NEW YORK -- He's 27 and the years are flying by, the way Tommy Haas' shots flew by in the tiebreaker. James Blake stumbled again in a Grand Slam tennis tournament, the most important one for him, the most important one for America -- the U.S. Open.
And now it is time to wonder whether his best days are in the past, not the future.
Such a charming guy, such a humble guy, such an educated guy, two years at Harvard. Such a wearisome guy.
A guy who has overcome failures, injuries and family tragedy. Yet a guy unable to take the next step in tennis.
Haas did it to him Monday, beating Blake, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (7-4). Or maybe Blake did it to himself. It was a marvelous match, great theater, 3 hours, 17 minutes of leaping backhand overheads and diving half-volleys that had 23,000 fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium enthralled.
And had 23,000 fans at Athur Ashe Stadium disappointed.
James Blake, teaser. James Blake, loser.
So agonizing. So irritating. Perhaps not so bewildering.
This was in the fourth round. He's been there before. Even been to the quarterfinals the previous two years. But not beyond.
He's on a treadmill going nowhere, on a plateau from which he can't climb higher.
Blake keeps saying how proud he is of being No. 6 in the world, and he should be proud. Still, judgment is made off how someone does in the Slams. In a manner or speaking, Blake has done nothing. Except frustrate those who don't want him to do just anything.
The script was clear. Blake and Andy Roddick, the home boys, would win their matches, would give America two players in the next round, a quarter of the quarterfinalists.
Roddick responded, in part because his opponent, the Czech, Tomas Berdych, couldn't respond, retiring in the second set because of "breathing problems." Halfway there. But no further.