Montanes denies Blake Estoril title

ESTORIL: Alberto Montanes denied James Blake a first-ever title on European clay Sunday as he preyed upon the American's fitness to claim a 5-7, 7-6 (8/6), 6-0 title victory at the Estoril Open.

Montanes, the number 36 with a single career title on clay, proved to be the stronger player in the final set as Blake ran out of puff after concluding a rain-hit semi-final win over Nikolay Davydenko several hours earlier.

The quick turnaround proved to be a touch too much for the 29-year-old Blake, nine of whose ten career title have come on fast surfaces.

Montanes showed fighting credentials in the 2hr13min final, saving two match points on his own serve to level the second set at five games apiece after Blake had won the opener in a tiebreak.

The psychological barrier may have proved too much for Blake, whose game collapsed in the final set as Montanes ran off with the victory. The American saved two match points in the final game before going down.

Blake still broke new ground this week after coming into his French Open preparation with little to show and few apparent chances at success.

But the first American to play an Estoril final since Todd Martin a decade ago, proved resilient as he moved through the draw, surprising himself as his clay game suddenly began to take shape.

The veteran is charged with fresh hopes heading into Roland Garros despite going down in the final.

"I've been low on confidence the past few week," said Blake, a first-round loser in his two previous clay tournaments in Houston and Rome. "I knew I had to change to be able to do well.

"I feel like I'm ready to keep playing great tennis, even if it was a bit tough today. Alberto played well and hung in there. I had many chances to end it in two sets but couldn't quite get there." Montanes lifted his record past break-even to 14-13, becoming the first Spanish winner here since Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2001.

Montanes broke Blake four times and fired eight aces to clinch his win.

Earlier, Blake had continued his fine form on clay with a 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win over Davydenko in their semi-final interrupted the day before by rain and finally darkness. Montanes had got his win as scheduled on Saturday.

Blake holds a 10-13 career record in finals after Sunday's loss.