Blake staves off Rochus to move on

Associated Press / September 4, 2009

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NEW YORK - James Blake took his act into prime time. He’ll also be taking it to the third round.

Blake staved off three straight set points in a third-set tiebreaker to overcome Olivier Rochus of Belgium last night, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.

The match, scheduled for late afternoon at Flushing Meadows, started late and continued past sunset, pushing back night matches involving Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick by nearly two hours.

With stadium workers removing trash from the upper deck at Arthur Ashe Stadium to get ready for the night session, Blake fell behind, 6-3, in the third-set tiebreaker. But he answered with five straight points to pull it out - jumping for joy and shouting out when he hit a down-the-line winner to seal the set.

“I had some nail-biting moments there in the tiebreaker in the third set,’’ Blake said. “Could have gone either way. To get through that and feel good, get the emotions and feel the crowd getting into it - everything about it was really good.’’

He broke Rochus’s serve in the sixth game of the fourth set and served out the match from there.

Blake has advanced to at least the third round of the US Open in his last seven appearances - he missed 2004 after breaking his neck in a freak accident when he ran into a net post - but has yet to get past the quarterfinals of any major.

His next match is against 14th-seeded Tommy Robredo.

Andy Roddick powered into the third round, one of five American men who won. The 2003 champion at Flushing Meadows pounded 13 aces, didn’t face a break point until the final game and easily eliminated 81st-ranked Marc Gicquel of France, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

The fifth-seeded Roddick will take on 55th-ranked John Isner in an all-American matchup. The 6-foot-9-inch Isner beat Marsel Ilhan of Turkey, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

No seeded men lost, when the winners included 2007 runner-up Novak Djokovic, 276th-ranked Jesse Witten, and No. 22 Sam Querrey. French Open runner-up Robin Soderling advanced when his opponent, Marcel Granollers, quit during the third game with a back injury.

On the women’s side, Sharapova moved on to the third round with a win over Christina McHale.

The 29th-seeded Russian won 16 of 18 points during one stretch on the way to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over the 17-year-old from Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The 381st-ranked McHale was a wild-card entry who didn’t really challenge Sharapova, who has lost a total of six games in two matches.

Her next match is against another 17-year-old American, Melanie Oudin, an upset winner over Elena Dementieva earlier in the day.

Sharapova, winner of three majors including the 2006 US Open, missed the trip to Flushing Meadows last year because of a shoulder injury. She returned to playing singles in May, but has yet to win a title this year.

Looking ahead to Oudin, Sharapova said: “I definitely have to go out there and expect her to play some of her best tennis.’’

Jelena Jankovic made another early departure from a Grand Slam event, losing to 55th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6).

The losses by Dementieva and Jankovic mean half of the top 20 seeded women are out of the draw. No. 23 Sabine Lisicki also is gone, having left in tears as she was taken away in a wheelchair after injuring her ankle at the end of a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 defeat against Anastasia Rodionova.

No. 1 Dinara Safina nearly joined the parade of surprising exits, turning in her second poor performance of the week before hanging on to edge 67th-ranked Kristina Barrois of Germany, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3.