Tennis

Fish, Baker headline good day for US

Mardy Fish beats James Ward (6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3) to reach the third round.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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WIMBLEDON, England

After heart palpitations, it was probably not what the doctor ordered — a tough five setter lasting four hours and 13 minutes — but Mardy Fish came through it, beating local favorite James Ward (6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3) to reach the third round.

“My legs are tired but that’s to be expected,” Fish said afterward. “But it feels good to win a match like that. It was a sort of Davis Cup atmosphere in the end out there on No. 1 Court, but I’m well versed in that.”

Fish felt the 25-year-old Londoner served as well against him as anyone had all year.

“He certainly played nothing like his 173 ranking,” he said. “On grass, he’s much better than that.”

On a hot day under cloudless skies, there were upbeat stories everywhere for those who support American tennis. And if Fish’s effort was the bravest, Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Christina McHale, Varvara Lepchenko and, starting off the day on Court 9, Brian Baker all notched worthy victories that took them into the third round.

But let’s concentrate on this man Baker to start with. Just how good is he? Too soon to get carried away, but the evidence is starting to lean toward "better than expected." The back story is now familiar. Eight surgeries on various parts of his body over five years, during which time he rested, coached in Tennessee and watched some of his pals from junior days make their way onto the circuit.

Fit again, he burst onto the scene by reaching the final on clay at Nice, then took Gilles Simon to five sets at the French Open. Now, on his first appearance at Wimbledon, the tall 27-year-old is through to the third round, having won six sets out of six, two of them to love. This morning it was the veteran Finn Jarkko Nieminen who found Baker’s hard-hitting forehand too tough to handle and went down 6-0, 6-2, 6-4.

“I was not expecting it to be so easy,” Baker said when he arrived for his interview with a large bag of ice strapped to his shoulder. “No, nothing to worry about — not another injury. Just precaution.”

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Baker, who is not an excitable character, seemed most pleased by the fact that this win is almost certain to get his ATP ranking high enough for him to get straight into the US Open. “That would be huge,” he said. “My ranking should move up to close to 100 from 126, and that should be good enough for direct acceptance.”

Baker qualified here, which was quite a feat in itself because he had hardly ever played on grass before. “When I hit at the Queen’s Club, I thought, 'Heck, this is nothing like a hard court. It took a while to get my footing and realize I had to slice more.'”

He learns fast. The most impressive thing about his performances here has been the matter-of-fact aspect he brings to his tennis. Minimum drama — just move in and hit calm, smooth winners. Good players make things look easy. And although it will certainly get more difficult, Baker is unlikely to be too daunted by his next opponent, a French newcomer from Avignon called Benoit Paire, who is ranked 55 and has a big serve. “Talented,” a French coach told me. “But a little crazy.” Baker, who seems a solid citizen, should be able to handle "crazy."

Roddick had an easier time of it against German veteran Bjorn Phau, winning 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. “He kind of takes swats at the ball and played well in spurts,” said Roddick, who was a break down in the third set. “So I was glad to get the break back and close it out in three.”

He will be even more delighted if he manages anything like that in his next match, when he will be facing No. 7 seed David Ferrer, who was winning the grasscourt event in Holland last week while Roddick was winning at Eastbourne.

“I think he’s won an insane amount of matches this year,” Roddick said. “I have a ton of respect for David. He doesn’t give you anything. You have to take a more aggressive line against him, for sure. You have to be really rock solid.”

Roddick, after that title-winning performance on the south coast, is suddenly looking a lot more solid than he has all year. Ferrer will provide the acid test.

Serena was never troubled by Hungary’s Melinda Czink and completed a successful day by joining up with sister Venus to win their first-round doubles over Vesna Dolonc and Olga Savchuk, 6-0, 6-3. McHale had more work to do against experienced player Mathilde Johansson but fought well to win 7-5, 7-5, reaching the third round at Wimbledon on her second visit. Lepchenko followed up a successful showing at Roland Garros by knocking out the 31st seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6, 6-4.

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