Fish ultimately proud of silver
By Karen Crouse
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2004
ATHENS, Greece — The Olympic silver medal belonged to U.S. gymnast Blaine Wilson, and Mardy Fish was fired up when Wilson brought it down to a lounge in the Athletes' Village and let other U.S. athletes wear it.
The medal felt heavy around Fish's neck. It struck him as a very precious metal, indeed. He allowed himself to think how cool it would be if he somehow were to end up with a silver medal of his own.
That was a few days before Fish, a former Boca Prep standout, advanced to the men's singles gold-medal match. A funny thing happened once Sunday's final got under way. The closer Fish got to the gold medal, the less precious a silver medal looked.
When he took a 2-1 lead in sets over Chile's Nicolas Massu in the best-of-five contest, Fish allowed himself to think of Old Glory being sent up the middle flagpole. So the tears Fish shed some four hours after the match began, when he received his own silver medal, were not droplets of joy.
Fish could bury his tear-stained face in his hands but he couldn't hide his disappointment at losing to Massu 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
"I felt like I had the match in my hands," Fish said. "Two sets to one is a pretty commanding lead when someone seems to be as tired as (Massu) looked in the third set. You feel like you pretty much have the match under control if you take care of the things you need to take care of."
Massu had every reason to be weary. He had taken the doubles title with partner Fernando Gonzalez in a match that started Saturday, finished Sunday and covered 3 hours, 43 minutes. Roughly 16 hours after completing the doubles match, Massu was back on the court for the singles final.
He took a bathroom break between the third and fourth sets and that seemed to revive him. Fish fought for a break point in the seventh game of the fourth set but couldn't convert it. The resulting swing of momentum carried Massu to a fifth set.
"I just don't understand how someone gets less and less tired after, you know, going hour after hour after hour," Fish said. "I feel like I'm in pretty good shape and I was getting tired there at the end. Maybe he was playing a little cat-and-mouse in the beginning. Maybe he was trying to show me that he was really tired. That's the only thing that I can think of."
As Fish became more fatigued, his backhand suffered. It usually saves him but it betrayed him down the stretch against Massu. On the first match point, on Massu's serve, Fish hit a forehand out for the last of his 105 unforced errors (against 42 winners, 16 more than Massu).
Massu dropped to the court and lay spread-eagle at the baseline after earning his second gold medal in two days and the first two gold medals in his country's history.
Fish plodded to the net and stood there awkwardly, waiting to shake hands with his vanquisher. When seconds passed and Massu didn't get up, Fish, his head hanging, walked to his sideline chair and started gathering the half dozen shirts and handful of rackets he had gone through.
Eventually Massu rose, Fish met him halfway and the Chilean and the American embraced.
Addressing reporters a few minutes later — around midnight local time — Fish admitted the obvious: He was a little bummed out.
"I really wanted to hear the national anthem being played after the match," he said. "I think that was the most emotional thing about it."
Fish did have the time of his life at the Opening Ceremony and during his stay at the Athletes' Village.
"It's definitely a week that I'll never forget," he said. "You know, how many people can say, first of all, that they've played in the Olympics and then won a medal?"
In the locker room after the match, Fish met up with Wilson, the gymnast, who had come with Andy Roddick to watch the match.
"I got one, too," Fish told him.
By the time he returned to the Athletes' Village and ran into athletes curious to see and hold and wear his medal, Fish was pretty sure it would feel, once and forever, like the coolest thing.
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