US Open: Mardy Fish's Upstream Battle

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By Bill Simons

Let’s face it, in these fierce days, God forbid if your kid doesn’t get in the perfect pre-school.

Likewise, it’s all but a disaster if your children’s SAT tests aren’t Einsteinian and if your flawless offspring don’t get into an elite school or score the right job. Or so it seems.

We live in a pressure cooker world. Relentless stress is a pandemic that so many Americans suffer from.

Just ask Mardy Fish, who in 2012 suffered a baffling anxiety meltdown at the US Open while playing Gilles Simon. Demon after demon gripped him on court in the hotbed that is the US Open tennis.

But wait, aren’t world class athletes immune from serious diseases?

No way.

Arthur Ashe had a heart attack, brain surgery, and contracted AIDS from a blood transplant gone terribly wrong. As for James Blake, he broke his neck, and then an outbreak of shingles paralyzed half his face temporarily. Venus Williams has suffered from the draining autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome.

People deal with their maladies in different ways. Venus holds her feelings close to her chest. Just take one step at a time, she advises. “Everybody’s got their problems. The important thing is not to complain. Mardy’s taking it like a man. It’s really bad luck, what’s happened to him, but he’s held his head high. He’s made something of his opportunities here.”

But Fish says that it helps him “to be open and to talk about it, first and foremost…I’ve got so many different emotions…If it helps me to talk about it, maybe it helps others talk about it.  I’ve heard from lots of people…that are thankful that I’m out front with it.”

Fish, who also suffered from a racing heart that brought fierce nocturnal fears, explained to IT, “Anxiety disorder is where your mind takes over and usually goes into the future and predicts what you think is going to happen. Usually it’s bad stuff.”

The Beverly Hills resident, who was No. 6 in the world and briefly the best American, added, “There’s a reason why I didn’t ‘retire,’ because…I wanted to go out on my own terms.”

Fish eventually was hospitalized in Miami for his anxiety disorder. When he practiced he used a monitor to record his heart rate, and he was worried when his opening US Open match went over three hours in intense heat. He hadn’t even practiced for three hours.

“A huge part of it is just coming back here [to the US Open], enjoying the experience one last time, and…conquering what happened when it was all pulled away. This tournament is where it all came crashing down, and where I had my worst feelings of my whole life. It’s a tough thing [that this happened] at my favorite tournament. So I…desperately wanted to come back and change that narrative.”

Winning his first-round match over little-known Italian Marco Cecchinato indeed changed Mardy’s narrative.