By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Under a blazing sun a drained Mardy Fish walked onto the court in front of thousands of adoring fans, raised his hands, smiled and waved goodbye to the U.S. Open and a career following a second-round loss.
For those suffering from severe anxiety disorders, who at times struggle just to leave their home, it is probably the last place they would want to be, but Fish tried to soak up the moment as he signed off on his own terms.
"It's tough to say because I don't feel that great just from the match," the 33-yer-old American said after his 2-6 6-3 1-6 7-5 6-3 loss to Spain's Feliciano Lopez. "So it takes a little bit away, I don't know (how I feel).
"I mean, it will probably sink in a little bit later when I start feeling a little bit better."
Fish, who suffers from a severe anxiety disorder, played in only four events since returning to the ATP Tour in March after an 18-month layoff but he went down swinging in his Flushing Meadows swan song and nearly pulled off an impressive upset of the 18th-seeded Spaniard.
In this defeat, however, there was a distinct sense of triumph hanging over Louis Armstrong Stadium, as Fish refused to give into a disease that disrupted the latter stages of his promising career to pen his own ending.
"I have worked hard to try to get back," said Fish, who reached a career-best number seven in the rankings. "Obviously I'm not in as good of shape as I used to be a few years ago.
"I gave it everything I had; that was all I had.
"I wanted this to be -- this one specifically to be the last one. I probably would have chosen this one as my last one regardless if I didn't have any issues with my health in the past couple of years just because this is the biggest one and the most fun and the one that you want to go out on.
"It's a really nice memory to have on my final match. Obviously not the last set, but my final match."
Four years ago, Fish was appearing at the season-ending ATP Tour finals and sitting seventh in the world rankings. He was the number one American at the peak of his career when his life began to unravel as anxiety took control.
At the 2012 U.S. Open he suffered a panic attack while playing Frenchman Gilles Simon, the pressure to win becoming increasingly unbearable and debilitating.
"Expectations changed and pressure was a lot higher and a lot more on myself and from others," said Fish, a winner of six ATP titles and over $7 million in prize money. "That's how it all happened. That's how it all came. Expectations changed.
"There was a lot more pressure on myself to play well at every event, every week.
"That was the position that I wanted to be in, you know, the top American, top 10 in the world, and, you know, sort of a marked man.
"It was too much for me to handle."
Fish's 13th and final appearance at the U.S. Open made a brave statement, letting those who also suffer from anxiety disorders know that they can be controlled.
Those are the victories that Fish will play for going forward as he attempts to shed light on a disease that millions silently suffer from.
"I put my head on my pillow every night -- I'm very comfortable knowing how hard I have worked in the later stages of my career," said Fish. "Just at peace personally.
"I'm bummed that obviously my career didn't end the past few years the way I had imagined. But it is what it is, and you try to make the best of your situation obviously.
"We are trained as tennis players from a very young age to not show weakness. I was very good at that throughout my career.
"So I'm sort of out front with that part of my life because it helps me a lot when I talk about it. Makes me feel better when I talk about it.
"I want to help people that have gone through it and try to be a role model for people that are deep into some bad times, that they can get out of it, because I was there. They can conquer it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)