Washington :US veteran James Blake, battling back from a right knee injury that benched him for two months, was ousted by American qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Monday at the ATP Washington Classic.
Blake shook off a four-match losing streak last week by reaching the Los Angeles quarter-finals, his best showing since a run to the last eight in February at Delray Beach.
But the former world number four, who won at Washington in 2002, has fallen to 105th in the rankings, only 14 notches above Sweeting, who simply outplayed Blake when it mattered most.
"Right knee feels great. It's not a problem at all," Blake said.
"I just wasn't doing the things I need to do to win matches. I played tentative on the big points. I needed to step up and take control of the big points. Credit to Ryan for doing that."
Sweeting, who next faces Frenchman Michael Llorda, called it the biggest victory of his young career.
"It's my best win for sure," Sweeting said. "I just tried to keep the ball away from his forehand as much as possible. I tried to dictate to his backhand and attack to his forehand so he couldn't use it as a weapon."
Another veteran wild card entrant fighting off injuries, Argentina's David Nalbandian, made an impressive comeback in his first ATP match since April, defeating American Kevin Kim 6-4, 6-0.
Nalbandian, 28, underwent right hip surgery in May of last year and missed nine months, then suffered a torn right leg abductor muscle in his return February in Argentina and last played an ATP event in Monte Carlo in April.
In his return to competition last month, the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up won twice without dropping a set to lead Argentina past Russia and into next month's Davis Cup semi-finals against France.
Blake, 30, surrendered a break-point chance in the third game of the final set when a forehand hit the net cord and dropped on his side of the divider, giving his 23-year-old rival a 2-1 edge.
Sweeting denied Blake on a break-point chance in the sixth game, two more in the eighth and another in the last game when Blake sent a backhand long.
Another backhand beyond the baseline and a netted forehand by Blake gave Sweeting the victory, dropping Blake to 10-12 for the year.
"I haven't played a lot of matches. When I haven't had the matches, I don't play the big points well. I need to find a way to play more matches and get that confidence back," Blake said.
"I haven't been able to put in the work I wanted. I wasn't able to train like I needed to. Hopefully I'll be able to and the rest of the summer won't be like tonight. My main focus is getting back the form I know I can play."
Czech top seed Tomas Berdych, playing his first tournament since losing to Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final, was among 16 top players who received first-round byes at the 1.4 million-dollar hardcourt event.
Berdych, ranked eighth, will open Wednesday against the winner of a later match between Russians Dmitry Tursunov and Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Slovenian qualifier Grega Zemlja avenged a first-round loss at this year's Australian Open by ousting Germany's Benjamin Becker 6-2, 6-3 to book a second-round match on Tuesday with US second seed Andy Roddick.
Germany's Michael Berrer defeated Slovakian Karol Beck 6-3, 6-4 to put himself into a second-round match on Tuesday against Spanish third seed Fernando Verdasco.