Thursday, August 10, 2000

Becker inspires Philippoussis to reach potential




By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Mark Philippoussis
(Gary Landers photos)
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        MASON — The phone call caught him by surprise. The voice on the other end belonged to none other than Boris Becker. Mark Philippoussis was intimidated immediately.

        This was after Philippoussis lost at Queen's Club in London, two weeks before Wimbledon.

        Becker's message: “You've only reached 50 percent of your potential. You're wasting your career.”

        “It was a good wake-up call,” Philippoussis said. “I looked up to him as a kid and had his posters on my walls ...”

        The hard-hitting Australian advanced to the round of 16 with a 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Marcelo Rios on Wednesday in perhaps the best match of the week so far at the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati.

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Marcelo Rios
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        Philippoussis got a break when Andre Agassi retired from his match; now he'll face Fernando Vicente next instead of the tourney's top seed.

        Philippoussis, 15th in the ATP Champions race, has been ranked as high as No.8 in the world, but he has yet to realize the greatness predicted for him when he turned pro as a teen-ager in 1994.

        He has eight career titles. His best Grand Slam finish was as runner-up to countryman Patrick Rafter at the 1998 U.S. Open.

        “I've matured,” Philippoussis said. “I'm a better player than I was two years ago. My game is more of a whole game. In the past, I was just trying to blast my way out of tight situations. Now if I have to serve and volley, I will. If I need to keep the ball in 20 times for the point, I'm going to do that.

        “I'm 23. Hopefully I've got a good seven years ahead of me. I'm hoping to dedicate all I can to tennis.”

        Philippoussis has been criticized over the years by the Australian media.

        A lot of that stems from his rocky relationship with the Davis Cup team. Davis Cup is taken very seriously in Australia. For a year and a half, Philippoussis had refused to compete for his country, reportedly because he did not feel supported by the coach and captain when his father was undergoing cancer treatment.

        All was put aside briefly in December when Philippoussis led the Aussies to the Davis Cup title. With Rafter sidelined after shoulder surgery, it was up to Philippoussis to lead the Australians to their first Davis Cup championship in 13 years.

        Philippoussis was the hero again early this year when he won the decisive match in a first-round Davis Cup victory over Switzerland.

        But after Wimbledon, he told the Australian team he would not be competing in the Davis Cup semifinal against Brazil, citing fatigue from the grass-court season and an injured knee. Rafter said Philippoussis should “stop jerking us around.”

        On Aug.4, Philippoussis released a statement saying he was surprised by the lack of support he received from teammates, the team captain and the national association.

        “I don't want to talk about that,” he said Wednesday. “I just love playing tennis; it's as simple as that.”

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- Becker inspires Philippoussis to reach potential
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