EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael Mewshaw is a novelist and the author of numerous books on tennis. He has covered the game for over 20 years.
You don’t know me, but we have a few important things in common. We both play tennis. We’ve had the same heart procedure, i.e. a catheter ablation, and we continue to have similar symptoms. Of course there are differences. I’m 69 years old and had my catheter ablation almost 10 years ago for what I’m told was atrial fibrillation. For months after the procedure I took a blood thinner, Warfarin, and have continued a daily dose of beta blockers to regularize my heartbeat. Recently, a new medication has come on the market, Pradaxa, which is said to be an improvement on previous blood thinners, but it also said to have serious side effects. I’ve decided not to take that, but I understand that this leaves me at a much higher risk for stroke.
As usual, I covered the French Open this year for Inside Tennis and was surprised to hear of your withdrawal. During Wimbledon I was even more surprised to read that you had had a catheter ablation in late May, but were already playing competitive tennis by the end of June. According to all reports, you felt fine, even if a little anxious. There was some discussion that your whole problem may have been a question of panic attacks.
Frankly this didn’t make much sense to me. I can’t imagine that a doctor would subject you to a catheter ablation unless there was serious coronary evidence that you needed one. It also puzzled me that you were back to playing competitive tennis after such a short period of time. None of the articles I read – and I discussed these with the journalists who had written them after interviewing you – mentioned whether you were on beta blockers, blood thinners or other medications. Everyone, including you, seemed to believe the situation wasn’t very serious, even after you skipped one of our press conferences at Wimbledon with the explanation that you weren’t feeling well. While I realize that you’re younger and in much better shape than I, it’s conceivable that the intensity of the competition at your level of the game, combined with the pressure and constant travel, put you at risk far greater than my own.
Now I’ve learned long distance – I’m living for a month in a tiny village in France – that you’ve withdrawn from the U.S. Open because you suffered heart palpitations after your match against Gilles Simon. I’ve tried reaching out to journalists at the U.S. Open, but none seems to know much about your condition and none seems to take it very seriously. So I’m reduced to writing this letter hoping to provoke a discussion about this matter, if not with you personally then at least with fellow members of the tennis press. My motivation is quite simple; I’m concerned about your health. While I understand that professional athletes have to play through injuries, I worry that you may be either ignoring medical advice or not seeking it diligently enough. So let me ask a few questions which I believe you should have been asked months ago.
Are you on beta blockers or some other medication?
Are you taking a blood thinner?
Have doctors advised you about the risk of a stroke?
Have your doctors discussed with you the implications of this recent episode of heart palpitations? To me this would suggest that the original procedure in May was unsuccessful and that you might have to seek alternate treatment.
Have you informed the ATP trainers of the full extent of your problem, and have they arranged to have a defibrillator nearby during your matches? Believe me, Mardy, nobody sympathizes with you more than I do. I know what it’s like to lie in bed listening to your heart beat, wondering whether it’s regular, and when it’s definitely not regular wondering if you’ll wake up in the morning. I know what it’s like to go on court acutely conscious that the palpitations or arrhythmia may start out at any point. They start up at any point. If I’m jumping to conclusions and making erroneous assumptions based on my own experience, please understand that my heart – there we go again – is in the right place. But don’t be a hero. Don’t ignore the obvious. Seek prompt and thorough medical attention. And don’t compete again until you’re convinced that you're well. I realize a lot’s on the line.
You're at a high point in your career. You're still young enough to look forward to future achievements in tennis. But don’t let that blind you, as it appears to have blinded the press, to the importance of asking questions and getting answers.
All the best,