Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fish's Second Coming

After two huge wins over Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer, Mardy Fish is the highest- ranked American, and headed for the top ten.
You have to love a feel good story like Mardy Fish's. A little more than a year removed from a soul-sapping knee surgery at the age of 28, Fish is back on tour with a vengeance, seemingly bent on proving all the things he failed to prove in his younger years on the tour.

With his win over David Ferrer today in Miami, Fish has grabbed a career high ranking, in addition to becoming the highest-ranked American player currently on tour, and having a shot at the ATP's top ten.

It's been a long time coming.

It was seven years ago that Fish last shot up this high in the ATP's rankings. Back then, Fish appeared to have a bright future. At 22 he was inside the top 20 for a spell and he narrowly missed winning the gold medal in the '04 Athens Olympics, finally bowing out to Nicolas Massu after holding a two sets to one lead in the gold medal match.

"The Olympics were very painful," Fish told Deuce Magazine earlier this year. "It was one of my greatest highs, but it also became one of my greatest lows."

As Fish's career approaches its final chapters, the SoCal resident is anxious to take editorial control of the tone of his manuscript, and he's now going about the business of trying to insert a few more highs near the conclusion.

Long regarded as a gifted natural athlete who can dominate his fellow Americans on the golf course (he's a scratch golfer), baseball diamond (he once homered in Batting practice at Shea Stadium before a New York Mets game) and the basketball court (Fish and Andy Roddick were basketball teammates in High School, and Roddick attests to Fish's abilities), Fish was never known for his commitment to tennis — until lately, that is.

These days, Fish is a man on a mission. After returning from a season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Fish has admirably done everything in his power to give himself the best chance to compete on the court. "Resurrection and commitment are the first things that spring to mind when I think of Mardy's career," U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier told Deuce Magazine this year.

Following in the footsteps of Jurgen Melzer, another late bloomer on the court who just recently reached the top ten for the first time at the age of 29, Fish has focused his energy on maximizing his potential on the court, in spite of being beyond the typical peak of a world class tennis player in terms of age.

He's lost 30 pounds, he's made the realization that to compete with the game's younger generation he'd have to reach a new level of fitness, and now Fish is reaping the benefits. In addition to his latest rankings milestones, Fish has also gone 6-3 against the ATP's top ten since the beginning of 2010, and he's overcome thyroid issues and a floating piece of cartilage in his ankle in the last few months too.

"Obviously, it's very humbling," said Fish of his newly-elevated status. "It would only be a number next to my name. I certainly wouldn't feel like the top-ranked American given what I've accomplished and what Andy (Roddick) has accomplished."

That is precisely why there is so much to love about Fish's surprising rise in the rankings, and Fish the person in general. His is a redemption song, and its chorus is a reminder that hard work and determination — even for the most naturally gifted of athletes — is a necessary ingredient to success. Not only is he resuscitating his career by the force of sheer will, Fish is also conducting himself with dignity, humility, and profound respect for his opponents. He's got none of Roddick's punky theatrics or Querrey's sourpuss woe-is-me proclivities. He's just a likable guy who wants to make good on his talent before it's too late.

Fish is apparently not willing to allow the last chapters of the book about his career be about a thyroid problem, a knee surgery, falling short, or gently fading into the abyss.

He may have turned pro in 2000, but ten years later, thankfully, we are getting a chance to see what Mardy Fish is really made of.

Turns out he might be the real deal after all.

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