Novak Djokovic and James Blake began play at the U.S. Open with the same seemingly impossible goal: to raise the highly coveted Grand Slam trophy in triumph two Sundays from now.
The presence of three-time champion Roger Federer, however, makes that goal more of an impossible dream than an achievable reality for all 127 challengers… So say most experts. Djokovic and Blake beg to differ.
Both arrived in New York buoyed by impressive tour titles. Blake, 27, won in New Haven last week; Djokovic, 20, of Serbia, claimed Montreal two weeks ago. Both took the first step toward the title Tuesday with straight set victories in the first round. No. 3 seed Djokovic routed Robin Hasse 6-2, 6-1, 6-3; No. 6 Blake beat Michael Russell 7-6 ((8-6), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
Djokovic, who captured the Montreal title with an impressive hat trick, beating Andy Roddick (quarterfinals), Rafael Nadal(semifinals) and top-ranked Federer in the final, talked about his chances in a near cocky cadence.
â€œIâ€™m still young, I made a big breakthrough this year, so everybodyâ€™s really interested in the way I play,â€ he said. â€œHard court is my favorite surface. Probably, Iâ€™m most dangerous for the top guys here.â€
Told that Federer doesnâ€™t consider him a true threat because heâ€™s never reached a Grand Slam final, Djokovic, beaten by Federer in four of five meetings, countered with this: â€œEverybody has a right to an opinion. Again, I have only nice words for him. But Iâ€™m slowly getting to that experience. I just try to go step by step. Iâ€™m not really in the rush to be No. 1 player until end of this year.â€
Blake, winless against Federer in seven head-to-head matches, believes he can beat Federer even though he frequently has referred to him as unbeatable.
â€œEvery time I go into playing Roger, I think I can win,â€ Blake said. â€œI feel like on my best day, Iâ€™m definitely one of the best tennis players in the world. But after the match, Iâ€™m always pretty realistic. The guy is good. The guy is better than good. Heâ€™s possibly the greatest of all time. I wish there was a way I could just say Iâ€™m going to beat him and go out and do it, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s just lip service thatâ€™s going to get me to go over the hump. Itâ€™s going to be figuring out a better game plan or just being able to execute better or him having an off day.â€