Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Getting to the heart of the matter
By Greg Garber ESPN.com
Mardy Fish lost the lead and the match when his suspended fourth-rounder against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga resumed Tuesday.
WIMBLEDON, England -- When he was startled awake with his heart nearly beating out of his chest, tennis was one thing that didn't flash through Mardy Fish's mind.
Five weeks ago, when he underwent a surgical procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia, Fish focused on his recovery and didn't raise a racket for 10 days. If you had told him then that he'd be in position in his first tournament back to match his career best in a Grand Slam, Fish would have taken it.
On Tuesday, the 30-year-old American's comeback came to a jarring end. No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, down a set in their match suspended from Monday, won all three sets contested on another dreary day, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the quarterfinals.
The win sent Tsonga to his third straight quarterfinal at Wimbledon and his fourth in the past five majors. Fish fell to 0-3 lifetime against Tsonga, but there's no shame in that -- after all, in 2011 at Wimbledon, Tsonga became the first man to come back from a two-set deficit against Roger Federer at a Grand Slam. Tsonga then lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
Tsonga, who required treatment for a lower back injury, was masterful. He fired 20 aces -- one of them clocked at 138 mph -- and stroked 56 winners. He had only 17 unforced errors. In five service chances in the second-set tiebreaker, Tsonga hit four aces.
Fish, still the 12th-ranked player in the world, was philosophical in defeat.
"Realistically, I didn't think I was going to be able to come [to Wimbledon], so I'm happy to be in the fourth round or to have lost in the fourth round at least," Fish said. "There's only 16 players that did that, so it's not a bad result, I guess."
Tennis and the forces of the heavens -- with the exception of the covered stadium here at the All England Club -- have always been intertwined. When the inevitable rain comes at Wimbledon, momentum invariably disappears.
On Monday, Fish ran away with the first set and Tsonga looked completely out of it. In the cool, damp weather, the Frenchman shivered during changeovers, despite wrapping himself in two Wimbledon towels. His serve was a good 10 mph off his average velocity, and his forehand did not resemble one of the game's great weapons. But the rain persisted, the match was suspended and Tsonga was given a reprieve.
The sky threatened when they resumed Tuesday just past noon. In the 15 minutes they spent on Court 2, Tsonga managed to win all three games before play was suspended again. When they returned, Fish ran off another string of three games to send the set back on serve and, ultimately, into a tiebreaker. With Fish serving at 2-3, Tsonga hit a terrific lunging backhand volley for a winner. He collected the set when Fish's backhand approach shot sailed long.
"He didn't play as well yesterday as he did today," Fish said later. "I played better yesterday than I did today maybe. So who knows what happens if there's not a rain delay."
Two subsequent rain delays did nothing to deter Tsonga, who, oddly enough, won one fewer point than Fish.
"Yesterday I didn't play badly, but he was just better than me," said Tsonga, who will play Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber on Wednesday. "It was really difficult to play because he was really aggressive. He didn't miss one shot."
Fish, who came heartbreakingly close to an Olympic gold medal in Athens in 2004, has decided to skip the rapidly approaching London Olympics -- and the bad memories -- in favor of a conventional hard-court schedule in the United States.
Fish's biggest weakness, his conditioning, will be addressed at home in the heat of Florida before traveling to Washington, D.C.
"I love playing in the summer," Fish said. "I love playing D.C. and Atlanta and these tournaments. It's super hot. I love the weather."
Fish has a lot of ATP Tour points to defend this summer. He will struggle to regain a foothold in the top 10. But medals and rankings don't seem to mean as much to Fish these days. They're important, but they aren't his top priority.
"I used to worry about those points to defend and stress over it," Fish said. "I'm not going to do that anymore. I achieved a lot of my goals as far as my ranking is concerned."