Blake overcomes tough Bjorkman challenge

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STOCKHOLM, Oct 10 (Reuters) Twice champion James Blake fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Jonas Bjorkman 6-7 7-5 6-3 in the Stockholm Open first round.

A fine forehand pass down the line on the first match point handed the American world number seven the win against the 35-year-old Swedish doubles specialist, who won the singles title here a decade ago.

''That sure was a difficult match,'' said Blake. ''I felt we both had tons of chances in the first set...I made sure not to hang my head at all.'' A fired-up Bjorkman took the first set 7-3 in the tiebreak, having punished some poor serving by Blake yesterday.

Playing superb tennis reminiscent of the style that took him to fourth in the world rankings in 1997, Bjorkman broke Blake to 4-2 in the second set but then allowed the American back into the match by failing to hold his own.

Leading 5-4, Bjorkman came to within two points of winning when Blake double-faulted twice to 30-30 but the American managed to hold his serve with some fine baseline play.

Blake broke Bjorkman in the next game with a cross-court forehand and then held serve to 7-5 to take the match into a decider.

In the final set, he broke Bjorkman again with a well placed forehand return to 4-3 and again to 6-3 to seal the match.

''I expect more tough matches, I know a third title won't be handed to me. I'm going to have to play my best this week,'' added Blake, who improved his Stockholm Open record to 11-0.

''It was obviously close, a few balls decided it,'' said Bjorkman, who is showing no signs of retiring yet.

''I am disappointed now but there's a lot of positives to be taken from the loss. I am still playing good tennis and I came close to beating a guy who is fighting for a place in the Masters Cup.'' ''I will play both singles and doubles next year. I am still too good in singles to quit.'' Earlier, Tommy Haas beat Olivier Rochus 6-4 6-1, his third win in as many meetings with the Belgian.

The German former world number two and fourth seed broke Rochus once in the first set and twice in the second to set up a second round meeting with Spaniard Albert Montanes.

Reuters TB VP0445

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