PARIS – Losing is never good. Losing in a Grand Slam over two days by 10-8 in the fifth set is like a kick in the gut. And it was made worse for Mardy Fish because the Floridian has been battling back from knee surgery and has been desperately trying to do something about an ATP ranking that has slumped from the 20's to 97.
But that was Fish's fate against Ivan Ljubicic, the 14th seed from Croatia who came through a marathon battle that was held over from the rain-splattered Thursday evening by 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 6-2, 10-8 on Friday. No tie breakers in the deciding set in French Open play, so the end of the fifth became a test of both physical and mental endurance.
Fish had played brilliantly to snatch the second set on the breaker and continued to hit the ball really well from the back court against a hugely talented opponent. But he couldn't quite finish it and, afterwards, was more concerned with the loss of an opportunity to grab more ranking points than anything else.
"It's tough to swallow, going through all that and coming out with just 45 points after all the work you put in," he said, proving once again that at this level it's the points, stupid, not the money that these players care about. "It's tough because I've played 10 sets of tennis and only won one match. I'm trying to get my ranking back up there. I certainly don't feel I'm playing whatever I'm ranked."
Fish certainly played more like the top 20 player he once was than someone languishing in the 90's, but if he sticks with it, the victories will come and, with them, the points.
But there is hope for American fans. Andy Roddick is still going and was due to play the Russian qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili first up on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Saturday morning.
And then there is Robby Ginepri. Did I write somewhere that, with Ginepri, you never know? Well, you don't. Sometimes he can be a very frustrating and unfocused performer but, for the moment, he seems to be absorbing the lessons clay-court coaches like Jose Higueras have instilled into him and.
On a cool but sunny Friday, Ginepri came through with an excellent 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Potito Starace. The experienced Italian is ranked 60 while Ginepri, ironically, is just one lower than his friend Fish at 98. But that mattered little as Ginepri utilized all his considerable skills and outhit Starace at most of the important moments of the match.
Ginepri admitted that he has learned to be a little more patient on clay but he is trying for a good balance and seems to have found it.
"I'm pretty much taking a hard court game onto the clay," he said. "But I can hit the big shots through the court when I need to and grind if I have to."
Ginepri will have to do both in the third round when he faces Juan Carlos Ferrero, who won the title here at Roland Garros in 2003 and, this year, has been showing signs of rediscovering some of his old clay court prowess.
There were straight forward victories for the title holder, Roger Federer, against German qualifier Julian Reister and for the man thirsting to get that title back, Rafael Nadal, who beat Argentina's left hander Horacio Zeballos 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
One small crumb of comfort for Zeballos. In the six sets Nadal has played so far (his was a delayed second-round match because of the previous day's rain), Zeballos is the only man to have taken more than two games a set off the Spaniard. In other words, Rafa is looking like doing the business.
Novak Djokovic was an easy winner against Japan's Kei Nishikori, who is still finding his way back after a long injury lay off, and Andy Murray came through against Marcos Baghdatis by the strange score of 6-2, 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.
"He can hit some very aggressive shots and everything started going in," said Murray who lost seven games in succession when the Cypriot broke at the start of the fourth set. "But I was pleased at the way I hung in there and got control of the match again."
Next up for Murray is Tomas Berdych who brought John Isner's clay-court odyssey to a shuddering halt with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 thrashing. Isner has played a lot of tennis recently and the big man was obviously not moving as well as he would have wished. But the match was decided by the brilliance of the Czech's winners. Murray will need to be at his best.
And it was all too much for Fabio Fognini, the hero of the previous day when he came through that interrupted marathon against Gael Monfils. The Italian had little left to offer against Stan Wawrinka and lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.