James Blake reacts after losing a point to Fernando Gonzalez. (Behrouz Mehri / Getty Images)
BEIJING -– The Olympic spirit has been broken for James Blake today at the Olympic Green Tennis Centre.
Throughout the tournament the former Harvard standout praised the virtues of what embodied the Olympic spirit. But following today’s hard-fought 4-6, 7-5, 11-9 semifinal loss to Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, Blake left losing “a little faith in your fellow competitor.”
After holding serve to take s 9-8 lead in the deciding set, the eighth-seeded Blake hit a shot that was headed directly towards the 12th-seeded Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was close to the ball that landed out of bounds. However, it appeared the ball deflected off the handle of the Chilean’s racket and then fell out. The umpire ruled that the point in favor of Gonzalez, which enraged Blake.
Blake then raced to the chair umpire to plead his case. Replays show that the ball did graze the racket.
“Yeah, I hit a shot that hit Fernando’s racket and then went out,” said Blake. “The umpire didn’t see that it hit his racket. Playing in the Olympics, in what’s supposed to be considered a gentleman’s sport, that’s a time to call it on yourself. Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn’t call it.”
Blake explained that, when growing up in games such as tennis and golf, there is a lot of self-policing and sportsmanship, and he was dismayed that at the world’s biggest sporting event –- the integrity of the game was compromised.
“Should I expect him to do that? Maybe not,” said Blake, who has lost his last six matches to Gonzalez. “Maybe I shouldn’t expect people to hold themselves to high standards, sportsmanship. But, yes, I did expect it a little more so in the Olympics when we’re all competing under the banner of this event being to promote sportsmanship, to promote goodwill amongst countries. So, yes, maybe I did expect a little more out of the Olympics. Maybe I wouldn’t have expected this at the U.S. Open or something.”
After the pivotal point, Blake was rattled and his chance to win his first major tournament ended with Gonzalez advancing to Sunday’s finals with a victory.
Gonzalez wasn’t so sure that the ball hit his racket.
“I don’t know. I mean, nobody asked me anything,” said Gonzalez, who won the bronze medal in singles and the gold medal in doubles in 2004. “We were on the court like two hours and a half. I was really tired. I didn’t feel anything. I just tried to move from the ball, and I didn’t feel anything, you know. I mean, it’s just one point, 0-0. I was serving, I don’t know, 9-10, I don’t remember. If I’m 100 percent sure about it, I mean, I will give it. But I’m not sure, you know. I’m just moving, that’s all.”
But it was a critical point at a critical time, as Gonzalez, who is ranked 15th in the ATP, followed up with protecting his serve in the game.
In the subsequent game, Blake scored the first two points, but then fizzled out as Gonzalez broke Blake’s serve when he hit an unforced error long.
Blake was able to bounce back in the next game, shaking off three match points before hitting a shot into the net to end the 2-hour, 52-minute match.
Blake will play in Saturday's bronze medal match against the loser of the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic match.
“You know, I tried to put it out of my head,” said Blake, who was attempting to be the first American to win a gold medal since 1996 when Andre Agassi did it in Atlanta. “I think I won the next point. But I really didn’t want it to affect me at all. I don’t think it did. But it’s got to be there in the back of your mind, thinking that he kind of took one that you deserved. And that’s disappointing.”
But the match should have never come down to that controversial play of the match as Blake had three break and match points in the 12th game of the final set. Blake raced to an 40-0 lead, but then played two loose points in which he hit two unforced errors before the hard-hitting, baseline lover Gonzalez hit a deep forehand winner to make it deuce.
Next Gonzalez hit a service winner, and then capped the recovery with a passing shot that clipped the top of the net.
“I can’t take away anything from the fact he won the match,” Blake said. “Came from back from three match points down, served really well, hung in the whole time. I’m not going to take anything away from the kind of tennis he can play. But there’s still a level of disappointment in him.”
Blake was in position to win a gold medal. After all, he ended his eight-match drought against Roger Federer the day before. And after getting the first break of the match to win the first set, Blake seemed on the way.
But in the first game of the second set, Blake let the momentum slip as Gonzalez broke Blake’s serve.
It was during this game that things started to get testy between the two players. On the third deuce, the two traded shots on a long rally, then Gonzalez caught Blake running towards the net in the middle of the court and smashed a hard shot directly at Blake, who skirted out of the way.
“He hit it right at me,” Blake said. “Hit me. Probably didn’t want to hear an apology right away because I thought it was intentional. When we changed sides, he said, ‘Sorry, it’s part of the game, you were on top of the game. I said, ‘OK, that’s fine. It’s part of the game, you’re right.’ Move on. And we did. That wasn’t an incident. That was, like he said, part of the game.”
Blake recovered when Gonzalez could not stand the prosperity as he gave up his serve with a three straight points, which included a double fault.
The two protected serve until the 11th game when Gonzalez took over after the score in the game was tied at 15.
Blake sprayed a backhand out to the left. Then Blake hit a weak second serve that Gonzalez pounded. Then Gonzalez had Blake scrambling, and Blake missed a volley while he was rushing to the net, giving Gonzalez, a 6-5 lead.
Blake hadn’t beaten Gonzalez in his last six tries, last beating him in 2003 Paris Open.
However, Blake’s latest loss to the 12th-seeded Chilean has rocked what his thoughts of what the Olympic spirit had meant.
“I’m still gonna have very fond memories of this Olympic experience,” Blake said. ‘‘I still have a chance to get a bronze medal. If it’s still kind of nagging at the back of my head or if I’ve moved on. … but that disappoints me a little bit more in my competitor than the whole Olympic spirit because I haven’t seen anything else like that in these entire Olympics.”