Blogs > Pilot Pen 2009

The latest on the 2009 Pilot Pen tournament with tennis writer Jim Fuller and other New Haven Register contributors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blake steals the spotlight

James Blake isn't even playing in the 2009 Pilot Pen but he is still the center of attention.

On a day when No. 10 men's player Fernando Verdasco and No. 12 women's player Nadia Petrova accepted wild cards while rising American stars John Isner and Melanie Oudin respectively withdrew a wild card request and pulled out of the qualifying draw and former top 10er Richard Gasquet was confirmed to be entering the men's qualifying field, the Connecticut media (myself included) focused most of the attention on Blake.

The former Fairfield resident and two-time men's singles champion in New Haven is not entering the tournament, citing too many off the court scheduling conflicts. Personally, I think from a tennis standpoint, he is making a big mistake. Blake has lost his last five matches and will go into the U.S. Open with one match under his belt during the North American summer hard-court season.

Blake said the fractured right pinky toe was suffered when he was walking around in the dark in his hotel room in Croatia the week after Wimbledon. He jokingly chalked it up to bad karma since his brother Thomas suffered a similar injury and James busted Thomas' chops unmercifully. Blake hit with good friends Mardy Fish and Todd Paul for about two hours on Thursday on Stadium Court.

Blake was a bit more serious when talk came to why he is skipping the New Haven event for the second straight year.

"There’s a lot of things that went into it," Blake said. "I love playing in Connecticut. I love the fans and they seem to appreciate my style of tennis, I am having fun out here and give them a chance to have a lot of fun in the stands. I do have a lot of commitments coming up, I have my clothing line coming out.

"I definitely could see myself coming back here. The fans are the best but this year it was just too tough especially with how the scheduling has been for the ATP with the 500 (in Washington) and two 1000s (in Cincinnati and Canada) right before the (Pilot Pen), that makes it really difficult. I think there are going to be some tweaks to the ATP schedule and when that happens, this is the first spot I would look at to have a change in the calendar to make it possible for me to play here."

Blake said his injured toe feels good. As for his game, he will enter the Open on a five-match losing streak so his confidence is hardly soaring.

"It is a new challenge, my ranking won’t be where I think it should be, my match (preparation) won’t be where it should be but I will go in with a new scenario," Blake said. "I have been in the Open in a lot of situations, coming from here as a first-round loser, coming here as a title holder and different results and this year it will be a new one."

Pilot Pen Tennis tournament director Anne Worcester is obviously disappointed not to have Blake in the field but she was feeling better on Thursday after listening in on Blake's interview with the media immediately following his practice session.

"I am so glad he came here today. I love James Blake, I think he is such a fantastic person. I was very disappointed that he didn’t chose to take a last-minute wild card but I am glad he came here to practice. He was honest with me. While I would much rather he was playing in the main draw but I told him ‘I am glad to have you here under any circumstances.’ I am disappointed but he clearly feels comfortable here and I don’t want that to change. I do understand how complicated it is to organize all those events with sponsors, television, people and he has a very tightly packed week next week. I understand that you can’t back out of corporate commitments."

The tournament finalized its wild cards. On the men's side they will go to Taylor Dent, Verdasco, Rajeev Ram and Marcos Baghdatis. For the women, they were given to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy.

Qualifying wild cards went to NCAA singles champions Devin Britton and Mallory Cecil, Yale Summer Championship open division winners Marc Powers and Rachel Kahan as well as Chase Buchanan, Jessie Levine, Gail Brodsky, and Christina McHale.

Tomorrow the draws will be pulled beginning at 12:30 p.m. and are open to the public. The women's draw figures to be done first with Gisela Dulko the WTA player representative. Dent will be the ATP player to help with the men's draw.

The women's qualifying draw will begin tomorrow and here is the schedule:
GRANDSTAND start 10:00 am
Qualifying - [WC] R Kahan (USA) vs M Niculescu (ROU)
Qualifying - Y Wickmayer (BEL) vs [WC] C Mchale (USA)
Qualifying - [WC] M Cecil (USA) vs J Craybas (USA)
Qualifying - U Radwanska (POL) vs M Kirilenko (RUS)

COURT 1 start 10:00 am
Qualifying - V Diatchenko (RUS) vs A Petkovic (GER)
Qualifying - R Vinci (ITA) vs [WC] G Brodsky (USA)
Qualifying - S Errani (ITA) vs V Lepchenko (USA)

Not Before 3:00 PM
Qualifying - S Peer (ISR) vs T Garbin (ITA)

COURT 2 start 10:00 am
Qualifying - A Brianti (ITA) vs I Olaru (ROU)
Qualifying - A Parra Santonja (ESP) vs V Kutuzova (UKR)
Qualifying - O Govortsova (BLR) vs C Pin (FRA)

Not Before 3:00 PM
Qualifying - M Rybarikova (SVK) vs K Bondarenko (UKR)

COURT 3 start 10:00 am
Qualifying - K Kucova (SVK) vs A Dulgheru (ROU)
Qualifying - E Gallovits (ROU) vs P Hercog (SLO)
Qualifying - T Pironkova (BUL) vs L Hradecka (CZE)

Not Before 3:00 PM
Qualifying - K Flipkens (BEL) vs N Llagostera Vives (ESP) - TBA

Now all the tournament can do is hope there aren't any withdrawals between now and the start of the main draw. When you have players like Samantha Stosur and Sam Querrey who have been advancing deep in nearly event summer tournament, it does cause Worcester a bit of a concern.

The men's qualifying draw won't begin until Saturday. There's no question what the big story will be. France's Richard Gasquet, a former top 10 player, has had a trying last six months. He was drug tested at the tour stop in Miami and small amounts of cocaine were found in his system. He was suspended for two years but appealed saying the cocaine got in his system when he kissed a woman at a Miami club. A panel of three lawyers believed him, largely because the amount of cocaine was so small, and overturned the appeal. The International Tennis Federation, which first banned Gasquet, countered Gasquet's success appeal with an appeal of their own. Since the United States Tennis Association works closely with the ITF, they have no plans to award a wild card to Gasquet so he has to go through qualifying.

I know ome people want to come down on the tournament but this is out of their hands. Every wild card request has to be approved by the USTA and most are. This is a case where the tournament was not able to give Gasquet a wild card. There are also USTA rules on tournament officials commenting about why players don't receive wild cards. Knowing this, I reached out to the USTA via e-mail this morning. I received eight e-mails from the USTA but none of them happened to be a response to my request for a comment on Gasquet's wild card request.

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