Top American man exits French Open


The top U.S. man in the French Open was talking to himself, and the words were growing louder. He was bothered by the clay underfoot. By the chair umpire. By his own play. And, most of all, by the drop shots and assorted other winners his up-and-coming foe produced.

For the fifth time in six career trips to Roland Garros, Blake departed before the third round, losing this time to 80th-ranked Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. It was part of a 1-3 showing by American men Thursday, when Mardy Fish and Bobby Reynolds also lost.

The 88th-ranked Robby Ginepri knocked off No. 27 Igor Andreev 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-2 to join Wayne Odesnik as the only players from the United States in the third round.

"Americans a lot of times don't have the highest expectations on clay," the No. 7-seeded Blake said. "But I really felt like this match today was a match I could have won."

There were moments, if ever so brief, that similar thoughts ran through the minds of the men facing No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

Federer's opponent, 60th-ranked Albert Montanes of Spain, staked himself to a one-set lead -- and then was overwhelmed the rest of the way in a 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 victory for the owner of 12 Grand Slam titles.

Nadal's opponent, 148th-ranked Nicolas Devilder of France, was one point from serving for the first set, holding a break point at 4-all -- and then was completely overwhelmed the rest of the way in a 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 victory for the owner of the past three French Open titles.

"His forehand was not a big problem for me to start with. And I thought, 'Why not? Why not?"' Devilder said.

And then?

"The games go by so quickly," he said. "They go by so quickly, and you think: 'When is it going to end?"'

Nadal improved to 23-0 at Roland Garros and said he's "improving with each match."

Federer, meanwhile, called his outing "a good test."

He saved all six break points he faced, including two during a rain shower while trailing 5-4 in the first set. After a 1 1/2-hour rain delay -- making it the fourth of the tournament's five days with wet weather -- he came out and lost the tiebreaker.

But as Federer put it: "Bounced back strong."

Talk about understatement. From Montanes' perspective, Federer was "like a hurricane. I couldn't do anything. You can tell that he's here to win this tournament."

In the third round at the only major tournament he hasn't won, Federer faces a familiar foe: Mario Ancic of Croatia, the last man to beat him at Wimbledon, back in 2002.

Blake's exit in the second round in Paris -- only in 2006 did he make it to the third -- was followed shortly by that of No. 6 David Nalbandian. Unlike Blake, Nalbandian has had success at the French Open, twice reaching the semifinals, but the Argentine wasted a two-set lead -- and four break points in the opening game of the third set -- and was eliminated 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 by Jeremy Chardy of France.

"The best match I've ever played," said Chardy, a wild-card entry who had won only two tour-level matches in his career before this tournament -- and now has doubled that total.

The 19-year-old Gulbis is more experienced than that, but not by much. He moved to Munich when he was 12 to work with Niki Pilic, the same coach who helped mold Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.

"We were practicing a little bit together when we were kids. I was 12, 13, and he was a little bit older," Gulbis said of Djokovic. "He was more serious than me at that age."

Against Blake, it was Gulbis who seemed to have a better grasp of when to go for winners and when to wait for the right opening.

Blake groused afterward about hearing "too many commentators" and "people that talk about tennis that don't play tennis" say he should tone down his aggressiveness and make fewer errors. Apparently, that was his approach Thursday.

"Today was a perfect example of what not to do," said Blake, who compiled far fewer winners (54-29) and unforced errors (33-16) than Gulbis. "Just being a little too passive."

While both rely on powerful forehands, it was Gulbis who displayed a knack for nuance, repeatedly using drop shots against the speedy Blake. Not all worked, of course, but Gulbis did end six points with drop winners, including when he broke Blake to claim the third set.

"It paid off in a lot of situations," Gulbis said.

Blake's take?

"I was angry that I wasn't doing anything with them. ... That's probably just not growing up on clay and not being as comfortable in those situations," Blake said. "That's maybe something I need to work on."

Maria Sharapova still has some kinks to work out with her serve, because she served another four double-faults and was broken three times -- and her match didn't even finish. She was leading Bethanie Mattek of the U.S. 6-2, 2-3 when play was suspended because of darkness.

Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic played in the morning and won in straight sets, while No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze -- who is hiring Justine Henin's coach, Carlos Rodriguez -- and two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo all lost.

Williams used a six-game streak to take control and beat 241st-ranked qualifier Selima Sfar of Tunisia 6-2, 6-4. Jankovic was troubled by a painful right forearm but defeated Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-2, 7-6 (5).

Mauresmo, who was seeded 22nd but never has enjoyed much success at her home country's major championship, barely put up a fight in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.

"All I can say," the Frenchwoman sighed, "is that I feel sorry about the way I played."

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