Mardy Fish, seen here at the U.S. Open last September, made a victorious return to tennis on Sunday. (Adam Hunger/Reuters)
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Mardy Fish won his first match since the U.S. Open last year with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Bobby Reynolds in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
Playing for the first time since heart complications forced him out of the game last September, Fish said his primary emotion was one of elation after scoring the win in front of his friends and family.
"There have been a couple of people that have really been there for me through these past months, and it felt good to play for them," Fish told reporters. "My wife has been a rock at my side the entire time, so it's been very difficult for her, as well. It's nice to be able to play for her and her family, who live in L.A., and have seen me at my worst times."
Here's video of the final game.
Fish used the word "demons" to describe the doubts and insecurities he's still dealing with as he mounts his comeback. It was around this time last year that Fish began to experience symptoms of an accelerated heart issue. He was awakened in the middle of the night while in Switzerland for the Davis Cup with his heart racing. A month later he was rushed to the hospital in Miami after losing at the Sony Open, suffering the same accelerated heartbeat. He flew back to Los Angeles and eventually underwent a procedure to correct his heart arrhythmia.
He skipped the European clay season and returned with some success, making the fourth round or better at five of his last six tournaments of the year. But after defeating Gilles Simon at the U.S. Open, Fish withdrew before his fourth-round clash against Roger Federer. That was the last time he played in a tournament until this week.
"The first three months after the U.S. Open I had retired and unretired in my head almost every week," Fish said. "And there was a while where I was done. I had gotten it through my head that I was done when I was just trying to get my normal life back."
Though he has yet to go into details about the nature of his heart condition, which can flare up when he feels stressed or anxious, Fish is just happy to be back.
"There are still some demons there that you try to fight, you try to deal with, and it's just nice to be out in the sun playing for something again," he said.
Fish added: "You want to stay within yourself a little bit and not get too fired up or too low or too high or anything like that. Then all of a sudden you find yourself deep in the third set losing. You know, some of that fight starts kicking in and you want to win."
He isn't sure whether he can regain the form that propelled him to No. 8 in 2011, but for now it's just about testing his body and mind to see how they react under the stress of competition. After Indian Wells, he'll travel to Miami for the Sony Open and then reassess how he's feeling mentally and physically to determine his clay-court schedule.
"I would want to play at a high level, there's no doubt about that," he said. "Being at the top of the game, being at least where I was, your expectations change a lot. All of a sudden the fourth round of a Slam is not a good result anymore when, in all seriousness, it is. It's a great result; things just change."
Things do change. As Fish returns to the tour he does so without one of his best friends and biggest cheerleaders in the locker room: Andy Roddick. Asked what he missed most about Roddick's absence, Fish said he missed their nightly steak dinners during the tournament. "I miss the free meals from him because he has way more money than we all do," he said, laughing.
"He's been a mainstay at tournaments for my entire career, and I certainly miss him. No more so than a tournament like this where we [would] stay in the same hotel, the same resort. We [would] go to dinner practically every night together. We actually had breakfast here every single morning. So it's a little different when you're eating by yourself, like this morning, when he would be there. I certainly miss him."
But before things get too melancholy, Fish was sure to get in one final shot on his now-retired buddy. Asked if he'd be surprised by an Andy Roddick comeback, Fish laughed.
"Have you seen him lately? A little bit overweight right now."
Fish will play the winner of Sunday night's match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and James Blake on Tuesday.