STOCKHOLM, Oct 12 (Reuters) Twice champion James Blake and sixth seed Jarkko Nieminen both cruised into the Stockholm Open quarter-finals setting up a re-match of last year's final.
World number seven Blake, chasing his 11th title and one of the eight places in the season-ending Masters Cup, hardly put a foot wrong as he beat Canadian Frank Dancevic 6-3 6-2 yesterday.
Nieminen made even shorter work of Australian Peter Luczak, winning 6-0 6-4. He is up against tougher opposition now however, as he has yet to beat American Blake, the winner of all four of their previous meetings.
In Stockholm last year, Blake trounced the Finn and Thursday's display showed their quarter-final meeting will be just as hard.
''Nieminen is a tough player and has the ability to beat anyone in the world,'' said Blake.
''When I beat him here last year, that was probably my best match against him. Hopefully that can happen again.
''(But) In tennis, any talk of favourites and underdogs, except if it's about Roger Federer, anyone can beat anyone on a given day.
I feel that going into just about every match, it's 50-50.'' The American punished Dancevic's occasionally weak serving almost every time, taking command of the rallies whenever the serve and volleying Canadian chose to stay at the baseline after a second serve.
He broke Dancevic to reach 5-3 in the first set and then served out the set to love. In the next set, he broke Dancevic to 2-1 and then again for 5-2 with some deft returning and a superb lob. He had no problems serving out the match.
IMPRESSIVE NIEMINEN After wrapping up the first set in just 18 minutes, Nieminen broke Luczak in the opening game of the second set and then held serve to make it eight games in a row.
Luczak finally managed to hold serve after that but could never challenge Nieminen's all-round superiority.
''It's not the easiest of draws. He's the big favourite here,'' Nieminen said of his match with Blake.
''I've never beaten him, but I should have won against him in Bangkok two weeks before Stockholm last year.
''I was serving really well then, which you have to do against him. If you're only making second serves, it's tough against Blake because he plays so aggressively. I have to play aggressively against him.'' Earlier, Croatia's former world number seven Mario Ancic easily disposed of Sweden's Bjorn Rehnquist 6-1 6-3 to book his place in the last eight.
Giant server Ivo Karlovic joined him there with the retirement of Swede Joachim Johansson due to illness, while France's Arnaud Clement reached the quarter-finals with a tough three-set win over Swedish wildcard Michael Ryderstedt.
Thomas Johansson, another two-time champion of the tournament, went through with a straight sets win over Frenchman Michael Llodra.
REUTERS BJR RAI1038