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Tennis

Tampa's Fish getting leg up on grass season

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published June 1, 2004

Mardy Fish didn't want to miss the French Open.

The way he saw it, he simply had no other choice.

While dealing with a painful bout of tendinitis in his left hip, the 21st-ranked Fish, who lives in Tampa, took a break from the tour to recover from the injury and prepare for the upcoming grass season.

"It's frustrating, but it's not that bad," Fish said. "Clay is not my best surface. Actually, it's my worst surface. I have a long career ahead, so I don't want to push something that doesn't need to be pushed."

Fish's recuperation (coincidentally, his injury happened while playing on clay) includes taking anti-inflammatory medicine, stretching and getting regular massages. During free time, he has attended several Lightning playoff games, and flew with the team on a recent road trip to Philadelphia.

"There's still a little bit of pain, but I really don't feel it very much anymore," Fish said. "It's definitely not what it used to be."

The upside to skipping the French?

While others have been on clay, Fish has practiced a substantial amount on the grass courts at Saddlebrook. He plans to return to the tour at next week's Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, then play in another grass event the next week in England, his final tuneup before Wimbledon.

"That's my favorite and best surface," Fish said. "I love to come to the net, serve and volley, and the grass allows me to do that. When I come to the net, that's when I play my best tennis. I'm going to try to get my feet wet and get a few matches under the belt to get things rolling."

DIFFERENT TAKES: No. 3-ranked Amelie Mauresmo caused a stir when she criticized French Open organizers for handing legend Martina Navratilova a wild card in the singles draw. The Frenchwoman said she admired the 47-year-old's fitness level but thought her entry kept up-and-coming French stars from getting a spot.

"I hope she'll enjoy being on court and she's doing it for nothing more than the love of tennis," Mauresmo said. "But it's obvious that it's penalizing young French women players."

The French Open, like many events, has a predetermined number of wild-card spots. Often, they go to players from the country in which the event takes place.

Navratilova, who has 58 combined Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles and is still a force in doubles, had not played singles in a major in 10 years. It showed as she lost to little-known Gisela Dulko, a 19-year-old Argentine, 6-1, 6-3. But afterward, Navratilova, when asked about Mauresmo's comments, said, "Did I diminish the tournament by playing out there today? I don't think so. If that's how you see it, that's how you see it. ... I thought if I can get out here and hold my own on the singles court, then it will help me on the doubles court."

In Navratilova's court is John Feinstein, a Washington Post columnist, best-selling sports author and avid tennis follower. While guest hosting the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show last week, Feinstein railed against Mauresmo, then later did the same in a phone interview.

"It's outrageous for anybody in tennis to complain for a second about Martina asking for a wild card," he said. "If she's not the greatest female player of all time, then she's certainly in the conversation of the top three or four. She has only been good for the game and she can still play. ... I guarantee you she wasn't even the worst singles player in that draw. Who do tennis fans want to see more, Martina or some French kids?"

Navratilova, by the way, still is alive at the French in doubles, where she and former Florida Gator Lisa Raymond have reached the quarterfinals.

LAST WORD: "I've got news for you, there's no country in the world that will cheer for you when you question a call." - NBC's John McEnroe commenting on French fans who booed Venus Williams for doing just that in a match last week against Mary Pierce, who lives in Sarasota but is French.

Information from other news organizations was used in the report.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]


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