Mardy Fish was down and out at times during his formative tennis years, but the 28-year-old American has blossomed late to develop into a top-flight player.
© Oli Scarff/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England - Mardy Fish, as good as a grass court player as he is, had never reached the second week of Wimbledon before now - and when he walked off the intimate and zany Court 14 after his 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, 1-1 (ret.) victory over Robin Haase, he felt a tremendous amount of satisfaction.
In his eight previous attempts in Gentlemen's Singles, Fish failed to reach Wimbledon's "Manic Monday," when all 16 fourth round matches are played on both the men's and women's sides.
For the second major in a row, Fish is the last U.S. man standing. Now a top-10 player for the first time in career at the not-so-tender-age of 28, he's taking that responsibility seriously. Fish later said that he felt lonely without his American buddies Andy Roddick and James Blake around - or any of the younger set that includes John Isner, Sam Querrey and Ryan Harrison - but he's very pleased that on middle Sunday (Wimbledon's historic day off) that he'll be able to walk through the quaint village near the tournament and be looked at as an accomplished single player and a serious threat.
"It's the first time that I'll be around sort of tomorrow on the day off, which I'm excited about," said Fish. "We made the semis in doubles one year. That's a little different."
Poles apart, especially for a man whose withering serve-and-volley attack should be a terror on the lawns. Yet in previous years, he's had a combination of bad draws (drawing Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Richard Gasquet at various times during the first weeks) and two disappointing performances, including his third round loss to Florian Mayer last year.
"I had worked so hard in that off season, the beginning of the year, to get healthy," Fish said of 2010. "And I had just made the finals of Queen's. That was pretty much my only result that whole year. So I didn't know what was on the horizon for me. I was still a little unsure of where I was going, how all the hard work I was putting in was going to unfold. Much different this year. Last year, I had a pretty good draw. But it's nice to sort of be the guy, when you step on the court, you're supposed to win. That's the spot you want to be in."
Now a married man with a dog - he and his wife Stacey say that it's their "substitute child" - Fish is calling his own shots, regardless of whether others think of him. He believes that at least over the past year and half that he's seeing his career path clearly when it comes to his diet, his workout routines, the style he wants to play and his coaching situation (he and Querrey are both coached by the USTA's Davis Nainkin). He thinks he is maximizing his talent, which is the reason he's ranked a career high No. 9 and could go higher after Wimbledon.
"I sleep a lot better than I used to just knowing I can put my head down, knowing that I'm doing everything I can, hitting a lot of goals that I've wanted to hit throughout my career now," said Fish. "I feel pretty comfortable about the choices that I make and the decisions that I make.
"I got a little heat for going home [after Roland Garros] and not going to Queen's. I don't worry about making the right or wrong choices anymore. I really feel like I can lean one way or the other and be okay. In past years I really would have questioned, if I didn't go to Queen's maybe and just came to Wimbledon straightaway a few years ago, I probably would have questioned even myself. I can't question it now. I'm pretty comfortable with knowing how to play tennis now. I know my limitations better than ever and also feel like I can play some pretty good tennis at times."
Some players come out the gates roaring, like Fish's former housemate Andy Roddick did when he won the 2003 US Open at the age of 21. Others like Fish take longer to understand their place in the sport. He has always been a talented player and did reach the quarters of the Australian Open back in 2007, but he has never been consistently this good and was very streaky player in his early years.
"We played the Davis Cup final in '04, and I was 22 at the time," Fish recalled of the United States visit to Seville, Spain, when he, Andy Roddick and Bryan brothers went down on red clay to a Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya led Spanish team. "I definitely didn't really understand the place that I was at. I was lucky to be on the team at that point. I was 35 in the world, falling a little bit in the rankings - so I don't think I really could step back away from everything and say, 'Wow, I'm playing in the finals of Davis Cup in front of 23,000 people', setting the record there against Moya in the first match.
"I don't think I could really get a grasp on that. I feel like I can now. This is certainly an up for me now. I have no idea how long it will last. Hope it lasts for a while."
Fish has a good opportunity to reach his third Grand Slam quarterfinal on Monday when he goes up against 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, the sixth seed who is playing a powerful brand of yellow ball again at the Championships, but who is capable of swooning mentally. It will be up to Fish to press him and let the Czech know that he belongs with him.
Berdych will not fold easily. The two have never faced off before.
"It's seems like he's pretty comfortable right now here," said Fish. "Brought back probably a lot of good memories for him. He seems to be rolling. Hopefully it's another level for him he'll have to go up, and we'll see if he can."