Stepanek surprises Blake in Finals while injuries take over at Countrywide Classic in LA (July 2007)

The Countrywide Classic ($525,000 tournament) had its share of with-drawls, injuries and upsets. In the end Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic was a surprise winner over favorite James Blake. Stepanek whose fiancé is Martina Hinges has come back from a dislocated disk in his neck.  He was out for over 6 months and lost feeling in his right hand.  As recently as the week before, Stepanek felt pain in a tournament in Switzerland.   He raised his ranking to #8 in the world before the injury and is very underrated.

Against Blake, he played very smart, used many drop shots and had an effective serve.  He ran shots down, kept composed and forced Blake into many unforced errors. The first set was very close and Stepanek saved three set points to win 7-6 in a tiebreaker.  Blake came back and won the second set 7-5 before Stepanek dominated the 3rd 6-2 to win his first tournament of the year. Stepanek was very pumped up during the finals and very emotional after falling to the ground after winning on match point. Not to take anything away from Stepanek as he played very well, but his draw was as good as it could get.  He beat Alex Bogdanovic in the first round 6-1 and then Bogdanovic retired with an injury.  He then easily deposed of American Mardy Fish who had taken out local Sam Querrey in the first round.  From there, he overwhelmed Zack Fleishman in the quarterfinals before having his walkover vs. Nicolas Kiefer.

 

     The tournament had its shares of injuries and upsets including the with-drawls of Tommy Haas and Andy Murray before the tournament even started. Andy Roddick who played last year and got injured didn’t enter and wanted to rest his body.  Haas was still recovering from an abdominal injury at Wimbledon when he had to retire with his match vs. Federer.  Murray is still recovering from a wrist injury and he didn’t play at Wimbledon.  His status is uncertain at this time for a return.   #1 seed Fernando Gonzales lost in the first round to local-boy Fleishman from UCLA in an exciting night match on July 17th.  Fleishman admitted that was his biggest win of his career with his family and friends rooting him on.  Gonzo didn’t seem to be himself and looked mentally and physically out of it.   #4 seed David Nalbandian also went out in the first round to Russian Igor Kunitsyn in 2 straight sets.  Wildcard Kiefer returned from an injury of his own to take out Kunitsyn and advance to the semi finals but had to withdraw before his match vs. Stepanek as his knee acted up out of nowhere.  Blake struggled a bit to get to the finals.  He first knocked out up and coming Austrian Alexander Peya 7-5, 6-4 before narrowly defeating close friend Paul Goldstein in the match of the tournament.  He won the first set 6-3 before Goldstein poured it on to take the second 7-4.  The third set was back and fourth and Blake faced a match point against him but saved that and went on to win 6-4 in the third.  He then deposed of countryman Vince Spadea 7-6, 6-4.  Spadea was coming off an emotional victory the day before vs. #5 seed Dimitry Tursunov on his 33rd birthday.  Blake continued his success to the finals beating #7 seed Hyung-Taik Lee of Korea 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

     I talked to Blake after his matches leading up to the finals in the interview room.  He admitted to having a tough season so far after starting out very well.  Against Goldstein, he told me he played well and it was a great match he had to grind out.  He said he let down in the second set and the third could have gone either way.  He was fortunate and both he and Goldstein were surprised that Blake got a good look at a forehand on the match point he saved.  Goldstein had him where he wanted and regretted not hitting to Blake’s backhand on match point.  They both mentioned they had so much respect for one another and Goldstein showed a lot of class waiting for Blake to finish his interview before walking off the court together.  In this day and age except for Wimbledon where both players walk on and off together, most losing players grab their bag and racquets and leave immediately following a loss.  Blake likened this match to the one vs. Agassi at the US Open two years ago where the atmosphere was great and the crowd was rooting for both players.  Against Lee, the 7th game of the 3rd set when the score was tied 3 games all was huge.  There were many deuces and Blake was having a difficult time closing out the game.  He finally went for it and served a second serve ace to take that game.  Lee showed a lot of speed and guts and just fell short.  Lee upset  #3 seed Marat Safin in the quarterfinals to set up this match.  Blake’s confidence seemed to be rising until he couldn’t overcome Stepanek in the finals.  I asked James after the match how he thought the finals would look.  That was before Kiefer dropped out but he said either opponent would be tough as they have both been top 10 players in the past and are both coming back from injuries.  They are dangerous floaters as he put it and very hungry for a title. That became apparent the next day when Blake ran out of gas and shots.  Blake was very humble as he usually is congratulating Stepanek on a great victory.  He talked about how he could empathize with the winner’s injury wows lately and good to see his comeback.  As you well know, Blake had to come back from a few tragic moments in 2004 including a horrible neck injury, the loss of his father to stomach cancer and terrible form of shingles that temporarily paralyzed one side of his face and nearly ended his career.   He persevered and not only came back, but also jumped into the Top 5 last year and competed in the year-end Tennis Masters Series in Shanghai.  He showed incredible determination and received tons of support.  He wrote a book called “Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life” which made the New York Times best seller list in its first week at #22.  For more about his story and the book, please go to www.jamesblaketennis.com 

On the doubles side, The Bryan Brothers won their title at UCLA and 40th career ATP Tour Championship defeating Scott Lipsky and David Martin 7-6, 6-2.

This tournament is the first for the US Open tour and a great way to get some points going into the summer season leading up to the US Open

More information on this tournament or for tickets to next year, go to www.countrywideclassic.com 

Photo gallery of the tournament by Kelly Doherty

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Preview and information for the 2007 Countrywide Classic Tournament in LA (July 16-22, 07)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                Jan. 26, 2007

AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINALIST GONZALEZ, SEMIFINALIST HAAS   

COMMIT TO 81st COUNTRYWIDE CLASSIC,

JULY 16-22, AT UCLA

 

Haas won his second L.A. title in three years last summer

 

LOS ANGELES – Australian Open finalist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile and semifinalist Tommy Haas of Germany have committed to the 81st Countrywide Classic, July 16-22, at the Los Angeles Tennis Center-UCLA.

 

Gonzalez advanced to Sunday’s Australian Open final against No. 1 ranked Roger Federer with a straight sets victory over Haas in Friday‘s semifinals. If Gonzalez wins in his first Grand Slam final, he will be ranked No. 3 in the world and if he loses he will be No. 5, either way a career high. Gonzalez defeated Lleyton Hewitt, James Blake, Rafael Nadal and Haas en route to the finals.

 

A semifinalist last year in his first appearance in the Countrywide Classic, Gonzalez defeated Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals. Gonzalez achieved a No. 7 ranking in October 2006, the first Chilean to finish in the top 10 since Marcelo Rios in 1999. He is one of only five Chileans to rank in the top 20 and only he, Rios and Nicolas Massu have been ranked in the top 10. He owns seven ATP career singles titles. He enjoyed his finest season in 2005, when he won three titles on three different surfaces. He reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open in 2002, at Roland Garros in 2003 and at Wimbledon in 2005. He teamed with Massu to win the doubles gold medal for Chile at the 2004 Olympics in Athens .

 

Haas, a native of Hamburg who resides in Bradenton , Fla. , won his second title in three years at the 2006 Countrywide Classic. It was his 10th singles title in 19 ATP career finals. He won three titles last year, also winning at Memphis and Delray Beach . He won four titles in 2001, at Adelaide , Long Island, Vienna and Stuttgart . His first title came at Memphis in 1999. He was also an Australian Open semifinalist in 1999 and 2002 and he reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 2004 and 2006. Haas was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world in May 2002. He was the silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 1997, he was the youngest player at age 19 to finish in the Top 50. He has two titles and a quarterfinals showing in five appearances in Los Angeles .

 

The Countrywide Classic features a 32-player singles draw and a 16-team doubles competition. The landmark Southern California ATP tournament is the longest running annual professional sporting event in Los Angeles , and offers total player compensation in excess of $1 million.

 

For the fourth consecutive year, the Countrywide Classic will be a part of the U.S. Open Series, the eight-week summer tennis season linking 10 major ATP and WTA Tour tournaments to the U.S. Open. Television viewership for the 2006 U.S. Open Series was a record 42 million.

 

With 63 tournaments in 30 countries, the ATP showcases the finest athletes competing in the world’s most exciting venues. From Australia to Europe and the Americas to Asia , the stars of the ATP Rankings and the top tandems in the Stanford ATP Doubles Race contend for prestigious titles at ATP Masters Series and other ATP tournaments. The season’s top eight singles players and doubles teams earn coveted berths at the elite Tennis Masters Cup, the circuit-ending championship held in China . For more information, please visit www.ATPtennis.com

 

One of the highlights each year at the Countrywide Classic is the Monday night charity gala “Gibson Baldwin Night at the Net.” In 2006, the event featured Agassi, the champion doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan and tennis great Pam Shriver (joining in as chair umpire). Celebrity participants included actor/comedian Jon Lovitz, Entourage star Jeremy Piven and Jack and Stench from “the Jamie, Jack and Stench Show” on STAR 98.7 FM as ball boys for the event. The evening’s musical performer was GRAMMY® Award winner Brian McKnight, and Verve Recording artist Mindi Abair sang the National Anthem.

 

Previous winners of the Countrywide Classic, whose history dates to 1927, include Agassi, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Stich, Boris Becker, Richard Krajicek, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzalez, Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs, Don Budge, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry and Bill Tilden. Agassi became a four-time winner of the event last year.

 

Proceeds from the Countrywide Classic, held in conjunction with UCLA, benefit the grassroots programs of the non-profit Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA) and UCLA. The SCTA offers programs, leagues, and tournaments involving 300,000 juniors and 50,000 adults and seniors. Inquiries regarding tickets and information may be directed to the Countrywide Classic tournament office on the UCLA campus. For information, please call 310-824-1010 or visit www.countrywideclassic.com.

 

About Countrywide Financial Corporation

Countrywide Financial Corporation is in its fifth year as the presenting sponsor of the tournament. Founded in 1969, Countrywide is America’s #1 home loan lender as ranked for 2006 by “MortgageDaily.com” (Jan. 22, 2007) – and is a member of the S&P 500 and Fortune 500. Countrywide, through its subsidiaries, provides mortgage banking and diversified financial services in domestic and international markets. Mortgage banking businesses include loan production and servicing principally through Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., which originates, purchases, securitizes, sells, and services residential loans. The company is headquartered in Calabasas , California and has a workforce of more than 54,000 individuals and over 900 offices worldwide. For more information about the company, visit Countrywide’s Web site at www.countrywide.com.

 

Contact:   Toby Zwikel, Brener Zwikel & Associates, Inc., 818/344-6195, ext. 104

                  Rick Simon, Countrywide, 800…

                  Bob Kramer, Countrywide Classic, 310/824-1010, ext. 230