By Matt Ankerson and Alan Wright
Photos By Bowman Gray IV
“Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.”
-David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
I love watching some tennis under the lights.
Sunday night in Winston-Salem there was a slight cool breeze with temperatures in the low 70’s; humidity made the decision to not grace us with its presence. I grabbed a baseline seat on Center Court and kicked back with a 20 oz. cold Modelo Especial. A bright full moon hung above.
On this perfect setting for a tennis match I am glad I get to share it with someone who has been absent far too long.
Mardy Fish is back on a tennis court.
The first night session of the Winston Salem Open featured, Mardy Fish, a 13 year ATP veteran, known by many, but not seen or heard much from over the past year. In May of 2012, Fish revealed he had been suffering from heart arrhythmia, a condition that causes a person’s heart rate to go through the roof while asleep. The first episode came about during a Davis Cup match against Switzerland. At the time, Fish was the top ranked American player holding at number eight in the world rankings.
He played a full summer schedule in 2012 with solid results; however, by the time the US Open came around his condition had worsened. Fish was set to play his fourth round match against Roger Federer but, under doctor’s advice, withdraw from the match. Fish would not play again competitively for the next seven months.
Tonight was Mardy Fish’s first ever appearance at the Winton Salem Open. He was scheduled to play the inaugural event in 2011 but withdrew after reaching the semi-finals in Cincinnati the week before, opting to rest before the US Open.
His first round opponent in the Winston Salem Open was Russian Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy, eight years younger than Fish, played well enough to take the second set from Fish but eventually was overwhelmed by the American in the third set, 6-1.
If anything, Fish needs matches under his belt. At times you could see Fish struggling with footwork and positioning at the net. A couple of loose games on his serve in the second set all but gift wrapped Donskoy the set. It was evident Fish was not at his best tonight but even with limited matches this year, Fish was clearly the more talented player and closed out the match rather easily.
After the match, Mardy Fish spoke to reporters recalling the last 18 months of adversity dealing with his health condition and beginning the process of playing week to week once again. There was a tone of uncertainty, frustration, and fear in some of his answers. Standing before us was a man still grappling with understanding a health scare that came on fast and for no apparent rhyme or reason.
“I wish I had more tournaments before the US Open, for sure. Its certainly is a process and I have quite a ways to go to get to the spot where I was 12 months ago.” Fish explained on resuming play from his lengthy hiatus.
“I am set to play the US Open and then reassess.”
He spoke candidly about the mental aspect of the game, and how he sees things a bit differently today than at the peak of his career only a few short years ago.
“It’s a tough thing to take (his heart condition) when it’s really nothing I could not control.”
“For me it’s working hard on the mental aspect.” “Have a better mental outlook on life, tennis the sport and [tennis] the job. While still trying to have a fire within you….that’s a process as well.”
For Mardy Fish, tonight’s win begins that process. Though the future is uncertain for Fish beyond this year’s US Open, those in attendance tonight were grateful to see him back. Fish played in era of American tennis with the likes of James Blake and Andy Roddick, players who some consider more talented. Maybe that’s true but I might give a slight nod to Fish over his peers in fortitude and sheer determination.
Good luck to you Mardy Fish, here’s to a few more years of grinding it out on tennis courts throughout the world.
Before I call it a night and check up on what ‘ole Heisenberg has up his sleeve, here is what’s in store tomorrow for fans at the Winston Salem Open.
Monday’s Featured Matches:
12:00 noon – Center Court -American Jack Sock vs. Qualifier David Goffin of Belgium
Followed by Americans James Blake vs. Rhyne Williams
Night Session beginning at 7:00 PM on Center Court-Sam Querrey of the United States vs. Grega Zemlja of Slovakia
All photos by Bowman Gray IV – copyright 2013