LOS ANGELES — Mardy Fish eased his way back into big-time tennis with an exhibition match against top-ranked Novak Djokovic. The real test comes this week in the Southern California desert.
The 32nd-ranked American returns to the ATP Tour after a six-month absence caused by a heart condition Fish has yet to fully reveal.
It will be a cautious first step back into the whirlwind of travel, late-night matches, erratic eating and pressure. Fish, a former top-10 player, has been off the tour since September and has changed his lifestyle significantly — healthy eating and bedtime before 10 p.m.
But he was up late Monday night after losing to Djokovic in a tiebreaker of their eight-game pro set at the Los Angeles Tennis Challenge, an exhibition Fish put together with pal and former pro Justin Gimelstob.
“I don’t feel 100 percent but I’m getting pretty close,” the 31-year-old Fish said from a massage table as he was put through various contortions by his physical therapist. “We were playing pretty quick. I was getting winded. You can’t duplicate that in practice.”
“He looked quite good on court,” Djokovic said. “He was moving well and serving well.”
Fish will find out exactly how well his game holds up at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., a two-week hard-court event featuring the world’s top players. He’s been idle since withdrawing from the U.S. Open in early September on a doctor’s advice, hours before he was to face Roger Federer in the fourth round.
Fish’s health woes first surfaced a year ago this month, when his heart started racing uncontrollably after a match at Key Biscayne, Fla. In May, doctors induced extreme palpitations to try to pinpoint the problem in Fish’s heart. He briefly returned to action at Wimbledon in June.