Fish solidifies place in U.S. tennis discussion

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Mardy Fish

Mardy Fish (above), who improved his record from No. 79 after Wimbledon to No. 21 entering the U.S. Open, hopes to crack the Top 10 next year. (AP)

Mardy Fish turns 29 on December 9 so let's be perfectly blunt:

The dude is old.

In tennis terms, Fish is a senior citizen, and the hard truth is the odometer on his legs has plenty of miles. It's almost unheard of for any player (besides Andre Agassi) to reinvent his game this late in his career but Fish has done so this summer by reinventing his body.

Though he fell in straight sets Monday afternoon to No. 3-seeded Novak Djokovic -- leaving Sam Querrey as the last American man standing in the singles draw -- Fish now becomes part of the discussion for American tennis moving forward. He entered his meeting with Djokovic as the hottest player on the ATP tour, winning back-to-back tournaments in Newport and Atlanta and rolling up a 19-2 record since Wimbledon. This summer, he's also earned something he's rarely gotten: Notice. Wrote's Jon Wertheim of Fish: "He never quite had Andy Roddick's game. He quite never had the polish and Harvard pedigree of James Blake. He never had a twin, nor the physique of an NBA forward. So it is that, too often, Mardy Fish has been the odd man out of the discussion about American tennis."

In a story that was told multiple times this week, Fish dropped more than 30 pounds (down from 203 pounds) after knee surgery last September. He said that he made it a point to reduce his caloric intake by 300 to 600 calories, depending on the amount of exercise he undertook that day. "I was too heavy," Fish said. "That was why my knees were hurting. Both knees were hurting. I mean, one needed repair and the other one was just sore all the time. I was just too heavy, flat out too heavy ... I've had some good results here and there but never sustained them, I've never been consistent throughout an entire year. I've had a big result here and a big result there at the end of the year, a final of Indian Wells and something in Delray Beach, but then nothing for five months because I was injured or not feeling well or not playing well. So I think that speaks volumes to what you need to do in this sport to be, you know, at a high level, is that you have to be fit to want to be consistent."

Against Djokovic, Fish looked fatigued from his busy summer, and the match essentially ended in the second set when he failed to capitalize on three break points with Djokovic serving at 3-2. The Serbian cruised from there, with Fish offering very little resistance in a 6‑3, 6‑4, 6‑1 rout. Djokovic will next meet flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. "It's been a great summer, obviously, for many reasons," said Fish. "I sort of put myself back into a position where I feel like I belong, and I put in a ton of hard work."

Part of that summer was nearly pulling off a major trifecta in Cincinnati. After wins over Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, Fish fell to Roger Federer in a tough three-set match that included a pair of tiebreaks. "I mean, his talent was never questioned, was it?" Federer said. "I played him back in maybe was it 2003, 2004, when I won my first couple Wimbledons. He was the only guy to take a set off me. I always thought he was an incredibly good player, regardless of his weight, to be honest. I think it's great to show maybe other players, too, to see what's possible at a later stage in your career, if you come up with some new ideas."

Those new ideas now include Fish aiming for the Top 10 at this time next year. "Just off the top of my head, I'd love to make it into the top 10," Fish said. "I think there's just such a significant difference between a player who's been in the top 20 or even the top 15 and then a top 10 player. There's not many guys that have done it, and seems like most of the really good players on tour have been just for a couple weeks, if that's what it is. But, you know, you saw someone like Stan Wawrinka yesterday beat Andy Murray. He's been as high as number 8 in the world. He's had a run, and people have put together runs like that.