JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) -- Mardy Fish has spent countless practice hours trying to improve his serve.
Seems his hard work is starting to pay off.
“It’s important to get free points on hardcourts,” Fish said. “I feel like I’m an aggressive style player and for me to play my best tennis, I need free points on my serve.”
Fish, the No. 6 seed, beat James Ward of Great Britain 6-1, 6-2 Monday night in the first round of the Atlanta Tennis Championships.
He won 21 of his 25 potential points on first serve and broke even on 28 second-serve points.
After beating Ward, Fish now has won 80 percent of his first serves this year, second-best on the ATP tour, over 35 matches.
“I’ve tended over my career not to serve at a very high percentage,” he said. “It’s one of the things we’ve tried to work on this year. I seem to be pretty successful that I can get the first serve in.”
Fish took off last week after earning his fourth career title—and his first on grass—July 10 at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I. Winning the tournament moved Fish’s world ranking up 30 spots to 49th.
“I want to keep the momentum going for sure,” he said. “It’s a new surface, and that’s important even though I did have a successful grasscourt season for the most part. It’s all hardcourts from here on. Confidence is a huge part of tennis. I feel extremely confident right now.”
No. 8 seed Benjamin Becker of Germany was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by Michael Russell, who at 32 is the oldest American ranked in the ATP top 100 world rankings.
Atlanta is hosting its first ATP event since 2001 and the tour’s first North American summer event on hardcourts as players prepare for the US Open, which begins Aug. 30.
Top seed Andy Roddick, No. 2 seed John Isner, No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt and fourth seed Horacio Zeballos of Argentina will play their first singles matches later in the week.
Fish has won six straight matches and 12 of his last 14. Those performances came on grass, however, so he practiced late last week on hardcourts.
The last U.S. event on hardcourts was March 23-April 4 in Miami, where Fish beat No. 3 seed Andy Murray in the second round before falling in the fourth. The victory over Murray was Fish’s first over a world top 100 opponent since February 2009.
“It’s nice to be on sure-footing surface,” he said. “It’s going to be a long summer. I’m slated to play almost every week. I’m looking forward to it.”
In other singles matches, Rainer Schuettler of Germany beat Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-1, 6-4. Illya Marchenko of Ukraine defeated Kristof Vliegen of Belgium 6-4, 7-6 (4), and Rajeev Ram held off Karol Beck of Slovaki 6-4, 7-6 (4).