Mardy Fish faced down heart problems and crippling anxiety attacks but in the end it was a humble spot of cramping which brought his career to an end Wednesday.
The 33-year-old American, who has played just a handful of tournaments in the last three years and seen his ranking slip to 581, had already said that this US Open, his 13th, would be his last event.
But at one stage Wednesday, it appeared he wasn’t going to go quietly as he served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.
But he was then broken to love by the 18th-seeded left-hander, also of the veteran vintage at 33.
Lopez saved two break points in the seventh game in the decider when a suddenly stricken Fish started cramping, which reduced him to walking pace.
He was subsequently broken and Lopez comfortably served out for the victory, despite a fan’s desperate shout of ‘You’ve got this Mardy.’
“He was the better player and deserved to win this match. I was very lucky,” said Lopez after the 3hr 11min second round Louis Armstrong Stadium encounter, which he won 2-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
“It’s very sad what has happened to him with his illness in recent years. We played many times and he was often the better player.”
Fish once reached No 7 in the world, won six career titles and made the quarterfinals three times at the majors, including the 2008 US Open.
But in 2012, his world imploded.
In May that year, he underwent a procedure to correct a heartbeat irregularity.
Then, at the US Open, where he was the 23rd seed, he was set to face Roger Federer in the fourth round but stunned the tournament by withdrawing for “health reasons.”
It was then that Fish realised he was dealing with a problem which affects millions of people around the world.
He suffered another anxiety attack sitting on the plane which was to carry him home to Los Angeles as it taxied on the runway.
Fish had to disembark and pay $20 000 to hire a private jet to take him out of New York.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America estimates that 3.3 million Americans over the age of 18 – around 1.5 per cent of the population – suffer from the disorder every year.
The condition decimated Fish’s career.
This year’s US Open was his first since that 2012 pullout.
He played just five events in 2013, none at all in 2014 and this year featured in only three tournaments, all in the United States.
“@MardyFish hell of an effort my friend… I couldn’t be prouder ….. Time for that margarita,” tweeted compatriot and former world No 1 Andy Roddick.
Fish had admitted after his first round win over Italy’s Marco Cecchinato that he was still battling anxiety.
“It’s still a constant battle day to day,” said Fish.
“This tournament is where it all came crashing down and where I have my worst feelings of my whole life was here.”
Fish said he was desperate to help fellow sufferers in general as well as other tennis players.
“There are tens of millions of Americans that deal with it on a daily basis. There’s a ton of guys in the locker room I’m sure that have trouble with it from whatever level it is,” he explained.
“I have spoken to some male and female players about it privately. Maybe they are just not comfortable, you know, right here with cameras on them talking about it.
“But I’m to the point now where, yes, it helped me and it helps me to talk about it. It used to help me a ton to talk about it. Now I’ve gotten to the point where I want to share my story so I can help.”