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Fish Breaks Delray Beach Curse

Delray Beach, U.S.A.

Mardy Fish became the first top seed to title in the 17-year history of the championships.© CameraSportMardy Fish became the first top seed to title in the 17-year history of the championships.

American Mardy Fish became the first top seed to title in the 17-year history of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships after rallying to defeat Russian qualifier and first-time ATP World Tour finalist Evgeny Korolev 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday.  

The 27-year-old Tampa resident, who clinched the title without dropping a set, earns 250 South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings points and $79,100 as the winner of the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament.

Early in the final, Fish looked in danger of becoming the sixth top-seeded player to suffer a loss in the Delray Beach final. Korolev held a 5-3 lead in the opening set before Fish reeled off seven straight games to change the course of the match. He prevented Korolev from serving out the first set at 5-4, and broke the Russian in his next service game to secure the set lead.

After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, Fish earned his first two match points on Korolev’s serve in the eighth game but could not capitalise as he committed errors on return. Korolev saved two more match points in the next game before Fish converted on his fifth opportunity as his opponent popped up a return that floated long.

"There have been some good No. 1 seeds [at this tournament]," said Fish. "It started out rough in the first set, and [the curse] somewhat creeps in your mind – am I going to break this thing or what – but it feels good."

Fish, who was making his sixth Delray Beach appearance, is the third different American to win the event title, joining Todd Martin (1993) and Jan-Michael Gambill (2001, ’03). Gambill had defeated Fish in the 2003 final.

World No. 20 Fish now has a 3-10 record in ATP World Tour finals, adding to his title wins in 2003 at Stockholm (d. Soderling) and 2006 at Houston (d. Melzer). Prior to his victory Sunday, he had lost in his past four final appearances, most recently two weeks ago in San Jose (l. to Stepanek).

"It’s well-chronicled that I’ve had a lot of losses in finals, said Fish. "I certainly would like to feel like I’m a better player than three titles, but it is what it is. I’m happy to win this tournament. It’s a great tournament. I love coming down here."

The American was playing in an ATP World Tour final for the third straight week, after teaming up with Bahamian Mark Knowles to win the doubles title last Sunday at the ATP World Tour 500 tennis tournament at Memphis.

Fish will take a 12-5 season record into the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament of the 2009 season, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Last year at the tournament, he upset three Top 10 players – No. 4 Davydenko (3rd Rd.), No. 7 Nalbandian (QF), No. 1 Federer (SF) – en route to a runner-up finish (l. to Djokovic).

Fish said about the month ahead: "There’s two big ones coming up – Indian Wells and then just down I-95 in Key Biscayne – those are huge for me. Doing well last year in Indian Wells, that’s a special tournament so I’m looking forward to it."

Korolev, the first Russian finalist in Delray Beach, was looking to become the second straight qualifier to win the title at the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament. Japanese teenager Kei Nishikori had upset top-seeded American James Blake in the 2008 final.

"The conditions were very tough, especially for me, because for my game I was going for the balls," Korolev said about the final. "With a wind like today I couldn’t go for much because the balls were flying all over. I couldn’t control it, to be honest. Mardy played very, very clever. It was closer to his game to keep the ball in play...The first set was really unlucky for me but he played really well. He didn’t miss today at all. He was very comfortable even with these conditions. It seemed like nothing was bothering him. He definitely deserved to win the tournament."

The 21-year-old Muscovite, who entered the week at No. 105 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, now has a 6-4 season record.

He said: "I played the whole week well from the qualies on. That was what I was waiting for. Finally I can practice, finally I can work hard, finally I can go running and go to the gym and everything. This is the result what came out from the month I worked before. I’m happy. I will keep on going, keep on working, and hopefully I can make some more finals."

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