Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 18 News List

US trio through at Cincinnati Masters

FRENCH FLOP James Blake led the way as the three US players beat their French counterparts in Ohio, while David Nalbandian shook off the after effects of last week's virus

AFP , CINCINNATI, OHIO

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus returns to Thomas Johansson of Sweden during the first round of play at the Cincinnati Masters on Monday in Mason, Ohio.

PHOTO: AFP

Sixth seed James Blake led a trio of Americans into the second round of the US$2.45 million ATP Cincinnati Masters on Monday with a sweep of French opponents.

Blake upended Gallic racket master Fabrice Santoro, a double-fisted threat off of both wings, with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Patchy compatriot Robby Ginepri, the 15th seed who has failed to follow up on last year's US Open semi-final run, managed to come good with perfect timing as he stopped Paul-Henri Mathieu in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback.

And 2003 finalist Mardy Fish, a 65th-ranked wild card, put out Nicolas Mahut of France 6-1, 6-3 to complete a good day for the hosts at the US Open warm-up event.

Ginepri, ranked 18th, admitted to the jitters as his form has slipped in recent months.

"I'm feeling pretty nervous out there on the court," Ginepri said. "It's not allowing me to play the potential of my game. I'm not moving the same and not setting up for my shots."

Blake is fighting to escape a slump following his Indianapolis title last month, where he beat Andy Roddick.

Blake came in as a wild card a year ago, losing to Roger Federer in the first round. He is now the top-ranked US player.

"There's plenty more pressure, but pressure is a good thing. It's an opportunity to do something good. The expectations have changed," Blake said.

Third seed David Nalbandian, fighting off a virus, took a step toward full form, ousting South African qualifier Rik De Voest 6-0, 6-4.

A week after losing badly in Montreal due to an illness which he has still not totally shaken, the third seed squeezed through despite more than two hours of rain delays.

"I'm playing better, the first round is always tough. But I'm feeling much better than last week," said the Argentine, who was hammered a week ago in Toronto by Italian Davide Sanguinetti in the first round.

The 2003 quarter-finalist earned his 32nd victory of the season.

"I'm not one hundred percent yet, I feel a little bit tired yet," he confessed. "You need few days to recover power and energy.

Another under-achiever from last week also showed major improvement with Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis eliminating 2002 Melbourne winner Thomas Johansson 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/3).

Baghdatis is on the prowl for a first career trophy.

"I just went in and tried to win every point and tried to win the most important ones," said the smiling Cypriot, who won hearts during his run to the Aussie final against world number one Roger Federer in January.

"It was a weird match, not a lot of rhythm," Baghdatis said. "But I played well on the important points ."

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