American James Blake is hoping his victory in the Sydney International final will boost his chances in the Australian Open, which starts this week, and replicate his performance at last year's U.S. Open.
The eighth-seed Blake earned his fourth career ATP title, fighting back in a final set tiebreaker to defeat Russian Igor Andreev 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3) yesterday.
Blake won last year's New Haven tournament in the lead-up to the US Open where he reached the quarterfinals, losing to eventual finalist Andre Agassi in a fifth-set tiebreak after holding a two-set lead.
Blake is riding high on confidence heading into the year's first grand slam.
Seeded 20th for the Australian Open, Blake plays Jose Acasuso of Argentina in the first round.
"I'm just looking forward to playing with a lot of confidence," he said. "This was perfect today, playing in the heat and getting ready for three out of five sets."
It was a test of fitness with Blake and Andreev playing for 107 minutes in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius at the Sydney Olympic tennis stadium. "It might be hot here, but it's snowing back in Connecticut, so I don't mind," Blake said jogging up the red carpet to lift his trophy.
It was also a symbolic triumph for 26-year-old Blake, who became only the second African-American man to win the Sydney International, one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the world, dating back to 1885. American tennis great Arthur Ashe won here in 1970.
"I'm definitely flattered and humbled any time I can put my name in the same sentence as Arthur Ashe," Blake said.
Andreev served for the match at 5-4 but was broken and then taken to a tiebreaker. Blake led 4-2 and then worked to three match points before an Andreev backhand was forced wide.
Blake, ranked 23 in the world, became the 11th American winner of the Sydney event and the first since Todd Martin defeated Spain's Alex Corretja in 1999.
Jarkko Nieminen of Finland broke a six-year title drought and entered the record books as the first Finn to win an ATP title when he beat Croatia's Mario Ancic 6-2, 6-2 yesterday to win the US$430,000 Heineken Open. The seventh-seeded Nieminen was appearing in his fifth final after joining the ATP Tour in 2000.
"It's a thrill not only for me but because it's the first win in a tournament for my country," Nieminen said.
Roddick wins Kooyong
Andy Roddick fended off four sets points in the second set and held off a determined Tommy Haas 6-3, 7-6 (6) to win yesterday's final at the Kooyong exhibition tournament.
Roddick is seeded No. 2 for the Australian Open and is scheduled to start his campaign against Swiss qualifier Michael Lammer today.