Small Pond, Big Fish

by: Peter Bodo | July 25, 2010

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103074505 by Pete Bodo

Now that you've forgiven me the pun, can we move on to the order of business for today?

Well, it's pretty clear that short of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal falling to their knees and begging the Atlanta tournament for wild cards, the newest ATP Tour event got almost exactly what it wanted: a warm and friendly homecoming to Atlanta, and a pile of U.S. players to keep a classic, conservative audience happy. Sure, it's a small-pond kind of tournament that's bound to churn out an order-of-merit considerably different from the one produced by a Masters 1000 event, never mind a Grand Slam meeting. But that troubles the local fans in Georgia, denied professional tournament tennis for about a decade, not at all.

You probably couldn't have scripted a better story line for the promoters in Atlanta.So maybe the wrong guy did end up in the final. It seemed less egregious an offense because the "wrong" guy happened to be an American as well. Mardy Fish took Andy Roddick's place in the final (reservations for that show are not taken; it's strictly first-come, first-served), prevailing over his countryman in the semfinals, 7-6, 6-3.

Fish will play John Isner for the title today. I wouldn't be surprised if Fish scooped up the win: Isner had to play during the peak of a very hot yesterday (the temperature on court was reportedly as high a 147, and at that point what's the difference, fahrenheit or Celsius - either way it's hell fire), whereupon he conducted another of his typical campaigns, which can best be described as a strategic combination of aerial bombardment and bitter, see-sawing, inch-at-a-time trench warfare.

But Isner ultimately prevailed over Kevin Anderson, who's one measly inch shorter than Isner at 6-8, has a similar playing sensibility, and whose name sounds American enough to have fooled most casual spectators. Anderson is a South African, although you wouldn't know it from his CV, which includes a stint at the University of Illinois, where his most dangerous and bitter collegiate rival was - yep, John Isner. So you could almost say Atlanta had an all-American semifinals, little matters of passport aside.

103069035 Isner won that battle in the vicious heat,  6-3 in the third, and what would a match involving Long John Isner be without the obligatory "critical tiebreaker?" Well, it occurred in the second set, and losing it prevented Isner from closing out the match neatly, 6-3, 7-6. His consolation is that he showed great reserves of stamina - and patience -  in climbing back up the hill after sliding all the way to the bottom. But now Isner must face Fish in a fairly drained state, a condition with which he's had some recent experience (just ask Thiemo de Bakker).

And let's not forget that Fish is no slouch himself in the big-and-tall department (he's 6-2, but no longer quite as impressive in the "big" department, having shed 30 pounds of bacon, cheese and hamburger since last year at this time). And he's on a bit of a roll. This is the third time he's made a final in his last four tournaments (he's 1-1 for in those championships), which is a great omen as the U.S. hard court season rolls out.

Fish lost the final at Queens on grass to Sam Querrey, but that was still a major success for Fish, because while he has the massive serve and adept net game that, in combination, can still pay off on grass, he doesn't really have the requisite quickness on turf. He's a hard-court guy, and a pretty good example of the kind of asphalt player whose versatility and familiarity with the net  can threaten even the most adept of the baseline huggers.

And before I go, I must say that if Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova got as much mileage out of their successive Grand Slam fashion statements as Mardy Fish gets out of that "sockless wonder" look, the folks at Nike or wherever would be doing handsprings. I mean, only Ashley Harkleroad has gotten more mileage out of baring portions of her anatomy that are generally covered up, albeit we're talking about different body parts here. The roadside sign in Fish's case appears to say: Metrosexualville: 123 Miles. Maybe I've got too much time on my hands, but I have thought about this. Why would wearing shorties instead of standard-issue socks seem so. . . odd. . . so noticeable?

The truth, I must say, is that we associate those anklets with women's tennis, in which they are de rigeur - going all the way back to the day when teen-agers seemed to be in competition to see how many of those tiny colored pom poms they could leave dangling out of the heel cup of their tennis shoes). I don't know that I would particularly call this anything like "sexism." The issue just doesn't measure up as one with significant repercussions - or any other kind of repercussions. I guess Jelena Jankovic would seem just as much a curiosity if she decided to wear the typical male pro's regular-length sock, and thank God that Princess of the Steppes hasn't thought that an option.

In fact, I remember one or another WTA pro who did wear standard socks (can anyone help me out?), but nobody said too much about it, at least not in a voice loud enough for others to hear. Double standard, or politesse? I'll go with the latter, being more comfortable than many with the idea that men and women needn't be treated equally in all ways.

Well, enjoy the tennis today, everyone. I'll be back with y'all tomorrow.

And, oh yes, hat tip to Jurgen Melzer, the 29-year old Austrian who's in the final on red clay in Hamburg, a tournament one rung higher on the ATP food chain (Hamburg is an ATP 500; Atlanta is a 250). Melzer is 29 and playing the best tennis of his life. He was in the semifinals at Roland Garros, and quarters at Wimbledon (where he also won the doubles, with Philipp Petzschner). He' s 16-6 on clay, which spells trouble for his opponent today, Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev, who's won just eight tour-level matches this year before Hamburg, but hasn't dropped a set this week and upset Nikolay Davydenko enroute to his date with Melzer.

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