James Blake and Andy Roddick have been celebrated in the past year as comeback kids who have fought the odds to restore American pride in professional tennis.
But as the duo makes their return to the Bay Area — for the SAP Open held at HP Pavilion in San Jose starting Monday — one tournament they would both like to forget from last year would be this event.
Blake — who recovered from a series of bizarre, nearly career-threatening injuries and the death of his father in 2004 to achieve a No. 4 ranking on the ATP Tour by the end of 2006 — lost in the first round of the SAP last year to unseeded Yeu Tzuoo Wang.
Roddick — not yet aligned with Jimmy Connors, the coach who would help stoke his resurgence — fared better, reaching the semifinals as the No. 1 seed before being upset by neophyte Andy Murray, then an 18-year-old Scotsmen who would go on to capture his first career ATP title.
One explanation for their poor performances could be their quick return from the Davis Cup last year, something they will have to deal with again this weekend as the Americans travel to Europe to face the Czech Republic today through Sunday.
"It was tough coming from the Davis Cup last year," Blake said. "I’ll be doing the same this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to adjust better."
Blake lost Monday in the rain-delayed Delray Beach International Championships final to Xavier Malisse, only his second defeat of 2007 (the other one coming in the fourth round at the Australia Open to eventual finalist Fernando Gonzalez).
Roddick’s last performance was a 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 pasting at the hands of nemesis Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, dropping his career record against the Swiss phenom to 1-13.
Despite the losses, both stars enter the SAP Open with high expectations — Roddick is ranked fourth, Blake sixth — to fight off a tough field that includes Russian veteran Marat Safin, defending champ Murray and fellow American Mardy Fish.
Roddick has had a series of successes at the SAP Open, capturing the title in 2004 and ’05. Blake recently defended a title of his own, capturing the Sydney Open in January for the second consecutive year.
The twosome’s return to prominence once again escalates the U.S. into the spotlight of professional tennis, while also promoting a friendly rivalry that should prove to be an entertaining spectacle.
"Ilike the fact that we’re both up there, it is going to add some to the rivalry," Blake said. "We’re such good friends. It’s a lot of fun to have such a great and classy guy to go about my business with."