Three-time Grand Slam champion and recent Wimbledon finalist Maria Sharapova, former No. 4 James Blake and two-time Tour titlist John Isner practiced on the nearly sold-out first day of Western & Southern Open action. As fans sought to catch qualifying play and join in on the Kid’s Day festivities, the WTA star took to the courts, while two of the top Americans exchanged rallies.
Sharapova, who advanced to the finals last year before losing to Kim Clijsters in three sets, is seeded fourth in the main draw. With a first-round bye, she’ll face the winner of Polona Hercog and a qualifier in the second round. Sharapova appears in the same section of the draw as French Open champion Na Li and 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams.
Blake, who opens against Marcos Baghdatis at night on Sunday, practiced with Isner surrounded by a throng of fans. Enjoying success at Cincinnati in the past, the New York-native advanced to the ’07 finals. As the No. 8 player in the world at the time, he defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sam Querrey and Nikolay Davydenko to set up a match with Roger Federer. He lost to the world No. 1 6-1, 6-4.
In 2002, Blake successfully captured the doubles title with partner Todd Martin as a wild card. This was one of his biggest results on Tour, having lost in two finals earlier in the year at Newport and Memphis. The duo defeated Mahesh Bhubathi and Max Mirnyi 7-5, 6-3.
At a press conference after the victory, Blake said, "To win a tournament like this, it was definitely nothing I expected….When you can win a match like that, it gives you confidence. I feel like it even carries over to your singles." Blake won his first Tour title at Washington the week after.
For Isner, he will try to improve upon his second round results achieved from 2008 – 2010. The North Carolina-native, 26, was forced to retire during his last Cincinnati match as the No. 19 against David Nalbandian. He led 5-4 in the first set.
Isner will face a qualifier to start his 2011 Cincinnati campaign. He appears in the same section of the draw as No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick.
No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 2 Rafael Nadal were among other notable players using the Lindner Family Tennis Center to practice.
By: Benjamin Snyder