The Stanford Championships has announced that Australian Mark Philippoussis has entered this year’s draw. The event, held in Dallas, is the sixth of seven exhibition events featuring male players over the age of 30.
Philippoussis has not played a main draw event since retiring from the Hopman Cup in January of 2007 due to a hyperextended knee, forcing him to miss the Australian Open, his home Grand Slam.
Knee injuries have been haunting the Australian since 1998, when a cartilage tear forced him to retire while he was leading in a Wimbledon quarterfinal match against grass great Pete Sampras. Many say he was never the same since that injury.
And as Philippoussis has aged, other injuries have set in.
“My knee is feeling great, but the reason I haven’t been playing is that my lower back has been hurting.” He plans to be 100% recovered in time to play in Dallas.
Others confirmed for the eight-man field are Jim Courier, John McEnroe, and Mats Wilander — an esteemed group whose achievements Philippoussis respects and talents he still considers dangerous. “There is going to be some pressure on me. I don’t want to lose to these guys.”
The 30-year-old, of Greek and Italian descent, had planned to make Outback Champions debut earlier this year in a highly anticipated match-up against Pete Sampras (also Greek) in Athens. Unfortunately, he did not recovery from injuries in time to play.
Philippoussis continues to work hard at his Las Vegas base camp, where he hits with Andre Agassi and trains with Gil Reyes.
At the same time, he’s also involved with entertainment projects.
The Australians have done their fair share of dabbling in reality television. Players Alicia Molik and Todd Woodbridge, and tennis wife Bec Cartwright (married to Lleyton Hewitt, though a celeb in her own right) have all appeared in that country’s version of Dancing with the Stars.
And Stateside, Serena Williams had a short-lived appearance in ABC’s Fast Cars and Superstars. But it was Philippoussis who made the biggest mark, getting his own dating show. Age of Love pitted 20-something and 40-something women in a contest to see if, in love, age matters. (Rumor has it that he’s already broken up with winner — and 26-year-old Amanda Salinas.)
The series was considered a ratings disaster when it first aired, but gathered enough steam that NBC decided to broadcast the season’s full run. There has been talk of the Australian starring in another series, this time documenting his return to professional tennis.
Like the Williams sisters, who have been criticized for not paying enough attention to their tennis careers (while dabbling in fashion, acting, and attending Hollywood parties), Philippoussis has been feeling the heat. But he brushes off the critics. “I know what I’d love to do is in my heart, in my mind… Tennis is my life.”
“I’m always watching [tennis] on TV,” he says. “And taping matches — I haven’t done that before.”
And this continued interest and passion for the sport pushes him back towards rejoining the ATP circuit. “What I’d love to do is start playing a couple of small events” — which ones, he hasn’t decided yet — “and concentrate on getting back next year, hopefully at the Australian (Open).”
Along with Lleyton Hewitt, Philippoussis will try to become the first Australian to win that Grand Slam since Mark Edmondson achieved that feat in 1976.
Tennis Australia gone as far as ripping out the Rebound Ace courts in favor of a surface similar to the U.S. Open‘s. While that may favor the game of Hewitt (who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and was a finalist in 2004), the latest ATP standings has pushed him out of the Top 20, making it likely that he will have to face the game’s top players in the earlier rounds of that tournament.
And Philippoussis, who will enter the draw probably as a wildcard, will face the same uphill battle — one that he’s ready to face: “It’s a long way to talk about something like that but, in my heart, for myself, I do believe, but in order to make that happen or anything close to making that happen, I need to work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. It’s going to be a long, long, long road back.”
Notes: Stanford Championships, October 18-21, 2007, Dallas. An eight-man round-robin tournament including Mark Philippoussis, Jim Courier, John McEnroe, and Mats Wilander. For more info (inc. ticket sales), visit www.championsseriestennis.com/dallas2007 or call (214) 467-8277.