Mardy Fish celebrates after winning his second round match at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on June 28, 2012 in London.
Mardy Fish seemingly had it all. One of the top American men’s tennis players of his generation, he had been ranked in the top 10, won an Olympic silver medal, earned millions in prize money and beaten some of the biggest names in the sport. He also had a loving family, having married wife Stacey in 2008.
Yet none of those things mattered without strong mental health.
Fish, now 38 and retired from tennis, has been open about his experience with diagnosed anxiety — and his wish for elevated awareness and treatment for mental health issues.
Mental health came into his life in a big way in 2012. Coming off a strong season, the Edina, Minnesota, native was expected to be a serious factor on that year’s ATP Tour. Instead his season was interrupted when he started experiencing terrifying heart arrhythmias that led into panic and anxiety attacks.
During an arrhythmia, his heart beat so fast he feared it would explode. The episodes were so serious that Fish feared he was going to die.
Successful cardiac ablation surgery corrected the condition. The non-stop anxiety was another matter.
Fish said he didn’t remember any acute anxiety episodes before his heart problem but admitted getting nervous enough to occasionally throw up before big matches.
But now, playing tennis was impossible. He was scared, unable to focus to play an hours-long, grueling tennis match, and he couldn’t bring himself out of the loop in his head.
Fish realized he needed help, beginning his lifetime journey by dealing with his anxiety.
“It’s been eight years now for me, and the first two or three, I can say I did not have an incredible grasp on it,” Fish told TeamUSA.org. “I would say it took until like 2017. I did not leave the country for five years, and not because I did not have opportunities to travel or do things; I just didn’t feel comfortable.”
He opened up about his life, on and off the court, in a 2015 Player’s Tribune article that drew a lot of attention. It answered some of the lingering questions the tennis world had about Fish; namely, what happened to him after such a career resurgence.
The 2004 Olympic men’s singles silver medalist said the article brought out a lot of support from famous people in sports and business, but also from the public. People shared their stories, talking about how they deal with anxiety and their mental health. Fish said people still contact him today, and he tries to reach out as much as possible to provide moral support and encouragement.
“I know I am lucky, because I have an amazing support system around me,” Fish said. “My wife, my family, her family, friends, so many all around me. They would help take my mind off it, be there for me. But I know if I had nothing around me, just me by myself, no way would I be here. I would have gotten way too deep into it and never get out of it. I have no idea where I would be. I don’t even want to think about that.”