shouts of "Come on, Laura!" after plenty of points at the new, 4,000-seat Court 2. There even was applause from some sitting in the press seats when the first set ended with Robson ahead.

"It didn't feel very good being a set down and a couple games down," Hantuchova said, "and getting kicked by a girl 11 years younger than me."

In the end, though, Hantuchova came back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

"I suddenly got very nervous," Robson said.

Robson is still in school - she took exams a couple of weeks ago - and is just like many another teens, in some respects.

Asked how she relaxes in her spare time, Robson replied, "I watch 'Gossip Girl.' But, no, Season 2 is finished out. I'm so depressed."


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