Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So sick of hearing of Fish’s weight loss!

Mardy Fish of the U.S. (R) is congratulated by his coach Patrick McEnroe after winning against Colombia's Alejandro Falla during the Davis Cup World Group playoffs tennis match in Bogota September 17, 2010. USA leads 1-0. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez (COLOMBIA - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)

I would be the first to admit that I tend to become quite incensed when it comes to the objectification of female tennis players. In fact I’ve written quite a few entries on this blog in defense of women tennis players being treated as mere sex objects. (Of course I do not in this category include those players who seem to participate, nay revel, in their own objectification.) But my bottom-line has always been that there is so much more to women’s tennis than horny vag-trollers can ever appreciate.

So when a male tennis player ends up being reduced to his physical appearance, it’s only fair that I step up and become equally incensed on his behalf. I’m thinking specifically of Mardy Fish and the constant reminders that he has lost 30 pounds. Instead of this being the summer of Mardy’s improved game – which it is, thanks to his tremendous achievements at a variety of recent tournaments – we have had to endure comments ad nauseam about his 30 pound weight loss. There’s something very wrong with that.

If Mardy were a woman, I would be the first to take offence at the constant chatter about his physical appearance. I would be the first to jump on a soap-box and demand to know whether all he accomplished this summer of greatness was to lose weight. I mean really, how insulting is that?

I suspect that my attitude probably stems from the fact that I grew up in the era of players like Conchita Martínez. Remember her? I can still recall always being pissed off at the comments about her physical appearance. Despite the fact that she won Wimbledon and was a finalist at both the Aussie Open and the French Open, Conchita spent most of her career being the butt of comments about her physical appearance. Let’s just say that she was probably never considered for the cover of Deuce Magazine.

Conchita was never one of the cute, skinny, blonde bombshells. She never fit into the stereotype of how women tennis players were supposed to look. And indeed, I never minded it when she was called the Moon-ball Queen because at least that nickname still referenced her tennis. But when she got dismissed as just another fat chick that Rios et al could disparage, well I always came out in her defense.

And so it is that I find myself challenged to do the same for Mardy Fish. The US Davis Cup team, under the guidance of outgoing Captain Pat McEnroe, went down to the relative safety of Argentina to confront a team of persistent Columbians. Truth be told, it was Mardy Fish who practically single-handedly ended up keeping us in the World Group. A relentless and indefatigable Santiago Giraldo – whom I admit I had never heard of ‘til this past weekend – went to lengths to try to block Fish’s stellar efforts. But Mardy swam above the fray and emerged victorious. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun).

I even give Fish full credit for the doubles win with irrelevant partner John Isner. There were moments when Isner got too caught up in looking at Fish instead of supporting him. Isner didn’t even seem to know that he was supposed to switch to the other side of the court if Fish came over to his side. Isner was practically useless and their partnership never fully gelled. But Mardy won in spite of the inadequacies of the player with whom he found himself saddled.

To say that Mardy Fish was awesome this past weekend does not fully capture just how outstanding his performance was. So let me try to put it in perspective. The last time an American won three decisive points at a Davis Cup tournament was Pete Sampras in 1995 in Moscow. Mardy Fish erased that record.

So you’d think that these would be the kind of observations that commentators would have been making over the weekend. Think again. They were too busy mentioning Mardy’s weight loss. And this didn’t only happen at Davis Cup. It’s been going on all summer. When Mardy dismissed The Boor at the 2010 Cincinnati Open, all I could hear was that he had lost 30 pounds. When he made it to the 4th round of the 2010 US Open, (where he lost to an eventual finalist, dammit), all I heard about was his 30-pound weight loss. Mardy Fish is playing the best tennis of his career, but all commentators can think of pointing out is that he lost 30 pounds. And this past weekend I found that I had finally had enough. I found myself thinking, surely there’s been more to Mardy Fish lately than his loss of 30 freaking pounds?

For a start, weight loss does not automatically translate into an improved game. If it did, Daniela Hantuchova would be the #1 player on the WTA tour. Mardy Fish did more than just lose weight. What he did was improve his fitness. Mardy has always had game. Now he has the improved fitness to deliver on that potential. His weight loss is a by-product of his improved fitness. It’s unfortunate that a series of unimaginative writers and commentators have not been able to appreciate this.

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