THE AMERICAN VET DEALS WITH DEMONS AND A MYSTERIOUS AILIMENT
THE DEMONS AND DETERMINATION OF A VETERAN STAR
After 189 days off the tour due to a frightening irregularity, which would prompt his heart to race unchecked at night, Mardy Fish returned to tennis, first at the L.A. Tennis Challenge where he played a set against Novak Djokovic, and then in Indian Wells where he beat Bobby Reynolds 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. In the interview below with a small group of reporters, the American veteran reflects on his problematic battle.
Question: Talk about playing in the L.A. Challenge.
MARDY FISH: It didn’t feel like a US Open match, but there were a lot of people and friends there and I felt a lot of pressure to play. I don’t feel 100%, but I’m getting really close. It’s a big test externally and internally. We were playing pretty quick too, so naturally I was winded. You can’t duplicate that stuff in practice. Q: Has there been a question in the back of your mind, “Is this going to happen again?” A: Yeah that is always going to be a part of me. It’s something I’ve struggled with. I just want to go back to playing, being healthy and normal again. That is always going to be a part of my life. I can’t just forget about it, it’s never going to go away. Tonight was uncomfortable. I’ve been training hard during the day, but I’ve been going to bed early every night … I have been eating really healthy and doing all the right things. But this is a little out of my comfort zone. Its 10: 00. To be honest I haven’t seen 10:00 in a month. I go to bed extremely early. I’ve been very disciplined in that regard so this was a good test to see how I feel and see how I’m hitting the ball. And to see how someone like Novak is hitting the ball. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that.
Q. Since the U.S. Open what has stopped you from getting back to the courts? A: I can’t really answer that. Q: What can you talk about …
A: There were times I felt really good and times I didn’t feel good at all. I’ve gone back and forth quite a bit on whether to spill it all, keep it in, to keep it with people that are close to me. The bottom line is what this was the toughest thing I ever had to deal with. My wife, [my trainer] Christian, my parents were all there the whole way. It’s not easy to talk about. And that’s why I haven’t yet. We were going to do some stuff with it, and I spoke with my wife, and she’s been as much a part of this as I was. Sometimes there was nothing she could do but hope I would feel better the next day. That was almost as hard on her as it was on me. And then I was uncertain about the right time to come back …It was San Jose, than Memphis, than Indian Wells. I haven’t felt better than this since the US Open, but you never know. You can’t take it for granted.
Q: Do you worry that something will occur … ?
A: The fear of the unknown was sort of the core of my problem. That’s … something I have to battle. It’s not that I’ll run off the court in the middle of the match. But if there’s something’s very uncomfortable, that’s the only thing. It’s the fear of what might happen.
Q: How has all of this affected you as a man. How have you grown?
A: It’s taught me how to handle stress better. It has allowed me to check my health 100%, go to the Mayo Clinic and make sure everything is working. Some things have come out of it. There were three months where I didn’t play tennis, work-out or leave the house much.
Q: Has going through this made you stronger?
A: I hope that will come out of this. I will speak to sports psychologists. I have a great team the whole time so that’s put me on the right path.
Q: Why put yourself through this? You must have asked yourself a bunch of times … You could retire and not have the stress of playing.
A: I’ve retired 15 times in my head. The first 3-4 months, I was done for sure and than gradually I started feeling better and started gaining confidence. The body feels better. You start getting out there, working out, start missing Australia, watching tennis, missing the guys and competing. But there are some parts of the tour I love not having to do like traveling overseas, there are tournaments I just dislike and that I didn’t have to go to. But there were definitely tournaments that I deeply missed. Australia is certainly one.
Q: How can you manage everything you’re dealing with (su
per healthy diet, going to sleep early) and still play at the high level?
A: That’s the toughest part. I am gaining more and more confidence. Until I go out there and play and see how it feels, I’m not going to know. It’s like an injury. If you ever need surgery and you have some pain coming back, you step back a bit and push it more and more.
Q: Are you familiar with the situation with Arthur Ashe when he had his HIV symptoms and then he told the world in a press conference and that changed his life. Is that one of the scenarios you think about?
A: There were times when my friends would ask me what’s going on and I wouldn’t answer their texts or just wouldn’t tell them. I certainly felt better not that things were out and the open by any means but just that I can share with close friends or family. this was the toughest thing I ever had to deal with. It took me months to get back to normalcy, to have a glass of wine at dinner, to go out to a movie with my wife. Just those normal things that you take for granted.
My wife, [my trainer] Christian, my parents were all there the whole way. It’s not easy to talk about. I still feel like there are years to play. I don’t feel old. I can get in good shape. I work very hard. I’m very disciplined with my eating and training. I don’t feel like a 35-year-old player … I played for 13 years … and I still haven’t won 300 matches yet. It shows I’ve had a lot of injuries and time off. There were lots of guys who I came up with who have had a ton more wins than me because I just haven’t played matches. That’s why I continue to try. I feel like I can play for a few years.
Q: There was a movie, Amour, that just won the Oscar for best foreign film, which reflected on the care of one partner for another during intense sickness. Can you talk about the bond between you and your wife?
A: She’s been an angel through all this. Her family and mine have been very supportive. I’ve slept in the same bed with her every single night since April and she came through the entire summer when a lot of times there were weeks that its easier to just travel with my trainer to the Cincinnati’s, the Montreal’s, the Toronto’s, DC’s. Sometimes it’s easier to go and do your thing and get out of there and move on to the next week. But I couldn’t have traveled without her. She had to come, she didn’t have a choice. I’m not sure where I would be without her help and calming presence being next to me during the bad times … I’m certainly very lucky with the relationship we have … [but there still are] some demons there that you try to fight and it's just nice to be out in the sun playing for something again … Some health struggles that, you know, reared its head last time I played
Q. What was the overwhelming kind of reaction after your first match?
A: Elation … There has been a couple of people that have really been there for me through these past months, and it felt good to play for them.
Q. Some of us were shocked when your friend Andy Roddick retired.
MARDY FISH: Me too, yes.
Q. Talk about that. You have known him since you were a kid.
A: Yeah, usually we go to LGs and he’d pay for my meals. I miss the free meals because he has way more money than we all do. I miss the silent cheering from afar for both of us. I'm still lucky to have James around. We're all very close in that regard.
But it's certainly different. He's been a mainstay at tournaments for my entire career, and I certainly miss him. You know, no more so than a tournament like this where we stay in the same hotel, the same resort … We actually had breakfast here every single morning.
So it's a little different when you're eating by yourself, like this morning, when he would be there.
I certainly miss him …I think we can all now acknowledge how great Andy was for American tennis. This could be the first time since the rankings have come out that no U.S. player will be in the top 20 if Sam doesn't do anything … Someone like [Ryan] Harrison who has been out here now for a few years, and the years start adding up … Someone like Jack Sock is ultratalented … These guys are still really young … [and] it's a man's game now … Certainly I'd be sitting in a glass house if I was criticizing what some of the younger guys were doing … [It] took me until I was 27 to fully mature and figure out exactly what I wanted to do with this sport.