By Steve Megargee staff writer
December 5, 2003
VERO BEACH -- Mardy Fish raised a few eyebrows this time last year when he talked about how he planned to finish 2003 as one of the world's top 50 tennis players.
It turns out the former Vero Beach resident set his sights too low.
Fish spent the next 12 months earning his first ATP Tour event championship, reaching three other finals and winning a critical Davis Cup match. By the time the best season of his pro career had ended, Fish was ranked 20th in the world.
Now he has to figure out what to do for an encore.
"Right around Nottingham (where he lost in the final this summer), everything started moving really quickly," Fish said Wednesday. "Everything just started clicking. I really can't pinpoint how it all happened."
Fish looked back on his remarkable year after completing an exhibition at Sea Oaks with former Vero Beach High School teammate Robert Kowalczyk and fellow touring pros Robby Ginepri and Robert Kendrick.
The exhibition benefited Adopt-a-Family, an organization that provides Christmas gifts, clothing, school supplies and groceries for 75 needy local families. This marked the second year Fish held an exhibition at Sea Oaks to raise money for this charity.
"I was born in Minnesota and I live in Tampa now," said Fish, "but this is where I'm from."
Maybe so, but his name's much more well known all over the world now thanks to his breakthrough season.
Fish, who entered the year ranked 85th in the world, has enjoyed his success.
He got front-row tickets to an Orlando Magic game for his father. He recently attended a Dave Matthews Band concert and spoke backstage with violinist Boyd Tinsley, who happens to be a tennis fan.
But the highlight of his year came in September when he helped the United States stay in the top tier of the Davis Cup. After Andy Roddick lost to Dominik Hrbaty in the first match of a series with Slovakia, Fish rallied to beat Karol Kucera 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1.
Fish's win proved to be the margin of victory as the U.S. team edged Slovakia 3-2. Fish considered that victory even more important than winning the Stockholm Open in October.
"There's a different level of pressure when you're playing for your country," Fish said.
Fish, who turns 22 on Tuesday, now is looking to build on the momentum he established this year. The first step is getting beyond the third round of a Grand Slam event.
Fish squandered a two-set lead to Wayne Ferreira in the third round of the 2003 Australian Open and lost to eventual champion Roger Federer in the third round of Wimbledon. He lost in the second round of the U.S. Open and in the opening round of the French Open.
The good news for Fish is that he should be seeded in next year's Grand Slam events as long as his ranking doesn't drop.
Fish also would like to help the United States capture the Davis Cup, earn $1 million in prize money and finish the 2004 season ranked in the top 10. Those are pretty ambitious goals, but Fish has been asked why he doesn't aim even higher.
"A friend of mine said that all the goals I set last year, I accomplished," Fish said. "So she said, 'Why don't you just say you want to finish No. 1?' Who knows what might happen? But finishing in the top 10 would be a huge accomplishment for me."