Mardy Fish's unlikely and scary journey from a heart procedure in a Los Angeles hospital five weeks ago to competing on Wimbledon's Court 1 today was taking a turn toward an uplifting destination as the 10th-seeded American held match point at 5-3 in the fourth set. Then James Ward, a tough-minded son of a London cab driver who scored his first Grand Slam match win with a five-set triumph in the opening round, took Fish on a fifth-set detour.
The 173rd-ranked wild card rolled through the fourth-set tiebreaker, rousing the home crowd to its feet in support. But Fish imposed his serve in the fifth to quiet the crowd, quell the challenge, and survive with a hard-fought, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 second-round victory.
You can't question Fish's toughness, but you had to wonder how his body would respond to spiking stress. Fish failed to convert a match point on Ward's serve at 5-3 in the fourth, then failed to serve out the match at 5-4. The 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist certainly looked tight in the subsequent tiebreaker, flat-lining four shots into net to fall behind 6-3, then floating a double-fault deep to drop the set and walk to his seat with the exhilarated crowd erupting in cheers.
Shrugging off that lapse, Fish didn't panic in just his third match since he felt like he was "going to die" after waking up around 3:30 a.m. in Miami with his heart pounding at the frighteningly rapid rate of 170 beats per minute. He got back to work, throwing down a series of stinging serves to hold for 2-1 from 0-30 down. That game proved empowering: Fish, who hit 26 aces in the match, won 12 of the final 14 points played on his serve.
Credit Ward, who had to be physically drained playing his second straight five-setter, for the determined fight. He poured his all in this match, but hit the wall in the eighth game, committing four unforced errors to drop serve at 15 and hand Fish a 5-3 lead. On the first match point on his own serve, Fish stepped on the gas, blistering a service winner down the middle to end an eventful four-hour and 12-minute adventure with a respectful embrace of Ward at net.
"He played a lot better than the number next to his name that’s for sure," said Fish, who meets David Goffin next. "He gave it everything he had and he certainly was one of the tougher opponents that I can remember playing here at Wimbledon...I’m tired that’s for sure, but this is what you play for; I hope to continue to move on."