BLAKE BLITZES LJUBICIC
American just too good for the Croatian
Trophy time at the Thailand Open. From left, doubles winners Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, Ivan Ljubicic and James Blake.
[TENNIS ] Red-hot American James Blake snapped his losing streak against Croatian world No 3 Ivan Ljubicic yesterday to win the US$550,000 Thailand Open yesterday in emphatic style at the Impact Arena.
Throughout the 56-minute final the world No 9 took full charge of the match with his fierce forehand and backhand subduing the off-form Ljubicic 6-3 6-1. It was Blake's first victory over Ljubicic in their fifth match.
Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich of Israel, who won the doubles title in 2003 and were runners-up last year, beat the Murray brothers, Andy and Jamie, 6-2 2-6 10-4 in the doubles final. Andy Murray lost last year's singles final to Roger Federer.
The Thailand Open was Blake's fourth title this year, having won in Sydney in January, Las Vegas in March and Indianapolis in July. He is now third behind Roger Federer, who has won eight titles, and Raphael Nadal with five in 2006.
"I played great since the beginning. His serves were a little off. I put more and more pressure on him. It's a combination of me playing well and him not playing the best the whole match," said Blake, who earned a cheque of $76,500.
Ironically, the American has fallen in love with Thailand, but was at first reluctant to come because of the military coup.
"A doctor who was giving me treatment at the Davis Cup told me to turn on CNN," he said. "At that point I thought I was not going to be there. But it turned out to be extremely peaceful.
"Here I am a week later, pretty happy with the decision," added the world No 9, who said he was impressed to people smiling wherever he went.
Ljubicic wore a yellow shirt on court yesterday for the first time after being asked to by the organisers. In his previous four matches he wore an orange outfit.
"I did that because it's the Thai people's favourite's colour. It's the King's colour. Blake was just too good and put a lot of pressure on me.
"I wanted to fight but I was never there from the first point," said Ljubicic, a semi-finalist in Bangkok in 2003 when he had to buy his own shirts because of a lack of sponsorship.
Despite his one-sided defeat to an opponent he had the edge over in the past, the Croatian was still positive after the match.
"This is my first final since Miami. It's a good start," added the towering Croatian, who has won nine of his latest 13 ATP matches. He took home $45,000 as the runner-up.
Blake and Ljubicic now have a better shot at making it into the year-end Masters Cup, which is contested by the top eight players in the ATP Champions Race. Ljubicic will climb to third and Blake to sixth.
With 6,000 fans cheering them on, the American benefited from a sluggish start by his opponent and managed a double break to take a huge 5-0 lead after only 17 minutes. The Croatian, who normally relies on his rocket serves, struggled to keep the ball in play and was well below his best.
Ljubicic finally settled down and wrong-footed his opponent with a big forehand before unleashing a 196km/h rocket to hold serve for the first time at 1-5.
Ljubicic narrowed the gap to 3-5, but that was the closet the American let him get. Blake used his huge forehand to get to set point at 40-15 and then forced an error from the Croatian's backhand to win the first set 6-3.
As Blake found his range on his forehand and backhand, Ljubicic had no answers and struggled just to keep the ball in play. He netted a forehand to drop serve in the first game and the fifth game of the second set and trailed 5-1.
Blake had match point after Ljubicic missed a volley and won the match after a double fault from his opponent.
The organisers of this year's Thailand Open yesterday confirmed the tournament will go ahead as planned next year, but said ticket sales had dropped significantly during week days this year because two-time defending champion Roger Federer did not play and also the political situation.