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Review: "Breaking Point" provides compelling context for Mardy Fish and mental health in sport
The latest episode of the docuseries "Untold" premiered this week on Netflix.
Published Sep 09, 2021
The latest episode of acclaimed Netflix docuseries "Untold" tells Mardy Fish’s story of mental health and anxiety like never before in the aptly named “Breaking Point.”
“Mental health doesn’t care what your name is or what you do for a living,” Fish told me before the US Open. “Everyone is in their own bubble with stresses, pressures, and expectations on themselves—no matter what job title they have. Mine just happened to involve playing in front of a lot of people, but my issues would be no different from any other person’s.”
Fish first shared his struggles with mental health through a stirring first-person narrative written for The Players’ Tribune in 2015, how at the peak of his career, the American star was forced to put his career on the backburner to prioritize his own peace of mind.
“As tennis players, we’re ingrained from a young age to not show anything—tiredness, fear—or your opponent is going to know and you don’t want that to happen,” he said.
Created by the director-producer team of and Chapman and Maclain Way—who, incidentally, were family friends of ATP veteran Sam Querrey—“Breaking Point” vividly frames Fish’s crisis through the lens of the nationwide hunt for American tennis talent, the likes of which could meet and one day surpass the standard set by John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The way brothers proceed to zoom in on Fish’s early days as a foil for childhood friend and rival Andy Roddick, with whom he briefly lived before embarking on their respective pro careers.
“He’s more like a brother than a friend,” Fish said. “He’s family.”
Though Fish won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, his career long paled in comparison to Roddick, who was the de facto standard bearer for their generation of American tennis. It wasn’t until the early 2010s that Fish opted to revamp his training and nutrition in an effort to make a push towards tennis’ top echelon.
“It all stemmed from the weight loss, because thankfully I wasn’t maxed out at No. 20 in the world, which isn’t anything to scoff at, but I wasn’t. I knew that the knee surgery I had would give me the opportunity and time to be able to train. I had a supportive wife and physio who wanted to help me achieve that, because I always wanted to get in shape. I just felt like I didn’t have the time or just didn’t get it.
“That next year, 2010, where I played Murray in the second round of Miami; I beat him in straight sets as the defending champion. I always had that type of match in me. I just didn’t always have the next match, or the one after that. In those years between 2010 and 2012, I was so consistent, not only on all surfaces, but just in terms of entering a tournament and winning matches. I think there was a time in 2012 where I earned 180 points in seven or eight straight tournaments, which is something I never previously had in me. I’d have one tournament like that, but then I’d go away, feel satisfied or just not be fit enough.”
Fish’s efforts were rewarded at the end of 2011 when he qualified for the ATP Finals in London as one of the Top 8 men in the world. Having proven himself capable of competing with the game’s best, his attention turned next to a major breakthrough, which unwittingly triggered what would ultimately be career-ending anxiety.
“My expectations changed a lot, and I finally understood what Andy was dealing with every week and every match he played. I certainly didn’t have it—even at my highest peak—as much as he did, but I did get some of the feeling and started understanding it a bit. It was pressure-packed and where I wanted to be, but maybe I wasn’t ready mentally for what was to come.”
Mental health doesn’t care what your name is or what you do for a living,” Fish told me before the US Open. “Everyone is in their own bubble with stresses, pressures, and expectations on themselves—no matter what job title they have. Mine just happened to involve playing in front of a lot of people, but my issues would be no different from any other person’s. Mardy Fish
Fish underwent a cardiac ablation to treat palpitations only to find the symptoms had not abated by the 2012 US Open, where he was set to play Roger Federer in the fourth round. With the encouragement of wife Stacey Gardner and aid of longtime physio Christian LoCascio, he made the agonizing decision not to take the court.
“Maybe it took that woman’s touch, or perhaps just the touch of someone who didn’t know that mental fortress that was ingrained in us players since we were little,” Fish mused. “I learned it’s ok to be vulnerable, to show weakness, and show fear. It’s ok to not play, and I didn’t know that. That would never have crossed my mind, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that, after everything that I’d sacrificed in the past years, and just in terms of being a professional tennis player—because I turned pro in my senior year of high school, so there’s a lot I didn’t get to experience—there were sacrifices, no doubt about it.
“This was the match that I was dreaming about playing, against Roger Federer on Ashe, on Labor Day. It was as good as it gets at the US Open, and to think I was going to drive to the courts only to pull out of the match was unfathomable.”
After officially retiring from tennis in 2015—but not before making a full-circle farewell in doubles with Roddick—Fish became the United States Davis Cup captain as a means of mentoring the next generation of American men, and is an avid advocate for mental health awareness. In the six years since first telling his story, the conversation has exponentially evolved thanks to the honesty of fellow athletes like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Michael Phelps.
“You’re able to name some big-time players who’ve opened up to say that mental health is an issue for them. We all know tens of millions of people in the United States deal with mental health every day, so we know it’s there and it’s prevalent, but to have someone of their caliber able to talk about it is huge.”
“Breaking Point” complements Fish’s compelling story with insight from his family, Roddick, and an archive of home movie footage covering the course of his career dating back to some of his earliest days on court. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for Fish to give a definitive telling of his story and provide a much-needed sense of closure.
“Any player who comes on saying they have no regrets is lying to themselves. Of course, you have regrets and things you’d do differently. It’s not to say you did anything wrong but you’re always thinking how you would have done this or that differently if you’d known better.”
“Breaking Point” is now available for streaming on Netflix.