World No. 8 and American No. 1 Mardy Fish has advanced to the finals of the exhibition tournament in Kooyong, held before the start of the Australian Open. With the year's first Grand Slam only a couple of days away, he appears to be hitting his stride.
With that in mind, will Melbourne 2012 be his breakout major?
Fish has had good runs at the Grand Slam level in the past: Last year, he made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon for the second time in his career and also advanced to the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, losing a tough five-setter to France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In 2008, he also got to the final eight at the U.S. Open.
And, as a matter of fact, his first major quarterfinal came at the Australian Open, back in 2007.
Last year, though, the Australian was not so kind to Mardy as he lost in the second round to Tommy Robredo of Spain in four sets. But this will be the American's first time playing Melbourne as a member of the ATP's top 10, and he'll be expected to have a showing befitting his seeding. Getting past that quarterfinal hurdle will be the biggest task.
Fish possesses one of the best hard-court games in the world: He has a tremendous serve; his double-fisted backhand is a weapon and his forehand and movement are the best they've ever been. More often than not, Fish is able to start the point on his terms—especially on faster surfaces.
While he finished 2011 on a high note with his first appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals, things did not go as planned as he failed to win any of his round-robin matches. Health played a huge role in that as he went into the tournament suffering from a leg injury. It looked like that was still giving him problems recently at the Hopman Cup when he went 1-2 in singles.
But his recent run this week in Kooyong indicates that he's rounding into form—and at the right time, too. Playing on his best surface can help lead him to a breakout performance in Australia. He's notched wins against all of the ATP's "Big 4"—save for Novak Djokovic. Perhaps Fish and Djokovic could meet in a later round in Melbourne, such as the semis or even the finals.