Ilie wins second career title

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The Independent Online

Australia's Andrew Ilie captured the title and the crowd in the Tennis Challenge in Duluth, Georgia today, beating countryman Jason Stoltenberg 6-3, 7-5.

As promised, Ilie ripped off his shirt and tossed it to courtside fans who supported him en route to his second career title and a $49,500 winner's check, his biggest ever.

"Whenever I play well, I'm really into the match. I have to vent some of that emotional energy, got to let it out, and the crowd finds it entertaining," said Ilie, who yelled "C'mon!" and pumped his fist to celebrate winning key points.

Ilie, 23, relied on powerful serves and skillful groundstrokes to beat Stoltenberg, a two-time finalist in the clay-court tournament.

The resourceful Stoltenberg, 30, tried different tactics to unnerve Ilie, such as high floaters to Ilie's backhand, drop shots, and serve-and-volley play. But Ilie fought off four of the seven break points he ferg broke back to make it 4-3 but was broken at love in a disastrous eighth game. Ilie held for the 6-3 set.

Stoltenberg stayed close in the second set. Ilie served for the match at 5-4, but faltered in his only poorly played game to give Stoltenberg hope at 5-5.

Stoltenberg fought off five break points, but had nothing left against the sixth. Serving for the match at 6-5, Ilie ripped a forehand passing shot past Stoltenberg at net to seal the victory.

Stoltenberg, 1-4 in his career against Ilie, shook his head in wonder at some of the shots Ilie produced.

"I played as well as I was allowed to play today," he said. "You can't just stay there and rally with him - he forces you to go on the offensive. I felt like I had to hit an amazing shot to win a point."

Ilie, who almost retired in 1997 because of a lower back injury, will climb from No. 68 to somewhere in the 30s on the ATP Tour.

"I really enjoy my time on court when I play, and it feels good to be out here on the pro level and slugging it out with the best," he said.