Blake sparkles on clay court in Portugal
ESTORIL: America's James Blake booked his first claycourt quarter-final in more than a year with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-2 defeat of France's Marc Gicquel at the Estoril Open on Thursday.
Blake, now 2-2 on the surface which has traditionally been his downfall, claimed his second victory in as many days at the Estadio Nacional as his game springs to life with the French Open approaching in just over a fortnight.
The 29-year-old has not appeared in a last-eight lineup on clay since May last year when he lost in Rome to Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka.
"It's a good feeling, I really like the way I'm playing," said Blake, 11-8 on the season. "I'm now playing my style and it feels great.
"Even if I'd not won two in a row, I would have been satisfied with my game. I was really going for my shots."
The American is playing in his third clay event of the season after losing openers in both Houston and Rome. But his Wednesday first-round win over Portuguese number one Frederico Gil gave him the boost he needed.
Fourth seed Blake overcame nine aces off Gicquel's racquet, producing five of his own and saving the only break point that he faced.
Blake broke twice in the 79-minute contest which puts him into a quarter-final against French eighth seed Florent Serra who defeated Argentine Juan Monaco 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.
"He beat me pretty bad on clay (Rome, 2006)," said the American. "He's a tough competitor and I certainly don't expect him to roll over - but that won't happen with me either.
"I'm confident in my game and I like my chances if I keep playing like this."
French top seed Gilles Simon, a wild card entry, who won his opening match on Monday, showed no signs of rust as he dispatched Italy's Fabio Fognini 6-0, 7-5 in 73 minutes.
Simon, the world number eight, will play Friday against Spain's seventh seed Alberto Montanes, a winner over German Simon Greul 6-2, 6-2.
The women's WTA semi-final lineup was finalised, with the second, third and fourth seeds all making exits.
Israeli number seven Shahar Peer, battling a foot problem, beat Jarmila Groth of Slovakia 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 to face off against Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, who put out number three Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
In the bottom of the draw, Russian sixth seed Ekaterina Makarova beat holder and fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.
The 20-year-old will play to reach her first career final as she faces German eighth seed Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who advanced when compatriot Sabine Lisicki quit trailing 6-2 with a shoulder injury