Commentary

Americans go the distance on Day 1

Updated: January 17, 2011, 8:40 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- For a while, it looked as though Andy Roddick's supporting cast at the Australian Open was going to disappear.

Sam Querrey continued to struggle in Melbourne, blowing a lead against a Pole known better for his doubles play. Ryan Harrison, filled with substantial potential, lost a winnable encounter to an unheralded Frenchman. Mardy Fish, looking to back up a breakthrough 2010, trailed a steady, unspectacular Romanian.

Then Fish turned it around, prevailing 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 over Victor Hanescu to notch a first-ever victory from two sets down. He was far from 100 percent, which made the comeback more impressive.

"I wasn't sure how long I was going to be able to go, certainly didn't think that long, and obviously adrenaline gets you through if you're two sets all," Fish told reporters. "There's no turning back then."

The weather helped. Cool, windy conditions surfaced in Melbourne, with steamy conditions not expected until Thursday. Who knows if Fish, with a real opportunity to crack the top 10, will be around.

Struck down by a virus that sapped his energy, Fish barely practiced. Describing his symptoms to Roddick, his good buddy, Fish discovered the longtime domestic No. 1 felt virtually identical as he was felled by mono last year. Fish is being tested for mono.

"Obviously being able to play 3½ hours probably means I don't have what he had," Fish said. "But [winning] a first-round match was something that I probably didn't think I was going to be able to do. It feels really good."

Fish used a bit of acrobatics to escape in the fourth. Serving to stay in it at 4-5, down 0-15, Fish hit an unorthodox forehand to keep the point alive. Later, he pulled off a Boris Becker-esque dive volley for 15-all.

Fish, the 16th seed in the same quarter as Roddick and Roger Federer, got the decisive break in the fifth in some style. Playing outstanding defense -- getting to balls he wouldn't have two years ago when he was 30 pounds heavier -- Fish uncorked an angled forehand pass for 4-3. Hanescu, the world No. 50, can at least take consolation in hitting a tweener.

Querrey, the 18th seed, stumbled at the big events for most of 2010, though reaching back-to-back fourth rounds at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open was promising. And against 72nd-ranked Lukasz Kubot, he led 2-1 in sets. Instead of administering the knockout punch, Querrey went AWOL in the fourth, dropping it 6-1. Allowed to get back into the encounter, Kubot, slightly ailing, triumphed 8-6 in the fifth. Querrey suffered an unwanted hat trick, exiting in the first round for a third consecutive year.

"With Sam, I feel like it's only a matter of time," Fish, who shares a coach with Querrey, said. "It's gotta be. I see him every day and the work he puts in, and it's heartbreaking to see him lose early. We're not going to have this conversation at the end of the year, when hopefully he makes it to the quarters or semis of a huge tournament."

No one expects miracles from Harrison -- he's still only 18 -- but not taking a set off No. 74 Adrian Mannarino wasn't in the script. Harrison upset Ivan Ljubicic at the U.S. Open in August and almost upended rising Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky. Roddick, a four-time semifinalist here, crushed Czech Jan Hajek in a Federer-like 100 minutes.

Things look better for American men in the top half Tuesday.

John Isner should cruise against Frenchman Florent Serra; scrappy veteran Michael Russell meets Aussie wild card Matthew Ebden; qualifier Ryan Sweeting faces Spanish clay-court specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver; and Donald Young, who impressed in qualifying, has a chance against slumping Croat Marin Cilic.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.