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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Becker makes Price LeBlanc final

As the weather has warmed up this week, so has Benjamin Becker.

The German coasted to a second straight dominating win at the Price LeBlanc Lexus Pro Tennis Classic on Friday, beating Australian Marinko Matosevic, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to today’s noon championship match of the $50,000 USTA Challenger event.

Becker will take on unseeded Rajeev Ram of the United States, who beat hard-serving Australian Samuel Groth 6-4, 6-4 in the other semifinal.

Ram will go for a sweep of the tournament’s two big prizes today. He reached the doubles final by teaming with Bobby Reynolds, last year’s Baton Rouge singles champion, for a 6-3, 2-6, 10-6 win over Somdev Devvarman and Treat Conrad Huey. They will play the team of American Scott Oudsema and Indian Harsh Mankad in the finals, about 30 minutes after the end of the singles final.

Oudsema and Mankad defeated Benedikt Dorsch and Matosevic 6-3, 7-6(10) in Friday’s other doubles semifinal.

Becker, the No. 4 seed ranked No. 131 in the world, struggled with cool, windy weather early in the tournament in relatively close matches with Michael Yani and Carston Ball, with both matches requiring tie-breakers in one of the sets.

The last two days have been a different story. Becker, who is not related to the more famous German Becker, Boris, rolled past Dorsch 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and continued to control things on Friday.

“I played a little bit better the last two days,” Becker said. “Obviously, the weather helped a little bit. It’s a little bit faster, and it’s still windy and we kind of all have adjusted to it.”

Friday’s weather was the warmest of the tournament, which has seen temperatures go from the 50s in part of the first round of the 32-player draw, to the mid-80s on Friday.

Ram also enjoyed the warmer weather, managing a break of serve on the powerful Groth in both sets while holding his own serve throughout the match.

“He’s got probably the biggest serve I’ve ever played against, especially the first serve,” said the 25-year-old Ram of Groth. “I just had to worry about holding my serve and as long as I could keep that, I could get to tie-breakers at worst. Luckily for me, I was able to break a couple of games.”

A Becker vs. Ram final matches a couple of players who have had their share of success in the pro circuit this year. Becker, who reached the fourth round of the 2006 U.S. Open in a run that included a win over Andre Agassi, won a Challenger event in Heilbronn, Germany, in January and beat Jesse Levine in the first round of the ATP World Tour Masters at Miami in March before losing the world No. 9 Fernando Verdasco.

“He’s another power player, but the difference is he won’t come to the net nearly as much as (Groth) did today,” Ram said. “He’s had a lot of success on the (ATP) tour level as well, so that’s going to make it very tough.”

Ram, ranked No. 191 in the world, has also had tour success, mostly in doubles. In singles, this has been his best tournament of the year. Before this week, the best he had done was reach a pair of Challenger semifinals at Khorat, Thailand, and in Dallas. Ram and fellow American Eric Butorac won an ATP doubles event in Chennai, India, in January, and he teamed with Reynolds to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open.

Reynolds and Ram also reached the semifinals of an ATP event at Delray Beach, Fla.

Ram reached the final of the Dallas challenger while teamed with Indian Prakash Amritraj.

“I know he’s playing well. I know he’s a great player,” Becker said of Ram. “I’m going to have to bring my best game.”

Ram and Reynolds beat Becker and Mathias Bachinger 6-4, 6-2 in a doubles quarterfinal match on Thursday.

Both finalists also have championship collegiate histories. Ram was NCAA doubles champion in his only year at Illinois in 2003. In 2004, Becker won the NCAA singles title for Baylor.

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