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DAVIS CUP TENNIS Blake helps U.S. to 1-1 tie



Published: Mon, February 10, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He's the lone veteran on the team and defeated Mario Ancic of Croatia in the opening round of the event.

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- James Blake did just what he was supposed to do as the lone veteran on the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Blake beat Mario Ancic 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (5) Friday to lift the United States into a 1-1 tie with Croatia in the first round.

Ivan Ljubicic had given Croatia the early lead in the best-of-five series by serving 30 aces to defeat Mardy Fish 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 on the quick indoor court.

With Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi skipping Davis Cup and Andy Roddick out with a wrist injury, the 23-year-old Blake is the only experienced member of the American squad.

And his first Davis Cup match came just 15 months ago.

Still, with an 8-1 career record in the competition (5-1 in singles), Blake had a mental edge against the 18-year-old Ancic.

"In my first Davis Cup, my stomach was churning," Blake said.

"I probably know a little bit what was going through Ancic's mind and I wanted to capitalize. Once I got my confidence I got energized and played about as well as I could there for a while in the second set."

Haven't won since 1995

The Americans have won the Davis Cup a record 31 times, but their last title came in 1995. They can take a 2-1 lead today by winning the doubles, in which Blake and Fish will take on 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic and Ljubicic.

Ivanisevic, who had left shoulder surgery in May, isn't sure how much pain he'll be in.

Ljubicic's string of brilliant serves demoralized Fish, who was making his Davis Cup singles debut. The Croatian ended the match with an ace.

"I've never played anybody with a serve like that," said Fish, who had 11 aces. His only previous Davis Cup match was in doubles.

"I had no answer for his serve, and that doesn't happen very often, because one of the best parts of my game is my return," Fish added.

Ljubicic improved his Davis Cup record to 15-10. He overcame 16 double faults, including two in the final game.

"My strategy is pretty much to go for it on the serve and not have to play," Ljubicic said.

Roddick out with injury

The U.S. team is without its highest-ranked player, Andy Roddick, who has tendinitis in his right wrist. At 23, Blake is the oldest member of the American squad; he's also the only member who had played a Davis Cup singles match before Friday.

"Fortunately for us, it's Mardy Fish," Ljubicic said. "It's not Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras or Roddick or [Jan-Michael] Gambill. With this team, it's easier for us."

In other Davis Cup action Friday, defending champion Russia -- without 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin -- split 1-1 with the Czech Republic. France, last year's runner-up, beat Romania 2-0.

Also, Australia took a 2-0 lead over Britain, Spain leads Belgium 2-0, Argentina is 2-0 up against Germany 2-0, Brazil and Sweden are tied 1-1, and Switzerland and the Netherlands are even at 1-1.




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