By Alex Welch & Zack Mason/BB&T Atlanta Open
One of the biggest storylines of the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open was Mardy Fish’s return to the ATP Tour, but Michael Russell didn’t seem to take much interest in his comeback as he defeated the No. 6 seed 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 Wednesday night.
The match that spanned over two days due to inclement weather ultimately came down to the wire in the third set, with Russell making a late push to advance to the second round.
Coming into the match, Russell could have been considered the slight favorite given his recent semifinal success at last week’s Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, along with Fish’s inactivity since his last tournament showing in March at Indian Wells.
The first set remained on serve, as Fish combined booming serves and forehands with ghastly mistakes, the latter of which Russell took full advantage. Despite Russell’s deft use of a drop shot and topspin to keep Fish moving, he dropped serve to concede a break at 3-2. Fish wavered at times throughout the initial set, along Russell to break back, but he closed out at 6-4 to take a promising lead.
Russell managed to turn the tables the following set, but after taking a 4-2 lead, rain forced the match to carry over into Wednesday night. When play finally resumed, Russell’s energy seemed to overpower the hard-hitting Fish. The delay may have been beneficial for the slight underdog.
"It definitely helped me. I was able to change my string tension a little. I felt the ball was really flying in the beginning," said Russell. "It helped me get my equipment squared away."
While he admitted the on-and-off procedure in dealing with rain can be difficult, it proved to work in his favor this time around. He broke Fish to take the second set 6-2, and prepared for what was sure to be a tight battle for the final frame.
Fish broke Russell to begin the third set, and with a 3-1 lead, it looked like he was easily heading for the second round in Atlanta. However, unforced errors and a few impressive winners from Russell left him on top. He came up with back-to-back overhead winners and an ace to go up 5-4. Fish attempted to rally behind the crowd’s support, but it was too little, too late.
Despite all the talk of an extended absence, Russell said he didn’t notice much rust from his opponent.
"I thought he played really well. He was coming up with 130 mph serves," said Russell. "Usually when someone takes four months off, they’re a little bit rusty. But I just thought it was good tennis."
Russell said his play as of late has left him with confidence. Taking the court under the lights of Atlanta seemed to comfort him as well.
"The venue is fantastic. For the fans and the players, it’s amazing, because everything is so easy. It’s a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium," said Russell.
Russell now moves on to face Santiago Giraldo in the second round. The two haven’t faced off since 2011, when Giraldo came away with a straight-set victory in the Netherlands.
For Fish, returning to his form of old will continue to be the ultimate priority. While his dominant managed to save him at times against Russell, he appeared fatigued and frustrated often. If he can fight off injuries, he can climb back up the rankings once again.