American tennis pro Mardy Fish won his first singles match Monday since 2013, as he topped world No. 20 Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-2 at the Western & Southern Open in a match that did not mean much in the tennis world but meant everything to Fish.
That’s because, for nearly three years, Fish was forced to curb his tennis career while he battled an anxiety disorder. It was a fight that nearly cost Fish his career and a fight he recently opened up about in a feature in The Wall Street Journal.
The trouble began after Fish underwent a heart procedure in 2012 to correct an abnormally fast heartbeat. Fish pulled through the procedure fine, but he started becoming increasingly anxious about the world he lived in. Everything came to a head during the 2012 U.S. Open. Fish suffered an anxiety attack during his third-round match but somehow prevailed, setting up a fourth-round date against Roger Federer on Labor Day.
Anxiety does not care about how much a person has trained for something, how much a person has sacrificed. It struck Fish the day of the Federer match, and it struck hard. Fish told the Journal he suffered such a severe anxiety attack that he broke down in tears on the way to the court. It didn’t get better when he got there, and Fish was forced to forfeit and pull out of the U.S. Open.
The anxiety was not the normal jitters any player has when facing a sporting legend like Federer. After Fish dropped out, the anxiety ruled. Fish tried to fly home to California that day, but he could not manage when the plane started to taxi. He had to wait until his mind calmed down and he could rent a private plane to get him home instead.
Once home, Fish did not leave the house for 2 1/2 months except to see his therapist.
With a lot of hard work, therapy and medication, Fish is back on the court. He tried to return earlier — in an attempt in 2013, he walked off the court again following a severe anxiety attack — but Fish told the Journal he finally felt ready to actually play again in December 2014, over two years after that aborted match against Federer. Fish’s first singles match since 2013 was a loss to Ryan Harrison at Indian Wells in March, but it was a victory for Fish in that he finished the match on his own and did not withdraw due to anxiety.
Now, Fish is ready for one final U.S. Open. The 33-year-old plans to retire after the tournament, which he qualified for thanks to a protected ranking reserved for players who missed at least six months of play.
He does not enter the tournament with the hype of a Rafael Nadal or a Novak Djokovic or a Federer. He might not make it far enough to even face one of those players. But Fish said his final U.S. Open is more about the journey he took to get to a point where he can once again play competitive tennis. He noted that it is about writing his own ending to his career rather than allowing anxiety to finish his story. And most importantly, he said, it’s about showing all of the people who suffer from conditions like his that there is a way through it, a bright spot at the end of a very dark tunnel.
"I just want to share my story so maybe one person or 10 people or 100 people, whatever it is, can have something to fall back on and say, ‘Hey, there’s someone who went through what I went through and got through it,’" Fish told the Journal.
"This is my way of writing my last story," Fish said. "And that’s how it’s going to end."