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Blake, 'Iron' Mike Russell in Quarterfinals at Sarasota Challenger

April 20, 2012 08:57 AM
Mike Russell
American "Iron" Mike Russell is living up to his nickname this spring during his favorite time of the year, the claycourt season.

Coming off a semifinal effort at the ATP event in Houston where he beat Mardy Fish and lost in three sets to eventual champion Juan Monaco, the Florida-raised Russell on Thursday advanced into the quarterfinals at the Sarasota Challenger. This year's loaded-field event in Sarasota also features James Blake, Sam Querrey, and other names not normally associated with the second-tier challenger circuit.

On Thursday night Russell waited out rain and lightning to defeat fellow American Alex Kuznetsov 7-6(1), 6-4 at the USTA Pro Circuit men's tournament, held at The Tennis Gardens at Longboat Key Club and Resort.

"Early in the match, Alex was controlling most of the points," Russell told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "So I started playing deeper. He started controlling more points at the end of the match, too. During the middle of the match I became more aggressive. That's how I wanted to play for the whole match."

The 33-year-old Russell, who stands at 5-foot-8 amidst a sea of giants on the men's tour, has a lot of Energizer Bunny in him as, body willing, retirement doesn't seem to be an option at the moment.

"Physically, I feel fantastic," Russell says. "I just want to keep going."

Russell attended Saddlebrook High School in South Florida when he was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the Boys' 18s rankings. Currently ranked just outside the ATP Top 100, in 2007 he reached his career-high ranking of No. 60.

The Florida-based Blake, another player looking to raise his ranking high enough for direct entry into ATP-level events after injury, on Thursday night came back from a set down to defeat young American Denis Kudla 5-7, 7-5, 7-5. In his Friday quarterfinal match Blake, who is battling a chronic knee injury, will face Italian Paolo Lorenzi.

Other matches on tap for Friday in Sarasota are No. 7-seeded American Wayne Odesnik vs. Frenchman Eric Prodon, Russell vs. Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili, and No. 6 Querrey, on the comeback trail after elbow surgery, vs. fellow American Michael Yani.






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