Without a doubt, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal is the dominant player for the moment on the ATP Tour, but if one had to pick who the hottest player is, that title would have to go to Mardy Fish who literally became the hottest player after surviving an intense match versus John Isner in the finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships yesterday that saw both men endure court temperatures of over 150 degrees before Fish finally prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4). Fish, who won the title in Newport the previous week, is on an roll that even he wouldn’t have expected a year ago. But the question remains, can Fish break through and challenge the likes of Nadal or even Roger Federer this summer on the U.S. hardcourts?
Fish, who credits dropping 30 pounds and a new hardcore training regimen as the main reason for his newfound success, has been playing good ball since way back in the grass court season where he got to the finals of Queen’s Club losing to Sam Querrey. But it was probably Fish’s semifinal win over good friend and former roommate and sometimes doubles partner Andy Roddick in Atlanta that may have been a more telling sign for Fish’s prospects. Fish has always been under Roddick’s shadow and even to some extent James Blake when Blake was in the top 10. Despite being a contemporary of both players, Fish has always gotten second billing and despite some decent results here and there (Finalist at Indian Wells in 2008 and a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open) many expected Fish to slowly fade from relevance especially with the emergence of Isner and Querrey last year.
Now ranked No. 35, Fish currently leads the U.S. Open Series points race and enters the Farmers Classic in L.A. this week with a chance to extend his winning streak and points. If Fish can continue his form, he stands a good chance of not only being seeded for the U.S. Open but even surpassing his former career best ranking of No. 17 back in 2004.
But the real test for Fish, or any player for that matter, is if good form and strong fitness will be enough to defeat anyone in the top 5, especially in bigger events. Fish will get a chance perhaps if he meets Andy Murray who’s the top seed in L.A. this week. But for the moment at least, Fish must be very pleased that if someone asks where the next great American tennis player is going to be, the answer just might be the “sockless wonder” from Edina, Minnesota.