Fish Learns On The Job

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Abe Vigoda’s character Sargent Phil Fish from Barney Miller is getting more respect than Mardy Fish these days.

As the top ranked American you would figure he should get a chance to be on Arthur Ashe Stadium one of these days, but alas the No. 8 seed still is getting showcased on the old center court Luis Armstrong stadium.

The Californian, though, doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s definitely been like that in the past,” he said. “You know, there’s an American playing, put him on Grandstand or Louis court, and hopefully he’ll win.

“I hope it’s the beginning of that. That’s what you work towards, to have people come and appreciate what you do. You know, maybe I get the feeling, at least in the beginning of that match, that there were quite a few people there that maybe wouldn’t have been there in years past.”

Fish won his match today against South African Kevin Anderson with a straight sets victory, 6-4 7-6 7-6 to advance to the fourth round.

And if he wants to continue on his trek to greatness, he knows he need to continue disposing of opponents like the 12th Precinct captures bad guys. Straight set matches are key for the 39 year-old if he move deep into this tournament and beat one of the Big Four.

“It’s huge,” Fish said. “Mentally, physically, everything. Obviously it’s what we train for. I’ll be physically fine in two days. But, you know, I’m 29. I don’t wake up in the morning feeling like I’m 20. I don’t feel like Donald felt this morning. I’m sure he felt fine, you know. I won’t feel like that tomorrow morning.

“But we’ll do a lot of work on my body tonight, tomorrow. It’s big, you know, to get off. Last year was a prime example. I mean, I played two fivesetters in the first three rounds. I was just mentally and physically kind of drained to play someone like Novak in that next match.

“Maybe I could have come up against him, gamewise, a lot better than the score was. But I was so tired I wasn’t ready for it.”

It has been widely reported Fish has made the remarkable transformation from journeyman to star in a matter of a few years and maybe the reason he’s not getting the respect he deserves is that no one believes he could become a top player at this advanced age.

Yet, here’s Fish and like Phil Fish he is the grizzled veteran who is best at his job.

So what changed?

“Probably a lot,” Fish said. “I mean, probably first and foremost the mental side of it. You know, he seemed pretty jacked up yesterday. Obviously, you feed off the crowd. You’re not going to go away with a crowd like that, that’s for sure.

“But, you know, he lost serve at 54 and came right back, was able to hold to go to a breaker. And I think he said it after his match, that that’s probably a match he would have lost a year ago.

“Mentally he probably would have just been upset and said he had some chances and that’s it. You know, so that’s a huge part of it, as well. Maturing, growing, growing into your game, what makes you feel comfortable out on the court. There are demons out there, for sure. It’s not easy. It’s not going to be a piece of cake three out of five sets, that’s for sure.”

Fish is set to take on the winner of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round and much like the crew of Precinct 12, he will be ready for the job.

Sloane Stars On The Grandstand

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Eighteen year-old Sloane Stephens has a plan for this year. It has nothing to do with tennis, but what to do after she returns to her native Los Angeles.

“Now I know for sure when I get home after the season’s over I’m getting a car,” she said after disposing of23rd seed Shahar Pe’er in the second round, 6-1 7-6(4).  “That’s the only thing I’m really looking forward to now.”

And what kind of car?

“I don’t know,” she answered.  “That’s a big question.  My mom wants me to get a truck.  I want to get a small car.  It’s very confusing.”

What’s not confusing is the run this young girl is having here in Flushing Meadows. Along with Christina McHale and Irina Falconi, Stephens is one of the young American girls making some noise during the first week and hoping it will continue as Labor Day Weekend heats up.

“I don’t even think about it,” she said.  Fun fact: Christina, Irina, and myself are all in the third round of the US Open and playing the PanAm Games together.”

That’s Stephens for you. This girl is smart, engaging with a mind going a million miles a minute. She likes to talk in a very plain speak to the 15 reporters in the interview room after her match. There’s no intimidation or at least she doesn’t think there should be.

“I think it’s pretty cool, just like talking to normal people,” she said.  “It’s not like you guys are a bunch of aliens sitting there and I should be like, Oh, my God, freaking out.

“It’s definitely fine for me.  Should I be scared or something?”

That’s not inexperience talking. This girl is fearless. She doesn’t care if she’s facing a ranked player on the court or a bunch of cynical reporters in an interview room.

And Pe’er learned that today. Stephens played aggressively and attacked the Israeli star. She said she definitely likes to hit the ball “I don’t know where that came from,” she said. “But it happens.  Comes off pretty hard, I think, sometimes.”

Outside of the courts, Stephens is an avid Tweeter on her Twitter account. She sends inspirational messages to her followers such as, “There’s no need to rush. If something is meant to be, it will happen. In the right time, with the right person, for the best reason.” And, “Happiness is not a goal, but a decision. Life is 1% what happens to you and 99% how you react to it.”

“I just see something, I’m like, Wow, everyone should read this,” she said.  “It’s not really like, Oh, I’m like trying to get people to like do certain stuff or anything.  It’s like, Oh, I saw that.  I thought it was cool.”

Other than that, Stephen’s also helps take care of her 13 year-old brother, someone she drives around and picks up from school.

And all of this came after moving back to Los Angeles after living in Florida for a few years.

“L.A. is an awesome place,” she said.  “I have a little brother, so I try to spend as much time with him as possible.  He’s been playing baseball.

“L.A. gets tricky for us because there’s a lot of traffic and I don’t like to drive.  It’s kind of hard.  But definitely L.A. and Florida are two different places.  It’s just what you like basically, what we’re in the mood for.”

And yes, she is buying a car even with a disdain for driving.

“See, the thing is, I don’t like traffic,” Stephens said.  “It’s very hard for me to drive in traffic.  And my brother is the most annoying person to have in the car when you’re driving.

“Seriously, he’ll be like, Why aren’t you honking?  What are you doing?  Get in that lane.  I’ll be like, Can you stop?  I need to focus.  He’ll be reaching over to honk the horn.  It’s crazy.  He’ll have to sit in the backseat when I get the car.”

Yet, that’s going to have to wait. Right now Stephens has a third round match against former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic and she wants a bump up in venue after winning today on the Grandstand.

“Maybe we’ll be on a bigger court,” she said.  “Maybe we’ll be on Armstrong.  I’ve got to work my way up.  Today I almost got Ashe by default and I didn’t want it.”

One step at a time, and if she does win, Stephens said to expect some sort of special celebration by her like the American flag waving by Falconi yesterday.

“Everyone has to have their own special thing that they do,” she said.  “So she does the American flag.  Hopefully Christina will give us something tomorrow to work with.  Then the next day I’ll give you guys something.”

Something to look forward to.

 

 

Spain Takes The Lead In US Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Rafael Nadal was an avid soccer player growing up in Mallorca and traveled to South Africa to watch Spain win its World Cup earlier this summer. But these days the top-seeded Spaniard just can’t quite kick a hard habit. Winning is addictive and Nadal is hopelessly hooked in leading a Spanish Imposition at the US Open.

The top quarter of the US Open draw is saturated in Spanish colors, ensuring at least one Spanish semifinalist.

Nadal sent new father Gilles Simon headed for the next plane to Paris to meet his newborn baby in pounding out a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory to storm into a US Open fourth round showdown against sometime Davis Cup teammate Feliciano Lopez.

Spanish men set a Grand Slam Open Era record with nine players reaching the third round.

Fernando Verdasco and Lopez partnered to send Spain to the 2008 Davis Cup championship and the lefthanders flicked their respective wrists in scripting Spain’s stamp on this US Open. Verdasco diffused David Nalbandian, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on the Grandstand court and Lopez followed on the same stage, holding a 6-3, 4-0 lead when Sergiy Stakhovsky retired from their match.

Verdasco will face David Ferrer, a 7-6(2), 6-2, 6-2 winner over Daniel Gimeno-Traver, for a place in the quarterfinals. Verdasco has won six of 10 meetings with Ferrer with nine of those encounters coming on clay. Ferrer won their only hard-court meeting six years ago in Chennai. Playing for a trip to his second straight US Open quarterfinal, Verdasco takes on a capable opponent in the 10th-seeded Ferrer, who knocked Nadal out of the Open in the 2007 round of 16.

“It’s always nice to see all the Spanish winning and being in the last rounds, no?” Verdasco said  “So if you need to lose, it’s better to lose against a Spanish player, then at least one guy is gonna be there one round more, no? I’m happy.  I hope to play good also the next round, keep doing my work and my job as better as possible.  Trying to play the best to be in the quarterfinals like last year.”

Twenty years ago, the Spanish Armada sailed primarily on the red clay seas, but Spanish men have conquered all surfaces now.

“It’s kind of surprising to have so many players in the fourth round,” said Lopez after snapping Stakhovsky’s seven match winning streak. “What can I say about Spanish tennis? It’s always there. And since 15-20 years ago we are winning almost everything, no? Before we were the best on clay. Now we win on grass, on everywhere no? So it’s gonna be one time that his is gonna be over and the people will have to accept.”

Continuing his quest to complete the career Grand Slam, Nadal produced another impressive serving performance in winning 39 of 43 points played on his first serve (91 percent), smacking a 135 mph serve and erasing the only break point he faced.

Nadal has not dropped a set or surrendered serve in three tournament victories and will be primed and pumped to avenge his Queen’s Club loss to Lopez when they square off on Tuesday.

The Spanish players dine together, practice together and hold court in the same corner of the locker room and will share the court again as Verdasco plays David Ferrer with the winner meeting the Nadal-Lopez winner in the quarterfinals.

“We practice more with the Spanish players because they are friends and it’s easier for us to get in touch with them and to call them for practice or whatever because we are almost together every day and we go for dinner,” Lopez said.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Monfils and Gasquet Will Be A Fair Fight

Careening into the corner with all the speed of a man vaulting onto the court from a fleeing flat-bed truck, Gael Monfils skidded into a sliding split with so much force a piece of his K-Swiss sneaker came flying off into the air. Too engaged in his passionate pursuit of the ball, Monfils had more pressing matters on his mind: avoid French kissing the blue wall that loomed large in his path.

Monfils skidded to a stop before the collision, but even when Monfils loses a point he entertains.

The 17th-seeded Frenchman fought off Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 on the Grandstand Court.

Meanwhile, on Court 11, Monfils’ friend and former doubles partner Richard Gasquet downsized towering South African Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5, to set up an appealing French fourth round showdown.

Six Frenchmen — Monfils, Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Michael Llodra, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Arnaud Clement — started this day of play still alive in the men’s draw.

Second-seeded Roger Federer dismissed Mathieu, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, on Ashe Stadium and Fish fought off the 32-year-old Clement in a stirring 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 triumph to advance to a fourth-round meeting with either good friend and frequent golf buddy James Blake or third-seeded Novak Djokovic.

Monfils vs. Gasquet may well be one of the most exciting fourth-round clashes on the men’s side. Certainly Fish’s fourth-rounder will garner the most attention of any round of 16 match and deservedly so. But if you derive pure pleasure from seeing skilled shotmakers paint the court with impressionistic imagination then the first US Open meeting between the pair is the popcorn match of the fourth round.

Both Gasquet and Monfils are capable of producing eye-popping winners from virtually any position on court and both are fascinating to watch because they will drop back so far behind the baseline you might think they’re heading to Hoboken before dashing forward to net.

“I think Richard is more talented than me in couple ways,” Monfils said. “Like he can adapt more about the conditions.  Then I think I’m stronger than him physically, and maybe a bit mentally, also. Sometime he is like too defensive, like me.  So actually it will be a good match, and we will see who’s going to put like more pressure on the opponent.”

The animated Monfils plays with such explosiveness — and exuberant enthusiasm — he should consider enlisting a stunt double to celebrate his winners as the practice has proven to be a health hazard for him in the past. Monfils’ celebratory leap abruptly came to a calamitous crash landing in Madrid in October of 2006 when the festive Frenchman strained ligaments in his right ankle on an awkward landing after a post-point jump of jubilation in the second set of his Madrid match with Dominik Hrbaty. The injury limited him to one match for the rest of the 2006 season.

Avoiding a collision with the wall today, Monfils used his speed to force Tipsarevic, who was bothered by a bad ankle and took treatment for a strained hamstring, into pulling the trigger quickly in points.

Tipsarevic played powerful, passionate and crowd-pleasing tennis in his four-set triumph over Andy Roddick in the second round but poured so much of himself into the match he was physically depleted today.

“That wasn’t the main reason I lost,” Tipsarevic said. “I’m sad to say I am not fit enough to progress in the tournament. I just couldn’t execute. Gael is a big-time player. He’s extremely tough to make shots against because he gets to so many balls. I had 39 aces in the first two matches and just four today. Yes, I was feeling pain and was frightened a bit about my leg, but the leg had almost nothing to do with my loss.”

A former junior World No. 1, Monfils won every junior major except for the US Open.

An NBA fanatic who is a Carmelo Anthony fan, the 6-foot-4, loose-limbed Monfils has an elastic ability to bend his body into positions previously realized only by cartoon characters and contortionists. He thrives off the buzz New York City fans bring to the Open.

“I love the atmosphere.  I love the city, also,” Monfils said. “I mean, actually the States when I was young, and I was like looking for two things:  One, the Orange Bowl, and another thing the US Open junior for sure, and I didn’t (win either). I fail like twice in final in Orange Bowl.  I came here with injury the year when I won the other three (junior Grand Slams). I mean, here is like now I’m in seniors, so I really want to win this one, also.  I love the surface here; I love the crowd; I love the Ashe Stadium.  So I feel very good and comfortable here.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Ryan Harrison Loses Heartbeaker at Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fans were hanging off the rafters high above the stadium like rowdy revelers crammed into every inch of Times Square anxiously waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve. And on the Grandstand Court below Ryan Harrison carried the crowd to the very edge of erupting in delirium, earning three match points in the fifth set tie break against Sergiy Stakhovsky. Then the 24-year-old Ukranian turned the tie break into heart break for Harrison.

Looking like the loneliest man in the building, Stakhovsky dug in and made a spirited stand.

The skinny Stakhovsky showed stubborn competitive backbone and a spirit as spiky as his Brillo-pad haircut in roaring back to win the final five points of the breaker to post a 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory in a dramatic duel that was one of the most exciting encounters of the tournament.

Harrison, who had played with the poise and purpose far exceeding his 18 years, was down a break in the fifth set but battled back, put one foot inside the baseline and blasting a backhand pass down the line to break back for 4-all.

Playing the first five-setter of his career, Harrison continued to press the issue, but Stakhovsky, who carried a six-match winning streak onto the court, refused to yield before a crowd chanting “Let’s Go Ryan!” throughout periods of the fifth.

This was a throwback tennis with both men playing all-court tennis in propelling each other to explore virtually every corner of the court as 172 of the 343 points played were decided at net.

Trailing 2-3 in the breaker, Harrison sprinted rapidly to his right like a kid chasing a runaway rental car that had his racquets trapped in the trunk, caught up to the ball and rifled a running forehand pass down the line. By the time Harrison had skidded to a stop he was so close to the side wall he probably could have high-fived fans leaning over the railing.

Stakhovsky, who covered the line, went airborne in a full stretch dive as his body bounced off the blue court but his backhand clipped the net and died as Harrison evened the breaker at 3-all.

That stirring shot sequence brought the fans to their feet and Stakhovsky looked rattled by the resounding rorar as he scraped himself off the court and delivered a double fault to fall behind 4-3.

Two points later Harrison had triple match point at 6-3.

Stakhovsky, who won New Haven last weekend, saved the first two match points on his serve smacking an overhead winner on the first and a service winner on the second.

Serving on the third match point, Harrison, who had been effective hitting his kick serve to Stakhovsky’s one-handed backhand, dared to delve near the sideline, but missed his first serve. In the ensuing exchange, Harrison took a slight backward step and pushed a high backhand into net, for 6-all.

“I was trying to make sure I got the first serve in and trying to put pressure on him and missed that one barely,” Harrison said. “And then I wanted to play a long point and give myself an opportunity where I wanted to try to break him down and he didn’t miss. I ended up missing and then just kind of fell apart from there.”

Then the nerves constricted his right arm. Harrison sent a double fault beyond the service line, donating match point to Stakhovsky.

“It just wasn’t smart,” Harrison said of his eighth double fault. “I didn’t go about it the way I should have. I went for a big serve on the first serve at 6-all. Looking back, I probably should have just controlled that one in and looked for a forehand or for a first volley. But you know I can’t change it now.”

Attacking behind a stinging serve that pushed Harrison off the court, Stakhovsky blocked a high forehand volley crosscourt then crumpled to the court ending an enthralling encounter and turning magic into misery for Harrison.

As impressive as Harrison was competing on court, his sense of perspective following a gut-wrenching loss was equally as absorbing.

No tears, no excuses and no alibis. The son of a tennis coach who reads the game as comprehensively as a graduate student scouring a textbook, Harrison views the biggest match of his life as a learning experience in creating a career.

“Obviously, I’m not the happiest person in the world right now,” Harrison said. “But looking back on it, it was a great experience. My ranking is 220 in the world right now, and I’m trying to hopefully get to to the top 10. So I feel like one match doesn’t make or break that. It’s the experience of playing these type of matches that is really going to help me get there.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com

Davydenko Dumped by Gasquet

Sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko became the highest-seeded man to fall from the US Open field in suffering a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 second-round setback to Richard Gasquet on the Grandstand court. The two-time US Open semifinalist had a visceral response to his loss —  Davydenko is prepared to get trashed.

Actually, the 29-year-old Russian is ready to toss his racquets in the trash. Davydenko, who endorses Dunlop and wears Dunlop apparel has been playing with his old, unmarked Prince frame, but vowed to throw those in the garbage and actually begin playing with Dunlop in his next tournament.

“I talked to my brother and I will change all my racquets,” Davydenko said after the match. “I will completely change to Dunlop and throw all of my (old) racquets in the garbage.”

While the frames will take the fall for the lose, Davydenko, who missed 11 weeks after breaking his left wrist in Indian Wells and has won back-to-back matches just once since launching his comeback in June in Halle, concedes his issues may be more mental than physical or technical.

“I don’t know if it’s a wrist problem or a head problem,” Davydenko said, stretching his legs out before him and staring down at his shoelaces for a moment. “After my injury, I play everything bad. I change from 18-string Prince to play 16-string during hard courts to try to get more control and top spin, but I have no confidence, no baseline game.”

In addition to an equipment change, he’s contemplating a head change.

“Maybe I need to go somewhere to change my brain,” Davydenko deadpanned.

It was the first meeting between the pair in five years and while Davydenko hugs the baseline, takes the ball earlier and theoretically should be able to take the first strike in rallies it was Gasquet who took control in the baseline rallies in registering his second top 10 win of the season and first since he claimed his sixth career title beating Fernando Verdasco in Nice.

The 38th-ranked Frenchman has top 10 talent, who reached the US Open round of 16 in both 2005 and 2006, will play either No. 26 seed Thomaz Bellucci or big-serving Kevin Anderson for a place in the fourth round.

Asked to assess Gasquet’s level of play, Davydenko sounded stumped.

“It’s tough  for me to say because I cannot return first serve. He was just pushing me back in the middle with high balls and I was destroying myself.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.