• Isner opens with Levine, Blake battles Gulbis

    2/26/13 12:22 AM | Ricky Dimon
    Isner opens with Levine, Blake battles Gulbis Americans John Isner and James Blake will kick off their Delray Beach campaigns on Tuesday. They are set for respective meetings with Jesse Levine and Ernests Gulbis.

    (1) John Isner vs. Jesse Levine

    Isner and Levine will be going head-to-head for the fourth time in their careers at the ATP level when they collide in the first round of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships on Tuesday. They also faced each other in round one last year, when Isner survived 6-4, 7-6(15). Levine cruised through a 2008 grass-court encounter in Newport before Isner got revenge with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in Montreal.

    The top-seeded American is in dismal for at the start of 2013, in part due to a knee injury that forced him out of the Australian Open. Isner owns a 3-4 record for the season after getting crushed 6-4, 6-3 by Denis Istomin in his Memphis opener. Levine, now playing as a Canadian, already has four ATP-level match wins this year--including a quarterfinal finish in Auckland. The world No. 95 has a real shot in this one mainly because of Isner's slump, but look for the favorite to advance in three tight sets.

    (Q) Ernests Gulbis vs. (WC) James Blake

    Gulbis and Blake will also be squaring off for the fourth time in their careers on Tuesday in Delray Beach. The head-to-head series stands at 2-1 in Gulbis' favor after Blake prevailed 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-2 two years ago in Atlanta. That was preceded by Gulbis' victories at the 2008 French Open and a few months later at the Cincinnati Masters.

    Blake has home-court advantage this time like he did in Atlanta, but the 33-year-old is struggling in the twilight of his career at No. 99 in the world. He failed to qualify for the Australian Open, lost in the semifinals of the Dallas Challenger, and he is coming off a second-round Memphis setback to Jack Sock. Gulbis is mired in a slump that has him at 109th in the world, but he is at least playing decent tennis this season and he qualified for the main draw this week. Neither man is consistent enough to dominate a match right now, so Gulbis in three sets is the pick.

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