2012 London Olympics - Summer Olympics
May 3, 2012, 4:35 pm
Fish Skipping Olympics to Play in Washington
By BEN ROTHENBERG
WASHINGTON — At a news conference overlooking the White House at the W Hotel last Tuesday in Washington, the annual A.T.P. tournament held in the city announced that it was changing its name to the Citi Open and that it intended to add a new grandstand court to its grounds.
The multimedia portion of the presentation was a brief video clip of the top-ranked American, Mardy Fish, the current A.T.P. No. 9, announcing his entry into the tournament.
Though an American player announcing he will play a United States Open warm-up tournament in the United States is usually not noteworthy, the commitment rules Fish out of another concurrent tournament — the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the tennis portion of which will be played at the All England Club in Wimbledon.
Fish, who regained the mantle of American No. 1 from John Isner in last week’s A.T.P. rankings, will most likely be the top seed at the Washington tournament.
Though a top achievement of Fish’s career was his winning a silver medal in men’s singles at the Athens Olympics in 2004, he has not returned to the competition. Fish led, two sets to one, in the gold medal match before losing to Nicolas Massu of Chile in a 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 heartbreaker.
Fish also picked Washington over the 2008 Beijing Games (then ranked 36th, still well within the cutoff for Olympic qualifying). He lost in the first round in Washington that week to No. 122 Alejandro Falla.
Andy Roddick also skipped the Beijing Olympics to play in Washington, citing the long distance to China during one of his most important parts of the season as a major factor. Roddick has talked about playing the Olympics this year (including a possible partnership with Serena Williams in the new mixed doubles event), but could still decide to play Washington again instead.
Though recent undisclosed health problems for Fish have left his return to the tour in the next two months in doubt, speculation that Fish would skip the London Olympics dated to the end of the 2011 season, which was the best of the 30-year-old’s career.
Donald Dell, the tournament chairman and co-founder of the Citi Open, said Fish contacted him about playing in Washington in March.
“He called us about a month ago, and said, Look, I’m not planning to play the Olympics, so I want to enter Washington early,” Dell said, paraphrasing.
“He had just moved into the top 10. And I said: ‘God, we’d love to have you! Can we announce it?’ Make him sort of the poster boy of the tournament.
“So I then said to him, Why aren’t you playing the Olympics? Well, first of all, I’ve played the Olympics and won a silver, in ’04. And he said, I’ve had that experience. I’d rather play the American circuit, and get points and move my ranking up than go to Wimbledon where I’ll have just played, you know, a month before. So I said, hey, that’s fine!”
Dell is also group president of Lagardère Unlimited, a sports management firm, which lists Fish as one of its most prominent clients. He predicts other players will follow Fish’s footsteps by picking American hardcourts over the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play Olympic tennis at a Grand Slam venue.
“The irony of it is there will be three or four people, I’m telling you right now, in the top 15 that will enter. I can’t tell you who they are, but it will be the same reason.
“It’s the surface and the dates that really attract the players,” Dell continued. “And I think some grass court players will play the Olympics, and some who really don’t play well on grass — because you don’t realize the amount of money involved for the rankings. Take an average player, let’s say who’s ranked 50. In his contract, if he has a good agent, in his contract is going to say, ‘If you get to the top 15 you’re going to make, you know, $100,000.”
Though they do not offer the appearance fees and prize money of an A.T.P. Tournament, the Olympics do award ranking points, albeit only 750 for the gold medalist (250 fewer than earned by the champions of the Masters 1000 tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati the two weeks after the Games). Fish, a runner-up in Canada and a semifinalist in Cincinnati last year, will be defending 960 points in those two weeks, an amount which makes up more than a third of his current ranking points.
Tennis was not an official Olympic sport from 1924 to 1988, a factor in the weight tennis players give the event compared with athletes in more traditional Olympic disciplines.
Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company