Blake Back in Tennis Channel Open

Friday, March 2nd 2007, 6:58 am

By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Top-seeded James Blake was given a quarterfinal spot in the Tennis Channel Open on Thursday night, hours after the ATP Tour initially ruled that he had been eliminated during round-robin play.

Blake led Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 3-1 when the Argentine player retired because of respiratory distress. In letting Blake back into the tournament, the tour ruled that he would have won his round-robin group if del Potro hadn't retired. The tour also said it will review the format in three weeks at a board meeting in Miami.

In the late match, Russia's Marat Safin dropped the first three games of the third set in round-robin play, but rallied to beat countryman Igor Kunitsyn 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 to win his group and advance to the quarterfinals.

Blake, a 6-2, 6-4 loser to Evgeny Korolev in his first-round robin match, needed to beat del Potro in straight sets and surrender five games or less to advance in a tiebreaker. The tour's reversal cost Korolev a spot in the quarterfinals.

``James was within just a few games of wining this match comfortably to advance,'' said Etienne de Villiers, the tour's executive chairman and president. ``Juan Martin has stated that he would have completed the match had he been fully aware of the implications of his retirement.''

The association will award Korolev $11,375, the average sum of the prize money for the quarterfinals and semifinals. The 19-year-old Russian was not available for comment, tournament officials said.

``(Korolev) is a good kid and I do feel bad for him,'' Blake said. ``The rule may be silly, but the right thing was done in my view.''

This isn't the first time a withdrawal has sparked debate with the new round-robin format.

``A similar situation occurred in Buenos Aires, which has given us great cause for concern,'' de Villiers said. ``It is clear that fans like round robin and the research confirms it. But unless we can find a way to ensure that withdrawals don't unfairly affect the outcome of group, I'm afraid round robin will fail.''

Blake said he thought he won the group when del Potro retired.

``I was very confused when they were explaining why I wasn't going through,'' Blake said. ``I didn't think that was right.''

Blake will play Sam Querrey on Friday in the quarterfinals, looking to defend his tournament title and prove tournament officials made an accurate call.

``Maybe I'm biased, but I think the right decision was made,'' Blake said.

Querrey beat Paul Goldstein, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

Safin will play Spain's Fernando Verdasco in Friday's quarterfinals.

In other quarterfinal matches Friday, Australian's Lleyton Hewitt will play Feliciano Lopez after capturing his group with a hard-fought, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Thomas Johansson. Lopez edged Tim Henman 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-4.

Jan Hernych and Jurgen Melzer also advanced. Hernych beat Gustavo Kuerten 6-4, 6-4, Melzer topped Paul Capdeville 6-2, 6-2.

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