KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. | Mardy Fish might leave Key Biscayne as the top-ranked American in men’s tennis, a prospect that leaves him unconvinced.
“I don’t think it would mean that much, to be honest,” said Fish, who beat No. 17 seed Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-3 in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open on Sunday.
Fish is ranked a career-best 15th. If he wins two more rounds, he’ll overtake longtime friend Andy Roddick atop the U.S. men’s rankings.
Roddick lost his opening match Saturday and is expected to drop from eighth to about 15th in the next rankings, the lowest he has been since 2002.
“I certainly wouldn’t feel like the top-ranked American, considering what Andy has accomplished and what I’ve accomplished,” Fish said. “His career has quadrupled mine, at least. I wouldn’t be the No. 1 American, really.”
Roddick is a five-time Grand Slam finalist who won the 2003 U.S. Open and finished that year ranked No. 1. Fish’s record in major events is barely above .500, and he has made the top 20 in the year-end rankings only twice.
But at 29, Fish is in the best condition of his career. That showed against Gasquet in the midday sun on an 87-degree afternoon.
“Playing out there today, you can obviously see why you need to be fit to win these matches,” Fish said.
In women’s play, Kim Clijsters earned her 500th career victory by beating Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Clijsters won the tournament in 2005 and 2010. Reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone edged Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-4, 7-6 (2), while No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska beat No. 24 Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (2), 6-3, and No. 15 Marion Bartoli and No. 19 Ana Ivanovic also advanced.
On the men’s side, No. 6 David Ferrer defeated Somdev Devvarman 6-4, 6-2.
Fish lost to Gasquet twice in 2008, including in the first round at Wimbledon.
“He killed me,” Fish recalled.
But Fish has won their past two meetings - a reflection of his improved conditioning, he said. After undergoing knee surgery in September 2009, he changed his diet and lost more than 30 pounds.
A slimmer Fish went 40-14 in 2010, a career high for victories, and finished the year ranked 16th, another career best. He is willing to play longer points now that he’s more fit, and his shot selection is less risky, so he makes fewer unforced errors.
“I used to have to go for shots that I don’t have to do anymore,” he said.
Instead, it was Gasquet who made the big mistake - a double-fault on break point in the next-to-last game. Fish served out the victory at love to reach the round of 16, which matches his best showing in 10 appearances at Key Biscayne.
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