By Christopher Lancette
Mardy Fish strolled into the press room at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic unencumbered by the stress of playing in a tournament he had to nix because of injuries. Sporting his matching black K-Swiss cap, shirt and shoes with gray shorts, he settled in for an extended conversation – covering everything from the status of his knee to the condition of American tennis.
The chat was as casual as his clothes but one that shed some insight on his life and on the game that provides him his living. At a ranking of No. 8, he spoke like a man who has the confidence and wisdom of someone who has reached the top of a mighty climb — even if another looms: He wants to see what life would be like if he reached and won a major final.
“I’ve never been there,” he said, “but I’d like to find out.”
One prerequisite for him, as with any player, is maintaining his health. The bruise on his right heel that forced him to withdraw from the Legg Mason is healing. He needs more rest before his run through Montreal and the U.S. Open.
“It’s very hard to stay healthy the entire year and play every tournament you want to play,” he said, his beard perhaps a bit thicker, the way a man tends to let go when he’s on R&R.
What propelled him into the top ten?
“I think just the consistency,” he said. He went on to explain that consistency is one of the main ingredients that goes into the rise of every top player. The other? “There’s a difference between thinking you can win, and really, really thinking you can win.” He did not speak in the school of redundancy tradition: Spend even a little time close-up on the pro tour and you can often see the slightly different glimmer in the eyes of players who genuinely believe they can win and those who are only telling themselves that.
He also batted around a ball machine full of questions that didn’t focus on him.
He said that Ryan Harrison is “the pretty easy answer there” when asked to name the next American he expects to stride much higher in the rankings. “He’s really coming into his own, at 19,” he said.
Fish admitted to struggling to find the right words to characterize his perspective on Wayne Odesnik, who manages to come up in seemingly every Legg Mason conversation despite the fact he left long ago. He said he doesn’t much follow Odesnik’s results, which is about the kindest thing players have said this week about the player suspended for transporting Human Growth Hormone.
Is there pressure holding the spot as the most successful American male right now?
“It’s only in that regard; I’m the top-ranked player,” he said. “That’s where the burden comes from. Well, it’s not really a burden. I mean it’s a great position to be in. It’s a place I’ve never been before. But, for 12 years of my career, Andy Roddick has been ranked ahead of me and just a few months of being ranked higher – it’s not going to catapult me over him as far as our careers are concerned or who is the top alpha male of our generation.”
Humility aside, Fish exited the press conference in his casual shorts with a strong, confident stride that suggested it’s good to be the lead dog.