American James Blake is back on the attack after injury, and the former ATP Top ten player might be counting on HEAD’s support for his 2011 challenge.
The 30-year-old is ready to revive his career after dealing with a knee injury for nearly a year and a current ranking which has fallen to outside the Top 120.
In the best year of his career, 2006, Blake won five titles and rose to a career-best ranking of fourth on the ATP. In 2007, he helped the US Davis Cup team to a 4-1 defeat of Russia in the final.
It is make-or-break time for the veteran now in the run-up to 2011, and his goal is to enter back into the ATP Top 50 next year. HEAD is keen to support him in this challenge. The idea originally began with HEAD’s Thomas Bischof, International Tour and Player Manager, who had watched the American for years and offered him an invitation to visit the HEAD offices and test racquets built from scratch exactly for his individual needs.
Blake felt the time might be right, and agreed to the proposal. On his way from the US to the Stockholm Open, James and his coach started the testing programme in Kennelbach. During his visit, the personable American took advantage of the chance to meet with HEAD technicians, see how the racquets are manufactured and generally get a feel for the company.
From the initial development stage of inputting his personal data into the computer to the drafting of technical specifications for production of his new racquet, Blake asked his questions and was given detailed explanations about the entire process. He was impressed with what he saw and learned. "I never thought what effect even small changes in the structure of the racquet can have," he said.
The player spent four days in Kennelbach taking every opportunity to test various racquet configurations. The first session began with 11 models of different weights, balance points and flexibility. From this group, he selected three prototypes which were revised overnight and ready for more testing the next day. In three other testing sessions Blake played the potential racquets under competitive conditions, which brought further insights.
The player departed for Stockholm with three models for further use and evaluation this week at the IF Stockholm Open. And one of those three new sticks could already be his secret weapon after a first round upset of Brazilian seventh seed Thomaz Bellucci in a three-set comeback and quarterfinal as final result.
"It was inconceivable for me to find a racquet in three days, which corresponds to the way I play and the way I move," said an amazed Blake, who could barely contain his praise of the technical wizards in Austria. "What the HEAD team has managed is really incredible. I have full confidence in them."
With his fitness now good enough to play regularly again, Blake is eager to resume rebuilding his ranking. And he disagrees with some of the current criticism of US tennis: "The American expectations after the sensational success of athletes like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi were too high.
The level of international tennis is significantly higher now, with more players fighting for the top. Before, smaller nations hardly played a role, but today the situation is very different. Think of Serbia or Croatia, with its top players (like HEAD racquet rebels Novak Djokovic or Marin Cilic). Germany is the best example of how difficult it is (to remain a tennis power)," explained Blake. "Heroes like Steffi Graf, Boris Becker and Michael Stich are difficult to replace."
Andy Roddick - currently No. 10 in the world - Mardy Fish, John Isner and Sam Querrey, and the Bryan brothers’ doubles team are keeping the US in the top tennis mix. But Blake would like to re-insert his own name back onto that list - preferably using the perfect HEAD racquet, his newest secret weapon on-court.