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Top Seeds Blake, Fish Stumble In Openers

Houston, U.S.A.

Guillermo Canas© Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCCGuillermo Canas

Americans James Blake and Mardy Fish, the top two seeds this week at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship, suffered first-round upsets Tuesday at the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament in Houston.

It marked the first time since 2000 that the top two seeds failed to reach the second round at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship. In that year, top seed Andrew Ilie fell to Antony Dupuis while second seed Jan-Michael Gambill was taken out by qualifier Ramon Delgado.

German Bjorn Phau posted the first big upset of the tournament by ousting 2006 champion and No. 2 seed Fish 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 Tuesday afternoon. The 77th-ranked Phau converted on two of his four break point chances in the decisive set, while dropping just four points on serve, to upend his opponent in two hours.

Fish has gone winless since clinching his third ATP World Tour title in February at Delray Beach (d. Korolev), bowing out in his opening match in his three main draw appearances this past month. The Delray Beach triumph had ended a three-year title drought for Fish, dating back to his Houston win (d. Melzer).

Argentine Guillermo Canas followed in the evening session with a 6-4, 6-4 win over 2008 finalist Blake. He capitalised on four of five break points opportunities to earn his first win in three meetings against the top-seeded American.

Blake made a solid start to the 2009 tennis season, reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open and semi-finals at San Jose, but has failed to win consecutive matches since. In his last two outings, he fell in the third round at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.

Former champion and wild card recipient Tommy Haas comfortably advanced to the second round at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship with a 6-3, 6-3 win over fellow German Denis Gremelmayr. Haas, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday, won the Houston title in 2004 after defeating Andy Roddick in a straight-sets final. 

The German will next come up against defending champion and No. 6 seed Marcel Granollers of Spain, who survived a first-round scare against Argentine Brian Dabul 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. The 22-year-old Granollers defeated top seed Blake in the 2008 final to clinch his first title on the ATP World Tour.

Fourth-seeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy had no problems against American lucky loser Jesse Levine, cruising to the 6-3, 6-0 victory in 61 minutes. Former ATP World Tour Champion Lleyton Hewitt also enjoyed a quick day’s work, taking 65 minutes to dismiss Argentine No. 7 seed Diego Junqueira 6-0, 6-2.

In a meeting between two qualifiers, American Scoville Jenkins won his first tour-level match since 2007 at Newport when he recovered from a first-set bagel to defeat German Alexander Peya 0-6, 6-4, 6-3. He became the seventh player in the Open Era history of the US Men’s Clay Court Championship to lose the opening set 6-0 and then come back to win the match. The last player to do so was Luis Horna in the second round of the 2004 event when he defeated qualifier Stephan Robert 0-6, 6-1, 6-3.

A pair of American wild cards also rallied to reach the second round. John Isner defeated countryman Michael Russell 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, while Taylor Dent posted his third career match win on clay (3-9) by defeating Brazilian Marcos Daniel 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Dent’s other two wins on the surface came in 2004 at Monte-Carlo and Munich.

In other matches Tuesday, Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez recovered from a slow start to defeat Ecuadorian qualifier Giovanni Lapentti 1-6, 6-0, 6-2 and Chilean Paul Capdeville beat American lucky loser Amer Delic 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-1. Delic had stepped in as a replacement for fifth-seeded compatriot Sam Querrey, who withdrew with a left hamstring injury.

Only three seeded players – No. 3 Jurgen Melzer, Chardy and Granollers – remain in the draw, marking the fewest seeds to reach the second round since the US Men’s Clay Court Championship draw size was reduced to 32 in 1988. 

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