Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Blake battles to make Stockholm semis

THREE SETTER Last year's winner James Blake had to fight for the right to continue his defense in the Stockholm Open as Belgium's Olivier Rochus pushed him all the way



Defending champion James Blake battled back after losing the first set to beat Olivier Rochus 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2 on Friday to reach the semi-finals at the Stockholm Open.

Fifth-seeded Jarkko Nieminen also won his quarter-final, beating Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-5 for the Finn's third consecutive straight-set victory in the indoor tournament at Royal Tennis Hall.

Nieminen will next meet Swedish wild card Joachim Johansson, who saved three match points in the third set before edging No. 7 seed Kristof Vliegen of Belgium 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7).

Johansson fell behind 0-40 when trailing 6-5 in the third set. The Swede, who upset top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the first round, used his big serve to stay alive in the match.

In the tiebreaker, Johansson missed his first four match points. Ahead 8-7, he finally clinched the match with a perfect lob before a sellout crowd.

Johansson was ranked 690th going into the tournament. This is his first ATP event since February.

After splitting the first two sets, Blake broke to lead 3-2 in the third set when Rochus' forehand sailed long at 30-40.

The second-seeded American then held to love and broke the Belgian again to lead 5-2 after a sizzling return.

Blake, seeded No. 2, won the tournament in his first appearance in the Swedish capital last year and is undefeated in eight matches. Last year, he beat Rochus in the semi-finals.

"He played me tough here last year and I knew it would be tough [today]," Blake said. "But I served well enough and got out of tricky situations. Sometimes that happens when you got confidence."

Blake finished with 16 aces.

Blake, who played the winner between Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych in yesterday's semi-final, moved himself up to sixth place in the ATP Race by winning the title in Bangkok two weeks ago. The top eight qualify for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China, next month.

Blake has won a career-high four ATP titles this season. Only Roger Federer (nine) and Rafael Nadal (five) have won more.

Andy Roddick beat Jurgen Melzer 6-4, 6-3 on Friday to advance to the semi-finals of the BA-CA Tennis Trophy in Vienna.

The third-seeded Roddick served 11 aces and nine service winners, to only one ace for his Austrian opponent.

The first set went with serve until 5-4, when Melzer hit a double fault on the first break point of the match. Roddick lost his serve for the first time in the tournament early in the second set, but broke back twice to win.

Roddick will next play Fernando Gonzalez, who beat second-seeded David Nalbandian 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

The fifth-seeded Gonzalez, using an attacking topspin backhand, took control when he broke Nalbandian at love at 4-3 in the second set. He served out the set, saving two break points.

Gonzalez, who had lost five out of seven previous matches against Nalbandian, went up 4-0 in the third set. The Argentine showed little resistance and lost serve three times in the final set.

Also, Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia advanced to the semis after beating Austrian wild card Stefan Koubek 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

Hrbaty cruised through the first set, but got in trouble near the end of the second as he faced 10 break points and ultimately lost his serve twice.

In the decider, however, Hrbaty was back in control again. He will now play top-seeded Ivan Ljubicic or Stanislas Wawrinka in the semi-final.

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