- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

James Blake wants to show his success earlier this decade wasn’t a fluke, and he’s making a pretty good case for himself at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

Blake delivered another crisp performance in last night’s quarterfinals, ripping Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-3, 6-2 in 70 minutes.

Tonight’s match against 10th-seeded Tomas Berdych will be Blake’s first semifinal appearance since August 2003, when he reached the final at Long Island. In nearly two years since, he has battled injuries and fallen to 101st in the rankings entering this week.

“It’s similar to the first time I broke through,” said Blake, who won his only career title at the Legg Mason in 2002. “I’ve said for a while that’s the most fun I’ve had. The first time, you’re proving yourself, and this is the same thing. I’m proving myself all over again and trying to make sure people know that it wasn’t a fluke that I got up to where I got the first time.”

A day after ripping 16th-seeded Tomas Zib in 58 minutes, Blake had little trouble dissecting an opponent who had played three-setters on each of the previous three days.

Displaying a deep repertoire, Blake went up a break midway through the first set before capping it with a backhand down the right side. He turned to the backhand again on break point at 2-2 in the second, ripping one diagonally from the left side to win the game.

“That’s something that I’ve improved upon,” Blake said. “I never felt uncomfortable going backhand to backhand with Arnaud, who has one of the best backhands in the world. That’s a really good feeling, to have that kind of confidence. I can’t really explain where it came from, but it’s a good feeling.”

Blake, who won 25 of 27 first-serve points, capped his next service game with an ace, then went up another break when Clement double-faulted. He ripped a 133 mph ace in the final game and left the stadium court to raucous cheers.

Heating up

Unlike most players, 13th-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan finds this week’s steamy conditions conducive to his game.

“This time of the year is my best time of the year to start to play well because it’s hardcourt,” Paradorn said. “Summer in the U.S., the weather is like Thailand. I get pretty used to it because I live in Thailand in weather like this.”

Paradorn defeated Peru’s Luis Horna in the quarterfinals 6-4, 7-5, a match that began shortly after noon on a muggy day. It marks Paradorn’s first semifinal since a runner-up performance at a hardcourt event in Chennai, India, in early January.

The return of the hardcourt season also has helped Paradorn, who entered the week ranked 42nd. He has won four of his five career titles on hardcourts, and his five other appearances in finals — including the Legg Mason in 2002 — have come on the surface.

He plans on playing hardcourt tournaments the next three weeks in Montreal, Cincinnati and New Haven, Conn., to lead into the U.S. Open.

“I usually play all the tournaments before the Open,” Paradorn said. “The next two weeks are Masters Series [events], so if I do well it will be good to pick up some points. The goal for this year is to get back to the top 20.”

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