Mardy Fish's withdrawal from the U.S. Open Monday, roughly two hours before he was scheduled to play a fourth-round match against top seed Roger Federer, was based on "medical advisement," Fish said in a statement, and apparently was related to his unsettling experience with extreme heart palpitations early this year.
Fish's exit ushered Federer into a Grand Slam quarterfinal round for a 38th time -- and 34th consecutive time -- in 54 major-tournament appearances. It was the first so-called "walkover" in Open men's play since 2004, when Romanian Andrei Pavel forfeited because of a herniated disc -- also in the fourth round and also against Federer, who went on to win the first of his five U.S. championships.
Fish offered no specifics regarding his condition, but several of his peers said they understood the withdrawal was related to Fish's heart. Mike Bryan, half of the three-time Open doubles championship team with his twin Bob, said that when Fish "walked in the locker room , he didn't look right.
"Nobody really knows much," Bryan said, "but I heard was backing up on him in his last match and he stayed here until really late in the morning to get treatment." Fish skipped the usual post-match news conference that evening and was said to be receiving treatment.
"Anything that goes wrong with your heart is scary," Bryan said. "If it speeds up, slows down, stops, starts. You know, it's not a good thing. He's really worried about it."
Federer issued a statement saying he was "really sorry for Mardy. I just want to wish him a speedy recovery. We all want to see him back on tour soon."
Fish, 30, pulled out of the French Open in late May, citing fatigue, but later acknowledged that he had been dealing with what "felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest," beginning in February. At the Miami tournament in March, he was hospitalized when his heartbeat increased to three times its normal resting rate and, on May 23, he underwent a procedure called cardiac catheter ablation to correct the problem.
He returned to competition in late June at Wimbledon, pushing to the fourth round. Since then -- and again after his first match here -- he said he feels "fine physically" but admitted to worrying about putting himself at risk.
"You're just not quite sure what's going to turn up," he said last Wednesday. "That part's been really hard for me. Sometimes your mind can put you in bad spots."
In his statement Monday, Fish said the pullout was "for precautionary measures" and that he looks "forward to resuming my tournament schedule in the fall."
Billie Jean King, the tennis Hall of Famer after whom the National Tennis Center is named, said that she underwent an ablation several years ago and was told, "Sometimes it works the first time; sometimes they have to go in again." It worked, she said, and understood that arrhythmia is not uncommon for athletes.
A year ago, Fish had been a feel-good story in American men's tennis, having lost 30 pounds after knee surgery and breaking into the world rankings Top 10 for the first time in his 13-year career. Now ranked 24th, Fish was playing his 12th U.S. Open, one round from equaling his best results.