The Winter of Mardy Fish

Yesterday at Indian Wells, Mardy Fish lost to Matthew Ebden, an Australian counterpuncher barely ranked inside the top 100.  Ebden has played well since last fall, when he reached the quarters in Shanghai by beating Ryan Harrison and Gilles Simon, but that isn’t going to make Fish feel any better.  It’s been a disastrous few months for the American.

How disastrous?  Mardy’s loss yesterday was his 10th in his last 14 matches.  In that time, he’s beaten Andreas Seppi (by retirement), Andreas Beck, Gilles Muller, and Florian Mayer.  He’s lost to Ebden, Albano Olivetti, Alejandro Falla, and James Blake.  Not exactly top ten results.

Looking back through his last 15 months of results, though, it’s questionable whether he ever had what we think of as “top ten” results.  When the big four is winning everything, that leaves only crumbs for the rest, so men like Fish, Janko Tipsarevic, and Nicolas Almagro find themselves in the top ten simply by reaching a bunch of quarterfinals and winning a 250 or two.  It was evident at last year’s World Tour Finals: Fish, as the eight-seed, managed to take a set from both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal,  but went home without a single victory.  (In addition to the elite world of the top four, there seems also to be an elite world of five-through-seven.  David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Tomas Berdych seem to be on a different level than everyone else, with the exception of Juan Martin Del Potro.)

Fish’s most impressive results in all of 2011 were a quarterfinal at Wimbledon (he beat Berdych en route) and semis at Cincinnati and Miami.  (He beat Nadal in Cinci and Ferrer in Miami.)  It was easy to root for Mardy the comeback kid, but the number eight ranking seems to be his ceiling.  And with Tipsarevic, Del Potro, and John Isner chasing him down, a poor performance in Miami this year could mean he’ll never reach that peak again.

4 thoughts on “The Winter of Mardy Fish”

  1. This is a perfect example of what I was saying about the way the tennis ranking system works. As the points you get depend on how far you get in tournaments, rather than on whom you beat, it’s possible to get a deceptively high ranking with luck and a few convenient draws. (Or even the odd heavyweight opponent having to withdraw). Conversely, a very good player may drift down because of a run of bad luck, draw-wise.

    I suppose it makes for more spectacle, which is what the ATP wants – although it’s not quite fair to the players.

    1. In fairness to Mardy, he probably does belong in or close to the top 10 — or at least did until his last few months. Him sitting at #8 is more a testament to the mediocrity of 9-and-up than too much luck. Now Isner at #11 … that’s another conversation.

  2. I’d rather have a ranking system that rewards the fans (e.g. spectacle) than one that attempts the impossible task of being “fair.” The very concept of ranking-based seeding for tournaments is inherently unfair to all players seeded lower than the very top seeds. But then again, it’s fair in the sense of creating the same essential pyramid for all players to climb . . . if they can.

    1. That sounds reasonable, wholesight. Chess is a game played by millions of amateurs, as well as by world-class professionals, so it’s more important for it to have a fair ranking system. On the other hand, because tennis has a ranking system it is tempting to expect more from it than it can deliver.

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