- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mardy Fish doesn’t like doing interviews. It’s not that the ATP Tour’s 36th ranked player is shy or aloof or scared of letting down his guard. It’s just that every time a notebook-wielding reporter approaches him, they want to talk about someone else.

“I have done quite a few interviews where all they want to ask me about is Andy [Roddick],” Fish said. “I certainly don’t mind talking about him, but guys would want interviews, and they wouldn’t ever ask how I was doing or how my game was.”

Roddick, the guy Fish lived with for a year in high school and drag raced with on the streets of Boca Raton, Fla. Roddick, the guy Fish won his first ATP event with, a doubles title at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in 2002. Roddick, the guy who beat Fish in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Australian Open.

Ever since turning pro in 2000 at 18, Fish, the No. 5 seed at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, has done his best to remove himself from his close friend’s shadow.

Armed with a vicious backhand, the Edina, Minn., native made an immediate impact during his first four years on tour, winning the 2003 Stockholm Open and capturing the silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Then came a devastating wrist injury, two subsequent surgeries and 10 months out of action in 2005.

Fish worked with friend James Blake - with whom he has won two doubles titles - at Saddlebrook Academy in Tampa, Fla., to speed his recovery. He rebounded to win his second singles title at Houston in 2006 and was named the ATP’s comeback player of the year.

“All the guys were real supportive,” Fish said of his time in Tampa. “We always practice together and stuff. James and I are real close.”

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander won 74 percent of his points in a March victory over then top-ranked Roger Federer in the semifinals of the ATP Masters Series at Indian Wells and narrowly lost to Novak Djokovic in the final. Last week, he advanced to the semifinals of the Countrywide Classic before succumbing to eventual tournament champion Juan Martin Del Potro.

Following a second-round exit in Newport, R.I., earlier in July, Fish - a huge baseball fan who once hit a 370-foot bomb while taking batting practice with the New York Mets at Shea Stadium - got the chance to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park at a Twins-Red Sox game.

Later, he turned down the chance to improve on his silver medal in Beijing. Fish didn’t want to have lingering jet lag slow him in the coming months, which figure to fly by in a flurry. First, there’s the U.S. Open, an event Fish “desperately wants to play well” at. Then, on Sept. 28, Fish will wed Stacey Gardner, a California attorney better known for her work as a briefcase model on NBC’s “Deal Or No Deal.”

“It’s definitely a nice time off the court,” Fish said, adding that he will not be joining Gardner alongside Howie Mandel anytime soon. “Stacy is doing a lot of the wedding planning, keeping me out of most of that so I can concentrate on the tennis.”

A good showing this week at H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center would be the perfect tuneup for Flushing Meadows, where Fish has yet to make it past the second round. He starts things off this afternoon against Colombian Alejandro Falla.

“I think anytime you can develop as much confidence as you can going into a huge tournament the better,” said Fish, who reached the quarterfinals at the 2003 and 2006 Legg Mason. “This is a tournament where you can win a few matches and really give yourself an opportunity to really go deep in a big tournament like this. The main thing is that you have to have confidence.”

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