Monday, January 16, 2012
Fish out to prove 2011 was no fluke
By Ravi Ubha
MELBOURNE, Australia -- It worked for Novak Djokovic, so Mardy Fish figures it could work for him, too.
Djokovic didn't have much of an offseason in 2010, thanks to playing in the Davis Cup final that December. But after leading Serbia to the title, he used the momentum to start last year strong.
And look at the year he had.
Fish, similarly, finished late -- later than he ever has in a season -- following his appearance at the World Tour Finals. Although he subsequently lost a bit of vacation and training time, he's hoping his fine form will continue.
"You don't lose a lot of play," Fish said. "I start out slow, usually. It's tough to figure out how to put points together, put games together and such. So I thought that maybe that would sort of catapult me in the beginning of the year. Maybe it will."
It did Monday at the Australian Open on a mostly good day for Americans. Although the tally was only 5-5, the players who should have won did.
Fish overcame tricky left-hander Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 on a hot, blustery afternoon. Whereas temperatures in Melbourne before the season's opening Grand Slam were below average, the thermometer soared to above 86 degrees as the tournament kicked off.
Sam Querrey, who had an injury-plagued 2011 season, registered his first win of the season and first Grand Slam victory since last spring, and for that, he next challenges the flavor of the month in Australia, Bernard Tomic. John Isner, seeking to advance to his second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal, saw off Aussie wild card Benjamin Mitchell 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (1), while Donald Young almost blew a two-set advantage against unheralded German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk . He recovered just in time in the fifth, rallying from 2-0 down, and progressed 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands' tough three-hour 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 loss to resilient Polish eighth seed Agnieszka Radwanska was offset by Christina McHale's 6-2, 6-4 upset win over 24th seed Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Longtime U.S. stalwarts Serena Williams and Andy Roddick, Fish's old friend, begin Tuesday.
This is a vital season for Fish, who turned 30 in December. He wants to prove that the previous 12 months were no fluke, so staying in the top 10 and appearing in a second consecutive year-end championship would do him nicely.
"The goal is to try to make the Masters Cup," he said. "I never really set that goal last year. Just tasting that, being able to be a part of that with those guys last year, that's what will drive me now. Obviously I want to go further in a Slam than the quarterfinals and put myself in that position to see what that feels like."
Fish also targeted a maiden Masters Series title after making four finals.
At the end of 2010 and early 2011, it wouldn't have been unfathomable to think that Querrey -- who shares the same coach as Fish -- could qualify for the World Tour Finals himself. He ended 2010 ranked 18th and moved up to 17th following last year's Australian Open.
A slight loss of form ensued, but that was nothing compared to what was to come. Querrey underwent elbow surgery. Then, rehabbing from that, he suffered a freak umbilical cord infection that necessitated another operation.
He didn't play at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and his ranking Monday stood at 95th.
"I'm playing tons of practice sets and feel I'm winning most of them," the laid-back Californian, who downed French wild-card Kenny De Schepper 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, told reporters. "It's different when you play a real match, but it's getting better every day. Sometimes all it takes is one win like today that can slowly start to turn things around."
Querrey switched rackets in the offseason, from Prince to Babolat. He offered up the line of the day when asked which model he was using.
"The yellow one," he quipped with a straight face. "I'm not picky as far as racket and string and stuff like that," he said later.
Young, the much-hyped phenom who began to show what all the fuss was about last season, was cruising against Gojowczyk, leading by two sets and a break. Young, though, relinquished the third and fourth sets before winning the final six games of the fifth set.
"He started playing a lot better, swinging for the fences," Young, who received a warning for an audible obscenity in the first game of the fifth, told reporters. "He was down two sets, nothing much to lose. He started hitting free."
Mattek-Sands, bothered by a shoulder injury in the second half of 2011, came out swinging, as usual, against Radwanska, one of the players who has a chance to become world No. 1 after the fortnight.
Mattek-Sands also offered up some nice touch, mimicking Radwanska, who utilized the drop shot more than once.
If Mattek-Sands converted a break point in the second game of the third set -- with Radwanska stranded at the net -- the result might have been different. Mattek-Sands went 4-for-17 on break points; Radwanska was more efficient, at 7-for-13.
"She's top-10 for a reason," said the always colorful Mattek-Sands, sporting five different colors in her hair. "I played well and I got doubles and mixed here, so I have to kind of focus on that. I hadn't played a lot of matches the last half of last year. It's just good for me to build up my match endurance."
Irina Falconi, Denis Kudla, Varvara Lepchenko and Alex Kuznetsov were the other U.S. players who lost Monday. In Kuznetsov's case, he was undone by Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-1.
|Donald Young showed a lot of resilience in hanging on to win in five.|
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.