- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Every so often, Mardy Fish comes across a photo of what he used to look like, back before he lost more than 30 pounds, and needles his wife or trainer or whoever happens to be within earshot.

“I look at past pictures of me on the court, and compare that to pictures of me playing today,” said the American, who used to be ranked in the top 20, “and I kind of joke with them: ‘What were you doing?! You didn’t tell me I looked like that!’”

Fish’s physical transformation certainly is paying off: He carries a 10-match winning streak into the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The hard-court tournament began Sunday, with 2002 Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse coming back to beat Santiago Giraldo 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match interrupted by rain. In the only other main-draw match Sunday, Horacio Zeballos defeated Michal Przysiezny 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Fish, who lives in Tampa, Fla., is seeded 15th at Washington and, like the other top 16 players in the 48-man event, received a first-round bye. Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych is seeded No. 1, and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick is No. 2. In all, the field includes six players ranked in the top 20, including No. 10 Fernando Verdasco, No. 13 Marin Cilic, No. 19 John Isner and No. 20 Sam Querrey.

One player who is not entered: 2008 and 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro, the reigning U.S. Open champion who hasn’t played since January because of right wrist surgery.

Longtime pals Roddick, a three-time champion at Legg Mason, and Fish practiced together Sunday morning, before a storm swamped the tournament grounds.

Fish’s ranking dropped to 108th on March 1, but he’s been steadily working his way back up, and he was 35th last week. When the updated U.S. Open Series standings are released Monday, Fish will be tied for first, thanks to his title on hard courts at Atlanta on July 25.

That followed a championship on grass at Newport, R.I., on July 11. Never before had Fish won two titles in a season — let alone at consecutive events. He also reached the final on grass at Queen’s Club in June, part of a stretch in which he is 16-2 after going 12-9 to start 2010.

“He’s going to be a threat for any player that meets him in the draw,” said Cilic, who could meet Fish in the third round in Washington.

Fish would love, of course, to bring the sort of recent success he’s been enjoying to the Legg Mason tournament, where he has lost his last four matches — dating to 2006 — and never made it past the quarterfinals.

“I’m certainly playing the best tennis of my career,” said Fish, who turns 29 in September, “so I have every intention of going to Washington … and wanting to do well there.”

The 6-foot-2 Fish weighed 203 pounds on Sept. 28, 2009, when he had surgery on his left knee. Today he’s down to 170, thanks in large part to a complete overhaul of his diet overseen by trainer Christian LoCascio.

No more late-night snacking. No more junk food.

Healthy meals. Proper portions.

“I would always eat whatever I wanted and — maybe worst of all — whenever I wanted. Cheeseburgers and pizza. Things a professional athlete shouldn’t eat during competition,” Fish said. “I just had bad eating habits, and also I was ignorant to what was good and what wasn’t. I guess I was aware of what I was eating, but I sort of convinced myself it was OK.”

The new-look Fish gives himself a much better chance to win.

The record reflects that, to be sure, but so do many individual points during the course of a match.

“Oh, it’s night and day out there,” LoCascio said. “He gets to basically every drop shot — I can’t remember the last time he didn’t get to one. And he’s in a lot better position to hit shots on the run; balls he would have to hit a defensive shot on in the past, he now gets to with enough time to do something with. He also lasts a lot longer on the court. He knows he can win long points now. If he has to, he can grind it out.”


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