The James Blake and Andre Agassi quarterfinal match tonight? Awesome. Classic. I think it's the most gutsy comeback I've ever seen from Agassi (3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6)).
Most everyone knows Blake's trials and tribulations this past year. He broke his neck when he fell into a netpost, lost his father to stomach cancer, then lost movement in half of his face due to shingles. His tennis career looked to be over, but he came back and came within a few shots tonight of reaching the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time. He was born in Yonkers, and he was a sentimental favorite this U.S. Open.
The first two sets, he played like the James Blake from the Top Spin video game. In every video game, some players just seem to be best suited to the way the video game physics and controls are set up. It isn't always the player whose best in real life. In Top Spin, that player was James Blake (followed closely by Lleyton Hewitt). Blake's video game doppelganger had the super fast feet, a bomb of a first serve, and, if he got a floater, could hit a nuclear rocket of a forehand for a winner, perhaps the most important shot of all in a tennis video game since it's so hard to put shots away.
The first two sets against Agassi tonight, Blake played like his video game counterpart. He was hitting winners off both sides, just smearing the ball. He was getting to everything Agassi hit; Blake may be just be the fastest player I've ever seen on a court. I thought Agassi was done (and learned later that he'd never come back from two sets down at the U.S. Open, so my feelings were justified).
It didn't seem possible, but Agassi started hitting harder in sets three and four. It was the epitome of modern tennis, groundstrokes like lasers screaming back and forth over the net. Both Blake and Agassi seemed capable of hitting a winner on nearly every shot. As defines a great match, more rallies seemed to end with outright winners than unforced errors, and more of the unforced errors were actually forced.
The fifth set tiebreaker was a classic. Down 5-4, Agassi jumped on a Blake second serve in the ad-court and punished it inside-out for a clean winner. 5-5. With Agassi leading 6-5, Blake ran around a ball to hit an unbelievable forehand winner down the line. 6-6. On the next point, Andre drew Blake in with one of his patented backhand dropshots down the line, then hit a clean pass right back down the same chute. 7-6. Befitting the greatest returner in the history of tennis, Agassi scorched an outright winner off a Blake second serve to end the match.
One thing the U.S. Open has that no other Grand Slam has is night tennis. There's nothing like the last match of the night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. During the daytime, fans can be lulled by the blazing sun. New Yorkers don't do so well early in the day anyhow, and fans' attention is divided among matches all over Flushing Meadows, streaming in and out between games. At night, for the last match of the night, only Arthur Ashe is lit, and more often than not, the match ends past midnight. The fans who remain are die hards, the crazies. They have to be to want to take the 45 minute ride back to Manhattan on the non-express 7 train.