Sunday, March 29
Fish faces fan fallout

ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- On Tuesday night, Mardy Fish was sitting watching "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN when he saw his name in the column of upcoming topics. When the bar lit up, the hosts grilled Fish in the role-play segment.

Mardy Fish
Mardy Fish got his first negative taste of the spotlight earlier this week.

ESPN.com reported Monday that the marketing firm had given free tickets and a small stipend to six Fish fans. After the match, Fish said he had no idea the "Fish Freaks" would be there. But his parents were aware of the plan.

"Pathetic that they rented people, simply pathetic," PTI co-host Tony Kornheiser said.

"I was a little bit flustered on Tuesday night," Fish said. "I watched it, and it was not ideal. I've never gone through anything like that before, and it kind of caught me off guard. But it didn't affect me once I got on the court today."

Fish lost in straight sets in his second-round match against Karol Kucera on Thursday. There were chants of "Let's Go Fish" and "Who Let The Fish Out?" but those weren't coming from the "Fish Freaks."

The six fans from Monday dressed with fish heads over their faces and body paint that spelled G-O-F-I-S-H weren't there to jump-start the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday. In their place, were supportive signs sponsored by his racquet maker, Dunlop.

"I was kind of hoping, and I kind of knew (the crowd) were going to be behind me a little bit," Fish said. "I'm sure half of it was because they wanted to see more tennis, but they were great."

Fish, who recently shot up into the top 30, is in growing demand in the tennis community as the next American hope after Andy Roddick. The marketing effort by Bennett Global was an effort to increase his exposure. Fish's contract with IMG expires at the end of August, and he was heavily courted by Octagon and SFX. At the first of the month, he's expected to sign with SFX.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.