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Blake struggles, but advances to Countrywide final vs. Stepanek

LOS ANGELES -- James Blake advanced to the final of the ATP
Countrywide Classic, struggling to get past South Korea's
Hyung-Taik Lee in three sets Saturday.

"Almost never on tour does a match go according to plan,"
Blake said after his 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory at the UCLA Tennis
Center. "You get a little frustrated. But at 27 I'm better at not
letting a little frustration turn into a big frustration."

Blake reached the finals for the 18th time in his career. He's
already won two titles this season and is 9-8 lifetime in finals
appearances.

Blake will face unseeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic,
who advanced when wild-card Nicolas Kiefer of Germany withdrew due
to a sore knee.

Kiefer, who'd advanced to the semis with a straight-set victory
over Michael Berrer on Friday, took a microphone at center court
and addressed the crowd.

"I don't like to have to stand here and say I'm injured," he
said. "Most of the time I'm saying thank you for the trophy or the
check."

Kiefer, once ranked No. 4, injured a wrist at last year's French
Open and had surgeries in July and October. He returned to
tournament play only last month.

Stepanek injured his back last summer after Wimbledon and sat
out the rest of the year. After failing to reach the quarters in
his first 14 events this year, he reached the semifinals for the
second straight tournament.

Lee, who beat Marat Safin to reach the semis, didn't hit a serve
harder than 125 mph all week.

"I know his strengths and weaknesses," the 31-year-old Lee
said before the match, and he confounded Blake with his grit and
his backhand, down the line returns of serve.

"That's his favorite shot," Blake said. Blake had beaten Lee
in their only previous encounter, 6-3, 6-2, at San Jose four years
ago.

Lee, serving the third game and trailing Blake 0-40, avoided a
break when he made a spectacular return of Blake's drop shot and
flicked a winner. He won the next four points as well to salvage
the game, and then broke Blake at love to lead 3-1. But then Blake
cranked up his game and ran out the set.

Lee gathered himself quickly, however, opening the second set
with its one and only break. Blake had triple break point to square
it 3-3, but again couldn't seal it.

Blake said he wasn't reluctant to attempt such a shot in a
semifinal "...when I'm playing confident on my favorite surface
[hardcourt]."

At 3-3 in the third, Blake held serve with a second-serve ace
down the middle. He then broke for 5-3, putting a shot at Lee's
feet as Lee dashed to the net.