LOS ANGELES (TICKER)
-- James Blake is within a win of capturing another title.
The top-seeded American reached the final of the $525,000 Countrywide Classic on Saturday with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph over seventh-seeded Hyung-Taik Lee of Korea.
Ranked ninth in the world, Blake is seeking his second title of the year and 10th career. His other title this year came in January at Sydney, Australia.
It's a good feeling, and hopefully the start of good things in the summer," Blake said. "Last year, I made the final and played a great match against Andy (Roddick) in Indianapolis, and then didn't have such a great summer up until the U.S. Open.
"This year I'd love to continue to have a good summer and play a little better in those Masters Series. ... This year, I think I've got a chance to do even better. I feel even more prepared and I'm excited about being in another final."
Blake will face Czech Radek Stepanek in Sunday's final.
Stepanek earned a walkover when unseeded German Nicolas Kiefer, a finalist here in 2004, withdrew with a knee injury.
Blake outlasted Lee in extremely hot conditions by firing 10 aces in the match that took just under two hours to complete.
After an erratic second set, Blake bounced back in the third, breaking Lee's serve in the ninth game to take control of the match.
Lee, who was in his first semifinal of the year, was coming off Friday's win over No. 3 Marat Safin.
Stepanek has yet to drop a set in the tournament. He has seen his ranking plummet from a high of No. 8 in July 2006 to its current 101.
That has been due to a back injury that sidelined him for the last third of 2006. Stepanek, though, showed signs of his previous form by making the semifinals at Gstaad last week.
First prize at this hardcourt tournament is $73,000.