James Blake continued his assault on the New Haven field here on Friday after defeating France's Paul-Henri Mathieu in a three-set thriller at the US$675,000 Pilot Pen tennis hard-court event.
Spurred on by a chanting pro-Blake crowd on Stadium court, the 27-year-old third-seeded American overcame the fifth-seeded Frenchman 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) in two hours and five minutes to make it to his fifth ATP final of the season.
In a very tough contest, Mathieu and Blake traded blows from the baseline and pounded winners at will.
After splitting the opening two sets, Blake firmed up his game and broke the Frenchman in the eighth game to go up 5-3 and 40-15. But the American just couldn't seal the deal, squandering two match points on his serve.
Mathieu forced a tie-breaker but Blake made sure to shut his opponent out.
"No matter what happened, I still felt I was in the driver's seat," Blake said. "I didn't panic. A lot of people would have gotten down on themselves after letting a couple of match points get away from them. When you go into those late situations in matches when you feel this confident, you just don't feel you're going to lose. I don't think I missed one serve in the tie-breaker and I don't think he made one."
The Frenchman, who is having his best season on the Tour, said he was plagued by an ongoing arm injury.
"I was a little tight in the beginning. When I get tight, I start feeling pain in my arm. I even thought about retiring at one point. I didn't want to take any chances for the US Open. I have a tough first round. I hope I'll recover on time to be 100 percent," said Mathieu, who drew Spain's Fernando Verdasco in the opening round at the last grand Slam of the year, which starts tomorrow in Flushing Meadows.
Blake is set for an all-American confrontation with US wild-card Mardy Fish, who defeated big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 in the men's singles other semi-final.
"It's great to see him play well again," Blake said of his long-time friend. "It's going to be a lot of fun. What's great is that we can be all-business on court and be buddies after."
Blake and Fish are tied at one-all in head-to-head meetings, with Fish winning their last encounter in 2005 at the ATP event in Memphis.
On the women's side, 18-year-old qualifier Agnes Szavay won her seventh match on the trot here, making Eleni Daniilidou the latest victim of her dazzling hard-court run.
In a see-saw confrontation on Stadium Court, the Hungarian needed two hours and 17 minutes to overcome her 24-year-old Greek opponent 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
"It's such a good feeling to be in the final. This is my first singles tournament in the US this year. I'm really happy I did it because from the qualifying, it's really tough," said Szavay, who won her first WTA event in Palermo in July.
In the final, the 5ft 7in Hungarian takes on top-seeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is aiming for her first WTA title of the season after runner-up finishes in Doha, Indian Wells, Berlin and Rome.