WIMBLEDON, England -- The end is getting sad and ugly for James Blake, but this was just ridiculous.
Blake has lost his confidence, his fire, his want-to. He was crushed Tuesday by Robin Haase, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, in the first round of Wimbledon, and then talked about the possibility of retiring soon.
But his frustration came out, as Blake got into an argument with ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, a former player. Shriver and Blake were bickering, and he even ended up calling her an ass. On court. During the match.
People will be looking for an apology from Blake now, another embarrassment for an aging former star whose career is going, going ...
And I'll say this: He should apologize for the way he is playing.
But as for the other stuff? Shriver and ESPN should apologize to Blake.
This was Shriver's fault, and she should have been kicked out.
Here's what happened. Blake was moping around on far-out Court 5 and Shriver, sitting up above the court, started analyzing his game perfectly.
"Usually, if you haven't played, or only played one or two matches, you're actually quite eager," she said during a point. "You might not be match-tough, you might miss a lot of shots, but mentally you're not burned out.''
Perfect. Blake is burned out after coming back from an injury.
Two problems: Shriver speaks loudly. Shriver wasn't far from the court.
"Amazing you used to play tennis," Blake yelled up at her. "I can still hear you."
And then he went on to the next point. Note, he wasn't complaining about what she said, only that she was too loud. Up to there, no harm, no foul. Just an accident.
But then Shriver got defensive during the next point.
"James just yelled at me," she said, not talking any quieter, clearly wanting Blake to hear her again. "I'm way above the court, but evidently he can hear me. He's got rabbit ears."
Yes, he can hear you. And he's playing at Wimbledon. The normal response would have been to whisper.
"You have to be an ass about it, too?" Blake yelled after the next point. "And act like I'm at fault.''
And Shriver was offended again.
"And there he is, talking again," she said.
Look, I agree with every word of criticism Shriver had for Blake's game. I've got more, and will get to them.
But why is an ESPN analyst bickering with an athlete during a competition? If someone accidentally makes noise to distract a player, he is asked to be quiet. The second time, especially if it's done on purpose, he's out.
Shriver should have been escorted from the court.
I was standing courtside, and I felt like yelling at Blake, too.
Not over this incident.
But his game, his demeanor. Frankly, it was maddening.
He lost in straight sets, and he's just about done. The one-time American star, ranked No. 4 in the world just 3 1/2 years ago, is now No. 109. He's also 30 years old.
I used to love the energy and thrill of watching Blake. Now, it is just depressing. He was never a great player, never had variety or even strategy. Instead, he was a very, very good player who would come at you aggressively, and play with fire.
That's what carried him.
Everyone fades, I know. But this isn't a function of age. There is no reason that Blake's career should be such a shambles.
He can still run. He can still hit his shots.
He simply is mentally fragile. You know how you see some 60-year-olds who are young and some who are old? Blake has apparently decided that he's old at 30.
"You know, to be honest, it's almost embarrassing to go out and play a Grand Slam match like that," he said. "Maybe it says to me that I came back (from knee tendinitis) too soon, or maybe I'm just too far away from where I think I need to be.''
He said he's going to play through the U.S. Open,and then see what happens. Is he talking about a break after that, or a retirement?
"No idea right now ...," he said. "If my life is going to change after the Open, then I'll have to be anxious and see what comes next.''
Blake had a toe injury last year and took 10 weeks off recently for his knee. He won't take anti-inflammatories because he thinks it only masks pain and leads to the risk of even bigger injuries.
"I know rationally that doesn't make sense," he said. "It's something since I was a kid. I like knowing what going on in my body."
Blake's problem is mostly mental, not physical.
He has apparently decided his career is over. I don't know why. But he either needs to fire up or give up. He can't let his career drag on so ugly.
E-mail me at email@example.com.