February 15, 2007: The day James Blake squandered four match points against Ivo Karlovic in San Jose

Every day, Tennis Majors looks back at the biggest moments in tennis history. On February 15, 2007, James Blake missed four match points as he was upset by Ivo Karlovic in San Jose

James Blake James Blake

What happened exactly on that day

On this day, February 15, 2007, James Blake, then world No 6, was defeated by Ivo Karlovic in the second round of the tournament in San Jose (6-7, 7-6, 6-4). It was a particularly excruciating loss which saw Blake lead 7-6, 5-3, 30-0 before he ended up squandering four match points in the second set tiebreak. For the Croatian, it was the first great result of a season in which he would claim three titles on three different surfaces.

The players: James Blake and Ivo Karlovic

  • James Blake – former world No 4

James Blake was born in 1979. After playing two years for Harvard University, he jumped to the professional ranks in 1999, and in September 2001 he entered the top 100. Blake employed a very aggressive, high-risk brand of tennis, bolstered by a giant forehand.

In 2002, after reaching his first two ATP final in Memphis (lost to Andy Roddick, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5) and in Newport (lost to Taylor Dent, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4), Blake claimed his first ATP title in Washington, where he edged Paradorn Srichaphan in the final (1-6, 7-6, 6-4).

In 2003, Blake established himself as a solid top 30 player, but he went through a hard year in 2004, fracturing a vertebra in Rome, before facing the death of his father in July and developing shingles, which temporarily paralysed half his face and blurred his vision. As a consequence, Blake’s ranking dropped as low as No 210 in April 2005.

A few months later, entering the US Open draw thanks to a wild card, Blake reached the quarter-finals, where he was defeated by Andre Agassi after an epic five-set battle (3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6).

Blake’s peak year was 2006, the season that saw him obtain his best-ever ranking (world No 4) after claiming five titles, reaching the US Open quarter-finals again (lost to Roger Federer, 7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4), and finishing runner-up at the Masters Cup (defeated again by Federer, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4).

In February 2007, James Blake was world No 6.

  • Ivo Karlovic – ace king
Ivo Karlovic

Ivo Karlovic was born in 1979 and at 6″11′ (2.11m) he was the tallest player that had ever played on the ATP Tour. “Dr Ivo’s” towering height helped him develop a lethal serve, but at the start of his career, his groundstrokes were not consistent, and it took time for Karlovic to engineer his breakthrough. He entered the top 100 for the first time in 2003, aged 24, after he upset defending champion Lleyton Hewitt (1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4) in the first round at Wimbledon, to general astonishment.

It was Karlovic’s first appearance in a Grand Slam main draw!

In 2005, he reached his first ATP final at the Queen’s Club, defeated by Andy Roddick in the final (7-6, 7-6). A few weeks later, at Wimbledon, during his first-round loss against Daniele Bracciali, he equalled Joachim Johansson’s record of 51 aces served in one match. He had reached his best ranking in 2006 as world No 48, but after an injury plagued his second half of the season his year-end ranking dropped down to 99.

The place: San Jose, California

The Pacific Coast Championships, founded in 1889, was one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the world. Originally held in Monterey, California it then moved to the north, in Berkeley, where the event was played from 1900 until 1971.

The tournament then moved to San Francisco, where it was played on indoor carpet, before settling in San Jose, about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Amongst its former champions were great players such as John McEnroe (1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986), Andre Agassi (1990, 1993, 1998, 2003), Pete Sampras (1996, 1997) or Andy Roddick (2004, 2005).

The facts: Blake squandered multiple chances

On paper Blake was the heavy favourite for his second-round encounter against Ivo Karlovic, then the world No 103. However, Karlovic was always a dangerous opponent with his lethal serve; his ranking didn’t reflect his level as his his 2006 season had been shortened by injuries.

The American won a first set when both players held serve to perfection, 7-6, and in the second set, he broke Karlovic’s serve, taking a 5-3 lead and proceeded to serve for the match. At 30-0, it seemed that the deal was sealed, but the Croatian reminded him that in tennis, it ain’t over til it’s over. Taking more risks, Karlovic managed to break back and to push Blake into a tiebreak. In this tiebreak, Karlovic saved a quartet of match points and finally prevailed, 13-11.

In the deciding set, Blake struggled to recover from his disappointment. He managed to hold his serve until the 10th game, but at 5-4, he made two double faults that put him in a desperate position. Karlovic was unable to convert his first two match points, but on the third one, he hit a return winner which sent him into the next round.

“When I lost my serve I knew I had only once chance to break so I was more aggressive and then I got more confident and my level went up,” Karlovic said. “I feel really good. He is one of the top players today so I am very happy.”

Of course, Blake was not as enthusiastic about his performance. “I had it on my racquet,” he said. “I was up 5-3, 30-0. No one to blame but myself for that. I made some errors, missed a few serves and that was that. It was my fault.”

What next – Karlovic goes on to be a triple threat in 2007

Surfing the wave, Karlovic would make his way into the final, where he would be defeated by Andy Murray (7-6, 6-4). In 2007, the Croatian behemoth would achieve a rare feat, winning three tournaments on three different surfaces: the first one on American clay in Houston (defeating Mariano Zabaleta in the final, 6-4, 6-1), the second one on grass, in Nottingham (beating Arnaud Clément, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4), and the third one on hard courts, in Stockholm (defeating Thomas Johansson, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1). He would climb as high as world No 14 a year later, in 2008.

James Blake would claim his last title in 2007, in New Haven, and, after reaching a Grand Slam quarter-final for a last time at the 2008 Australian Open, he would slowly decline. He would leave the top 10 in August 2008, and the top 50 in 2010. Although he would never officially announce his retirement, James Blake would stop competing on the Tour in 2013.

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