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Mardy Fish thrilled to finally be in ATP Finals

Mardy Fish of the USA returns the ball to Argentinian Juan Monaco, during their match, in the Paris Tennis Masters tournament, in Paris, Thursday, Nov.10, 2011. Mardy Fish of the USA returns the ball to Argentinian Juan Monaco, during their match, in the Paris Tennis Masters tournament, in Paris, Thursday, Nov.10, 2011. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
By Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer / November 15, 2011

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When it comes to the ATP World Tour Finals, Mardy Fish is quick to admit he's simply happy to be there.

"I'm sort of taking the approach of, `Kind of excited to be a part of this thing,'" said Fish, who will be making his debut at the season-ending tournament for the top eight men in tennis a few weeks before his 30th birthday.

"I know well enough that you can't take it for granted," the American said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "There's no guarantee that anyone's going to be back here doing this thing again, and so I'm going to take it all in."

Fish, who was born in Minnesota and now lives in California, will face 10-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal when play begins Sunday in London. Fish's other opponents in round-robin play will be Roger Federer, owner of a record 16 major singles titles, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

"There's really not too many holes there -- apart from me, I think," Fish said with a chuckle. "I still don't feel like I really belong in that group. But I'll take it. I'll enjoy it for sure."

The tournament's other four-man group includes No. 1 Novak Djokovic -- who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open this season -- along with Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.

Fish is ranked No. 8; he reached his career-best of No. 7 in August. Before this season, he never had been better than 16th. He went 43-22 in 2011, with one title and two runner-up finishes, and reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon for the first time before losing there to Nadal.

After years of playing in the shadow of former No. 1 Andy Roddick, Fish emerged as the highest-ranked American for the first time.

And so the sort of question that's been posed to Roddick regularly over the past decade or so was put to Fish on Tuesday: How bleak is it for U.S. tennis at the moment? Eight years have passed since the last time an American man won a Grand Slam singles championship, Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.

"I think we're in great shape," Fish replied.

He then rattled off the names of various players, including his pal Roddick, who Fish said "can still beat anyone on any given day." Fish also mentioned Ryan Harrison and Donald Young ("Two guys that'll be around for a long time"), John Isner ("Starting to figure it out, it seems like; he's a top-10 player for sure") and Sam Querrey.

Fish, though, is the one responsible for continuing the 25-year streak of having at least one American man in the tour's season-closing event.

He concedes that he's not 100 percent fit, because of what he called a "small" left leg injury, and he knows that playing Federer and Nadal means dealing with "two of the best players of all time ... which sounds pretty daunting."

Add in Tsonga, and Fish's combined career record against his three round-robin opponents is 2-14.

Not that Fish is ready to concede a thing.

"I've had a lot of top-10 wins in my career, and top-five wins, so, I mean, it's not out of the realm of possibilities to get to the semis and beyond for me. I feel like that. And I'm sure everybody will feel like that going in," he said. "These guys are all the best of the best."

For the first time in his career, Fish is part of the group.