- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A powerful serve and strong backhand catapulted American Michael Russell to a 4-0 lead in the first-set tie-breaker against Xavier Malisse on Wednesday night at the Legg Mason Classic — even though, up to that point, the match been a back-and-forth encounter.

On the fifth point, Russell switched it up. Instead of a blistering shot, he hit a soft, tail-spinning chip at his opponent. The Belgian was expecting anything but that attempt, and as the shot dropped in, Malisse threw his hands in the air in frustration.

Russell went on to win the first set, and it turned out to be the only one he needed. Malisse, the highest-ranked Belgian in ATP history, retired midway through the second set with an injury, giving Russell the win and sending the American into the round of 16.

In a tournament crying for a star without names like Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and Fernando Gonzalez, the more players representing the United States, the better, as far as tournament organizers are concerned. As the match between Russell and Malaisse unfolded, the only sound from the crowd came from those encouraging Russell.

Russell’s record against Malisse improved to 3-0; he beat the Belgian in 2001 at the Roland Garros in France and also in 2010 in San Jose.

Indeed, Russell showed shades of that dominance early on. The Detroit native began the set by winning four out of the first five games. Malisse battled back, though, and won three straight games to tie it up at four apiece. The two right-handers traded games until it came down to the tie-breaker, when Russell finally broke free.

At one point in the middle of the set, Malisse had to stop the match for five minutes as he received medical attention on his right hand. He got back into the game shortly thereafter, but the stoppage of play was a precursor to what was to come.

Armed with a 3-1 advantage in the second set, Malisse was well on his way to tying the match and sending it to a third and final set. But his hand injury was worsening, and in between points in the fifth game, he walked over to the judge and announced he was retiring from the match.

Just like that it was over.

All business, Russell shook hands and calmly walked out of the court with his bags in hand. Malisse, on the other hand, appeared crestfallen, and laid back in his chair, towel draped over his head, thinking of what could have been.

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