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Stark, Leach advance to finals of doubles event

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Jonathan Stark was experiencing a subpar year on theATP Tour until the Singapore Open in early October.

Since then, the Medford native and his doubles partner, Rick Leach, havebeen one of the hottest doubles teams in the world, reaching consecutivefinals in Stuttgart, Germany, and Paris later in the month.

Stark and Leach continued their impressive performance Saturday witha 6-3, 6-4 upset victory over No. 2 seeds Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuisof the Netherlands in the semifinals of the $500 Phoenix/ATP Tour WorldDoubles Championships.

The year-end event matches the top eight teams in the world.

Stark and Leach play India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, who edgedSebastien Lareau and Alex O'Brien 6-1, 2-6 and 7-6 (7-5), in today's final.

The match will be shown on a tape-delayed basis today at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

The fourth-seeded Stark and Leach never faced a break point in the 63-minutewin, breaking Haarhuis' serve in the fourth game of the first set and Eltingh'sserve to go up 5-4 in the final set. Eltingh led 40-0 in the game beforelosing five straight points.

We started off really solid, said Stark. We made alot of returns and a lot of first serves. At this level, those are the twomost important things. I just think right from the start Paul and Jaccofelt a lot of pressure from both of us.

Stark acknowledged his team is peaking at an opportune time.

I think starting from the tournament in Singapore, Ricky and Ihave maybe won the most matches of any team on the tour, said Stark.Some of the things that we've been working on and talking on throughoutthe year have really probably settled into my thick skull. We have a lotof fun on the court and we've been having fun this week. We've been playinggreat tennis.

Stark-Leach have split a pair of matches against Bhupathi and Paes thisseason. Bhupathi-Paes, the youngest team in the field, are making theirdebut in this event. They have won six tournaments this year.

This is the third time we've played them in about a month,said Stark. Leander and Mahesh have had one of the best years youcan have, especially for the first full year that they've played as a team.So we're going to have our hands full tomorrow, but we'll just give it ourbest shot and see how it goes.

The semifinal victory keeps alive Leach's chance of winning at leastone ATP Tour title for the 11th straight year. The winner of 33 career titles,he has reached seven finals this year, including five with Stark, but hasnot captured a title. One of those loses came with Stark in the Singaporefinal, where they lost to Bhupathi and Paes 6-4, 6-4.

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