Nadal's win helps Blake into semifinals

Wednesday, November 15th 2006, 11:00 am
By: News On 6

SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ James Blake secured a Masters Cup semifinal spot with a win over No. 3-ranked Nikolay Davydenko on Wednesday and a little help from Rafael Nadal.

Blake rallied from a set and a break down to beat Davydenko 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, continuing his perfect record against the Russian and at the season-ending championship.

The 26-year-old American improved to 4-0 against Davydenko, two days after upsetting No. 2 Nadal in his first appearance at the Tennis Masters Cup.

French Open champion Nadal rebounded from that loss with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over Tommy Robredo.

That was enough for unbeaten Blake, ranked eighth and the last to qualify for the eight-man Masters Cup draw, to be the first assured of a semifinal spot.

``I'm just coming out here with nothing to lose, and trying to prove that I really do belong among these top players,'' Blake said. ``I like to think that I have by beating two of the top players in the world in consecutive matches.

Blake is the only player here with a winning record over Nadal _ now 3-0. He is 3-1 against Robredo, his last rival in round-robin matches in the Red Group.

All four players in the Red Group can still reach the semis, with places to be determined Thursday.

Top-ranked Roger Federer (2-0) faces Ivan Ljubicic (1-1) and Andy Roddick (1-1) is against defending champion David Nalbandian (0-2) in the last Red Group round-robin matches.

Nadal and Davydenko meet Friday for the other Gold Group semifinal spot.

Blake struggled with his first serve early and was almost pinned to the baseline by Davydenko's powerful groundstrokes.

He did not hold serve until the third game of the second set, and said it was ``a little embarrassing.''

Blake twice thought he'd ended his service drought to open the second set, but Davydenko won two challenges against line calls on the same point.

The first was called on an ace at 40-30, which was overturned on review of the video. Blake got the second serve into play and seemed to have won the point with a deep lob, until Davydenko challenged the baseline decision and won again.

Blake lost the next two points and was visibly frustrated.

After holding in the third and saving two break points to hold in the fifth, Blake won five straight games to even it at a set apiece.

The pair traded breaks and then Blake held at love in the 11th game of the deciding set, forcing Davydenko to hold serve to stay in the match.

Davydenko saved two match points before Blake set up his third with a rifling forehand return down the line. Blake clinched it on Davydenko's forehand error.

``I kept myself in this match, hung in when Nikolay was playing unbelievable tennis,'' Blake said. ``Then he maybe faltered just a little bit, thanks to me playing a lot better. And then I just got the momentum going at the end at the right time.''

Nadal dropped serve in the sixth game against Robredo but immediately broke back. He dominated the tiebreaker, racing to a 6-2 lead and then curling a forehand winner down the line on set point.

The 20-year-old Nadal needed four match points before clinching his first Masters Cup victory when Robredo's forehand was long.

He missed last year's Masters Cup with an injured foot.

``I'm very happy with my first victory,'' Nadal said. ``It was very important for me. If I lost, I am out of tournament. I play more aggressive maybe with my forehand, trying to play with more winners, so I feel OK.''

In doubles matches, second-seeded Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi improved to 2-0 with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor.

Fabrice Santoro and Nenad Zimonjic beat Poland pair Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3.