Fish finding his game at right time despite coaching carousel

Updated: September 2, 2008

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Mardy Fish has been on a roll at the U.S. Open, despite an uncertain coaching situation.

Four Points

NEW YORK -- In lieu of our regular programming, we present Four Points to think about as we await one of the more intriguing upcoming matches, the quarterfinal between top seed Rafael Nadal and No. 35 Mardy Fish:

No place like home:
Fish has struggled to find the right coaching solution in the past few years: He's worked with Scott Humphries, Todd Martin, Kelly Jones and Bo Hodge. His partnership with Craig Boynton appears to be a winning one, and he didn't have to go far to find him.

Boynton works for Saddlebrook Academy, the Tampa-area facility where Fish trains. The coach is also, coincidentally, Jones' brother-in-law -- they're married to twins.

Boynton, who's been traveling with Fish since before this year's Australian Open, said he knew him well and had a leg up on diagnosing what would push him to the next level. Fish had already started on a big part of that by honing his fitness with trainer Rory Cordial.

"Mardy was always dinged up, something was always breaking down," Boynton said of Fish, who spent much of the 2005 season on the sideline after undergoing two wrist surgeries. "It was tough for him to play consecutive good matches. Rory has brought him a quiet confidence and toughness. He's in a great spot."

Boynton said his advice for Fish before his match against Nadal, against whom Fish is 0-4, will be simple: "The sole intent is to be aggressive, serve and volley and come forward. The opponent is going to have to come up with a passing shot."

Fish's forehand has been his Achilles' heel in the past, but Boynton added that he's not fixated on Fish's number of errors as much as how he makes them. "I want him to be aggressive and create opportunities," the coach said. "The point should be won or lost most of the time on his racket."

Full-service gasoline
More than one writer noticed the bizarre numbers that emerged during Fish's win over France's Gael Monfils. As Boynton observed, Fish lives and dies by the serve-and-volley game, so according to one line on the stat sheet, he should have been slain. Fish got a meager 47 percent of his first serves in, compared to 70 percent of Monfils' first serves. But Fish capitalized on 80 percent of the first serves he did land, including a perfect 11-for-11 in the third set, and saved six of seven break points against him while pilfering six of 13 from his opponent.

Fish prevailed because no matter how he served, he didn't hang back. He played a whopping 69 net points and won 45 of them. He'd be well advised to stay in that assertive mode because neither he nor most other players can match Nadal's lateral movement on (or behind) the baseline. "If he's aggressive and comes in at the right times, especially to Nadal's backhand, I think he could have a shot," said Sam Querrey, who kept Nadal's hands full during their four-set tilt.

No rest for the cheery
Nadal has played 82 matches this year, Fish 52. We don't have access to their frequent-flier accounts, but it's a good bet that Nadal has piled up more, given his successful August trip to (and from) Beijing. "Probably I am not in the freshest moment in my life, but I am fine," he said after beating Querrey. Nadal looked as if he was dragging a little during stretches of that match, but he's still the best in the game right now at playing big points.

Although Nadal and Fish have spent virtually the same amount of time on court during this tournament, Fish has to be considered the fresher of the two and has brought both consistency and a new intensity to the table at this tournament. He needs to use both those things to his advantage. Twice Monday, he described himself as "desperate" to do well here, then later clarified -- sort of.

"I don't feel like time is running out at all," said Fish, 26, whose only other foray this deep in a major was at the 2007 Australian Open, where close friend Andy Roddick stopped him in his tracks. "However, these are the best of the best, and it's not every tournament that, you know, I make the quarters of a Slam," Fish continued. "It's not every Slam. It's only happened twice now, so I want to & I've always wanted to do well here. I think, obviously, I'm not unbelievably & well, maybe I am desperate, yes," he concluded, smiling sheepishly as the press corps chuckled.

His father, Tom, who celebrated his 56th birthday by watching the win, might have expressed things more clearly. "I think he's ready to fulfill his dreams," said Tom Fish, who was his son's first coach. "I think he thinks he's got more in him."

Up close and personal
Fish hasn't showed any signs of choking under pressure here, but his fiancee, Stacey Gardner, revealed that he had a little trouble closing out the point when it came to proposing. The two met through mutual friends when Fish played in her hometown of Los Angeles two years ago. Gardner said she had just graduated from law school and passed the California bar exam but took a detour into show business when she was offered a job as a briefcase model on the "Deal or No Deal" game show, which is about to enter its fourth season. After Fish's first-round loss to Marat Safin in L.A., Gardner said he called her every day. "He was very sweet. He did all the right things."

Fish later surprised her by popping the question on a walk by the ocean in his hometown of Vero Beach, Fla. There was just one problem: It was a cold, drizzly, gloomy day, and Gardner couldn't understand why he was insisting on such a long, romantic stroll. "He told me later that he was telling himself, 'Come on! Suck it up! No one wants to be out here!'" she said. Fish finally hit a winner, and the couple will marry Sept. 28 in Southern California, where they've bought a second home to supplement Fish's Florida digs.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.


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P-Mac gets the call

U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe woke up one Sunday morning in August to find a late-night phone message from Andy Roddick, who had just lost in the quarterfinals in Washington, D.C.

"I thought, he either needs my help or he's skipping Davis Cup," McEnroe said. "He wouldn't call me in the middle of the night for nothing."

It was the former. Roddick told McEnroe that he and his brother/coach John had come to a fork in the road and asked if he would step in as interim coach. McEnroe's answer was "an instant yes, because of what he's done for us, for Davis Cup, for his country and therefore what he's done for me," he said.

"He and John had been at each other and they thought it would be better for their brotherly relationship if they took a break. They literally both came to each other at the same time.

"I've always had a lot of thoughts about Andy's game. It's been fun for me to be the only guy in his ear."

McEnroe, the ultimate multitasker, was already juggling his Davis Cup role, his job as director of the U.S. Tennis Association's elite player development program, his commentating gigs with ESPN and CBS, and the fact that his wife, singer Melissa Errico, is pregnant with twins and due in early December. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Victoria.

"Do whatever [Roddick] needs you to do,'' Errico told her husband, an endorsement that sealed his decision. "I think it helps that Andy comes over and plays with Victoria when he's in town,'' McEnroe said.

He and Roddick had an intense week of practice together in New York before the Open. Their temporary arrangement should end shortly after the Davis Cup semifinals in Spain later this month, when Roddick intends to hire a new full-time coach.

McEnroe said he's encouraging Roddick to come to net more and not to be deterred if he's passed or if he misses a volley. "He's playing well, and he's healthy," McEnroe said. "This is not just about the U.S. Open. It's about what's going to help his success in the long term."

Streaks alive

Del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro's straight-sets fourth-round victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori in a battle of teen wolves extends the 17th-seeded Argentinean's skein of wins to 23, including four titles. His streak is second this season to the 32 put together by Nadal, who ran the table at Hamburg, the French Open, Queen's Club, Wimbledon and Toronto before losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals at Cincinnati.

Stat of the week

Venus Williams

After a decade of duking it out on the WTA circuit, Venus and Serena Williams have salted away remarkably similar spoils. Venus leads in lifetime prize money, $20,288,478 to Serena's $20,274,846 -- a difference of a mere $13,632, which is barely a day's work in this sport. Little sister leads this season, $2,165,612 to $2,114,697.

Question of the week

Querrey

Will Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish be in the ATP's top 32 -- and thus seeded at next year's Australian Open -- by the end of the season?

Send your thoughts to Bonnie D. Ford.

Critic's choice

Murray

We're dealing with the marquee Williams-Williams quarterfinal elsewhere on the tennis page of ESPN.com, so here we'll focus on the gun battle between Del Potro and sixth-seeded Andy Murray of Great Britain. The winner will go to his first Grand Slam semifinal. They've played once before, but it really doesn't count, because it was on clay (in Rome) and Del Potro retired in the third set of that contentious match. Murray is the perfect guy to pick apart Del Potro's power game and bring the above-mentioned streak to an end.

ESPN.com pick: Murray in four sets.

Quote of the week

Roddick

"I mean, the guy has only made two Grand Slam finals this year. I would love his bad year. I would love it. It would be great. I'd be really happy with right now. & The guy has the best four-year run ever, and we're all sitting here in shock that it's not the best five-year run ever." -- Andy Roddick, assessing Roger Federer's season.