Black brushes aside Pozzi to keep HK double hopes alive
Byron Black remains on course for his second Hong Kong title in six months after sweeping into the semi-finals of the US$340,000 Salem Open yesterday.
The in-form Zimbabwean made light work of quarter-final opponent Gianluca Pozzi of Italy, winning 6-4, 6-0 in a brisk one hour and seven minutes at Victoria Park.
Although Black won the Marlboro Championships exhibition event in the same stadium last October, the 28-year-old from Harare has not won an event on the ATP Tour since 1996.
On yesterday's performance, however, it looks more than possible that Black's lengthy title drought could come to an end this weekend.
Black is still riding high after beating world number four and reigning US Open champion Patrick Rafter in his country's upset win over Australia in the Davis Cup last week.
Victory against Rafter and Australia has helped to snap Black out of a form slump, the world number 81 said after beating Pozzi.
'Before last week I was in a bit of a slump. When you go into a Davis Cup match you're not playing for yourself, you're playing for your country and all the adrenalin and team spirit snaps you out of it,' Black said.
'Now I'm trying to make the most of my confidence . . . I felt like I was starting to play really well out there today. It is all coming together and I've started playing well with my backhand, which is probably my strongest weapon.' Black said he was keen to win more singles titles after easing up on his doubles commitments. 'I've done everything I wanted to do in doubles and from now and probably for the rest of my career I'm going to focus on singles,' he said.
'That's going to be my main priority from now on.' Black will face Sebastien Lareau in today's semi-final. Canadian Lareau advanced to the last four after beating Spain's Oscar Burrieza 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) in their quarter-final.
Today's other semi is an all-Scandinavian affair with Danish eighth seed Kenneth Carlsen taking on Sweden's Thomas Johansson, who is seeded three.
Johansson would appear to be the biggest threat to Black's chances of victory at Victoria Park and yesterday looked impressive with a clinical 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 win over Australia's Sandon Stolle.
Johansson, who lost to Michael Chang in the semi-finals of last year's Salem Open, looked at home on the Victoria Park hardcourt surface as he served and volleyed his way to victory over Stolle.
Carlsen overcame a spirited bid by South Africa's Neville Godwin to win 7-5, 6-1.