MAKING THE TURN
Tennis|September - October 2021
Six years after saying goodbye to the protour grind, Mardy Fish may be more active than ever—on the court, on the course, and helping combat a struggle anyone can encounter
Peter Bodo

The tennis year is scheduled to end with the second episode of the reformatted Davis Cup, which will take place in three different host cities (Nov. 25 to Dec. 5). The U.S. squad will play its group stages in Turin, Italy, under the leadership of captain Mardy Fish.

A former Davis Cup player himself, Fish is also a remarkably gifted golfer. He experienced a career-damaging struggle with anxiety and emerged as one of the first and most visible of elite athletes to go public with his story. The 39-year-old remains a spokesman and advocate for mental health awareness—an issue that leaped into the sporting forefront with Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from Roland Garros.

Have you been able to keep up with the players during the pandemic, and how do you rate their enthusiasm for Davis Cup?

A: The pandemic has made it tough to watch them live, but we keep in touch by text and phone. I used to be able to jump on the court to have a hit and come off thinking, “I can see why this kid is really good,” or, “I can see why he’s ranked No. 35.”

The older guys (John Isner, Sam Querrey, et al) remember what Davis Cup used to be; the young guys (Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, et al) didn’t really experience it other than the new way. The enthusiasm level for the young guys seems pretty high. I haven’t even met some of the potential team members in person, like Sebastian Korda, but they all grew up watching Davis Cup. We haven’t skipped a generation yet, to where Laver Cup is something they know better than Davis Cup.

Q: Is there a danger that the ATP Cup has stolen the thunder from Davis Cup?

A: You can’t replace Davis Cup with something else. Its love and lore won’t be surpassed any time soon. ATP Cup is a great competition (the U.S. did not qualify for it in 2021), but really, any time there is a team competition, guys jump at the opportunity. Especially our young guys, who are genuinely best friends. I thought players of my vintage, like Andy Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan brothers, were close, but these guys may be even closer.

Q: There was a great deal of criticism following the first episode of the revamped competition, with a round-robin format at a single site (Madrid). Was it valid, in your eyes?

A: Getting more eyeballs and people in the seats would be great. I understand what the promoters (the International Tennis Federation and Kosmos Investment Holdings) are trying to do: create a World Cup of tennis; keep it in Europe; move it around in a few cities— but attendance was a huge problem.

We were in a really strong “group of death” (with Canada and Italy). One of our matches went on until 4 a.m., but there were only like 50 people in the stands. Meanwhile, in the next stadium over, something like 15,000 fans were watching Spain. They sold tickets to individual matches, rather than a day pass so you could watch other teams. That needs to be fixed.

For players, the event was awesome in how it was organized—the food, the transport, hotel, the amount of practice we got. But the guys were bummed that we didn’t get the fans. They wanted something like what they’d seen on TV in the past, 10,000 people going crazy in an arena.

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