New Haven: August 21 - 26

June 27, 2006 05:08 PM
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ James Blake beat Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 on Sunday, completing an improbable run from unseeded challenger to champion of the Pilot Pen tournament in front of a hometown crowd.

Blake, who was raised in nearby Fairfield, was the biggest draw of the tournament and said the raucous crowds gave him confidence as he upset higher ranked opponents every day.

He came out sluggish in the first set, however, and Lopez capitalized, playing to Blake's backhand and winning 11 of the set's final 12 points.

After a rain delay of nearly an hour, Blake battled back, winning a close second set and using a powerful forehand to dominate the third.

The Pilot Pen is only the second singles title for Blake, who has been on the comeback trail since slipping and breaking his neck last summer in Rome.

After that injury, he contracted Zoster, an illness that affected his sight and hearing and temporarily paralyzed part of his face. His father died of cancer that summer.

But Blake said he's put that all behind him. He played well in Washington D.C. this month, losing in the finals o Andy Roddick.

After falling out of the top 200 in the rankings this spring, Blake entered this tournament No. 67 in the world.

New Haven provided the perfect setting for Blake's first victory in three years. He slept in his own bed, ate meals with family and friends and enjoyed ovations every time he stepped on court.

More than 6,100 people turned out for Sunday's final, despite the rain.