Slow surface hurt Fish

Originally Published: April 9, 2004
By Malivai Washington | Special to ESPN.com

DELRAY BEACH -- U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe wanted a slow court for this quarterfinal tie that would allow Andy Roddick to really take advantage of his kick serve. Even though Roddick might be better on a slower court, his serve is so big it would be successful on any surface -- even if it were faster.

The same cannot be said for Mardy Fish, who lost the opening match 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 to Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. Fish prefers a faster court and would have been more successful on one.

Typically putting a positive spin on things, when Fish was drawn to play first, he said he was happy about it. When I was playing Davis Cup -- always the No. 2 guy on the team -- I wanted to play the second match to allow the No. 1 guy to get the win and take a little bit of the pressure off me. Fish and Roddick didn't have a choice, but it would have been better if Roddick had been drawn first.

Still, one wonders whether the slowness of this hard court is working in the favor of the Americans or Swedes with the team's splitting the opening matches.

This surface changed both Fish and Enqvist's game plans. After the match, Bjorkman said he and Fish play more aggressive games, but the pace of this court didn't allow them to come to the net and put points away.

Setting aside the draw and the court's pace, if you look at the first match, it came down to the experience of Bjorkman. Neither man played his best tennis, but it was Bjorkman who was able to calm his nerves after losing the first set.

Fish served for the first set and at a crucial point, the linesperson did a poor job at being decisive with his call. He started to say something and then put his hand down signaling that the ball was good. A two- or three-minute delay ensued as Bjorkman and Mats Wilander talked with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos and referee Alan Mills. That was a poor job of control by the chair umpire because he needs to get the match going again, and quickly.

Once Bjorkman lost that return game and first set, it was impressive how he used his experience to put it behind him and come out smoking in the next two sets to win them 6-3, 6-2.

Fish, on the other hand, showed his nerves. That's expected. It's rare to see a Davis Cup match where both players are at the top of their games. It's similar to how Super Bowl games often show the tight nerves of the players. You have to be able to control your nerves as well as the emotion and energy you're getting from the crowd.

That's something that Roddick continues to show he can do time and time again. Despite being down a break in the first set, Roddick came back to win it 6-4. He managed to win in under two hours despite coming back countless times from 0-30. Roddick's kick serve worked well on the surface forcing Enqvist to play from the baseline. So the surface turned out to be a positive for Roddick.

Another positive for the Americans might be that such a slow-paced court plays into the strength of the Bryan Brothers, who play doubles on Saturday. They like a slow court, if not a clay court, because they feel like they can work the points better.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.

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