This past Sunday, on a gorgeous afternoon in Southern California, we had the opportunity to sit down with former world No. 8, Mark Philippoussis, to discuss his take on tennis, his life now and his planned ATP comeback.
TennisThis.com met Mark where he currently trains at the home of a close friend and colleague who conveniently has a tennis court. As the tanned Aussie approached, his sheer height and obvious strength were immediately apparent. He sat down with a very relaxed demeanor and we began our conversation.
TennisThis: Hi Mark, how are things?
Mark Philippoussis: Good. Feeling good. I’ve been doing a lot of training on and off the court – doing some surfing. I have been training hard here at friend’s home on his tennis court; living in a beautiful place so nothing to complain about there.
TT: What are your plans and hopes for 2011?
MP: My plans are to start playing some more tour events.
TT: You mean more ATP events?
MP: Yeah absolutely. The last 2 or 3 years, I’ve been lucky enough to play on the Champions’ Tour. Which has been a blessing, allowing me to fall in love with the sport again. The Champions’ Tour is very relaxed and has been a lot of fun, hanging around with a great group of guys and playing some matches. You know, it was just really, really nice, no politics involved and very relaxing. The passion is back for the sport. Every tournament I’ve played, I’ve felt stronger and stronger, so I told my trainers. ‘Look, I’m feeling really good, so let’s give it another go!’
TT: Do you have any plans to enter the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells this year?
MP: Maybe yes, that is something that I am looking to getting into this year. The thing is, because I haven’t played in years, I have no ranking, so that’s the biggest obstacle for me. Being that Indian Wells is the fifth biggest tournament of the year it’s going to have to be something where I will need a wildcard to get in or even play qualies to get a wildcard. But, my last senior event (Champions’ Tour) that I’m playing in is on February 18th at Del Ray Beach, Florida. And after that I’m hoping to play more ATP level tournaments. So that’s pretty much my focus right now. I still have exhibition matches, but like I said I’m working hard to get into shape. For me it’s not about ranking or proving anything to anyone, I just love the game and it’s for myself, just to prove to myself to see if I can. I believe I can. The most important thing is to make sure I’m having fun and being passionate about what I’m doing.
TT: How do you feel that your game today would compete with the players on tour now?
MP: That’s something I’ve been watching on TV. These guys run all day and are extremely quick on the court. I’ve got the serve and the forehand, that’s the good thing about my game, I’ve always managed to get the free points. I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to be in the back of the court running side to side for three hours, that’s just not the game I play. I’m hitting the ball as good as I ever have and as hard as I ever have. For me, it’s about getting out there and competing and enjoying it. And that’s something I believe I can do, enjoy playing the sport again. If I continue to stay healthy, then I can continue to compete.
TT: What do you think the difference is in your game today compared to where it was seven years ago?
MP: A big difference, I’ve just grown as a person, back then I was just a kid you know? I think just that I didn’t get a lot of things back then, I didn’t care. I just did it and didn’t understand the moment. I was just interested in having fun and living the life. Now I’m just living life and the more you live, the more you learn, and you just grow as a person. I just feel like I’m in a different part of my life where I’ve grown, get it more, understand more; and I can appreciate things more. Not that I didn’t appreciate things before, I just didn’t realize how lucky I was, you know, having the world at your feet, playing the events, playing the biggest tournaments in the world, playing on center court, I guess it’s very easy to be a little naive to take things for granted.
TT: Would it be safe to say you love tennis more now than you did before?
MP: Absolutely, definitely! Yeah, when I was a kid I remember dreaming about becoming a professional tennis player. I worked my ass off with my dad, I worked my ass off every night and then it happened. Then everything is fun at first, it’s all very exciting and then all the sudden it’s not anymore. You know, living out of a suitcase, traveling all the time made me lose the love of tennis, it just became a groan for me. Then something like that gets taken away and you start to realize how much you miss it, and that’s where I started to grow the love back for tennis. These things happen you know?
TT: How are your knees holding up?
MP: Great! They feel great.
TT: You’re still wearing the braces on both knees?
MP: I’ve been wearing these braces as a precaution; the sleeves keep my knees warm and provide great support. They feel good when I wear the braces so there is no reason for me to take them off.
TT: TennisThis.com has been told that you have been training extremely hard the last two years, how has that affected your outlook on tennis now?
MP: I’m feeling good right now. I’ve been training hard, losing weight and just getting back into tournament shape. I’m in a really good place in my life and I have nothing to complain about.
TT: Why are you coming out of “semi-retirement” now?
MP: The thing is, I never have said that I had ‘retired’. I’ve been the kind of person that’s done what I’ve had to do. When I had the surgery on the left knee in 2007, during the Hopman Cup, I couldn’t do anything. Then a year later I tried coming back and had to have another surgery, where I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t try to come back after that, but I went out on the court to hit some balls and I couldn’t really do anything. I had a third surgery on my left knee, which was a microfracture surgery that had fixed everything. I had the same surgery on my right knee which also fixed that knee. I had taken a lot of time off since those surgeries to make sure it healed properly and from then on I got an invitation from Jim Courier to play an event. I decided to come out two months before the event to train with my trainers down in San Diego, you know, to get in decent shape so I don’t embarrass myself for the event. I played the event and I didn’t have any swelling and the knee(s) felt great, so I stayed here [San Diego] to train for another event. I was like ‘Wow, it’s feeling good!’ and I said let’s just train and play these events and see how it goes. Like I said, it’s been very positive.
TT: Ok, Tennis This has to know, what type of strings and tennis racquet do you use now?
MP: I’m actually using a Blackcode from Technifibre, 18 gauge. I’ve been using natural gut (full bed) my entire life, and recently I’ve switched to the Blackcode on my crosses and on the mains I’m still using natural Babolat gut 17 gauge. The blackcode is a pretty powerful string and generates pretty decent spin and pace, so I’ll stick with that. Though the Blackcode tends to move around a lot when I’m hitting but I’ve been using the String Thing to straighten them out, it’s pretty much a no brainer. I’m currently using the Head Prestige Classic, I’ve been using Head racquets since I was sixteen and I can’t put it down. I’ve tried different tennis racquets, but I just love the Head racquets.
TT: Has the game of tennis changed since you have been on tour?
MP: What’s changed is the power game. When I first came on tour, there were a few guys who could serve over 120 mph. You know, like Ivanisevic, Becker, Sampras, and Rosset, only a handful of guys could slap a ball, but now everyone can slap a ball. The new technology is to thank for that, it’s the strings, the racquets, and the guys out there. The guys now, hit the ball naturally bigger, you know, hitting serves over 120 is the standard now. The game, however; has slowed down a bit over the last few years. When I was playing, the balls were going through the court much quicker, I guess too many spectators complained that they couldn’t see the ball on the TV, so the courts were changed to be slower. So when things change like that, you have to evolve, you know? Guys now aren’t coming into the net as often because the ball is much slower now, so you get a slow ball and you can pass them all day long. Also the guys are much taller now. The average height is about 6’2” now; back then the average was about 6 foot, so taller players now are hitting bigger.
TT: Looks like you are wearing all Hurley clothing, are you working with them?
MP: Yes, actually, I’m working on designing a new line of Hurley tennis apparel. Hurley’s team and I have been working on this really neat tennis line that will look great on and off the court.
TT: You know that you still have a very large fan base throughout the world, is there anything you would like to say to them?
MP: I definitely want to thank them for being there, supporting me on and off the court over the years – that they’re the ones that inspire me to put in hard work and helping me to get excited again to get back on the court so that they can watch me and having something good to watch. I’m really excited that they will get to watch me play tennis again.
Tennisthis.com greatly appreciates Mark Philippoussis taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet with us, it was truly a pleasure. From our conversation, it is clear that Mark is a determined man. His passion was palpable, as was his desire to compete again at a world class level. Tennisthis.com is eagerly anticipating seeing Mark out on the courts in the near future.
We further extend our gratitude to the guys at StringThing USA for setting up the interview and to Marks’ friend for opening up his home for the day.