Blake takes aim at Swedish sweep in Stockholm
Reigning champion James Blake returns to Sweden a fortnight after his successful Davis Cup exploits here for the US, looking to sew up a place at next month’s Master Cup finals.
Blake is also attempting to become the first man to win three straight titles at the Stockholm Open starting on Monday.
The American sits level with Thomas Enqvist (1995-1996) and Boris Becker (1990-1991) as the last two men to claim two on the trot. He played in the country last month as the US reached the Davis Cup final over the Swedes in Gothenburg.
Blake lifted the ATP trophy a year ago over two-time finalist Finn Jarkko Nieminen, this year’s sixth seed who lost early this week in Tokyo.
Blake has never lost in Stockholm, carrying a spotless 10-0 record into the first round at the venerable Kungliga Hallen, built a century ago by a tennis-loving Swedish monarch.
He will try to maintain perfection as he starts in the first round against veteran 1997 winner Jonas Björkman of Sweden.
Blake owns two titles this season after capping 2006 in the Swedish capital by winning his fifth of last year.
The world number seven needs an outstanding week in Scandinavia to stay in the chase for one of the spots in next month’s eight-man season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, where he lost the final to Roger Federer 11 months ago.
Spaniards David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo take the second and third seedings, with Ferrer coming from halfway around the world in Tokyo while Robredo arrives from France.
Japan Open finalist Ferrer faces Swedish wild card Michael Ryderstedt while Robredo takes on Frenchman Michael Llodra to start.
Another man in the Shanghai qualifying mix is German Tommy Haas, 11th on the ATP list and needing a strong finishing month to a season which has produced only one title in Memphis in February.
The fourth seed has only one previous Stockholm appearance, a semi-final loss in 2004 to Andre Agassi.
Injury-hit Croatian Mario Ancic is due to play for the first time since mid-August, returning with an opening match against Amer Delic.
By AFP’s Scott Williams
Leonard denies Parnevik with playoff win
Justin Leonard sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to win the Texas Open on Sunday, denying Jesper Parnevik his first US PGA Tour win since 2001.
Leonard, who won this event in 2000 and 2001 at LaCantera Golf Club, joins Arnold Palmer (1960-62) as the only three-time winners of the Texas Open.
“When I came back in 2002 to try and win for the third straight time, I remember a lot of the talk was trying to join Arnold Palmer,” Leonard said.
“Since then I haven’t really had a chance to win down here and I didn’t think about it today, which is probably a good thing, but it’s great company to be in.”
Parnevik entered Sunday with a three-shot lead but could only manage a one-under-par 69. Leonard closed with a five-under 65 to tie Parnevik at 19-under 261.
Looking for his first PGA Tour title since the 2001 Honda Classic, Parnevik had led after each of the first three rounds at the 4.5 million-dollar event.
“I had to dig pretty deep today because I got off to – I didn’t get off to a bad start, I couldn’t get any momentum going all on the front nine,” Parnevik said.
“I wanted to win but like I said, the tough thing is to actually get into position. So I’m happy about that, that I actually got to feel it again because it’s been awhile.”
The victory was Leonard’s 11th PGA Tour title and first since the 2005 St. Jude Classic. His best previous finish on tour this season was a tie for second at the Buick Open.
Leonard had a chance to win on the final hole of regulation but his 15-footer slid just left of the hole. He missed from six feet for the win on the second extra hole but converted his next opportunity after Parnevik came up about a foot short on a 30-footer for birdie.
“You know, (at) 16 I had a good putt at it. Hit an OK putt. Just broke a little more than I thought and then, you know, finally got one to fall at 17,” Leonard said.
“I had straight downgrain, there was nothing really to worry about. I just need to get it started on a decent line, and I was able to do that.”
Swedes Mathias Grönberg (69) and Daniel Chopra (66) tied for third at 16-under 264.
With just two games left to play, Djurgården and IFK are tied for top spot in what is building to be a nerve-racking finish to the title race.
The Stockholm side maintained their challenge with a 2-0 win away to Gefle on Sunday, with Brazilian duo Quirino and Enrico netting either side of half time.
Selakovic and Hysén were the scorers for Gothenburg on Saturday as the west coast team travelled home from Malmö with three valuable points.
Four points adrift but with a game in hand, Kalmar seem the only team with a realistic chance of catching either of the top two. But anything short of victory on the astroturf at Örebro on Monday evening would leave the south easterners needing a miracle to emerge as champions.
A dreadful week for Solna side AIK has pushed them more or less out of contention. A scoreless draw at home to GAIS was followed midweek by a UEFA cup exit at the hands of Hapoel Tel Aviv. Any chances they may have had of mounting a late revival disappeared on Sunday with another goalless draw, this time away to minnows Trelleborg.
Champions Elfsborg are almost certain not to retain their title following a string of poor results. With four draws and a defeat in their last five games, the Borås club must beat Halmstad on Monday evening to keep their faint hopes alive.
At the other end of the table, only goal difference separates Trelleborg and Brommapojkarna. With only one team to make the drop, both sides are set for a nail-biting conclusion to the season.