BLAKE KEEPS AMERICANS IN THE FIGHT

BLAKE KEEPS AMERICANS IN THE FIGHT

BLAKE KEEPS AMERICANS IN THE FIGHT

Ivanisevic Leads Team International to 4-2 Win
By STEVE DORSEY

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – James Blake saved the day for the Americans on Saturday at the ATP Champions Tour Delray Beach Open.

Blake’s 7-5, 6-2 win against Mikael Pernfors in the nightcap kept alive Team USA’s chances at winning the team title, but the Americans will need to win all three of their matches Sunday to capture the title for the second consecutive year.

“Sometimes you’re the one who’s got to pick the guys up and sometimes you’re the one who needs to be picked up, so I did my part today,” said Blake, who has accounted for both of Team USA’s victories here this weekend. “It’s fun to be part of a team. I think it makes this event a little more exciting when you have a team concept.”

Last year was the first time the round-robin team format was used at the Delray Beach Open, with Team USA claiming the inaugural title behind Andy Roddick.

Goran Ivanisevic handed Team International a commanding 4-1 lead when he held off a gallant challenge from Justin Gimelstob. Ivanisevic needed a third-set tiebreaker to defeat the American 7-5, 5-7 (10-6) in the early evening match.

“So far we’re a pretty strong looking team,” said Ivanisevic, who is 2-0 so far after being on the losing team at last year’s event. “I’m playing well, I’m moving well and I’m healthy, and on this tour that’s a big thing. It was chilly at the finish. That’s OK, it was enjoyable to play against Justin. He’s a fun guy. We played together doubles in Australia just recently.”

Ivanisevic will try to remain unbeaten Sunday when he takes on Blake in the final match of the three-day round-robin Champions Tour event.

“Tomorrow’s going to be a tough one against James Blake,” Ivanisevic said. “He’s the toughest one here, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Blake, however, is not chalking up a victory in his mind.

“I’m expecting a tough one, too,” Blake said of his encounter against Ivanisevic. “He’s a great player, and obviously everyone out here’s had success on the main tour and now we’re having a little more fun. We can still show some flashes of the guys we used to be. I hope the fans appreciate it.”

Mark Philippoussis started the Team International winning streak Saturday afternoon with a 6-3, 6-1 victory against American Justin Gimelstob in the first match of the day to break a 1-1 tie in the team competition.

“I definitely feel like I played a lot more solid than (Friday) night,” said Philippoussis, who lost to Blake in a third-set tiebreaker Friday. “I felt like I was moving better, looser than yesterday. It was tricky out there. It was windy, but I was very happy with how I was hitting the ball.”

Gimelstob, the only American to play two matches Saturday, admitted he struggled in his opening match.

“I played about how I am, which is pretty average,” Gimelstob said. “I don’t play a lot of competitive tennis at that level, but Mark is way too good. But it’s still a pleasure to be out there competing. This is an excellent event and I’m appreciative of them inviting me, and hopefully I’ll get better as I get a few more reps in and a few more matches.”

Pernfors extended Team International’s lead to 3-1 when the Swede defeated Brad Gilbert 6-2, 6-3 in the other afternoon match.

“I felt pretty good,” Pernfors said after his win against Gilbert. “It’s difficult because I play most of my tennis on the clay courts, so coming out on the hard courts can be tough. But I’m pleased with how it went today. Brad doesn’t play competitively too much and I know how difficult it is to come out and play. He hits the ball great, so I think if he played a bit he’d still be a competitor. I hope he gets to play a bit more though because he’s a good addition to the Tour.”

Gilbert said he struggled some with his serve, but hopes to improve with more matches.

“I was surprised at how well Perny played considering he was on the (physio) table before the match,” Gilbert said “He was moving great though and he hit the ball really well. I think this tournament has inspired me to do a little more cardio and work on my game a bit so that I can be a bit more prepared. I was a late substitute though and the guys out here are playing really good tennis.”

While the Champions were slugging it out on Stadium Court, the side courts were abuzz with the 32-player qualifying tournament where players were fighting for their livelihood. The four top finishers in three rounds over three days reach the main event, where the prize money totals $549,230.

Victor Hanescu  has won more than $4 million on the ATP World Tour, reaching as high as world No. 26 in 2009, but on Saturday the 33-year-old was battling through qualifying in hopes of reaching the Delray Beach main draw.

These days Hanescu, who has never played in a Delray Beach, has dropped to No. 139 in the world.  He is trying to reach his first ATP main draw of the year.

Robby Ginepri has a similar story. Once the No. 2 American after reaching a career-high No. 15 in 2005— a decade ago—the 32-year-old Ginepri swatted aside 23-year-old Gianni Mina of France, 6-2, 6-2 in the first round Saturday.

Hanescu, meanwhile, needed three sets to dispatch James McGee of Ireland, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, to keep moving forward.

Hanescu and Ginepri were just two of the top seven seeds to win first-round matches Saturday, with American teenager Jared Donaldson the lone seed not to advance. Donaldson, who won the Maui Challenger event in January, reached the second round in the Memphis main draw a week ago.

Top seed Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia, who reached his first ATP final in Chennai in January, was among the winners Saturday with several former Delray Beach “Survivor Series” pre-qualifying winners also advancing. 2014 winner Pavel Krainik and 2012/ 2013 winner Sekou Bangoura, Jr. moved into the second round, while 2015 “Survivor Series” wild cards Lance Cohen and Patrick Daciek both fell in their first-round matches.

Bedene plays Ginepri on Sunday while Hanescu takes on  Krainik.

Former Top 50 American Ryan Harrison had to pull out of qualifying prior to Saturday’s start after coming down with the flu. The 22-year-old Boca Raton resident began his 2015 season by winning January’s Happy Valley Challenger  in Australia as he strives to improve his ranking, which  has fallen  to No. 165 in the world.

Sunday’s third and final round of the Champions Tour event will begin at noon when Gilbert squares off against Phiippoussis, followed by the final match between Blake and Ivanisevic, both on the Stadium Court. Gimelstob and Pernfors will face off at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Court 1. Second-round qualifying matches will begin at 11 a.m.

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