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ATHENS 2004

Unseeded Fish Advances to Tennis Final

He moves on with a three-set win. The top two seeded women will play for the gold medal.

August 21, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Mardy Fish dropped his racket, then he dropped to his knees, his head resting on the hot, steamy center court at the Olympic tennis stadium and stayed still for a moment.

An hour later, Fish couldn't remember what he was thinking or what he was feeling. But he knows this: "I'm going to get some hardware," Fish said.

The unseeded American advanced to the gold-medal match with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over 16th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile. The 22-year-old from Tampa, Fla., will meet another Chilean, 10th-seeded Nicolas Massu, on Sunday. Massu beat Taylor Dent of Newport Beach, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, in the other semifinal. Dent and Gonzalez will play today for the bronze medal.

Top-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium will play second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France for the women's singles gold medal.

Andy Roddick, Fish's best friend, wore a towel over his head and cheered wildly in the stands for Fish. Roddick, seeded second, was an early upset victim, but he has stayed around to support Fish. The two are roommates in the athlete's village and cohorts in the pin-trading business.

Until now it has been Roddick who has earned all the tennis glory by winning a U.S. Open, playing in a Wimbledon final and being ranked No. 1 in the world last year. Fish owns one pro title and the feeling his potential has been unfulfilled.

Until now.

"I came into this tournament with a goal of trying to win a medal, but realistically, I hadn't won very many matches this summer," Fish said. "I'm just so excited now that I have a chance to play for the gold and I'm guaranteed the silver. Where do I sign up, you know?"

Fish struggled with his groundstrokes and his serve in the first set. At one point, he lost four consecutive games. His forehands and backhands were flying wide, his first serves were missing the mark. He was using his racket as a weapon of mass frustration, whacking it on the ground or knocking himself in the head in anger.

"I told myself, 'You can't play tentative when you're trying to get into the finals,' " he said.

Gonzalez turned his right ankle during the fifth game of the second set and needed an injury timeout to have it wrapped. It was not a factor in the loss, he said, and it seemed as if he chased down every shot until the end. After Fish broke Gonzalez's serve in the ninth game of the final set, Roddick yelled at Fish to "go big." Roddick meant for Fish to serve winners and Fish did.

Fish said Roddick told U.S. Coach Patrick McEnroe that Fish wouldn't hit a groundstroke in the last game.

"It was a pretty good call," Fish said.

McEnroe said this could be a breakthrough moment for Fish.

"I've been waiting for this sort of performance from him at a huge event," McEnroe said. "I've been waiting for him to do this at a Slam, and it's just as big here."

Dent had a set point in the first set, but after losing the tiebreaker, Dent said he lost his big serve.

"I couldn't find any serves to get free points," he said. "That's the problem with playing serve and volley. If you're not really serving well, the games can go fast."

Chile has never won an Olympic tennis medal but now is guaranteed at least two and could get three if Gonzalez beats Dent. Massu and Gonzalez are also in the doubles finals against Germany's Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler.

Henin-Hardenne had to overcome a 5-1 deficit in the third set of her semifinal to get past No. 3 Anastasia Myskina of Russia, 7-5, 5-7, 8-6. Mauresmo got past unseeded Alicia Molik of Australia, 7-6 (8), 6-3, in the other semifinal.

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