Injured and thought of having no chance, he became a national hero

We will always be remembered for November 2003. The Davis Cup final between Australia and Spain at Melbourne Park. After taking the first two sets against the world number two Juan Carlos Ferrer, home favourite, Mark Philippoussis hurt his right chest muscle. He grimaces in pain and the audience holds its breath. Although the game is played on grass Philippoussis normally dreaded serve quickly becomes no more dangerous than a small firecracker. Ferrero comes back smoothly to 2-2 in sets and it looks to be just a matter of time before the Spaniard will force a fifth and deciding match. The rest is classic Davis Cup history. 6-0 - to Philippoussis!

 

Nobody understood anything and this is more than 13 years later, I ask Philippoussis what he remembers from deciding set:

- I remember almost every point, he says, and continues:

- I had a lot of pain from the third set, I was taking just one point in time to block the pain, and then I got into the zone, says Philippoussis who with the victory secured Australia's 28th (!) And also most recent Davis Cup title .

The role as a celebrated national hero was not new to him. In 1999 Australia got its 27th victory  for the sought after DC troph. It was Philippoussis who secured the victory. This time it was about an away finals match against France where Australia’s victory against Cedric Pioline gave their team the indisposable lead of 3-1.

- The two Davis Cup titles are undoubtedly the one’s I'm most proud of during my career, says the 40-year-old who was up in two Grand Slam finals, took eleven singles titles and reached eighth place in the world rankings.

The DC triumph in 2003 was also a sweet win because of the loss at Wimbledon against Roger Federer in the same year.The loss pained Philippoussis significantly more than his loss against Pat Rafter in the US Open final five years earlier.

- Then I was young and thought I would get more opportunities. Before Wimbledon I had undergone three knee operations and been told that I would never be able to play again at the professional level. I trained extremely hard to show that they were wrong and the journey was tough. I realized how special it was, that final in one of my favorite tournament that I had always dreamed of as a child of winning, he says.  

Although there is no Grand Slam title, his track record is extremely impressive and we can only speculate how it would been if it would have not been for all the injuries. At 19 years old he was awarded the 1995 Award Newcomer of the year on the ATP tour and finished 38 on the ranking, where he was the youngest of the players in the top-50.

Just one month later, Philippoussis introduced himself in earnest in the sports largest context. The year before, he had lost to Stefan Edberg in the Australian Open first round and now the young Australian stood at Melbourne Park for his fourth Grand Slam tournament.

3-0 in the third round against world number one Pete Sampras who had no defense against the home favourite’s serve which among other things resulted in 29 aces (compared to Sampras’ six).

As an aside, I understand the difficulties Sampras faced. During one of his two Stockholm Open start, Philippousis  and the other stars played a  Pro-Am with us journalists. He  sort of shoved more than hit the servers to us so that we would have a change , to return. But suddenly Philippoussis put little more force behind a serve and I could only discover that something came flying in the air innen it hit my thigh and the mark after the ball sat there for almost a week.

"Yes, ace," said Philippoussis and smiled but also apologized and seemed as relieved as I am to the ball did not me somewherre else…

The same year he slammed the Australian Open against Sampras took the 196 centimeters tall Australian in Toulouse his first ATP title, and it came to be ten more on a total of 22 finals.

Three seasons later, he stepped for the first time into the top ten but it was also when most of his injuries began, ironically in a match against Sampras, where he became a star.  

However, after taking the first set in the Wimbledon quarter-final Philippoussis was forced to throw in the towel early in the second.

Overall, he underwent knee surgery six (three in each knee) during his career ended in 2006 when he took the title on grass in Newport.

Although it reall was not the end, of course.

Nine years later Mark Philippoussis appeared in Newport. He was defeated in the first qualifying match in singles and went in pairs with Ryan Harrison to the quarters in doubles.

- I thought it would be fun to play some doubles and it was great to be back on the courts in Newport which is a fantastic place.

Is there a possibility that we'll see more of you on the ATP tour?

- I have no interest in getting back on the tour but who knows what comes to playing more doubles in the future, it would be fun.

All players want to stop when they’ve decided to do it but you had to stop because of injuries. How tough was it?

- Yes, it is true that I did not get to quit on my terms so it was very tough.

In an interview with Fairfax, he expressed it this way:

"If my guardian angel once came to me and made a deal that I would turn pro,  become world eight, lose two Grand Slam finals, win the Davis Cup twice but getting damaged and forced to stop earlier than I wanted - well, then I would without hesitation, entered on the deal. "

Over the years, almost all Australians tennis players made themselves known as gentlemen, and you are one of them. It seems that Kyrgios and Tomic follow more in the footsteps of Pat Cash - what are your thoughts on that?

- They have their own personalities and they are young. They need to live their lives, stand by their actions and learn and grow from them, says Philippoussius who says he is open to help players but have no interest in becoming a coach on the tour.

You are married and have children - tell us a bit about your life.

- Family is my main priority and it has always been. I'm in a wonderful place in life and is happy and excited with the things I do today and plans for future projects. I also have a great passion for the ocean and surfing. I surf every day. It is my meditation, says Mark Philippoussis.

Jonas Arnesen, tennis reporter

Kings of tennis

8-10 Mars 2017