Blake Leads at Hall of Fame Tennis

Thursday, July 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) _ James Blake's quest to become the first top-seeded player to win the Hall of Fame Championships was in danger of ending Wednesday until he found his rhythm in the final set and blew out Ota Fukarek.

Blake beat the player from the Czech Republic 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-1 to lead five Americans into the quarterfinals. The 22-year-old Blake, a semifinalist here last year, won the final six points to take the first-set tiebreaker.

He wasn't surprised by the severity of the challenge from Fukarek.

``I can't expect anybody to roll over because I'm a top seed,'' Blake said. ``I've got to keep going like I have before. I feel like I got momentum on the tour last year here.''

Blake entered this tournament ranked 35th in the world, and is looking to become the No. 1 seed to win in the event's 26 years.

After taking the first set in just under an hour, Blake was broken in the third game of the second. He recovered in the final set by breaking Fukarek in the second and sixth games.

``At the start I just didn't feel confident on serve returns,'' said Blake, a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. ``He does everything well. He doesn't roll over and think you're going to beat him.''

Other Americans advancing in the only grass-court tournament in this country were Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent, Justin Gimelstob and Robby Ginepri.

Fish upset third-seeded Julian Knowle of Australia 7-6 (5), 6-4; Dent stunned No. 4 Jeff Morrison 6-3, 6-4; Gimelstob beat Jonathan Erlich of Israel 6-4, 6-0, and Ginepri defeated Noam Okun 7-6 (7-4), 1-6, 6-2.

Just before Blake's win, Dent used an overpowering serve to frustrate Morrison.

``He serves well,'' Morrison said. ``That's his strength. He served well, and returned better than he has in the past.''

The other winners were 2001 finalist Martin Lee of Great Britain, seventh-seeded Michael Llorda of France and fifth-seeded Alexander Popp of Germany.

Lee downed Thomas Blake, James' older brother, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2; Llorda beat Michael Vahaly, 6-4, 6-3, and Popp edged compatriot Michael Kohlmann, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4.