The Stadium Court was filling with the chants and screams of the Argentine supporters; the cramps were coming on in the heat and humidity; he was leading 5-0 in the tiebreak against his great pal, Juan Martin del Potro, in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson; and rain was in the air. This was not a match Mardy Fish will forget.
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But he will look back on Tuesday’s match fondly because he came through a blistering encounter with the former U.S. Open champion to win 7-5, 7-6 (5), and brought himself within one victory of overtaking Andy Roddick as the top-ranked American on the ATP World Tour. But Fish is trying not to think too much about that because David Ferrer, twice a semifinalist here and ranked No. 6 in the world, stands between Mardy and that achievement.
For the moment, Fish preferred to reflect on this significant success against the resurgent Argentine who had obliterated Robin Soderling, the world No. 4, in the previous round.
"It was one of those matches where a couple of points here and there and you could lose the match even worse than the score I won by," Fish said. "But that’s tennis. It’s a brutal game. He probably had a ton of breaks. I had a few and converted on two of them. He got me on one. It was pretty high-quality tennis and I’m sure he came off thinking he played pretty well. I played great."
All true. It also looked as if del Potro’s wrist, on which he had surgery last year, was giving him a little trouble.
"Today I feel a little bad because it was humid and the doctor said be careful," del Potro acknowledged. "But this tournament, I’m really enjoying the crowd and everything. That’s why I play today."
And there was no sign of him letting up as he traded blockbuster rallies with Fish, trading as ever off his mighty forehand. But, unlike their recent meeting at Delray Beach, the American was able to hang in there and terminated rallies with some beautiful changes of pace and direction.
Fish got some applause for those impressive winners, but his supporters were continually drowned out by the flag-waving groups of del Potro supporters, who greeted his every winner with rhythmical chants "Delpo! Oi-oh! Oi-oh, oh!"
"I didn’t know where I was," Fish said with a little smile. "He certainly had the crowd on his side; you know, I’m not sure where we were playing out there today. But I did hear some people rooting for me. I appreciate that!"
He certainly earned it because del Potro took a lot of breaking down. There was a huge game at 4-5 on the Argentine’s serve in the first set when Fish had him down 40-0 and then reached two more set points before his opponent came up with sufficient service power to scramble out of it.
But it was a temporary reprieve. Del Potro put himself in trouble again at 6-5 with errors off both flanks and then, having saved a sixth set point, watched in horror as Fish scampered to defend on the stretch on the forehand side and then hit a backhand that clipped the net and fell over, leaving Juan Martin stranded.
Fish broke early in the second for 3-1, lost his serve to a screaming del Potro backhand cross-court winner, but was back in control when he won the first five points of the tie-break. Then came the cramps.
"Probably 5-0 when I started feeling some twinges and then it just came," Fosh said. "It’s extremely humid. Certainly I’m used to these conditions growing up here but I haven’t played a match in these conditions recently. I didn’t want to play (a third set). I would not have recovered from it, either. I was struggling just to serve that final point."
That came when the score had moved on to 6-4, del Potro having saved two match points on his own serve. Fish hit a big first delivery and the return went long. The pair had friendly words at the net and they’ll talk more when they play doubles together in Madrid in May.
"He’s a friend," Fish said. "He and his team, there’s no nonsense, you know, coming from his box when you’re playing. There’s no screaming from him. He’s just professional. It’s pretty impressive at his age (22). He’s one of the best guys out there, for sure."