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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 21:24 GMT 22:24 UK
Blake primed for big time
By Jonathan Overend
BBC Sport at Flushing Meadows

James Blake
Blake is no stranger to the catwalk

The local hero bounds about the court like the coolest man in town.

He could be a basketball player; all frizzy hair and sleeveless, decked in all black, baggy regalia.

At change of ends, the sound system blasts out the urban rap track of the summer, 50 Cent's "In Da Club".

A couple, draped in stars and stripes, throw their large fries in the air as they leap from their top-tier seats to celebrate a wonderful rally.

Welcome to the US Open night session; welcome to "prime time".

US television lives and dies by the success of its prime time output.

That is why a star like James Blake, the 23-year-old with the dreadlocks and the streetwise style, is a rare and valuable commodity.

He has always been a star, signed up to the IMG modelling agency almost as soon as he'd won a tennis match.

His promising career, though, has stalled over the past 12 months.

Shoulder problems affected his preparations for Wimbledon but his progress, generally, hasn't been as impressive as his compatriot Andy Roddick.

But at times, during his straight sets victory over Mariano Zabaleta, Blake showed the ability which caught the eye of his early tutors.

Blake could do with a good run here at Flushing Meadows because a successful Grand Slam event is, so far, absent from his resume
Jonathan Overend

At one point, when stretched on his baseline to his backhand wing, he nimbly switched to play left handed.

He went on to win the point by thrashing a forehand into the body of Zabaleta, much to the joy of the New York crowd.

Much to the delight of the marketing people, Blake enjoys playing up to the crowd.

When there are simple overheads to put away he makes sure he does it in style, leaping, Pete Sampras-style, to "slam dunk" a winner.

Blake, with his Oxfordshire-born mother, would be a fine acquisition for the Lawn Tennis Association, actively tapping up players to spearhead the promotion of their inner-city development scheme.

He needs more results like those at Long Island, in preparation for the US Open, where he reached the final.

He could also do with a good run here at Flushing Meadows because a successful Grand Slam event is, so far, absent from his resume.

With both Williams sisters away, US Television may have been a little concerned about selling their "prime-time" programmes, but as long as Blake hangs around, ratings surely will not be a problem.





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