April 5, 2006, 12:33AM
RIVER OAKS INTERNATIONAL
Ginepri keeping up the fight
U.S. Open run raised expectations before current lull
By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Robby Ginepri finally revealed his full potential last summer, when he won a big tournament in Indianapolis and reached the semifinals of that much bigger one in New York.
Then, rather than rest on his U.S. Open laurels, which he admittedly feared might happen, Ginepri kept grinding through the fall. More successes followed, including a trip to the semis at the Masters Series Madrid event. He left no reason to doubt the trend would carry over into 2006.
But it hasn't. Why?
"It's tough to say," Ginepri said Tuesday at the River Oaks International, where he'll play his first match today and take on Pete Sampras in an exhibition on Thursday night. "I feel I'm hitting the ball the same. But the mental side is a little off, and that's such a big part of getting to the top.
"I had a couple tough matches and didn't squeak them out, so I got a little discouraged. But I'm still working hard. That's all you can do — put your head down and keep working. These guys are still the same guys I played last year and beat. I need to remember that every time I step out there on the court. I've done this before and I can still do it."
Neither his health nor his fitness is an issue. He has a new trainer, Jamie Gable, and he insists he feels "like I'm 19 again."
Fatigue? Hardly. If anything, he's too rested because he's not playing himself into tournaments, having survived his first match just twice in seven starts.
Time for a tuneup?
Ginepri beat Jurgen Melzer at the Australian Open and Kenneth Carlsen at the Nasdaq-100 Open. Otherwise, he has taken an oh-fer on the year. But you look at his scores, and you see nobody's blowing him out. The matches are littered with tiebreakers, and rarely has he lost to anybody in straight sets.
That's why can insist with a straight face, "I don't think anything's wrong. I've just got to tighten up some screws.
"I'm still (ranked) 21 in the world. If somebody tells you a year ago you're going to reach two Masters Series semifinals and a Grand Slam semifinal, but you're also going to lose (in) five first rounds, you're going to take that. There will always be a week here and week there where things don't go as well as you'd like."
Ginepri's first-round travails are a reminder of the depth of the men's tour. Everybody who has beaten the 23-year-old Georgian was ranked well below him. Of course, he got himself in that pickle by climbing as high as he did.
"You can't underestimate anybody," he said. "Respect all and fear none. It's not getting any easier, that's for sure."
Nor will it with the clay-court season starting, never mind his pending milestone encounter with Sampras in the River Oaks Stadium. He has never played the 14-time Grand Slam champion other than during Davis Cup practice sessions, and Sampras hasn't played anybody in 3 1/2 year, so Ginepri said he has no idea what to expect.
More work welcome
Ginepri rolled his eyes when told that Sampras had pronounced himself "a big underdog" during a conference call earlier in the day.
Ginepri jumped at the chance to participate in Sampras' post-retirement return to the court, even if it meant he must play five days in a row here should he reach the final. That's perfectly OK. As previously noted, he needs the work, more for his brain than for his legs.
"I've always been physically fit," Ginepri said. "Preparing myself mentally has been harder for me. It's a battle I fight every day."
Australian Mark Philippoussis, on the other hand, has long struggled on both fronts. In the early stages of another comeback, the onetime U.S. Open and Wimbledon runner-up was no match for Scoville Jenkins Tuesday. Jenkins, a recent U.S. national junior champion, won 6-1, 6-3 in 59 minutes.