Mardy Fish will be heading to BB&T Atlanta Open to compete in the commencement of the Emirate's Airlines Summer U.S. Open Series. He won the series in 2011 and hopes to show strong momentum once again this season. He was sidelined throughout the spring with a heart issue and was able to return to compete at Wimbledon where he advanced to the round of 16. Below is an interview with Mardy Fish which touches upon topics of the Olympics, the U.S. Open, coaching and personal coaching advice.
Before we get into the Q & A, I'll ask Mardy if he can share some of his thoughts on winning last year's Emirates Airline US Open Series title and his plans and goals for the summer of 2012.
Fish: This is my favorite time of the year, so obviously this is an exciting time. I played so well last year. Winning the U.S. Open Series was an honor, and I played well in every event that I played in the summer, including the U.S. Open obviously. You know, it should be fun again. Obviously I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going to start in Atlanta and head there this weekend and get going.
How did getting back on the court and playing several matches in succession at Wimbledon help you f get your feel back after having some time off for the health reasons?
Fish:Yeah, it was huge to be able to get through the first two matches. Obviously the first couple are going to be the hardest ones. You're not going to come back as sharp. My fitness level isn't where I want it to be for obvious reasons, but it was nice to be able to play those matches, to be in pressure situations, high pressure situations in a Grand Slam to where I can get those out of the way and move on.
A lot of times when you take some time off, sometimes you have to take your lumps in tournaments, and you're going to play some bad matches and probably not get through them, and I was lucky enough to get through those first two rounds to where I could really feel like I had some matches under my belt and I could start playing some good tennis again.
I did that in the third round. I played very well against a good young player in David Goffin, and I certainly played well enough to win against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. I played great the first day, first rain delay, the third rain delay and the fourth rain delay. I played fine. I actually won more points than he did in the match, in the four-set match, which doesn't happen too often. I was happy with the way I played there. And obviously going into Atlanta and D.C., those are tournaments that I've had success at, and I'll try to build on some of the matches that I won at Wimbledon.
I just want to ask you about the Olympics. It seems like a lot of the players are more excited and more enthusiastic about playing the Olympics than in previous years, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on why that may be, just taking into account your past experience playing at the Olympics and how the Olympics factors into the players now compared to what it did when you started playing them?
Fish: I think the Olympics this time around as opposed to maybe 2008 is a little more appealing considering that we're playing at Wimbledon. You're playing at a familiar place, as well, and a pretty localized place, too. There's not many easy ways to get to Beijing. London -- it's a pretty Euro dominated sport, so naturally it's pretty easy to get to London for those guys. And then obviously playing at Wimbledon will be special and will be interesting, as well, to see people not in white clothes and things like that. And it'll also be interesting how they turn the grass around so quickly and see how they're going to do that because we beat it up pretty good throughout the two weeks. I think all those things together, a lot of people are looking forward to it.
As a two-time champion in the Atlanta tournament, somebody could say that this tournament is Mardy Town, but will the third time be the charm, considering you're going to have some stiff competition? Will there be any Fish Heads present at this match, and will you be able to pull it off a third time?
Fish: I would love to. I'm not sure about the fans. You know, we get great support in Atlanta. Atlanta is actually one of the more fun weeks that we go to, fun cities that we go to all year. They're extremely knowledgeable in the game of tennis. I think there's more USTA members per capita in Atlanta than there is in the entire country, or at least that's what I heard. It's very natural and very easy for us to play there in front of fans like that. I certainly enjoy playing there. Obviously I love the weather, the heat. Playing in that type of heat is not just about being fit; as well it's about convincing yourself that you like it more than the other guy, pushing your body further than you think it'll go. You know, there's numerous ways to get through it, and I love it. I grew up in it. I grew up in that weather, and I play my best tennis in that type of heat.
Like you said, there's going to be a lot of great players there, as there has been the past two years, as well. I've had two very; very close matches in the finals, both to John Isner. I'm sure he'll be looking to win one of those titles, as well.
There's been talk lately that Wimbledon may move their tournament up a week, which would then crowd out one of the U.S. Open Series tournaments. Any thoughts about that, the impact on that then on the U.S. Open and so on?
Fish:I haven't heard anything about that. I mean, I think that would give -- speaking of not just Americans but some of the other European players and some of the players coming from afar, it gives them an extra week to maybe come over and get used to the weather and get used to everything. You know, it's already a tough turnaround between the French Open and Wimbledon. Three weeks is not very long. Two weeks would be even tougher. So I'm not sure that something like that would ever happen.
Following on the toughness of that schedule, will your cardiac incident impact your mind and how you determine your schedule for next year?
Fish:It very well could. You know, I know that everything is fine with me, but I'm going to put myself in positions where I'm very comfortable from now on, that's for sure. I've played a lot of years out here, and I've played every tournament there is. In the years that I have remaining, I'll try to put myself in the most comfortable situations for me so something like that doesn't happen again. It might be a little bit different for me than other players. So yes, there is a possibility, but that's a little bit in advance from now.
And finally, did the schedule have anything at all to do with the incident?
Fish: As far as not playing the Olympics?
No, no, the schedule you played before the incident occurred, did it have any impact at all from your cardiologist on that?
Fish:Well, I think stress is one of the main reasons why you get arrhythmias, stress, alcohol, caffeine, things like that, that bring them on. I went to Australia in January, I went to Switzerland and back to LA for Davis Cup, then I went to Marseilles and Dubai, then back to LA. So I think we can draw our own conclusions how hard the schedule is for us and how tough it is on our bodies and our minds.
As the two-time defending champion of the Atlanta Open, you've obviously had a lot of success in Atlanta the past two years, but we have moved our location this year from kind of the suburbs to a more central location inside the city. How do you think the change in atmosphere is going to affect the players? Is it going to be more beneficial for them to be in a more vibrant, exciting atmosphere?
Fish: Yeah, they keep switching on us every year. First was the Atlanta Athletic Club, which we loved. We loved both locations. They were great. They got great crowds. I expect the same in that regard. I don't know what to expect as far as it being in downtown. I've seen pictures of the facilities now, but obviously I haven't been there. You know, who knows as far as the weather is concerned as to how the buildings might trap in the heat and stuff like that. But we're looking forward to it, and hopefully one of these years we can stick on one specific venue that we can all stay at every time and everyone can look forward to, because it is kind of hard from time to time to keep moving around from place to place. But I know everyone has enjoyed both venues that we've had so far, and I'm sure this one will be no different.
When players come back from an injury or a health incident that keep them off court for a long time, they obviously have to get themselves physically prepared for the tour, but talk about preparing yourself mentally to go back on tour and talk about your level of confidence going into the hard court season.
Fish:Yeah, the hardest part for me is mentally trusting everything. You know, the summer is tough in general just because you know you have to deal with the player and the opponent across the net, but you also have to deal with the weather and sort of the conditions that you have to play in, and you prepare yourself the best way you can. I've prepared myself very well the past couple years, and this year is a little bit different going in. But I'm doing everything I can, getting myself into the best shape I can, took a few days off after Wimbledon and then started to get back at it and grind again. It's tough being in LA because the weather is 70 degrees and sunny out here, and it's 100 degrees everywhere else. So it's kind of hard to train in that type of stuff. But I'll get to Atlanta as early as I can and try to get into that climate and that weather and try to deal with it as best I can.
After that tournament in Atlanta you'll be back up in D.C. this year, the Citi Open. Last year you had to pull out. Talk about coming back to this tournament where you've had some success and also regarding the weather here because obviously it's pretty grueling and can be very, very oppressive.
Fish: No, it's one of my favorite stops of the year. I love the city of Washington, D.C. The venue is outstanding. The weather is hot, but it's the kind of weather that I enjoy playing in. And having Citi come on board and having a new title sponsor is great for the tournament and great for the city of Washington, D.C., as well. It's nice to be a part of that event because obviously I wanted to play last year but just -- it just didn't work in my schedule. It was a good thing for me because I had won a ton of matches in the weeks prior. I played well at Wimbledon, as well, before that, and then obviously played Davis Cup. So I had a lot of matches under me and needed just a small break there to kind of regroup and regenerate and go up to Montreal, where I did well there, too. The schedule worked out well for me last year, but the only miss or blip on it was that I had to miss D.C. We won't have that problem this year, and I've worked my schedule around to be able to be a part of that event, so I look forward to it.
And on the scheduling front, obviously not playing the Olympics sort of gives you a jump start on the hard court season. How do you think that might help you with the US Open Series again this year?
Fish:Well, I see it as a plus as far as playing the events that I do well at. Playing in the States is my most fun time of the year, playing in the summer, playing in the heat, and I didn't want to miss that. I didn't want to miss two full weeks of the most important time for me or the most fun time for me. I've played the Olympics before, and I think it's very hard to play the Olympics and Davis Cup in the same year. Everyone's schedule is suppressed during an Olympic year. I was lucky enough to do well in the Olympics when I played in 2004 and win the silver medal, so I've got a medal and I've got the memories from that, so I'll skip the Olympics this year and look forward to going to D.C., where I would have missed it had I gone to the Olympics.
We're looking forward to having you up in New York obviously for the Open. The crowd up here in New York and the energy is very unique. What do you enjoy most about playing in the Open?
Fish:I enjoy the camaraderie that you can get from the fans for the American players -- it's definitely the most favorite Slam for the Americans as far as being able to play in those big courts and having the crowd behind you. We go to so many places, in Spain and in Italy and in England, where you can play a guy from that country, and those fans are just going crazy for their player. But we know for a fact that we have that one big event where everyone wants to do well, and we're going to have the fans behind us and rooting as loud as they can for us. So that makes it so much fun and exciting and one of the best times of the whole year for us.
Winning matches in Grand Slams, especially when the crowd is behind you, as you said, is great, but it's obviously different when you're playing and representing your country, whether it be Davis Cup or Olympics. How can you compare the two?
Fish:Well, Davis Cup is a little bit different animal in the sense that, yes, you feel like you're playing for your country and you also feel like you're playing for your teammates. The Olympics is a little bit different because it's still a regular tournament, and we still have -- every week that we play, we still have the USA next to our name, and the Olympics is sort of the same. It's a regular event, where Davis Cup is such a unique animal where you're relying on your teammates to win. You can't win on your own. It's the only team sort of sport or team thing that we have in tennis, and so that's why I love Davis Cup so much, because you can't necessarily just rely on yourself. You can play well and you can win matches, but you need your teammates to play well and win, as well. That's when it feels so satisfying.
You and Andy Roddick have to answer a lot of questions about where the next American stars are coming from. The USTA will be introducing major changes to the junior competitive structure going forward. It's kind of evolved since you were a junior where players can kind of chase points, and a lot of these players ranked 300, 400, 500 were getting into national events, but now it's going to return to where you have to earn your way to nationals through sectional play, like when you and Courier and Andy were juniors in Florida. Do you have any stories from your junior days about working your way up in Florida tournaments, and what do you think about these changes?
Fish:Absolutely I do, yeah. I remember playing the regular events in Florida, to try to get into the national events from there. And it's sort of the same setup in the pros that it is in the juniors, it's just you start -- you've got to start in the little cities like where I grew up in Vero Beach, and I remember playing tournaments in Vero and in Fort Pierce and West Palm Beach to make it to the designateds in Lakeland or Tampa, to make it to the national events or just even smaller national events all the way up into Kalamazoo and things like that. Yeah, I certainly remember playing and going through all that, and felt like the more tournaments that I played, the more tournaments I was able to go to and to compete in was going to help my growth as a tennis player at such a young age. So I think that's a very good idea to go back to that, instead of just being able to get in sort of on name recognition.
And the feedback from college coaches, they're saying they want tougher U.S. juniors coming out to compete with the international players that they're recruiting. Do you think that will maybe produce more U.S. stars and tougher juniors, tougher college players?
Fish: Sure, yeah. You're just going to get more people, more kids playing more tournaments, and I think that's the best thing -- that's the best way to look at it. Once you play and realize how much fun playing tennis is, how competitive it is, how much fun it is to play an individual sport like that, you're going to get more and more kids sticking with the game. I think that's the goal for them.
I just wanted to know, how have you had to adapt your training and your nutrition, if needed, with the illness that you had and now coming back?
Fish:The nutrition stays the same, has stayed the same for a while now. As far as training is concerned, yeah, I mean, I'm getting back to being able to do everything that I was prior, it just took some time to really get back into shape, into match shape. I still need matches. I still need to get out in the heat, to get to Atlanta, to get to these places early and really get in the climate and prepare myself as good as I can. You know, just playing these tournaments and playing in the States will help that a lot.
We've also heard a lot about the up-and-coming American players that are juniors. Are there any players that you've kind of taken under your belt, considering that you're a veteran with a lot of experience on the tour and have played as a pro for so many years?
Fish:You know, someone like Ryan Harrison jumps out at you. He's sort of a sponge when it comes to information from all the guys that have played or have played for a while or have just retired. You know, there are still a lot of players. The only problem with taking someone under your wing is that you're trying to compete with them, as well, and it's an individual sport, so it's not a team sport.
I'm certainly open to discussing anyone's game at any time. If a young player would approach me, I would give him my full attention. But they're still trying to take your lunch away.
Exactly, survival of the fittest.
Fish:This is an individual sport, and that's what makes it so great. What I'm trying to say is that there isn't that much sort of dialogue between players trying to help players out, and if someone like Ryan Harrison comes to you and asks you a question, you give him your full attention. But there's not a ton of it, because A, there's not a ton of young Americans that are coming up that are playing as well as he is, and B, you're trying to play for yourself, as well.