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Name and fame: Vero native son Mardy Fish nets dual tennis honors

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of January 18, 2024)
Photo: Dana Andrews with Mardy Fish.

The United States Tennis Association has made sure Vero Beach never forgets its home-grown tennis star.

In a 45-minute ceremony Sunday at Riverside Park, the USTA Florida Section commemorated the tennis career and community involvement of Mardy Fish – a former top-10 player, Olympic silver medalist and U.S. Davis Cup Captain – by naming the island facility’s courts in his honor.

Fish, now 42, retired from tennis and living in Los Angeles, was also inducted into the USTA Florida Hall of Fame, which provided a video highlighting his contributions to the game and beyond, including the work of the Vero Beach-based Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation and his efforts to promote the cause of mental health.

The dual-purpose event, which was attended by a gathering of about 100 friends, dignitaries and members of the local tennis community, was part of USTA Florida’s 75th Anniversary celebration.

“It’s very humbling,” Fish said after the formalities, glancing over at the “Mardy Fish Courts at Riverside Racquet Complex” plaque that will be attached to the city-owned, USTA Florida-run facility. “It’s also very nostalgic.

“Being here and looking around, growing up across the street and remembering all the time I spent over here on these courts and in this park as a kid …,” he added. “It definitely brings back a lot of great memories.”

The dedication ceremony was held on one of the complex’s two easternmost courts – the court where Fish learned to play, hitting balls with his father, Tom, a longtime local teaching pro and now tennis director at Windsor.

That began in 1986, when Mardy Fish was only 4 years old.

The elder Fish didn’t know he was launching a future pro’s career. He was merely trying to spend time with his son and keep him busy.

“Sometimes I’d have to almost drag him over and we’d be out there only 15 minutes, but most times he seemed to be having fun,” Fish’s father said. “I was just trying to raise a happy, healthy kid.

“But you could see he was becoming a really good athlete.”

The rest is history.

Fish would turn pro at age 18 in 1999, then go on to win six ATP Tour singles titles and 8 doubles titles, playing his way to a career-high No. 7 world ranking in August 2011.

After taking home the silver medal in singles from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Fish would reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (2007), U.S. Open (2008) and Wimbledon (2011).

He played on U.S. Davis Cup teams from 2002 through 2012.

Fish was enjoying a late-career surge when, in early 2012, he suffered severe cardiac arrhythmia and underwent a corrective procedure. He returned to the tour two months later, but a severe anxiety disorder took him off the courts again in 2013.

He did not play in 2014 and retired the following year, still battling mental issues that would become his cause.

Fish spoke openly about his anxiety issues and became an advocate for people in need of mental health care. In September 2021, his story was the subject of the “Breaking Point” documentary, part of Netflix’s nine-part “Untold” film series.

To this day, however, Fish continues to confront bouts with anxiety.

“There are still good days and bad days,” he said.

And while Fish has abandoned his dream of playing on the PGA Tour, he said he still plays as much golf as he can and enjoys competing in celebrity events – something he’ll do this weekend at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in the Orlando area.

He also hopes to play his way onto the PGA Tour Champions circuit when he turns 50.

Now, though, Fish has another passion.

Five years ago, a friend introduced him to mixed martial arts, and he quickly became a fan – so much so that he said, when he’s home, he trains daily “at a high level.”

Jiu-jitsu is his specialty, and he travels around California to compete in tournaments.

“As tennis moves out of your life, something else moves in,” Fish said. “For me, it was golf. But at some point you realize your golf game is your golf game. It’s not going to get much better. I definitely want to try the senior tour, but that’s eight years from now.

“So MMA is what I’m doing now, and I’m really enjoying it,” he added. “It doesn’t just keep you fit; it builds self-confidence. Everyone should try one martial art, whether it’s jiu-jitsu or muay thai, or karate, or even boxing.”

Fish believes his MMA training has helped ease his anxiety issues, and while he said he wasn’t comfortable being gushed over as the center of attention Sunday, he did seem to be happy and at peace with his post-tennis life.

It was nice being home, too.

“This is quite an honor,” Fish said. “I’m thrilled about the impact the foundation is having on the community, though it’s really more about the people running it, and the volunteers, and my parents. I’m glad I’m able to give something back, just because I could hit a yellow ball.

“But I love Vero Beach,” he added. “It’s always great to come back. And to come back here, where I have so many memories … It’s pretty cool.

“It’s a day I won’t forget.”