Feb. 12, 2002
For the past few years an investment company has run a commercial repeatedly due to its overwhelming success in humoring the audience as well as capturing the consumers’ attention with its witty theme. The ad begins with a young father vigorously encouraging his daughter to work on her forehand, swing through the ball, and watch her feet. The camera focuses on dad giving instructions as he feeds a ball machine and continues his barrage of tips on how to improve her game. Suddenly the camera moves to the daughter, all 2’10” of her, with tennis balls whizzing by from every angle as she grasps a racket that dwarfs her. Holding on for dear life stands the most adorable little girl with pigtails. A ball hits her racket, knocking it out of her hands and leaving her looking rather confused and disoriented. After stopping the outflow of balls, Dad rushes over, only to place the racket back in her palms and inform her they were switching to backhand. As he races back to the other side, a booming voice is heard with the punch line, “Planning for your retirement?”
To this father, his little girl embodied financial security for years to come. Meredith Fish’s future might have started out something like this, except her career in tennis began because of her father’s love for the game and desire to share it with his children.
Long before Meredith Fish was even a twinkle in the eye of the FSU women’s tennis program, she was an eager spectator at her brother’s tennis matches. After all, when one’s brother is labeled the number one two-year old tennis player in the world, complete with television appearances, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
“At first I hated it. My parents would take me to all his matches and I would just sit there. After a while I got tired of sitting there. I just wanted to play.”
And play she would.
With the aid of her father, a tennis instructor for thirty years, Fish finally took up the game when she was seven. She’d grown up in Vero Beach, a small coastal town in South Florida not known for being tennis friendly.
“There weren’t a lot of kids my age that played tennis,” Fish said, “There was a large population of people in retirement, so I just played with some of the boys my brother hit with.”
Probably not a bad idea considering Mardy Fish, Meredith’s brother, is currently ranked 120th on the ATP tour.
Given this history, the route of Meredith Fish’s path was easy to plot. Within this strong family nucleus, she had the guidance of a seasoned pro in her dad, a mother who supported her 110%, and the ever-present competition of her brother. And within Fish herself burned a constant flame of ambition and motivation, the drive to raise her game to the next level.
Her family’s total support was critical. As a young girl, Meredith could not just load up the SUV with her girlfriends and head north on I-75 to some tournament in Jacksonville. She couldn’t reserve a hotel room in good faith, or pay her way into the tournament with her charm. Her parents’ determination to provide the outlet that Fish needed placed her on the road to success. They put in long hours and gave up their weekends so Fish could get better and better. And what better way to improve her game than to play top-ranked tournament opponents on a regular basis, all under the watchful and caring eye of her family.
“Both my parents know how hard playing tournaments are. So they were totally supportive throughout it all. If I was burnt out and didn’t feel like playing, neither of them pushed me. They would just say ‘Put down the racket and don’t play. Don’t think about playing, or just take a month off.’ It was that kind of thing right there, that if I didn’t have them to back me up, all this would be impossible.”
As Fish and her brother grew up, their tennis games developed. Meredith enrolled in Boca Raton Preparatory school and Mardy enrolled in Saddlebrook, a private tennis academy. Although Fish saw less of her brother, their bond remained strong.
“It was weird at first, him being gone, but he’d either come home every weekend, or we’d go and see him,” Fish explained.
Eventually, Fish got a taste of what her brother was experiencing when she went to the International Tennis Academy in Delray Beach during her 11th and 12th grade years.
“It was so awesome. Every morning I’d get up and go to school until the early afternoon. Then from 2 to 6, we’d just play tennis. I loved it. It was one the best experiences ever.”
While her time at the International Tennis Academy was an important step in her tennis career, some of her most memorable achievements had already occurred. As a freshman she won the Gold Ball National Father/Daughter Clay Courts with her dad. Then, the following year she won the International Gator Bowl. Closest to her heart, though, is the moment when she and her brother were crowned state champs in doubles. Not only did she play with the athlete she admired the most, but she won with him right by her side.
Currently Fish is looking forward to the upcoming 2002 season as she strives to take all she has learned and work hard to make the FSU women’s tennis program a success. Head Coach Lise Gregory feels that Fish, though only a freshmen, is one the hardest working junior tennis players in Florida and will be a very valuable addition to their team.
Choosing which tennis team to be a part of wasn’t a difficult decision for Fish.
“I feel Coach Gregory is one the best coaches in the country and that she can really help me a ton, just by listening to what she has to say and hearing her perspective. Besides, I love Florida and I’m close to my parents,” Fish paused, and with a small smile creeping across her face, added, “but not too close.”
And with that, Fish asserted her independence and moved into what life as a college student should be. Gone are her days of traveling and living with the family she’d grown up with. Now, her teammates make up her new family here in Tallahassee, just as supportive and with tennis still as its focus. While nothing can replace her childhood memories, Meredith Fish’s new environment is just the place to create new memories that will last a lifetime.
And there’s no greater environment in which to be, than right here at Florida State.