- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If there’s a villain at this week’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic, it’s undoubtedly Wayne Odesnik. Forget the fact that he lost in the qualifying round and lucked into the spot originally held by second-seeded Mardy Fish because of Fish’s heel injury.

Odesnik came to the District not in the good graces of many players on tour. The 25-year-old was caught by Australian customs officials in early 2010 with HGH and subsequently suspended two years by the International Tennis Federation. The ITF cut the ban in half citing Odesnik’s cooperation with an anti-doping program, so he started on the comeback trail in January.

Wednesday brought his first official ATP match since the suspension.

“Obviously, it’s great to be back, playing at the ATP level,” he said. “From the tournaments I was playing in January — win or lose, I think, this time around I want to try to enjoy it more and appreciate it a lot more.”

Odesnik didn’t have much time to enjoy and appreciate Rock Creek Park this week, as he was dismissed quickly from the tournament courtesy of a 6-1, 6-1 beatdown from Radek Stepanek.

From the way players were talking about Odesnik a day earlier, it doesn’t seem like many will be sad to see him go. Most U.S. men’s players seem to be part of a tight-knit group, but James Blake made a point to say that didn’t include Odesnik.

“I wouldn’t say he’s at our dinner table too often, he’s at our card games too often. I actually don’t think I’ve really said a whole lot to him since he’s been back,” Blake said. “I didn’t agree with what he did, and I think he said, I saw some article where he even admitted that he probably wasn’t that close to a lot of the Americans before all this happened, and now that it has happened, it’s probably even more of a divide. He’s forefront of any of our minds as a guy to call and really go out and support and go out and cheer for.”

Odesnik brushed off questions about other players taking shots at him, saying many — including reporters — didn’t know all the facts. He wasn’t able to provide them, citing privacy with the ITF.

“If they have negative things to say, then that’s them. I’m not going to sit here and badmouth anyone,” Odesnik said. “My goal is just to really just get my life and my career back on track and surround myself with influential people — my close friends, my family, people who have been there through the good times and the bad, and that’s it. They don’t matter to me — good or bad.”

What matters to Odesnik is his play on the court. Rust was evident in this match and led to an early exit, but he said he could take a lot of positives from his time away. He called it a “wakeup call.”

“It’s rejuvenated my career, in a sense, because I’m a lot hungrier and working every day as hard as I can,” he said.

Most of this story unfolded in early 2010, so Stepanek said he didn’t keep track of new developments until Wednesday. But even upon learning about Odesnik’s history, Stepanek assured reporters he didn’t care.

“I’m not playing for the stories behind that; I just wanted to beat him,” Stepanek said. “For me it didn’t matter what his past was. Now I know what was going on, so definitely — I don’t know how to put it very good in English — it’s not fair what he’s done, but he’s wasting his life in this … and if he’s able to do it, it’s certainly his decision, his life.

“I’m not the one responsible for making a statement on him. My job is to beat him on the court and get to the next round.”

Stepanek is on to the next round, and now Odesnik is on to his next challenge — whether that’s rehabilitating his reputation or his game.

“I’m just trying to really appreciate the success that I’ve had the last six months and will continue to have in my career and really look back with no regrets and knowing that I’ve done everything I possibly can to get my career back on track,” he said.

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