At the International Tennis Championship, being seeded number one has always been a malediction. But today, American Mardy Fish dispelled that curse by becoming the first top seed to win in Delray. Fish prevailed over 21 year-old Russian qualifier Evgeny Korolev 7-5, 6-3 for his third career title.
In this match, the weather was a significant part of the story. While the swirling wind contributed to Fish’s tentative play, Korolev did not modify his game plan and went for his shots. After Fish held serve, Korolev had a love service game to start his first ATP final. Then, the Russian put away a forehand crosscourt winner for deuce. Mardy countered with a forehand winner for game point. But, Fish could not control his next forehand. Play was interrupted at deuce by rain.
When the players returned, Korolev reached break point and converted for a 2-1 lead. The Russian’s advantage faded when with crosscourt unforced errors on the backhand and forehand side, Korolev allowed Fish to break back. However, in the subsequent game, on his third break try, Korolev crushed a backhand return which resulted in an error from Fish giving the Russian the lead again for 3-2. After Korolev consolidated with a love game, he hit a forehand down the line winner for break point, now a double break advantage was at stake. But, Fish pulled out the game with a few good serves. After his third love game for 5-3, in a 15-40 game, Korolev made a sensational backhand dropshot to get to deuce. Again, with a couple of unforced errors by Korolev, Fish was let off the hook. After connecting on a forehand down the line winner to begin serving out the set, Korolev made three consecutive unforced errors to face double break point. With a bold backhand dropshot winner and a backhand down the line error from Fish, Korolev got to deuce. However, when Korolev failed with another dropshot, Fish had an advantage point. Then, Evgeny netted a forehand volley to equalize the set at 5-5. After escaping with a hold with a forehand volley winner, aided by his rival, Fish arrived at triple break point. When Korolev misfired on the forehand, Fish pocketed the first set.
Thereafter, Fish was on cruise control. After holding serve, Fish remained patient in the long rallies while allowing Korolev to force the issue. That strategy paid off. With a backhand volley error, Fish obtained the break for 2-0. While Korolev tighten up his game, painting the court with forehand and backhand winners, Fish also played well. With a love game, the American kept his lead for 5-2. Serving to stay in the match, errors once again crept back into Korolev’s game. This time, the Russian stared at double match point. When Fish missed a backhand pass and a forehand return, Korolev emitted a sigh of relief. Ultimately, after three deuces, Korolev held for 3-5. Serving for the championship, Fish saved two break points, one with an ace, the other with an un-returnable serve. Finally, when on Fish’s fifth attempt a scrambling Korolev had his stroke sail long, Mardy secured the match.
In the post match interview, in reference to the court condition, Fish stated that by living in Tampa he is accustomed with the wind. Nevertheless, Fish cited that it does present some difficulties when playing; therefore, he was just glad to be in the winning column. When asked about his opponent’s game, Fish characterized it as uni-dimensional in the sense that he “doesn’t really take much off the ball so when he is swinging hard from down low I think that’s a good sign.” So, Fish’s strategy was to “keep the ball … low” and “to hit the ball short” since he knows Korolev is uneasy with volleying. Fish admitted that it was “great” to get a third title under his belt, considering his dismal finals record. “ It is well chronicled that I have had a lot of losses in finals and I certainly would like to feel like I’m a better player than three titles but it is what it is”. As for his objectives this year, Mardy cited “[I want] to go higher than my career high of 17”. After breaking the tournament’s “seventeen year jinx”, hopefully, Fish’s good fortune will continue in 2009.