USA TODAY – Jan 16, 2007 – Douglas Robson – SPORTS; Pg. 10C – Foes meet again in matter of days; Blake, Moya play rare first round after final match –

MELBOURNE, Australia — Even before James Blake defended his title at Sydney on Saturday by defeating Carlos Moya 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, he knew it was a dress rehearsal for a bigger match today.

That’s because, in a strange turn of events, the fifth-ranked Blake drew Moya as a first-round opponent at the Australian Open, creating a rare back-to-back scenario.

“It’s a funny, awkward situation,” Blake says. “Never happened before.”

Moya even joked during the post-match trophy presentation about the odd circumstance.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” the 1998 French Open champ from Spain said. “James and I spoke before the match, and we decided he would win here and I would win in Melbourne.”

Baseball has regular three-game series. Hockey and basketball teams can face off up to seven consecutive times in the playoffs. In tennis, the chance of meeting in successive matches is far smaller, especially among top players. Moya, a former No.1, struggled last season and is ranked No.41.

“I played a guy first round two weeks in a row, but I don’t think I’ve ever played someone in a final and then first round,” said sixth-seeded Andy Roddick, one of six American men to advance to the second round here Monday.

Neither tour tracks the frequency of successive matches, but none have occurred heading into Grand Slam events during the last 10 years, according to the International Tennis Federation, which oversees the four majors.

Still, it’s not unheard of.

Veteran Vince Spadea recalls beating Ota Fukarek of the Czech Republic to win a lower-tier Challenger event at North Miami Beach, Fla., in 2002. He then drove to nearby Key Biscayne the next day and played Fukarek again in qualifying for the Nasdaq-100.

“I didn’t even get a day off,” says Spadea, who beat Fukarek a second time but suffered heatstroke. “I was sick to death. Luckily all I had to do was drive up to Key Biscayne.”

Though uncommon, players say dealing with an opponent in back-to-back matches can be tricky tactically, emotionally and psychologically.

One player can ride the confidence of a win, while the loser can approach the rematch with less pressure.

“I think it’s a hard thing to win decisively and to stay on top,” says Spadea, 32, a winner Monday in straight sets vs. Igor Andreev of Russia. “He’s going to look for his second chance.

“It’s like his New Year’s. They have revenge.”

Top-ranked Roger Federer, who kicked off his title defense Monday by beating German Bjorn Phau, says “it’s more mental than anything else.”

“You regroup if you lost, and if you win, you try to keep the pressure on the opponent.”

The No.1 Swiss says he’d much rather be riding a wave of self-confidence from a win than searching for a way to turn the tables.

John Murray, a Florida-based sports psychologist working and traveling with Spadea, says the two situations nearly cancel each other out.

“The guy who’s lost has a huge advantage because he has nothing to lose,” Murray says. “But the confidence is with the player that won, so it almost evens it out.”

Murray’s advice for both parties is to avoid focusing on the outcome and concentrate on one specific aspect to improve.

“If you stay status quo, you’re at a disadvantage,” he says.

Some players agree that while blocking out the last match is important to maintain clarity of purpose, a radical shift in strategy is unlikely and perhaps unwise.

“I really find it hard to believe that James and Carlos found something out in Sydney on Saturday night that they didn’t know about each other from the six previous meetings,” Roddick says. “I would tend to think that going into the first round here they might have had a similar game plan, even since they played in Sydney.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.