Mardy Fish beats Bobby Reynolds, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, at the BNP Paribas Open in… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Mardy Fish gets a dispensation.
He is seeded 32nd in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells and, by the numbers, was expected to beat fellow American Bobby Reynolds, 30, a qualifier, who if he has gained any stardom, it has come from anchoring the Washington Kastles during the World Team Tennis season.
But Fish has been tentative and emotional since discovering last summer that he has an uneven heartbeat.
He had a procedure done on that most vital organ and didn't play in the Olympics. He was nervous and seemed unwilling to run much or hit hard last year at the U.S. Open, where he pulled out of a fourth-round match against Roger Federer because of his health.
And Fish hadn't played a singles match in 189 days since then. Until Sunday.
If felt as if Fish took baby steps at the beginning of his second-round match against Reynolds and when he lost the second set there was a collective groan from the mostly full Stadium 1 court. But Fish, 31, came back to beat Reynolds, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, and when the final point was hit, Fish took off his baseball cap and seemed to rub his eyes.
"It's pretty emotional, yeah," said Fish, who lives in Los Angeles and who helped promote a successful exhibition last week at UCLA that included Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded player in the BNP Paribas Open and the No. 1 player in the world.
Djokovic had an unsettling second set but finally advanced to the third round with a 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini, the Italian who was the last man now-retired Andy Roddick beat.
"It was all my fault, the second set," Djokovic said.
Also advancing, uneasily, was third-seeded Andy Murray, who won the Olympics and the U.S. Open last year. Murray trailed 22-year-old Russian Evgeny Donskoy 5-1 in the first set but came back for a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win. Murray has never won this tournament though the surface seems to suit him.
"I started off slowly," Murray said. "Once I got into more of a rhythm I was able to dictate more of the points. But he's smart on the court. He doesn't go for shots that aren't there and doesn't make many mistakes."
The highest-seeded woman to play Sunday, Maria Sharapova (No. 2), beat Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, 7-5, 6-3.
Stanford's Mallory Burdette, who left school this year to hone her tennis game, fought hard but eventually couldn't get past 13th-seeded Maria Kirilenko. The Russian hung on for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win.
"I think my serve is something I can improve quite a bit," Burdette said. "I have to continue to work on my fitness and movement, things like that. But I feel a little bit more like I belong here. It's always something you question when you're surrounded by great players.
But this day belonged to Fish.
"First and foremost," he said, "it's nice just to play. Then you get out there and you want to win. But you want to stay within yourself, not get too fired up or too low or too high ... then all of a sudden you find yourself in the third set, deep in the third set, and some of that fight starts kicking in."
Fish, who has preferred to keep the exact nature of his heart problem undisclosed except to say he began to feel it racing last year, has undergone a procedure on his heart and spent time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Fish, who is originally from Minnesota, said even a year later, "There are still some demons you try to fight. But it's nice to be out in the sun playing for something again."
He said he was almost surprised to find himself so eager to compete hard in the third set, to want to win.
"You just never know," Fish said.
After pulling out of his match against Federer last year in New York, Fish said he considered quitting the sport.
"I retired and unretired in my head almost every week for three months," he said. "There was a while where I was done. I had gotten it through my head I was done and was just trying to have some normalcy again."
Normalcy now? Waiting to see who's next. About 10 hours after Fish won, eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took down 33-year-old American James Blake, 7-6 (6), 6-4, Sunday night. Tsonga's next challenge will be against Fish.