James Blake Finally Wins a 5-setter

NEW YORK (AP) -- The match ended with both rackets on the court.

James Blake dropped his when he lifted his arms, as much in relief as exultation, finally having won a fifth set on his 10th try.

Fabrice Santoro flung his toward the ball, a desperate and failed attempt to extend an entertaining U.S. Open match that went past midnight.

And then the foes met at the net for a sweaty embrace and an exchange of compliments, both pleased to have been a part of the excitement under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium -- although Blake, the winner, was certainly the happier of the two.

Blake outlasted Santoro 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the second round at Flushing Meadows in a 3-hour, 25-minute match that raised the No. 6-seeded American's record in five-setters to 1-9.

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"I actually, honestly said to myself at the beginning of the fifth set: 'I'm going to win this match,"' Blake said. "The whole five-set jinx never got into my head. But this time, I said, 'I'm not going to let it happen."'

Blake-Santoro certainly overshadowed victories earlier Thursday by Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova. And the late-night theatrics also were going to be tough to beat Friday, when the schedule featured No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Novak Djokovic, and past champions Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Justine Henin.

Santoro, at 34 the oldest man left in the tournament, faded down the stretch. At 4-4 in the fifth, he held three break points -- and Blake saved them all. Then, in the final game, Santoro led 30-love on his serve -- and Blake took the final four points.

"To the last point, I thought I had a good chance," Santoro said. "He was tired, but I was for sure more tired."

The Frenchman sat with an old-fashioned ice bag perched atop his head while a trainer massaged his left foot and both thighs in the final set. Santoro asked for a medical timeout in the middle of a game after double-faulting. Later, he opted not to sit at all during changeovers, worried about cramping.

Blake is seven years younger and was far fresher, even clear-minded enough to switch hands for a lefty shot that helped win a point.

When they spoke afterward, Santoro recounted, "He told me it's amazing what I'm doing at my age. I said, 'Thanks, my son."'

There was wonderful shotmaking by both -- but particularly by Santoro, his game filled with dinks and lobs, mixing in all sorts of spins and angles while hitting two-fisted off both wings. His play was as colorful as his polo shirt's thin pastel stripes of pink, yellow and lime, and he finished with only 21 unforced errors -- to Blake's 71.

"He makes everyone he plays angry," said Blake, who built an 83-39 edge in winners. "You've got to be ready for everything against Fabrice. Luckily I came out on top today."

After one superb, 18-stroke exchange in the third set, Santoro leaned over a sideline wall, and a fan ran down a few stadium steps to offer an encouraging slap on the back.

Blake's game is more about court coverage and powerful forehands, and he's always had his most success on hard courts, including reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals each of the last two years.

Three of Blake's previous fifth-set flops came at Flushing Meadows, including against Andre Agassi in 2005.

"I've had so many close ones here -- so many little things not going my way," Blake said.

Now, however, he is 1-9 in five-set matches. Told after the match of Blake's record, Santoro noted: "But he never played a five-set match against a 34-year-old guy."

Santoro's claims to fame are his creativity and his longevity. This is his 61st Grand Slam tournament, tying Andre Agassi's career record -- but he only has one quarterfinal appearance at all of those majors.

The buzz already was starting around the grounds, meanwhile, for a third-round encounter still 48 hours away: No. 1 Roger Federer against 6-foot-9 American wild-card John Isner on Saturday.

And Roddick provided a scouting report.

"Isner's going to be very tall," he said, "and Roger's going to be very good."


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