I had a front-row seat for Philippoussis' big comeback
Posted: Tuesday July 18, 2006 12:30PM; Updated: Tuesday July 18, 2006 2:34PM
Mark Philippoussis had been missing from tennis' elite for the better part of three years, but he came through in Newport.
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First, the good news: Mark Philippoussis took a big step toward returning to tennis' elite last Sunday when he captured the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I., the lone grass-court event played on U.S. soil.
The bad news: Unfortunately, I had a great seat to witness the Australian's awesome power and talent -- the other side of the net!
I finally made my first ATP event final in my 11th year on the tour, but Mark was too good. He never lost serve the entire week -- 54 straight service games -- and I hope for his sake and the entire tennis world's that he continues to stay healthy and lets us enjoy his talent.
Philippoussis' title in Rhode Island was his first since 2003, when he won in Shanghai, and his 11th overall. He's one of the warmest and friendliest players on tour, and while losing is always disappointing, I'm genuinely happy that Mark has returned to his winning ways.
He has faced stiff criticism throughout his career for his wide array of off-court interests, but his journey is one of determination and perseverance. He has had a tough road back from numerous knee surgeries, and injuries in sports are a variable that no one from the outside can accurately judge.
Mark and I flew to Indianapolis together, where we will both be competing this week in the RCA Championships (the first event in the U.S. Open Series, which leads up to the Grand Slam event in August). We talked about everything from our preference in cars to tour life. We both love sports cars but bemoan the lack of space for our long legs! Mark is also an avid surfer, and he's pursuing his pilot's license.
Perhaps the biggest thing going on in Mark's life right now is his engagement to his beautiful girlfriend, Alexis. She was in Newport with him last week and she is as nice as she is beautiful. They seem very happy, and with that aspect of his life so stable, it's a pretty good bet that it's much easier for Philippoussis to focus on his tennis.
He has simplified his life, isn't traveling with a coach and generally seems to be striking a good balance between work and play. We agreed to practice on Monday as soon as we landed because we both have to get ready for matches on Tuesday.
It's tough to get really close to other players in tennis because of the competitive nature of our sport, but I find myself rooting for Mark pretty regularly (except, of course, when he's acing me and crushing forehands past me in the finals of tournaments). He has had incredible highs and lows already in his career, having reached the finals of the U.S. Open and Wimbledon and leading Australia to a Davis Cup win.
Hopefully Philippoussis has another inspiring comeback in him. He will be a dangerous opponent on the hard courts this summer.
And now, back to me
While the week deservedly belongs to Mark, it reminded me of how tough a sport tennis is. Only one player gets to feel the total satisfaction that accompanies a tournament win. Nonetheless, I had an incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable week. Hopefully sometime soon I can go one step further and win my first ATP title.
One of the best parts of having some success last week was the support and congratulations I've received from my fellow players and friends. I've made some great friends over the years, and many of them flooded my voicemail and e-mail wishing me luck and lending their support.
That, along with having my father, brother and friends drive in to cheer me on in the final, is something I will cherish well after my career is over.