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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, January 9, 2019

 
Mardy Fish

Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish will succeed Jim Courier as U.S. Davis Cup captain becoming the 41st American Davis Cup captain in history.

Photo credit: AP Photo

An Olympic silver medalist will lead the United States' quest to reclaim the Davis Cup.

Former world No. 7 Mardy Fish, who won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, has been hired to succeed Jim Courier as U.S. Davis Cup captain, the USTA announced.

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The Associated Press broke the news of Fish's hiring before the USTA officially announced Fish as the 41st American captain in its history.

"Ever since I started playing professionally and started understanding what the Davis Cup was and how special it was, even as a player, I wanted to be the Davis Cup Captain," Fish said. "I just thought that position was so special—leading the guys and leading the team, building relationships and the team aspect around it. I’m a team-sport athlete stuck in an individual sport, and I love the team aspect of Davis Cup. To even be considered, let alone named the Captain, is incredibly humbling.”

Former US Open champion Andy Roddick, the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles titles, and Miami Open tournament director James Blake, who were both members of the 2007 U.S. Davis Cup championship squad, were also considered for the captaincy.




Fish won six career singles titles on three different surfaces and played the 2004 Olympic gold-medal match in Athens, bowing to Nicolas Massu in a five-set epic. He retired from the pro circuit in 2015 due to severe anxiety.

Though he was not a playing member of the 2007 U.S. Davis Cup championship squad that included his buddies Andy Roddick, James Blake and twins Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan, Fish was in Portland supporting that squad.

Now he's aiming to lead the United States to a record-extending 33rd Davis Cup and first since 2007.

In September, Courier announced his retirement as U.S. Davis Cup captain after eight years of service that featured a 10-8 World Group record and two trips to the semifinals.

Expect Fish's role to differ from Courier's due to the change in Davis Cup format with the three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist also joining Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi coaching in the USTA's Player Development program. 

The 119-year-old Davis Cup is set for revolutionary reform after the International Tennis Federation approved a plan creating an 18-team, year-end World Cup-style Davis Cup final set for November 18-24th, 2019 in Madrid.

"As well as being the Davis Cup captain, you're the ambassador, you're a face of American tennis, one of the faces of American tennis," Fish said. "You certainly want to grow the game and make sure that it's in good hands when you leave it, as well. We want to build and promote the game as best as we can. You want to make sure that you leave the game in a better place, leave Davis Cup in a better place, than when you got it."

The new format virtually eliminates the traditional 16-team World Group format with home-and-away ties staged during four weekends spread out over the season, except for a 24-team qualifying round set for February, which will feature home-and-away ties.

"I think it's going to be interesting to see with the new format, too, how that shifts things because there's going to be a lot of activity in a short amount of time," Courier said. "It's potentially five matches over seven days based on the format that I've seen for a winning team or a team that gets to the final. You get to learn in a hurry in the early rounds, and you can use those lessons and apply them for crises moments later in the week, which is helpful.

"It wasn't always easy for me as a captain trying to recreate energy that happened two months earlier or four months earlier the last time we played. It will be fascinating."

Courier, who said he was not consulted by the USTA on his successor, suggested the fact the 37-year-old Fish is closer in age to players should help him connect with young Americans, including 26-year-old Jack Sock, 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe and 21-year-old Taylor Fritz. Mark Knowles, who coached Fish at the end of his ATP career, currently works with Sock.

"I think my preference—I have nothing to do with the selection—but my preference would be that there's someone who is a little bit closer to age to the players than someone like myself," Courier told the media in a conference call to promote Tennis Channel's Australian Open coverage, which starts Sunday night. "I found in my early days as Davis Cup captain, when I was a little bit closer in age to the players, it was a little bit easier to connect with them.

"I think the current crop of younger players, it will be good for them, Frances, Taylor, those guys, as they move into playing for the U.S., it would be good for them to be a little closer than a generation apart instead of a couple."

A true Davis Cup road warrior, some of Fish's career highlights came on hostile ground in victories.

In his 2003 Davis Cup singles debut, Fish fought back from a set down on the road conquering veteran Karol Kucera, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 to helped lift the USA to a 3-2 victory and avoid its fifth straight road loss. Fish accounted for all three points in a 3-1 victory over host Colombia in the 2010 World Group playoffs.



Playing against a superstar Swiss squad of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, Fish was dynamic. Fish fought off Wawrinka, 9-7 in the fifth-set, to open the tie in a battle of two of the best backhands in the game. Fish then partnered Mike Bryan to a four-set comeback win over the Olympic gold-medal tandem of Federer and Wawrinka sparking the Americans to a stunning 5-0 sweep of host Switzerland in the 2012 opener. Federer sometimes practiced with Fish, once calling the American one of the "best ball strikers in the world." 

Fish represented the USA in 11 career Davis Cup ties posting an 11-8 record overall, including a 7-7 singles record. Versatility and all-court skills were assets Fish

Courier endorsed the experience Fish brings as a valuable asset to the captaincy.

"I think experience matters," Courier said. "There are two types of experience: there is coaching experience and there's playing experience. If you can marry both of those, that would be ideal. I think having someone who has been there in the shoes has been the root that we've typically gone with as Davis Cup captains. That's not, in my mind, a completely necessary criteria, but I don't think that it hurts."

Fish has helped young Americans and was a standout doubles player as well.

The son of tennis teaching pro Tom Fish, Mardy was born in Minnesota, but grew up in Florida playing tennis and basketball against high school buddy and future Davis Cup teammate Andy Roddick. Fish and Roddick were housemates in their final year of high school.

Fish cracked the Top 10 for the first time on April 18, 2011, the same season he reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and three consecutive finals during the North American summer hard court season.

Then came a rough stretch of physical and mental battles.



Fish was diagnosed with a heart ailment and underwent cardiac catheter ablation procedure on May 23, 2012. He returned to the tour months later but anxiety and complications forced him back to the sidelines.

Fish candidly discussed suffering from anxiety linked to his heart issues, weight loss and bouts of depression. Fish went into a spiral culminating with his withdrawal from a scheduled fourth-round night match against Federer at the 2012 US Open.

The former world No. 7 made an emotional return at Indian Wells in 2013 and played nine matches before leaving the game for what many feared might be for good.

Fish launched his final comeback in 2015.

The then 33-year-old American swept world No. 20 Viktor Troicki at Cincinnati in August, 2015.

It was Fish's first win since he defeated Evgeny Donskoy in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open in August, 2013.

Discussing his own mental health issues openly—including conversations with fellow pros—proved therapeutic. Fish said feedback from fans, including one young fan in the crowd during his comeback triumph, provided positive reinforcement in his efforts to shed light on anxiety.

"I just heard from a kid when I was walking off the court. (He said:) 'Thank you for what you do with mental illness,' " Fish said after a comeback win in Cincinnati. "Couldn't have been more than 12, 14 years old. Yeah, that makes me feel good. I wouldn't call it necessarily my mission. I hope to help really bring awareness to show that there can be a role model that can be positive and can shed some light on it and that whole thing."


 

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