Fish handed painful lesson in opener
So how good is Rafael Nadal? Mardy Fish played some of the best tennis of his career in his debut match at the ATP World Finals at the 02 Arena on Sunday. But Nadal, ailing and playing in his first match since Oct. 13, still got the victory on the opening day of round-robin play.
Nadal came through in a thriller, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6, after Fish had kept the crowd enraptured with his big serving and delicate touch to break back twice from down 0-2 in the third to lead 3-2 with the break. But the American picked the worst time to come up with bad forehand errors, allowed Nadal to break back for 3 all.
“I played a sloppy game and it cost me,” said Fish at the news conference following his 2 hour, 53 minute battle. “I knew he wasn’t feeling good but sometimes players of his caliber are more dangerous, they're aggressive and it’s tough.”
Nadal raised eyebrows when he left the court up 2-0 in the third set with a stomach problem rather than waiting for the changeover.
“I asked the umpire if I could leave the court at the next changeover and he said I should go before my serve so I went at 2-0,” Nadal explained. “I am feeling not very well. But I was mentally there at the end even if my body was not the best. And in the tiebreak he had a lot of mistakes, so that’s helping a lot, no?”
Fish refused to accept that he was upset at being made to wait for Nadal.
“I just assumed he wasn’t feeling well,” Fish said. “We’ve all been there. I didn’t think he was trying to ice me. He’s won more Grand Slams than I have tournaments and I have a ton of respect for him. I’ll wait for as long as he wants.”
Fish got off to a slow start, which was not surprising given the fact that his hamstring problem, which had bothered him in Basel and Paris, had prevented him from training as much as he would have liked. “I hadn’t practiced that much at all because of my leg and I'm just excited to be out there and be a part of this whole thing so that played a little bit of a part, too.”
Fish also needed to get used to the court conditions which are unusual because court and the crowd of 17,500 are in complete darkness during play.
“Obviously I got a little more comfortable after playing a set,” he admitted. “With the dark, it makes for good tennis. You can see the ball perfectly which usually you can’t do if the stands are filled and you lose the ball in someone’s hat at the back, or something. So it took a little bit of getting used to.”
As soon as he got used to it, Fish began playing some spectacular tennis. He attacked whenever possible, winning 28 of 46 sorties to the net and coming up with some great touch shots. He won the second set with a delicate half-volley winner and, when he just lifted a forehand volley over the net for another wonderful drop winner, Peter Fleming almost swooned.
“Oh! That’s almost Junior-like,” he exclaimed, referring to his longtime partner John McEnroe. “I’ve never seen Mardy play better than this.”
The pity was that he could not sustain it in the face of a typical Nadal fight-back which forced him to play one more ball, one more ball, again and again.
But it was a brave effort and Fish still has a shot at making the semifinals. He won a set, which might count in the final cuts, and next up is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to whom he lost at the US Open.
“I was up two sets to one and should have won that match,” he said.