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from the New York Times

In Bronx, Battle of the Up and Coming

Mardy Fish knows both sides of professional tennis, the glamorous and the unglamorous. He has played on the United States Davis Cup team in front of a rabid crowd. He has taken a seeded player to five sets in the first round of the United States Open, prompting the Stadium Court crowd to chant "Fish! Fish!" as he fought for the upset.

But Fish is also ranked 125th on the ATP Tour, which means he spends a lot of days as he did yesterday, playing in front of a smattering of fans at the Bronx Tennis Classic, a stop on the United States Tennis Association Professional Circuit, with the added challenge of doing it in blistering heat. He's vying for the $50,000 winner's check and valuable ratings points. The tournament runs through Sunday at Crotona Park.

"It's not easy," Fish said. "The level of tennis is a lot higher out there. Out here, it's much tougher to stay focused on what you're doing. A year and a half, two years ago, I wouldn't have won this match."

Fish's reward for being in the Bronx yesterday was a first-round match against not only a very difficult opponent, the 19-year-old up-and-coming Alex Bogomolov Jr., but also a good friend. Fish won, 7-5, 7-5, but both players were greeted after their match with the news that they had been awarded wild cards into the United States Open field.

Fish, 20, and Bogomolov, 19, have been traveling in the same circles for years now, trying to break through and become the next Andy Roddick ? another of their friends ? and be considered an heir apparent to American tennis stardom.

Fish has remained a bit ahead, but Bogomolov is closing fast. In the past year, Bogomolov has pushed his ranking to 230 from 680.

"Alex isn't easy to beat," Fish said. "When he's playing well, he's returning well, so you have to take your opportunities when you get them. He's a tough player to play."

Fish is tough as well, particularly when he can get to the net and force the match into his attacking style. That got him into a fifth set against Jan-Michael Gambill two years ago in the first round of the Open.

Bogomolov was in the stands that day, as he was every year before he got his own wild card last year. It's one of his favorite memories of his favorite tournament.

"To see my friend, who nobody knew at all before that night, have the whole stadium court chanting his name," Bogomolov said, "it was very exciting."

They also got to share the Davis Cup experience, in Oklahoma City last February. Bogomolov was there as a practice partner, and Fish was a surprise pick as the doubles teammate of James Blake. They beat the Slovak team of Jan Kroslak and Karol Beck, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4, to give the United States a 3-0 lead in that first-round victory.

"It was unlike anything else," Fish said. "Playing for your country is amazing. I still watch the tape sometimes ? my mom taped it off ESPN ? just to refresh my memory. It was my best moment on the tennis court by far."

Trying to add more moments is not easy for Fish. He got his third straight wild card into the Open, but he has to survive qualifiers to play in the other Grand Slams.

This year, he lost in the first round of qualifying for Wimbledon, his favorite tournament on his favorite surface. He said he didn't eat for days and stayed in bed for nearly a week. "I was so depressed," he said.

Bogomolov is familiar with tennis's ups and downs. He was supposed to be the next great young star when he beat Roddick to win the U.S.T.A. under-16 national championship in 1998. That was five years after he arrived in the United States from his native Russia. He was coached by his father, and the road ahead seemed paved in gold.

It wasn't. Bogomolov stumbled while Roddick broke through. He has surged back into the up-and-coming category in the past year.

Now he and Fish are headed for Queens in two weeks. It's a short trip from the Bronx, but by tennis measurements, it's a world away.
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