Fishy diagnoses aside, Mardy looks sharp
Published June 23, 2004
WIMBLEDON, England · When Mardy Fish spun around at the baseline on Court 14 and hit the shot of the day, his family, girlfriend and coach Kelly Jones, who were settled into a section on the sideline, had every right to yell, in unison of course, "Hip, hip, hooray."
It was nearly two months ago that Fish, suffering chronic hip pain, thought he was facing the same laser operation that laid low fellow pros Gustavo Kuerten, Magnus Norman, Harel Levy and Sargis Sargsian. Two doctors told him the tear in his right labrum was that serious.
And both surgeons were wrong.
Thomas Byrd, the Nashville specialist and former University of Miami undergrad who operated on those four top 100 players, told Fish it was merely tendinitis and that if he did virtually nothing physical for the next two weeks, he'd be fine.
So here was Fish on Tuesday, pain free and playing great tennis again, racing after a perfect lob struck by Ivan Navarro Pastor, his racket poised to slap a return between his legs -- the macho shot players love to hit.
But with his Spanish opponent having raced to the net to knock off the drive, Fish instead spun and lobbed the ball back, all in one sweet motion, and it flopped down on the other side five feet inside the baseline, leaving Navarro Pastor snookered and helpless.
The British would call that cheeky. The chair umpire called it 40-15.
A set and a half later, Fish was in with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory that beat the rain and put him into the second round against big-serving Joachim Johansson of Sweden.
It was good buddy James Blake, his Tampa neighbor, who put that surprise lob into Fish's repertoire. Blake hit the same shot for a winner when he and Fish played the final of the San Jose doubles against Rick Leach and Brian McPhee.
"Nobody thinks you're going to hit a lob. They think you're going between your legs and 80 percent of the time you're not going to make that," said Fish, pulling out his mental slide ruler.
"Go on, admit it. You loved hitting that shot," I challenged him. Fish smiled slightly. "Yeah, it felt good. Just because I have that shot. I can do that shot," he said.
This is Fish's surface. He was born to grass, he can hit all the shots on it and, if he could get away with it physically, he would have played two grass court lead-ups to Wimbledon and not just Halle, Germany, where he stunned himself by reaching the final ... and getting whacked by Roger Federer 6-0, 6-3.
"I wasn't expecting to get that far and my arm was really tired. That's why I pulled out of Nottingham the next week," Fish said. He rested a few days, then got good training at Wimbledon last week.
This victory over Navarro Pastor was his fifth on grass this year against the single loss, but it's hard to assess the meaningfulness of this win. The Spaniard was playing his first Grand Slam match and, as Fish noted, he wasn't too experienced on the green stuff.
Still, this was all about Fish grooving his serve, and he did that well. He cracked 13 aces, was never broken and faced only three break points. Everything gets tougher now. Johansson's serve took him down in the semifinals at Memphis this year and it will look faster on grass. If he gets through to the third round, grass court aficionado Jonas Bjorkman could be waiting.
If Fish rolls into the second week, he could eventually run into Federer again, the man who put him out in the third round here a year ago, though not until after Fish became the only player to take a set from Federer in the tournament.
He's seeded 14th, six spots above his ranking, but that doesn't mean much. What is more important to Fish right now is that he's playing well again after getting out of fitness for the Davis Cup tie against Sweden in April and has left the hip scare behind.
"When I went to see Dr. Byrd, I was really there just to confirm from the specialist that I had to have the operation. It was a great surprise that I didn't have to have it." Would he send tickets to Dr. Byrd if he reaches the Wimbledon final? "Sure, I will," he replied without hesitation.
At 22, Fish has established himself as a top 20 player, even without good clay court results. And now, with the grass courts and hard courts dominating the rest of the schedule, he has a chance to make a move on the top 10.
His fitness is improved, his serving is strong and he's at a good place in his life with a solid coaching relationship with Jones and accompanied by the girlfriend of his dreams, Ally Browne.
They've been seeing each other for six months, thrown together by "Jim Courier's ex-girlfriend's sister." It must be a strong relationship. It has survived major football differences.
"She loves the Tampa Bay Bucs and I hate them," said Fish, who roots for the Minnesota Vikings. Both, however, are crazy about a good lob.
b/c I'm curious like that, I did a search for his girlfriend's name and came up with this page at a modeling agency
she is so pretty.