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SYDNEY - American James Blake lost his chance to equal a 68-year record when he was knocked out of the Sydney International yesterday by Frenchman Fabrice Santoro.
Third seed Blake had been bidding to win the title for the third year running, a feat last achieved in 1940 by the late John Bromwich, but was beaten 7-6 6-2.
"Fabrice is a great player, he's been around the tour for a while and knows how to win matches and give the top guys headaches," said Blake, whose off-season was shortened by his commitments to the successful US Davis Cup team.
Santoro, 35, is one of the oldest players on the men's tour but says he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the sport.
"I love the game and I love to play and fight," he said.
"What is going to push me out of the tour is being in the hotel, taking planes and having to leave my daughter and my friends."
Santoro was one of three Frenchmen who recorded first-round wins at Sydney's Olympic tennis centre yesterday.
Top seed Richard Gasquet brushed past Russian Igor Andreev 6-3 7-6 while Sebastien Grosjean beat Australian wildcard Peter Luczak 6-4 4-6 6-0.
With the top four seeds, headed by world number one Justine Henin, all given first-round byes, there were no major casualties in the early women's matches, though fifth-seeded Russian teenager Anna Chakvetadze suffered a surprise loss to Slovakian Katarina Srebotnik 7-5 6-1.
Sixth seed Daniela Hantuchova, also of Slovakia, almost came unstuck in her clash with Russian Dinara Safina when she dropped the opening set and trailed by a service break in the second before recovering to win 5-7 6-4 6-4.
"For a first match of the year I couldn't ask for a better start," Hantuchova said. "I was just proud the way I was fighting. It was not easy."
Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli completed a perfect first day for the French with a 6-1 6-0 win over Italian Karin Knapp. - Reuters