2002 Wimbledon runner-up Nalbandian beats Ram in 1st ATP match since April
WASHINGTON – David Nalbandian made a successful return to the ATP circuit, winning his first tour match since being sidelined with a left hamstring injury 3½ months ago.
Argentina's Nalbandian beat American Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-0 in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic on Monday night.
Nalbandian was ranked as high as No. 3 and reached the final at Wimbledon in 2002. But he hasn't played in a tournament since losing in the quarterfinals on clay at Monte Carlo in April, and he's now ranked 117th. He was given a wild card to play in Washington.
Next up for Nalbandian is a match against fifth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland.
Also Monday, 2002 Legg Mason champion James Blake lost to 119th-ranked qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Past champion James Blake lost to 119th-ranked qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 Monday night in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the latest in a series of early exits for the former top-five player.
Blake, who won the hard-court tournament in 2002 for his first ATP title, has lost his opening match at six of 12 events this season and has a 10-12 record.
He had his chances against Sweeting, but went 0 for 4 on break points in the final set.
"I played tentative on a lot of the break points," Blake said. "When you don't have a lot of matches, you're not going after the shots. ... I need to play more matches, and I need to find a way to get that confidence back."
The 30-year-old Blake said he wasn't hampered by a right knee injury that began bothering him more than a year ago.
"The knee feels great. That's not a problem at all — not now, at least," he said.
Blake is a three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist once ranked as high as No. 4 but is now at No. 105. Sweeting's only match victory at a major tournament came when his opponent quit during the first set at the 2006 U.S. Open, and his career-best ranking is No. 116, achieved in May.
All of which is why the 23-year-old Sweeting, who was born in the Bahamas and is a U.S. citizen, called Monday's result "one of the best wins of my career." He'll play No. 14-seeded Michael Llodra in the second round.
Sweeting lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and often practices in Tampa with Blake, Mardy Fish and John Isner.
In other action Monday, qualifier Grega Zemlja eliminated Benjamin Becker 6-2, 6-3, Igor Kunitsyn beat Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-3, Karol Beck beat Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-4, and Viktor Troicki defeated Kevin Kim 6-1, 6-2.
On Tuesday, Zemlja will play No. 2-seeded Andy Roddick, who realized early in his career this part of the season would present an opportunity for him to excel. This is when, leading up to the U.S. Open, the tennis circuit moves to hard courts that add zip to his serves and forehands, the foundations upon which his game is built.
In all, 19 of Roddick's 29 career titles have come on the surface, including, of course, his one Grand Slam championship at the 2003 U.S. Open.
His first quarterfinal at any ATP tournament came at age 17 on a hard court at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, an event he would later go on to win three times. He's back in Washington this year and had a first-round bye.
"It's always nice to go back to places that you've done well," Roddick said Monday. "It's certainly one of the best times of the year for me. Everything's comfortable. ... I always get excited about it."
Roddick got a taste of hard-court competition at Atlanta last month, when he made a late decision to enter as a wild card so he could get in some work after his earlier-than-hoped-for loss in the fourth round at Wimbledon. But he sees the Washington tournament this week as the true beginning of a stretch that he hopes will end with success at the U.S. Open, the year's last major championship.
He'll also play in hard-court events at Toronto starting Aug. 9, and Cincinnati starting Aug. 15. Play begins at Flushing Meadows on Aug. 30.
Yes, over the next three weeks, he wants to win matches and titles, and he aims to accumulate ranking points, prize money and confidence.
More than anything, though, the 27-year-old Roddick seeks to get his game in gear.
"I don't feel like I've gotten my feet into the summer yet," he said. "Obviously, these three events are pretty much at the beginning of the year what you circle for your U.S. Open preparation — or at least I do. So this is kind of where the preparation for New York starts, in my eyes."
That preparation will focus in large part on what he considers the two biggest work-in-progress parts of his tennis, his service returns and his footwork.
Get those right, and he figures he will contend at the U.S. Open.
First things first, though.
"You don't want to get ahead of the wagon, so to speak. I don't even want to think about the Open at the moment," Roddick's coach, Larry Stefanki, said after a practice session. "It would be nice to get into a flow, get into a win streak, get matches under Andy's belt and kind of build up to the Open. It's a process."