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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Mardy Fish, professional tennis player, was about to be sidelined.
The 28-year-old tour veteran was in need of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and had sustained a broken rib while playing Marin Cilic in the Davis Cup this past July.
It was only September, but his 2009 season was over.
The situation called for some serious contemplation: How would he spend his recuperation time?
Pragmatically, Fish knew that a few months of rehab comes with consequences. His career has not been injury-free. A left wrist injury and two subsequent wrist surgeries certainly took their toll.
There was no denying that his latest medical issues would prevent Fish from doing anything really physical to stay in shape. At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Fish was packing a few extra pounds. Now that he wasn't going to be running around to burn calories, he was worried about putting on more weight.
That's when Fish experienced one of those light-bulb-goes-off-in-your-head moments: He could use the downtime to do something important: go healthy!
The execution went flawlessly.
He's trim, he's chiseled. The ladies in the crowd this week at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, where Fish is the defending champion, could be heard saying: "Wow, he's hot!" Of course, those crystal-blue eyes that draw you in don't hurt.
Sorry ladies, he's a married man. His wife, Stacey, is an attorney and was a model on the TV show "Deal or No Deal."
Fish's initial challenge was losing 10 to 15 pounds, but he dropped the weight so fast that he kept going. He's now 177 pounds and doing his best to maintain his healthier approach to food on the road.
"After I had my knee surgery, I went on a big nutrition thing," said Fish, a natural athlete with an aggressive style. "I feel completely different, a completely different person. I feel like I'm actually in great shape. I took advantage of the downtime and really set myself up for the next few years, at least not having an excuse that I'm not in shape or not putting in the hard work."
Last year, Fish became the first top seed at Delray Beach to live up to his ranking, winning his third career tournament. He also was enjoying a No. 20 ranking.
Now, once again, he's in comeback mode at No. 73 and looking to take his explosive game back up the ranking charts. He's counting on his improved physique to help his cause. Thus far, his best result of the season was a semifinal showing at Sydney, but three other tournaments ended in the first round.
One thing is for sure: Fellow players have taken note of the "new" Mardy.
"He took it really upon himself, took it seriously once he had that surgery, he wanted to lose a little weight and get in great shape," said James Blake, a close friend and Tampa neighbor. "It changed his body a little bit, and everybody is noticing in the locker room.
"He's counting calories, watching the carbs, all that kind of stuff. It's pretty funny because it's making me feel like I'm eating badly, and I thought I was eating healthy. If I have a little bit of cheese on my pasta it's like a sin."
Here is how Fish approached his planned healthy lifestyle changes:
Step 1: Purge environment of unhealthy temptations
"We took everything out of the house. No chips. No sodas. I made Stacey take everything out of the house that was bad so I wouldn't mess up. No alcohol. No sodas. No sugars. No oils, no butter."
Step 2: Retrain thy taste buds
"Something that didn't taste that good, I hammered it down, and it really worked. We ate a lot of soups, a lot of salads, fish, stuff that I wouldn't eat before. We ate egg white omelet with turkey and spinach, whole wheat pancakes occasionally in the morning. Some of it didn't taste good, some of it did, but I ate everything. Then we got into it, saw results, so I'd start jumping on the scale 15 times a day."
Step 3: Keep to a strict regimen
"I was feeling like I was starving myself for the first month. [If I miss anything now] it's probably a pizza. Cheese has been the hardest thing to cut out. I don't crave anything anymore. I was eating so much and eating so poorly, which is why it was so tough at the beginning. But I was able to shrink my stomach to where I was not feeling hungry anymore.
"What we're doing with the nutrition thing, not eating after 6:30. We were just absolutely religious about it. Everybody helped. My trainer [Christian LoCascio] helped; my wife helped a ton. We hired someone who could cook the food, so we didn't have to go out to restaurants where it's pretty impossible to get them to cook healthy food when they're just trying to make it good. We spent three months [eating] at home every day and put a lot of time into it.
"We were calorie counting down to every calorie I put into my body. We got into it, my wife and my trainer did it, we all got into it, although they cheated a little bit at night with the desserts."
Now that Fish is back on tour, he's doing his best to keep things healthy. He admits that on Tuesday night he "cheated" by having pasta, and after three months of being alcohol-free, a beer passed his lips.
But he's absolutely confident that he will allow himself only occasional treat cheats. After all, he's made a serious lifestyle choice for the future.