French player ends Americans’ bid; Blake continues quest

NEWPORT, Rhode Island, AP

Seventh-seeded Michael Llodra spoiled the Americans’ fun, and James Blake continued his quest Friday to become the first No. 1 seed to win the Hall of Fame Championships.

Llodra defeated Mardy Fish, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, ending the Americans’ bid to put four players from the same country in an ATP Tour semifinal for the first time since four Spaniards qualified at the Croatia Open in 1997.

In the day’s other match, Blake beat fellow American Justin Gimelstob, 7-5, 7-5. Blake is looking to become the first top seed to capture the title in the tournament’s 26 years.

France’s Llodra broke Fish without losing a point in the first game of the match to take control. In the second set, Fish fought off three break points in the first game. He then broke in the second and fourth games, prompting Llodra to turn his thoughts to the third set.

“After that I stayed positive and rested in the second set,” said Llodra, who made his first career semifinal. “It was a good choice for me to relax and stay positive.”

Fish felt like he was in control, but never looked comfortable in the final set, double faulting to go down 0-4.

“I think I had a real good chance to do something in this tournament and let it slip away in the third set,” he said. “Coming into the tournament, there were some good guys, but I didn’t see anyone I couldn’t beat.”

In the other match, Blake, ranked 35th in the world and a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, advanced to his second straight semifinal at Newport. The first of his career was here last year.

“This is definitely where it started for me,” Blake said. “It’s a little different coming in as the top seed. But I needed to look at it the same way, that I could lose to anyone.”

Trailing 5-4 in the second, Blake held to tie the set. He then broke in the 11th game and followed with a pair of aces, including one to close the match.

“Although this match was close, it’s probably a match I would not have won last year or the year before,” Blake said.

The last time four Americans made it to a semifinal was 1995 at San Jose, Calif.

“I really wish it was four,” Blake said. “Three out of four ain’t bad.”

The Hall of Fame Championships is the only North American tournament played on grass, and is held in conjunction with induction ceremonies. This year’s class, Pam Shriver and Mats Wilander, were to be honored Saturday before the semifinal matches.