Fish Learns On The Job

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Abe Vigoda’s character Sargent Phil Fish from Barney Miller is getting more respect than Mardy Fish these days.

As the top ranked American you would figure he should get a chance to be on Arthur Ashe Stadium one of these days, but alas the No. 8 seed still is getting showcased on the old center court Luis Armstrong stadium.

The Californian, though, doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s definitely been like that in the past,” he said. “You know, there’s an American playing, put him on Grandstand or Louis court, and hopefully he’ll win.

“I hope it’s the beginning of that. That’s what you work towards, to have people come and appreciate what you do. You know, maybe I get the feeling, at least in the beginning of that match, that there were quite a few people there that maybe wouldn’t have been there in years past.”

Fish won his match today against South African Kevin Anderson with a straight sets victory, 6-4 7-6 7-6 to advance to the fourth round.

And if he wants to continue on his trek to greatness, he knows he need to continue disposing of opponents like the 12th Precinct captures bad guys. Straight set matches are key for the 39 year-old if he move deep into this tournament and beat one of the Big Four.

“It’s huge,” Fish said. “Mentally, physically, everything. Obviously it’s what we train for. I’ll be physically fine in two days. But, you know, I’m 29. I don’t wake up in the morning feeling like I’m 20. I don’t feel like Donald felt this morning. I’m sure he felt fine, you know. I won’t feel like that tomorrow morning.

“But we’ll do a lot of work on my body tonight, tomorrow. It’s big, you know, to get off. Last year was a prime example. I mean, I played two fivesetters in the first three rounds. I was just mentally and physically kind of drained to play someone like Novak in that next match.

“Maybe I could have come up against him, gamewise, a lot better than the score was. But I was so tired I wasn’t ready for it.”

It has been widely reported Fish has made the remarkable transformation from journeyman to star in a matter of a few years and maybe the reason he’s not getting the respect he deserves is that no one believes he could become a top player at this advanced age.

Yet, here’s Fish and like Phil Fish he is the grizzled veteran who is best at his job.

So what changed?

“Probably a lot,” Fish said. “I mean, probably first and foremost the mental side of it. You know, he seemed pretty jacked up yesterday. Obviously, you feed off the crowd. You’re not going to go away with a crowd like that, that’s for sure.

“But, you know, he lost serve at 54 and came right back, was able to hold to go to a breaker. And I think he said it after his match, that that’s probably a match he would have lost a year ago.

“Mentally he probably would have just been upset and said he had some chances and that’s it. You know, so that’s a huge part of it, as well. Maturing, growing, growing into your game, what makes you feel comfortable out on the court. There are demons out there, for sure. It’s not easy. It’s not going to be a piece of cake three out of five sets, that’s for sure.”

Fish is set to take on the winner of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round and much like the crew of Precinct 12, he will be ready for the job.

The College Conundrum

Professional tennis players and especially American professional tennis players face the decision at some point in their careers. Men and women. To go to college or not go to college?

Players from outside of the United States like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal invariably choose to turn professional at an early age. There is less pressure on young tennis stars to attend college in many foreign countries than there is in the United States. There is also less precedent.

As early as 30 years ago, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had to make the decision. Mac attended Stanford for two years and won the NCAA’s. He has never regretted his college decision.Same with Jimmy Connors at UCLA. He went for one year and also won the NCAA’s.

Three years ago, John Isner and Sam Querry burst on the scene.Isner went to the University of Georgia for four years and led his team to an NCAA crown.He finished second in singles. He wasn’t ready as a player to turn pro out of high school.Sam Querry, on the other hand turned down a full scholarship at USC. They are both about equally ranked now.

The college scene has changed dramatically over the past decade or so. More foreign players are attending colleges in the States  and that makes the competition better for Americans who continue on with their educations. Benjamin Becker is a prime example. He attended Baylor and is now No. 50 in the world.

The US Open Junior Finals this year pitted Jack Sock against Denis Kudla. Sock won the event and is torn between college and turning pro. Kudla has already turned pro. Sock and his family were approached by countless agents at the Open.

In our opinion, players should take a page from the James Blake playbook. The former Fairfield, Connecticut high school star attended Harvard for two years and then turned pro. He honed his skills at Harvard and picked up many valuable life tools in the process.He rose to as high as no. 6 in the world and was an endorsement guru. College did not hurt him a bit.

Jesse Levine turned pro after one year at the University of Florida. He stated, “You can always go back to school but not to pro tennis.” That is true but Levine has had a somewhat undistinguished pro career and probably wasn’t ready physically to turn pro when he did. Perhaps four years in college would have made Levine a better pro and a more well rounded individual.

Clearly, there is no easy answer to this conundrum facing many young tennis players.

Richard Kent is the autor of Inside the US Open and The Racket.