Blake powers to win vs. Agassi

25 winners sink top seed

Srichaphan bounces Rios

Tennis

August 18, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - James Blake ate his customary omelet and cantaloupe before his match against Andre Agassi at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

It wasn't exactly spinach or the ultraviolet rays of the sun, but Blake became Popeye and Superman all in one as he blasted 25 winners to upset the top-seeded and five-time Legg Mason champ Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, in a tournament semifinal at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center last night.

In the other semifinal, No. 14 seed Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand advanced to only the second ATP final of his career - his first in the United States - by knocking off No. 5 seed Marcelo Rios of Chile, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Blake, who will be making his third appearance in a Tour final this season, needed just 61 minutes to even his career record against Agassi at 1-1.

"The strategy was not to err on the tentative side," said Blake, who could become the first African American to win this tournament since Arthur Ashe in 1973. "It was OK to err on the aggressive side. ... If I lost, I would have no regrets."

Agassi didn't appear comfortable last night - his footwork was slow and his timing on his ground strokes was a half-second late - and some of that may have stemmed from Blake's power game.

Up 1-0 and at deuce in the first set, Blake spun a backhand lob over Agassi's outstretched racket and an Agassi forehand sailed long to give Blake his first and only break of the frame. Blake held his serve to win the set.

Blake didn't wait long to fashion a lead in the second set, breaking Agassi twice and holding his own serve three times to take a 5-2 advantage.

Blake called the changeover at 5-2 the longest he has ever experienced.

"I did start thinking about the fact that Andre Agassi was on the other side of the net," Blake said. "If you let him get a second life or another wind, [a comeback] is always a possibility with him."

Agassi rallied, winning the eighth and ninth games to close the gap to 5-4. But Blake sealed the victory with a forehand winner that touched down inside the left sideline and rolled to the wall.

Agassi, who needed more than 2 1/2 hours to get past No. 7 seed Thomas Enqvist in a three-set quarterfinal Friday night, said he couldn't keep up with Blake's firepower.

"It was a combination of how well he was hitting the ball and my needing to play two hours and 40 minutes against Thomas Enqvist," said Agassi, who is 38-9 in Washington. "Against James, nothing but the best would get it done, and I didn't do it."

Agassi said he wasn't surprised that Blake had won 62 of 103 points in the match and had registered 25 winners.

"I've seen him hit plenty of winners," Agassi said. "[Still], it's hard to hit 25 winners in a match. That tells you how well he played."

Srichaphan, who is the highest-ranking Asian player on the Tour at No. 54, has drawn vocal support from local Thai fans, and yesterday was no different as about 75 supporters carried hand-drawn pictures of him and waved miniature versions of the Thai national flag.

"Hopefully, it will be louder," said Srichaphan, who was a guest at the home of the Thailand ambassador Friday evening. "It feels like I'm playing at home."

Srichaphan's powerful first serves and topspin-heavy forehands usually put his opponents on the run, but he found himself on the opposite end against Rios.

Rios' accurate ground strokes moved Srichaphan from side to side and broke him twice - in the fifth and ninth games - to take the first set. Srichaphan won just three points off Rios' serve and committed 18 unforced errors in that first set.

Srichaphan quickly found his groove in the second set as he broke Rios in two consecutive service games and cruised from there.

In the third set, Rios converted a break-point opportunity, but Srichaphan broke him in three straight service games. Srichaphan closed out the match by blanking Rios in his final service game.

Results, schedule

Semifinals

Paradorn Srichaphan (14) def. Marcelo Rios (5), 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 James Blake (6) def. Andre Agassi (1), 6-3, 6-4

Today's final

Paradorn Srichaphan (14) vs. James Blake (6), 4 p.m.

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