Fish rises to challenge with a liking for the net

Faces to follow for 2004: America's hottest prospect used to race Roddick to school and is now chasing him up rankings

Mardy Fish first made a name for himself as the best two-year-old tennis player in the world. The title was invented by a television sportscaster in Minnesota for a cameo showing the toddler hitting a ball over the net from the baseline.

To Fish's horror, the video clip was resurrected 20 years later during a rain delay at the United States Open. "Oh, my God. They're not showing that on national television," Fish groaned as James Blake, his Davis Cup team-mate, burst out laughing.

Aside from the usual embarrassment felt by a young man when his well-meaning mother passes around childhood snapshots - in this case the tape found its way to CBS via Mrs Sally Fish and the US Tennis Association - the style of play was outdated. Mardy had long since abandoned the baseline to attack the net.

"My Dad [Tom] is a teaching professional and my Mom fed me balls in the basement sometimes," he said. "I've always played the way I play. Even in the juniors I always came to the net. I can't stay back and try to tire players out in long rallies. I love coming to the net whether it be on the serve or the return or the ground stroke."

A serve-and-volley rarity, Fish was the only player to take a set off Roger Federer at Wimbledon last summer. The magnificent Swiss regained his composure and went on to win the third-round match, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

"He's got a big game, definitely," Federer said. "He's got a very big serve. He can still improve his consistency on the serve, because I think he could have a great serve. He returns well. He has his weaknesses, but there's not a weakness that stands out, especially on the grass."

Having ended 2002 ranked No 81 in the world, Fish gained momentum after Wimbledon and finished 2003 at No 20. "It was a really good ending to the second half of the year," he said. "My goal at the beginning of the year was to finish in the top 50 and then hopefully have my break-out year."

Fish advanced to his first Masters Series final in Cincinnati in August, losing to his compatriot Andy Roddick, the dominant figure of the hard-court season, and won his first ATP title in Stockholm in October. He also reached two earlier finals last year, losing to a compatriot, Jan-Michael Gambill, in Delray Beach, Florida, in March and to Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, in Nottingham in June.

"He's good, it's as simple as that," Tim Henman said after the British No 1 lost to Fish in the first round of the Madrid Masters in October. "I think he's got a modern-day game, with a great serve, and he goes for his shots."

Like Henman, the 22-year-old Fish considers Wimbledon his most likely option for a major title. "The grass suits my type of game the best," Fish said.

"It's my favourite surface. Growing up, I always felt like Wimbledon was going to be my tournament, my break-out tournament. I still feel that one of these years I'm going to have a good Wimbledon."

Currently the third-ranked American behind Roddick, the world No 1, and Andre Agassi, Fish admires the veteran Todd Martin. "I really like watching Todd play," he said. "I haven't really modelled my game after Todd's, but I think that he plays great tennis. He's a very crafty player, a very wise player."

The Fish family moved from Minnesota to Florida when Mardy was three years old. In 1999 the fledging tennis prospect stayed with the Roddick family in Boca Raton for eight months when he and Andy were at high school together. "I've heard every fish pun there is," Roddick said.

Fish's recollection of that period invokes images of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: "It wasn't like we were best friends or anything, we were more like brothers. We fought all the time. We were very competitive. We played a lot of one-on-one basketball, and we'd race to school every day."

In August 2002, Fish appointed Kelly Jones as his coach, and the former doubles player has helped to tune his game. "Kelly knows the volley, and he's helped me a lot on my serve," Fish said. "My motion was always fine, but sometimes if I play too quick, the toss gets low. He's helped me overall mentally and by being a friend away from the court."

Although the 33-year-old Agassi continues to joust with the new generation, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang have joined Jim Courier in retirement, leaving the future of the American game in the hands of Roddick, Fish, Blake, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri.

Fish is determined to meet the challenge. "Not to put anybody in the same bracket as those great names - those shoes are tough to fill - but there is a lot of talent coming up," he said. "Time will tell."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution