Andy Roddick lunges to return a backhand to Tomas Berdych during their match… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Monday at Indian Wells brought the issue of U.S. men's tennis to the forefront for review. Pull up a couch.
The top-ranked player in the group is Mardy Fish, a bright, personable late-bloomer, who lives in Los Angeles and battled his way from the shadows of a career double-figure ranking into the top 10 last year. He entered this year's BNP Paribas Open ranked and seeded eighth.
Monday, he lost to a qualifier, Matthew Ebden of Australia, ranked 91st.
The top name player in the group is Andy Roddick, who was the No. 1 player in the world at the end of 2003 and hadn't finished a season out of the top 10 since 2002 -- until last year's No. 14. Roddick is the last U.S. male to win a Grand Slam tournament. That was 2003, at the U.S. Open, his only major title. He entered this event ranked 31st and seeded 30th.
Monday, he lost to No. 7 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, and, while the match went three sets, Roddick was clear as to the reason for the eventual result.
"He was too good for me tonight," Roddick said.
Fish's scores were 6-3, 6-4; Roddick's were 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Also in the equation is No.11 John Isner, a 6-foot-9, hard-serving NBA wannabe. He has worked his way back from injuries and took care of business nicely Monday, sending away Juan Monaco of Argentina, 7-5, 7-5.
In the picture as well, according to ATP rankings, are Donald Young, who is No. 39 but left this competition several days ago in the first round, and Ryan Harrison, No. 72, who has won two matches and was scheduled to play the final match of the evening Monday.
Not to be omitted from the mix is James Blake, No.62, but currently sitting things out with a bum knee.
Age may or may not tell a story. Fish is 30, Roddick will be 30 in August and Isner is 27. Blake is 32 and probably well past a late-career, Andre Agassi-like run. Young is 22, Harrison 20 in May.
Fish and Roddick are best friends and huge talents. Both are smart and introspective and Monday's losses triggered some of that.
Fish admitted that he isn't competing like he was a year ago.
"I've lost that a little bit," he said.
He said he is conflicted after a result such as this.
"You aren't sure if you want to get back tomorrow and spend six hours a day, every day, until Miami [the next tournament] on the court," he said, "or you want a month of break."
He said that the match against Ebden was the kind of match he won last year "routinely."
"I beat almost everybody last year that I should have," he said. "I don't want to become everybody else's best-win."
Roddick was prodded to be similarly reflective, but fought it. Asked to comment on his big picture, which was a gentle way of seeing if he'd talk about feeling like he was near the end, he responded, "Well, for me, there really is no big picture. I'm not 19. I want to get better and I want to get better right now. . . . I've always kind of looked at tomorrow my entire career and that's not any different now."
Fish's loss left Isner's part of the bracket even more open than it was when No. 4 Andy Murray was ousted in the second round. Isner's chances for a semifinal spot versus No. 1 Novak Djokovic seem reasonable.
"I don't know if it is a gut feeling," Isner said, "but I believed, going into this year, that 2012 would be better than 2011."
In the women's draw, second-seeded Maria Sharapova recovered from a tightening of the throat in a second set she led, 5-0, and prevailed over Simona Halep of Romania, 6-3, 6-4.
Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seeded fourth, was forced to three sets by Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, eventually winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
And former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy defaulted after a set because of flu-like symptoms that have felled several players.