SALT LAKE CITY—James Blake fended off the furious effort of 55-year-old John McEnroe, claiming his first career title on the PowerShares Series with a 7-6 (7-5) victory in the one-set championship match at the Energy Solutions Arena.
The 34-year-old Blake is just six months removed from playing on the ATP World Tour, announcing his retirement at the 2013 U.S. Open last summer. All of his ATP ranking points have yet to drop off from the last year and he still holds a No. 208 world ranking, good enough for the No. 17 slot among Americans. McEnroe, by contrast, is competing in his 20th year of “champions” tennis after retiring from full-time play on the ATP World Tour in 1992, when Blake was just 13 years old.
“It was fun,” said Blake of his first career match with McEnroe and winning his maiden title on the U.S. circuit for champion tennis players over the age of 30. “John is still playing great. At 55 years old, it’s incredible how hard he hits the ball, how great his hands still are. I hope I am still moving like that in just a few years, let alone 20.”
Blake, the former world No. 4 and No. 2 singles player on the championship-winning 2007 U.S. Davis Cup team, led the four-time U.S. Open champion McEnroe by an early service break 2-0 but, after losing his serve in the fourth game, was forced to hold serve twice to stay in the match at 4-5 and 5-6, trailing 0-15 in both games. In the decisive tie-breaker, Blake led by a mini-break from the start, but on his first match point at 6-4, he employed a serve-and-volley tactic for the first time in the match and McEnroe negotiated a perfect forehand top-spin lob over his head to get back on serve in the tie-breaker. On the next point, however, Blake issued McEnroe a taste of his own medicine himself hitting a forehand top-spin lob over the net-rushing left-hander to clinch the match.
Despite the loss, McEnroe played remarkable tennis to stay with the newly-retired Blake, 21 years his junior. While implementing his bread-and-butter serve-and-volley game that guided him to seven major singles titles starting in 1979 — the year Blake was born — McEnroe impressed with some amazing stab volleys against many rocket forehand drives from the youngster and with his court coverage from side to the side and in retrieving drop shots in the forecourt.
In the semifinals, Blake defeated U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier 7-5 — clinching the win with a forehand return-of-serve let-cord winner — while McEnroe registered a surprising 6-3 win over 42-year-old 14-time major champion Pete Sampras, who was making his 2014 PowerShares Series debut in Salt Lake City.
McEnroe, playing for the first time in competition since turning 55 on February 16, attributed some of his fine play against Sampras in the semifinals to the 4,200 feet of altitude of Salt Lake City.
“The altitude helped me,” he said on-court to the crowd after his win over Sampras. “It gave me a lot more stick on my serve. You don’t have to swing as hard (in altitude) so I don’t take big swings on my groundstrokes so it all seemed to work. The ball flies a lot so I felt like I was controlling it pretty well.”
With the tournament win, Blake earned 400 points in the PowerShares Series rankings to move into No. 3 with 800 points. McEnroe, who earned 200 points for his runner-up showing, still leads the rankings with 1400 points having won titles in Kansas City and Indianapolis. Courier, who won in Oklahoma City, ranks No. 2 with 1000 points. Andy Roddick, who won the title in Birmingham, ranks No. 4 with 500 points. Andre Agassi, who won in Houston last week, sits in fifth place with 400 points. Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl and Mark Philippoussis each have 300 points to rank in a three-way tie for sixth place, while Sampras ranks seventh with 100 points.
The PowerShares Series continues Wednesday, February 26 in Sacramento when Sampras, Blake, Courier and McEnroe again comprise the four-man field, Sampras playing Blake in one semifinal and McEnroe and Courier competing in the other semifinal. Good tickets for all PowerShares Series events are still available starting at $25 at www.PowerSharesSeries.com. VIP packages — including meet-and-greet and play-with-the-pros on-court opportunities — are also available here: www.powersharesseries.com/vip-experiences by email to VIP@insideoutse.com, or by phone at (253) 315-4299.
The remaining 2014 Power Shares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:
Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, Sleep Train Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Thursday, February 27, Portland, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Friday, March 21, Surprise, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang