Henin-Hardenne meets Mauresmo in women's final

Updated: August 20, 2004, 6:47 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Mardy Fish is new to all this: winning matches in the latter stages of a big tournament, closing in on a prestigious title.

So he asked his buddy Andy Roddick for some advice. Whatever the U.S. Open champion told Fish worked, because he's about to play for an Olympic gold medal.

The unseeded Fish came back for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 semifinal victory Friday over No. 16 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who upset U.S. Open champion Roddick in the third round. In Sunday's final, Fish will play No. 10 Nicolas Massu, a 7-6 (5), 6-1 winner against Taylor Dent in another U.S.-Chile match.

The women's gold medal match has a far more predictable flavor: No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo.

"I didn't expect to be here, so I don't have anything to lose," Fish said, "and I'm sure Nicolas would say the same thing. There's less pressure on both of us."

Neither has been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament or been ranked in the top 10. Fish has won only one event, at Stockholm last year; Massu's four career titles all came on clay.

Their matchup makes for a fitting finish to a men's tournament in which No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Roddick lost early.

"I'm sure we'll be nervous in the beginning. I'm sure whoever pulls it out in the end will be nervous," the 22nd-ranked Fish said. "At the end of the day, I think I can settle for a silver medal, but I definitely want the gold."

He can only hope he doesn't have to work as hard as Croatia's Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic did to win their bronze medal in doubles. They outlasted fifth-seeded Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes of India 7-6 (5), 4-6, 16-14 in a match that lasted nearly four hours and ended at 1:05 a.m.

Chile's never won a gold medal in any sport at any Olympics, and the nation could win three in tennis in one weekend: Massu and Gonzalez will play in Saturday's doubles final against Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany. That will be after Gonzalez vs. Dent for the singles bronze.

"I'm living a dream," Massu said.

In the women's semifinals, Belgium's Henin-Hardenne rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third set to beat Russia's Anastasia Myskina 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 in a nearly three-hour match between the past two French Open champions. France's Mauresmo advanced by defeating unseeded Australian Alicia Molik 7-6 (8), 6-3.

"I'm really, really upset," said Myskina, a blue cap pulled low over her eyes. "If you're up 5-1, you have to finish the match, no matter what."

Out with a viral illness, Henin-Hardenne hadn't played since she lost in the second round at Roland Garros in May while trying to defend that title.

"In the third set, I was tired, for sure," Henin-Hardenne said. "I had given everything I had, physically and mentally."

With a day off before his final, Fish headed off Friday night to watch beach volleyball with Roddick, who shouted encouragement from the stands while watching his friend and teammate play Gonzalez.

"I'm really pumped for Mardy," Roddick said. "He's playing great, and I'm psyched he's going for gold."

While Fish charged the net at every opportunity, Gonzalez was content to hang back at the baseline and put all of his force into each forehand and backhand, marking most shots with a loud, "Aaaaahhhh!"

But on the first point at 2-2 in the second set, Gonzalez turned his right ankle while chasing a ball. He needed a medical timeout while a trainer wrapped the injury.

Fish finally gained control in the ninth game of the final set, breaking Gonzalez for a 5-4 lead, then serving it out. After the last point, he sank to his knees and bowed, then rose and flashed a thumb's up in Roddick's direction.

Fish lived with Roddick's family in Boca Raton, Fla., for a year when they were in high school. They played on the tennis and basketball teams together, and raced their cars to class in the morning.

While Roddick's pro career zoomed forward as quickly as one of his 150 mph aces, Fish's climb has been slower, hampered by injuries and inconsistency.

"I've been waiting for this sort of performance from him at a huge event," U.S. coach Patrick McEnroe said. "I've been waiting for him to do this at a Slam, and it's just as big here."

In the women's doubles semifinals, Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian of China beat Paola Suarez and Patricia Tarabini of Argentina 6-2, 2-6, 9-7, guaranteeing China its first Olympic tennis medal.

Li and Sun face No. 2 Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain for the gold Sunday. The Spaniards were 6-3, 6-0 winners over No. 5 Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press