Before his second-round match Thursday night, Mardy Fish asked his coach and trainer if they were hot. The sun was setting at Rock Creek Park, but it was still well over 80 degrees. Yes, they replied, they were hot.
"I didn't really think it was that bad," Fish explained later, "so I think we're on the right track."
The No. 13 player in the world is still trying to get back in the swing of things at Rock Creek Park and fitness is the first step. Earlier this summer, he missed a month of action because of an irregular heartbeat. Then there were concerns about the injured right ankle that forced him to withdraw from the Atlanta Open last month, the same ankle that bothered Fish in his first-round victory two days ago.
Neither was a problem Thursday night, and Fish's indifference to the sweltering heat was a good sign.
The Citi Open's main attraction defeated Farmers Classic runner-up Ricardas Berankis in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, and in doing so joined the man who beat Berankis at that tournament, Sam Querrey, in the quarterfinals. Five of the top eight players in the men's draw are still alive entering play Friday.
Fish has been the tournament's biggest draw this year as several of its regular stars are competing at the 2012 London Olympics. Fish chose to skip the Olympics in order to regain his hard court form before the U.S. Open next month. He's excited to be playing in Washington, D.C., after missing last year's tournament, which was then called the Legg Mason Classic, due to injury. The fans showed a similar excitement by packing the lower level of the Stadium Court on Thursday.
"At this time last year, he was the story in tennis," tournament director Jeff Newman said. "From a fan perspective, I think [it's] just the anticipation to see him since he's skyrocketed into the top 10. This is the first time D.C. fans get a chance to see him."
What they saw was the tournament's top-seeded player at his very best. Fish let his serve do most of the work, recording 10 aces and hitting the 135 miles-per-hour mark on the court's radar gun. The match was over in exactly one hour and Fish gave no indication that he was playing on a bum ankle. Yet that doesn't mean the injury is going away, either.
"That's a tough thing because it needs rest, and I'm just not going to give it rest," Fish explained. "I'm going to go in a little bit banged up with the ankle, but it's manageable. It doesn't hamper my movement at all, which is a good thing."
In fact, the ankle is the least of his worries.
Fish said he works every day to improve his lackluster forehand, but the real challenge is in his head. The matches will come. The fitness will improve over time. But Fish still lacks that confidence that he can beat anyone in any weather on any given day. It's a mentality he had the past few summers but has also played without in years past.
"I feel like I can go out against someone like I played tonight and not lose and, I mean, that's important," he said. "In years past, I felt like I could really beat anyone, but I also felt like I could really lose to anyone on any given day. ... I have the confidence that I don't lose very many matches like that anymore, and that's big."
Fish will face unseeded Xavier Malisse on Friday in one of those matches that he is expected to win. While his forehand may be weak and his ankle may still be bothersome, Fish is focused on winning the matches that he is supposed to win and trusts the rest will take care of itself.
"There are plenty of matches out there — especially if you're a good player, every one is one that you're supposed to win," he said. "They all add up."
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