Mardy Fish was down and out Tuesday, three points from defeat against former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.
And then, with some help, Fish turned things around for the biggest victory of his career, a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 comeback against the fifth-seeded
Spaniard to reach the third round of the Olympics.
Ferrero, the French Open champion and U.S. Open runner-up last year, double-faulted twice while serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. That
gave the 22nd-ranked Fish an opening, and he took control.
"In a normal tournament, I would have tried just as hard, but there's definitely something extra there,'' said Fish, who came to Greece on a
three-match losing streak.
"I kept saying to myself: 'This is the Olympics. This is the Olympics. I can't really go out like this, in two straight sets.' ''
Marat Safin made plain at Wimbledon in June that he harbors no such excitement about these games, saying tennis doesn't belong in the Olympics. The
ninth-seeded Russian made another quick exit, losing 7-6 (4), 6-3 to Feliciano Lopez of Spain. In 2000, fresh off his U.S. Open victory, Safin lost in
the first round at Sydney.
No other seeded players lost in Tuesday's early session.
And, healthy at last, Justine Henin-Hardenne looks ready to challenge for an Olympic medal.
The top-seeded Belgian reached the third round by beating Maria Vento-Kabchi of Venezuela 6-2, 6-1. She's dropped a total of 10 games so far after
being out since May because of a viral infection.
"I'm feeling good here. My energy is good even after four months off,'' the three-time Grand Slam champion said. "Mentally, it's going to be tougher,
because I need to be focused on every point. In the next few weeks, that's going to be hardest of all.''
She'll face Nicole Pratt of Australia for a quarterfinal berth. Pratt was a 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 winner over Tathiana Garbin of Italy, who upset
defending champion Henin-Hardenne in the second round at the French Open.
Henin-Hardenne hoped to get a chance to right that wrong.
Also advancing: No. 3 Anastasia Myskina and No. 5 Sveltana Kuznetsova of Russia, No. 8 Ai Sugiyama of Japan, No. 10 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, No.
11 Francesca Schiavone of Italy, and No. 12 Karolina Sprem of Croatia, best known for beating Venus Williams in the second round at Wimbledon.
Fish can't claim too many big wins over top players yet. His previous career highlight was knocking off 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya in the
Australian Open's second round last year.
"That's something that's holding me back ... beating these guys consistently. The guys in the top 10, they play the other guys in the top 10 very
well,'' said Fish, up next against Max Mirnyi of Belarus. He called his victory over Ferrero "definitely a confidence-booster going into the U.S.
Open,'' which starts Aug. 30.
Ferrero appeared to be in complete control, up a set and a break. But serving for the match at 5-4, he double-faulted twice. When a 15-stroke exchange
ended with Ferrero's backhand catching the net tape and dribbling back on his side, Fish was suddenly still in it at 5-5.
"I should have had an easy, 6-4, 6-4 win, and I made it tough on myself,'' Ferrero said. "I had the wind against me, and the sun in my eyes. I had to
toss the ball a bit differently, and that led to the double-faults.''
Fish ended the tiebreaker with a crisp backhand volley, then grabbed a 2-1 edge in the last set. He got to break point with a running backhand passing
winner, and converted when Ferrero dumped a forehand into the net.
There was one last tough spot for the American.
Serving for the match, he made three errors to hand Ferrero three break points at 15-40. But Fish regrouped to close it out with three aces and a
He wheeled and smacked a ball underhand out of the stadium, as the opening notes of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA'' blared over center court's
"I just tried to stay aggressive,'' Fish said. "That's the way I play well.''