- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic’s status as a U.S. Open tuneup - a hard-court showcase on the East Coast a few weeks before the national championship tournament - attracts some of the world’s best players to the District. This week’s event was supposed to include some big names - Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Querrey among them.

All three dropped out before playing a match, and American Mardy Fish followed suit Monday. Fish, who was the second seed and considered the biggest draw left in the field, pulled out with a bruised right heel, according to a tournament spokeswoman.

It’s a major blow to the tournament, which is left trying to sell No. 1 seed Gael Monfils and defending champion David Nalbandian as reasons for fans to shell out money to come out to William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

Fish came into the Legg Mason cruising; he won the Atlanta Tennis Championships July 24 and made it to the final of the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles this past weekend. He appeared to injure himself in the second set of his loss to Ernests Gulbis on Sunday, received treatment from a trainer on site and then saw a doctor Monday.

He never traveled to Washington, so Wayne Odesnik - a loser in qualifying - will receive Fish’s No. 2 seed, first-round bye and favorable spot in the bracket. Odesnik will open main draw play against Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, who beat Philipp Petzschner of Germany 6-7(7-2), 6-4, 6-0 on Monday.

With Fish out, Nalbandian is set to be the headliner for play Tuesday night and Monfils for Wednesday night. Nine of the top 30 players in the world still are here, but most are not familiar names to casual fans. The doubles duo of Bob and Mike Bryan (top-seeded Americans) are taking part, for those who want more U.S. Interest.

David Howell, 40, of Chambersburg, Pa., hadn’t yet heard at 7 p.m. Monday that Fish was out but insisted he and his friends wouldn’t skip the event knowing that.

“It’s just nice to see the pros entering the tournament here. It’s usually the regulars every year that come here, and it’s always refreshing since it’s local for us to see a pro play - especially John Isner and [Donald] Young here,” Howell said in the midst of Young’s 6-0, 6-3 demolition of Artem Sitak on Monday night. “Mardy Fish, of course, would’ve been nice to see.”

The tournament already had taken a hit last Thursday when it was announced that Roddick was pulling out with a strained oblique muscle on his right side.

“Make no mistake; it’s disappointing to lose a player of Andy’s caliber, especially in light of his success and many years of participation throughout his career here in D.C.,” tournament director Jeff Newman said in a statement last week.

Since that announcement, local favorite Denis Kudla - an 18-year-old who grew up in Northern Virginia - got in as a wild card and promptly lost in straight sets Sunday. Then there was Fish’s exit Monday, which was announced while Igor Kunitsyn of Russia was beating Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7-5).

Adding to the tournament’s woes is weather, as temperatures are expected to remain in the 90s for the rest of the week and there is a chance of rain disrupting play Wednesday. Howell and his friends from Chambersburg have tickets for Wednesday and won’t be deterred by the lack of household names in the tournament.

“You still have Gael Monfils and Donald Young and Jurgen Meltzer,” said 21-year-old Ethan Grandel, “so you still got some great players in there.”

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