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Thursday, July 19, 2007
Spadea, Blake, Fleishman, Stepanek advance to quarters at Countrywide

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- James Blake started fast and finished strong. He struggled in between before serving three straight aces to close out a 6-0, 1-6, 7-5 win over Paul Goldstein in the second round of the ATP Countrywide Classic on Thursday night.

The No. 2 seed, and the favorite following top seed Fernando Gonzalez's loss on Tuesday, Blake will face Vincent Spadea in the quarterfinals on Friday. Spadea celebrated his 33rd birthday by beating fifth-seeded Dmitry Tursunov 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3.

Also advancing on Thursday were Zack Fleishman -- 7-6 (4), 6-3 over Robert Kendrick -- and Radek Stepanek, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over sixth-seeded Mardy Fish.

Blake, 27, is making his first appearance in the quarterfinals of the tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. He bowed out in the first round in 2001 and the second round in 2005.

Goldstein, 30, had been a quarterfinalist for the second time last year and was in position to get there again until Blake hit a forehand winner for a service break and a 6-5 lead in the third set. Then Blake made sure Goldstein did not have a chance to break back by serving his 10th, 11th and 12th aces of the match on the final three points.

"I know how well Paul can play and how much fight he has," Blake said. "A lot of guys get down 6-0 and kind of throw in the towel. He didn't stop fighting. That's why he's one of the best competitors out here.

"I let up just a tiny bit in the second set and he took advantage and started taking it to me. In the third I really started moving my feet well again and played I felt pretty darn well. He made me play at a pretty high level, including having a match point against me. He made me work for everything."

Blake faced that match point at 30-40 in the 10th game. But he got to deuce with a forehand winner and held when Goldstein hit two forehands into the net. Then Blake got the break and put himself in position to win.

"I was going to put it [the outcome] on my racket, and I did that," he said.

Spadea, who said he's still trying to maximize his potential, called the 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3 victory over Tursunov "a great mental match for me." Spadea advanced to the quarterfinals of a tournament for the seventh time this year, though he has reached the semis just once.

"I've been working on my game a lot," said Spadea, who's No. 62 in the rankings now after being as high as No. 18 in February 2005. "Sometimes you forget to just hang in there and compete hard. So that was a great win for me."

After losing the first set, Spadea trailed 5-3 in the second after having his service broken for the second time. He won the next four games and the set, losing only four points in the process. Then he got a service break in the fifth game of the third set to take a 3-2 lead and closed it out with a break in the ninth game thanks to a pair of double faults by Tursunov.

"I didn't do anything really that different," said Spadea, a quarterfinalist at this event in 2003. "I stayed at the level I was playing. He was playing a little better, then he started playing slightly worse and that was that.

"I went for a few more shots. When you're down you tend to loosen up and play the way you should be playing all the time, really."

For a long time last year, Stepanek didn't know if he'd be able to compete again because of a dislocated disc in his neck that caused him to lose all touch and feel and power in his right hand.

"It was like the hand was not mine; I was like paralyzed," he said. "Even now I know the hand is not 100 percent, but I'm not complaining about it. I know the situation and I'm trying to do as much as I can. You have to stay patient."

Stepanek, who has overcome the injury with rest and exercises after rejecting the idea of surgery, will play Fleishman in the quarterfinals.

Fleishman said the win over Kendrick "proved this is an official level I can play at, instead of [having] just one good outing. It's the first time I've ever reached the quarters of a tour event and I hope to take it farther."

After earning a wild card into the tournament by winning a qualifying event, Fleishman is playing at his former college, before friends and family.

"I think that really helped me," he said. "When I get a little tired or a little negative on myself, I hear a few cheers from the crowd and i think it gives me that little bit of energy I need."