The documentary is a gripping and emotional narrative focusing on the mental strain forced upon professional athletes
The documentary is shown from the perspective of Mardy Fish, the former top 10 and US no.1 tennis player. While the documentary does chronicle his life from the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy alongside his best friend, compatriot, and former world no. 1 Andy Roddick, the primary focus is to lead up to the match between Roger Federer in the fourth round of the US Open in 2012. Fish had to eventually pull out from the match after suffering an anxiety attack - a fact which wasn’t disclosed at the time.
The release of this documentary could not have come at a better time. The world of tennis has come under scrutiny over the past year over the mandatory media duties the players must adhere to, regardless of their mental well-being. Four-time Grand Slam winner and former World no.1 Naomi Osaka was fined and threatened expulsion from the French Open for refusing to face the media. The 23-year old cited her mental well-being as the factor behind her decision. Osaka has since received support from tennis players and other professional athletes.
For Mardy Fish, things were a little different back then. In 2012, social media did not have the reach as it does today in spreading awareness about various social issues. Fish’s anxiety disorder coupled with his accelerated heart condition put him in a dark place at the time. The documentary does a sincere job at capturing the joy and pain Fish had to endure in his career.
The documentary offers interviews from Andy Roddick, Fish’s parents, and others close to him during his career. It offers a gripping yet heartbreaking account of Fish’s life. There is also a side by side comparison of Roddick’s and Fish’s career and how Roddick went all the way to the top to become a Grand Slam winner and a world no. 1 and how Fish failed to achieve his true potential until he was 30 when he dethroned Andy Roddick as the highest-ranked men’s singles player in America.
The narrative also details how both Roddick and Fish were under immense pressure to replicate the success of fellow Americans such as Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras, all of whom were multiple-time Grand Slam champions and topped the men’s singles world rankings during their illustrious careers. Even though Roddick did achieve success early in his career, it was short-lived.
The American media turned on Roddick and Fish as soon as Roger Federer announced his arrival at the age of 19 when he beat World no.1 ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras at the Wimbledon centre court in 2001 - a true changing of the guard. But the Americans felt it should have been either Roddick or Fish. To make matters worse, the tenacious Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, and his ferocious left-handed forehands took the tennis world by storm a few years down the line, and the final nail in the coffin for the American duo was when the relentless and near robotic Serbian Novak Djokovic burst into the scene.
Even though Fish’s dreams of becoming a World no.1 seemed impossible, he enjoyed a mini resurgence to the top, which actually coincided with the dominance of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Roddick soon retired and a nation’s dream was pinned on Mardy Fish. Fish and Roddick were unfortunate to be in the same generation as the trio who have an astounding 20 Grand Slams each! And it simply added more burden on their shoulders to topple three of the greatest to ever play the sport - who are still winning Grand Slams in 2021.
These plots and subplots in the narrative transitioned with ease and the archival footage of the matches adds great value to the overall documentary. The buildup to the match between Federer in the US Open is tactfully handled with several emotional monologues from Roddick, his wife Stacey Gardner, friend and physio Christian LoCascio, and his parents. It gives the viewers an idea of the difficulties faced by someone who suffers from anxiety and stress, something which society is yet to take seriously even today.
The documentary tackles mental health and anxiety disorders with much conviction, and how it affects professional athletes in particular. For tennis fans, the documentary is simply a must-watch.