Just hours before the tournament got under way in earnest, Washington’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic suffered its second high-profile loss in recent days, with the withdrawal of top-ranked American and No. 2 seed Mardy Fish.
Fish was forced to pull out because of a bruised right heel that flared up in the late stages of a three-set loss to Ernests Gulbis Sunday in Los Angeles. Last Thursday, 12th-ranked Andy Roddick, a three-time Legg Mason champion and the tournament’s top draw, withdrew after injuring an abdominal muscle during practice.
With Fish and Roddick out, four top-20 players remain, led by world seventh-ranked Gael Monfils of France.
“The tournament is not about a particular player; it’s about the whole field,” tournament director Jeff Newman said. “Obviously we’d like to have Mardy here. But I think this is an opportunity for fans to see some international players they haven’t seen in a while—Gael Monfils, one of the most exciting players in the world. And we still have John Isner and James Blake, among other Americans. The field is very strong.”
While Washington’s Legg Mason is among the sport’s more prestigious and storied events, the world’s top players place their priority in early August on getting in peak form for the season’s final major, the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 29.
Many regard playing in Washington’s withering heat and humidity as helpful preparation for the U.S. Open. But for players with nagging injuries, it’s often more sensible to skip the event to fully recover for a charge at the U.S. Open, where men’s matches are best-of-five sets.
Still, there’s no shortage of ranked players and promising Americans at the Legg Mason.
Blake, the tournament’s 2002 champion and 2005 runner-up, was impressive and efficient in dismissing Tatsuma Ito, Japan’s second-ranked player, in first-round action Monday on Stadium Court. Blake needed just 56 minutes for the 6-3, 6-3 victory.
After finishing the 2010 outside the top 100, Blake, 31, arrives in Washington on a surge, having climbed from No. 173 to No. 90 since spring. But he has learned over the years, he explained later, not to obsess about his ranking and focus instead on training, preparing and playing as best he can and count on the results to follow.
“It would be like watching the stock market every five minutes: You’d go crazy watching it go up and down and up and down,” Blake said, explaining why he no longer sets goals in terms of world rankings. “So I just look every once in a while and hope it’s a steady incline.”
While Blake’s fortunes have varied wildly in recent years, his love of competing is as strong at 31 as it was when he was a Harvard undergraduate. Blake still pushes himself in the gym and in practice against better players, who are in abundance at Florida’s Saddlebrook Tennis Academy, where he trains year-round.
“What I miss most when I’m injured is that feeling at break point — or break point down — when the pressure’s on and the crowd is behind you or against you. I don’t think that’ll ever change.”
Earlier Monday, American Donald Young got just the boost of confidence he needed on the heels of a three-match losing streak, pulling off a convincing first-round victory over New Zealand qualifier Artem Sitak, 6-0, 6-3.
The Russian-born Sitak failed to win a single point on Young’s serve in the opening set.
Young, 22, had what appeared boundless potential as a teen, winning the prestigious 16-and-under Orange Bowl tournament in 2003. The next year, he turned pro. But despite a lucrative contract with Nike and support from the U.S. Tennis Association’s player-development staff, Young has reached no higher than No. 73 in the world.
Asked whether he has recalibrated his career goals, Young said: “The goals themselves haven’t really changed. The timetable has changed. It’s to get inside the top 50. I definitely want to do that this year. And hopefully if I’m the top 50, I can get in the top 20 next year.”
In other action, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic subdued Philipp Petzschner of Germany 6-7 (7-2), 6-4, 6-0; Igor Kunitsyn of Russia beat 2004 runner-up Gilles Muller of Luxemburg, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5); Chris Guccione of Australia defeated Alejandro Falla of Colombia, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3; and American Michael Russell toppled Ivo Karlovic, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).