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James Blake

Fan favourite James Blake has been knocked out of the men’s qualifying singles competition at Australian Open 2013, the former world No. 4 ousted by fellow American Donald Young in straight sets on Friday.

In the most anticipated second round match-up in the draw, Young upset his higher-profile compatriot 7-5 6-4  in 82 minutes on Show Court 3.

The showdown between the two Americans drew a good crowd, with fans eager to catch a glimpse of Blake, a quarter-finalist at Australian Open 2008, and Young, who represented the USA at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Young is coming off a horror 2012 season, where he dropped from a career-high ranking of 38 in February to his current mark of 189. A 16-match losing streak between February and August was to blame for his spiral down the rankings.

Highlights on court for Blake were also few and far between in 2012. He spent part of the year sidelined with a knee injury, with his ranking tumbling out of the top 100 and forcing him into the Australian Open qualifying tournament for the first time in his career. Off-court, Blake had a much happier year, getting married and welcoming his first child.

Blake, the ninth seed in the qualifying draw, was aiming to play in his 10th Australian Open main draw and first since 2010. He had beaten Young in two of their three previous matches.

Playing in warm and windy conditions, Young got off to a good start, breaking his more experienced opponent in the opening game of the match and racing to a 2-0 advantage. After Blake broke back to level the score, the match went on serve until the 11th game, where Young broke Blake before serving out the set.

Blake had three break point opportunities on Young’s opening service game in the second set but failed to capitalise. Young’s confidence was rising, and he responded by breaking to love to take the early lead.

Blake’s inability to take advantage of his break point opportunities – he converted just 8 per cent of them for the match to Young’s 75 per cent – was the telling statistic. Unforced errors also hurt Blake as he made 35 for the match, 24 in the second set alone.

Blake saved a match point at 3-5 in the second set, but Young comfortably served it out in the next game, clinching victory with an ace on his second match point.

“I’m happy to get the win,” Young said.

“James is a top player; he has been top five in the world and the top American for a long time, so it was a big win for me.  I played a lot better than in the first round. If I had have played like that, I’d be out of the tournament. When you play better players, you have to step up.”

Young has now turned his attention to a final round showdown with Great Britain’s Jamie Baker tomorrow.

“Today was a great win but I still have work to do,” he said.

“I want to make the main draw and not just get to the last round of qualies.”

In other round two matches, French veteran Marc Gicquel was eliminated, losing to Ukrainian Denys Molchanov 6-4 3-6 6-3.

The 35-year-old Gicquel, who made the third round of Australian Open 2008, was the No. 20 seed in qualifying. Molchanov, 10 years his junior and playing in just his second career Grand Slam qualifying tournament, needed just under two hours to wrap up the match in sweltering heat on Court 13.

“It was a tough match for me. The conditions were different to the other day, it was windy and tough to play,” Molchanov said.

After losing in the final round of Australian Open 2012 qualifying, Molchanov is determined to go one step further when he plays his final round match on Saturday. He will meet either German 10th seed Matthias Bachinger or Spain’s Adrian Menendez-Maceiras.

“I hope this time will be better than last year,” Molchanov said.

American Tim Smyczek, the No. 11 seed, is also in the final round after a 3-6 6-4 6-1 win against Australian wildcard Matthew Barton in the opening match of the day on Show Court 3.

“He didn’t let me play well in the first two sets,” the American said of Barton.

“He came out blasting a lot of winners and aces. I just kept telling myself ‘if he keeps playing like this, then too good, but if not, I’ll scrap it out and try and give him an opportunity to slip up a little bit’. Deep in the second he made a couple of errors and I was able to capitalise, and I played much better in the third.”

Other winners on Friday included American No. 15 seed Rajeev Ram and Switzerland’s Marco Chiudinelli, the 25th seed.

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