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Blake Earns Improbable Victory Near Hometown

From Times Wire Reports

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 New Haven, Conn., in front of a home-state crowd.

Blake, 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.

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After winning, he turned to the more than 6,100 people who turned out despite the rain.

“This is a dream come true,” he said. “I had a couple three-setters and maybe my legs would have gone, but you guys were my legs.”

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.

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

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

Soccer

Goalkeeper David James was the major absence when Sven-Goran Eriksson selected his 25-man England squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Liverpool’s Chris Kirkland -- on loan at West Bromwich -- replaced James, putting the Manchester City keeper’s international future in doubt.

James was dropped following errors in a 4-1 loss this month against Denmark in an international friendly.

Kieron Dyer, injured in Newcastle’s 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United on Sunday, also was not included. Defender John Terry was chosen for the team but is doubtful for the Wales game on Saturday. Striker Michael Owen was selected but is suspended for the Wales game.

The second game is Sept. 7 against Northern Ireland.

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Francesco Totti and goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi are returning to the Italian national team for World Cup qualifying matches against Scotland and Belarus.

Totti, the AS Roma captain who sat out Italy’s last four matches, was included in the list of 22 players named by Italy Coach Marcello Lippi.

Peruzzi will make up for the absence of Italy’s No. 1 goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, sidelined by a shoulder injury for three months.

Track and Field

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Bernard Lagat, who was born in Kenya and recently became an American citizen, posted the fastest time this year in the 1,500 meters, finishing in 3 minutes 29.30 seconds at the Rieti Grand Prix in Italy.

Aziz Zakari of Ghana won the 100 meters in a meet-record 9.99 seconds in a race missing Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin and world-record holder Asafa Powell.

Tyson Gay, fourth in the 200 at the worlds, finished second in 10.08, and Britain’s Jason Gardener was third in 10.09.

Dorcus Inzikuru, recently crowned Uganda’s first world champion, won the women’s 3,000 steeplechase in 9:16.46, the third-fastest mark all-time behind her 9:15.04 in Athens in June and Gulnara Samitova’s record of 9:01.59 set last year.

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Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain also clocked a season-best in the women’s 1,500 at 3:56.79.

Kenya’s Wilfred Bungei won the 800 in 1:43.70, also the fastest time this year, although slightly off his personal best of 1:42.34 in 2002 in Rieti.

Brad Walker was the only man to clear 19 feet 6 3/4 inches in the pole vault. He failed in three bids to clear 19-9 3/4 for an American record.

Jan Zelezny, the three-time Olympic and world champion from the Czech Republic, won the javelin with a throw of 268-11. He holds the world record of 323-1.

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Olympic and world heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft fell over a hurdle and injured her left thigh during the annual Sweden-Finland meet in Goteborg, Sweden.

Kluft, competing in her fifth event during the two-day meet, is expected to be sidelined for one month.

Hockey

An arbitrator ruled that Pittsburgh Penguin defenseman Dick Tarnstrom should make $1.6 million this season.

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The team has 48 hours to respond to the arbitrator’s award, announced Saturday. General Manager Craig Patrick won’t announce plans for Tarnstrom until today, the team said.

Tarnstrom’s agent, Mark Stowe, said the defenseman would prefer to work out a multiyear contract with the team. Tarnstrom was the Penguins’ leading scorer with 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 2003-04.

If the Penguins reject the arbitrator’s award, they won’t receive compensation if he signs with another team. The Penguins also could trade Tarnstrom while they control his rights. Tarnstrom will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, even if the Penguins accept the arbitrator’s award.

Cycling

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American George Hincapie capped the best season of his career with a victory in the ProTour’s Plouay Grand Prix in France.

Best known for being Lance Armstrong’s closest friend and former teammate, the New Yorker outsprinted Belarus’ Alexander Usov and Italy’s Davide Rebellin in the final stretch to clinch the title.

Hincapie also added his support to seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong, who was accused by French newspaper L’Equipe of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

“I trust Lance, and I will always be by his side,” said the Discovery Channel rider, who was booed by a small section of the crowd at the finish.

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“Lance is a hero for millions of people, and it’s outrageous to attack him this way.”


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