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Fish, a former world No. 7, has never been the same since the symptoms of arrhythmia appeared in 2012, leading to an onset of anxiety attacks. But having been through multiple catheter ablations, he could explain exactly what to expect.
“Mardy was really nice,” Oudin recalls. “I’ve always looked up to him and he called me, shared his experiences, gave me some tips and just calmed me down about it. He understood how scary it seems but he kept explaining that it’s one of the simplest procedures you can have done to your heart.”
Simple it may be, but unsurprisingly, the initial aftermath of having faulty electrical connections removed from your heart isn’t a walk in the park. “Yeah, I guess it sounds like pretty extreme stuff,” Oudin laughs. “Your chest is so tight when you wake up and you feel exhausted. They’ve made your heart beat like crazy to pinpoint where things are going wrong so you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. It was exactly like how Mardy described.”
A few weeks later Oudin was back in training, identifying Indian Wells as her comeback event, the same tournament where Fish would play his first singles match in eighteen months. “I thought I was fine. Everything was going well. And then one practice session, it happened again.”
Panicking, Oudin returned to the hospital where she had been treated with such apparent success just a few months earlier. “No one knew why it hadn’t worked. Some of the doctors didn’t believe me that it really was happening again, even though I told them it was the same feeling, everything was exactly the same as before. They eventually agreed to take another look but it was almost like they were only doing it because I was a pro athlete.”
But as fate would have it, while considering her options Oudin bumped into Robby Ginepri, the 2005 US Open semifinalist who revealed he had been treated successfully for arrhythmia by a cardiac specialist called Dr. Jacob Blatt, with an excellent reputation for performing catheter ablations.
“I met him at his clinic,” Oudin says. “He explained that basically I was born with this but it doesn’t show itself until you reach your late teens, early twenties, and it’s triggered by a combination of adrenaline, stress and intense activity. A lot of people can have the same thing but they’re never in an environment which sets it off.”
Blatt could help Oudin understand why she had arrhythmia, but there were no guarantees of a cure, especially after one failed operation. “That was the scary part. I was so worried,” she says. “But as soon as I met him, I really felt he would to do everything possible to help me. Because there can be multiple spots, multiple defective areas on the heart which need to be burnt off and that’s why people end up needing multiple procedures. And that was the case for me. There was more than one spot, and the doctor before hadn’t removed the first spot all the way.”
Three weeks after the second operation, Oudin was once more back in training. But she still faced a long and emotionally grueling wait for the all-clear to compete. “They wanted to absolutely certain because if they hadn’t removed everything, I could pass out on court,” she says. “They allowed me to hit, but it all feels so pointless when you’re not working towards anything.”
When the green light eventually came, Oudin made her comeback, first on the grass courts of England (she went 2-2 but failed to qualify for Wimbledon) and then the North American hard-court swing (she's played in four ITF events, reaching the quarterfinals at Stockton). It’s been a summer which all returning athletes can identify with. Encouraging wins tempered by deflating losses, the highs and lows all players face on the long road back from injury or illness.