- - Thursday, July 26, 2012

His life has returned to a pro tennis player’s normalcy, airport-to-airport, tournament-to-tournament, his concerns again about the person across the net instead of his health issue.

Mardy Fish still travels with the heart-rate monitor. “Sometimes,” he said before what was a persuasive Wimbledon, “I don’t even turn it on. I just put it on.”

Fish, 13th in the rankings after moving as high as eighth, is scheduled to be in Washington for next week’s Citi Open after withdrawing from last week’s tournament in Atlanta with an ankle injury.

“One of my favorite stops,” Fish said on conference call about the tournament at William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

“I love the city of Washington, D.C. It’s the kind of weather I enjoy playing in. It’s not just about being fit. It’s about convincing yourself you like it more than the other guy.”

Not too hard after you convince yourself the arrhythmia which had you scared back in late winter was corrected in May through a procedure called cardiac catheter ablation in which doctors remove a faulty electric pathway to the heart.

A few hours after losing to Juan Monaco in the Miami Masters on March 29, Fish woke up in the middle of the night, his heart racing. “I honestly felt I was going to die,” Fish has said several times, recalling his situation and thinking of the soccer player in England, Fabrice Muamba, who survived after his heart stopped beating during a game.

Fish, 30, said his was a recurrence of what happened while in Switzerland in February for Davis Cup. “I was afraid to travel,” he told the New York Times, “to sleep alone or away from home.”

Doctors said the arrhythmia wasn’t life-threatening, but the decision was made to have the ablation and Fish didn’t play competitively for a month, until Wimbledon. That he made it through three matches, finally falling in the fourth round to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, hardly was dissatisfying.

“It took me two matches to start playing good tennis again,” said Fish. “I was happy the way I played there. Realistically, I didn’t think I would be there.”

When it came to Washington in 2011, he wasn’t there, literally, skipping what would be the final tournament sponsored by Legg Mason.

“I wanted to play last year,” said Fish. “It just didn’t work in my schedule. It was a good thing for me because I had won a ton of matches in the weeks prior. I played well at Wimbledon [getting to the quarters before running into Rafael Nadal] and then obviously Davis Cup. I needed a small break to kind of regenerate. The schedule worked out, but the only miss or blip on it was that I had to miss D.C.”

What he’s missing this time is the London Olympic tournament at Wimbledon, a surprise to some who have watched his play progress on grass courts.

But Fish has been there — well, Athens, for the 2004 Games — and done that, taking the silver medal after losing in the final to Nicolas Massu of Chile.

“I was lucky enough to do well in the Olympics,” said Fish, justifying his decision. “I’ve got memories from that. Playing in the States is my most fun time of the year, in the summer, in the heat. I didn’t want to miss that.”

Jim Courier, the United States Davis Cup captain, has no problem with Fish’s choice.

“I think Mardy has probably come to the realization the silver medal he won in Athens is about as good as he’s probably going to do in the Olympics,” Courier said. “Looking realistically at his chances against the current field, I think he would be hard-pressed to do better than that.”

Courier called the Olympics a “real wrench” for American players because of the travel.

“It’s different for Europeans, where it’s an easy move,” said Courier. “You don’t have to adjust your body clock. But for an American to go over and play the clay-court swing, go back home, play the Wimbledon swing, go home, and then go back again, it’s a pretty big ask. Most of our guys are going to do that, but Mardy has made that calculated decision that it’s better for him to stay put, play in Washington and look to the hard courts for his summer.”

And Washington could not be more pleased.

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