Sunday, June 21, 2009

Was the Scud Muffin destroyed by Ebola?

There are times when I like to indulge in escapist reading. Perhaps because I spend my days focusing on serious issues of mental health, when I get home, I find that I either want to do something entirely physical -- playing tennis, golfing (my new obsession), or working out at the gym -- or doing something utterly escapist and non-challenging, such as reading celebrity gossip. The point of escapist reading is not to take anything seriously. No analysis or mental effort are required. Just silly observations about the side of human nature that is motivated by the lust for fame.

I sometimes surf a site run by a Canadian woman who has a number of clever nicknames for certain celebrities. Her nickname for Paris Hilton is the Ebola Virus. As in, it destroys everything it touches. Ouch. And one theory regarding the current demise of former top ten tennis player Mark Philippoussis is that his downfall may have been caused by nothing less than a previous bout of exposure to said Ebola.

Rumor has it that Philippoussis’ alleged hook-up with Paris Hilton led to the end of his relationship with popular Aussie singer, Delta Goodrem, which resulted in an ongoing negative relationship with his country of birth. And this was well before he appeared on the embarrassing “Age of Love”, an American reality show in which a bunch of young women (“Kittens”) competed against a group of Cougars (I hate that word) for his amorous attention. I didn’t think Philippoussis could sink any lower. I was wrong.

Philippoussis recently announced that he is flat broke and may end up losing his home. According to a writ recently filed in the Supreme Court, he took out a loan through his company, Mergis Pty Ltd, for which he is listed as sole director, secretary and shareholder. He served as personal guarantor on the loan, which defaulted a year later when the mortgage company foreclosed. The lender is seeking $1,313,351.96, with interest and costs plus possession of the Philippoussis home.

If all you know about Mark Philippoussis is what you’ve read in the scandal pages, then you may not know that he was once a top ten tennis player, famous for powerful serves that landed on the tennis court like scud missiles. This and his handsome looks earned him the nickname “Scud Muffin”. His game was always best suited to grass and he was, at one time, regarded as a dangerous opponent in the Wimbledon draw. He once served 46 aces in a 2003 match against Andre Agassi. He has scored wins against former top players like Pete Sampras, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Cedric Pioline. And, with Jelena Dokic, he won the Hopman Cup for Australia in 1999.

But there were two issues that continually marred Philippoussis’ career. The first was his apparent inability to get along with key people. Coached by his father from age six, Mark seemed to experience tension early in his career between the loyalties to his father and the demands of the sport. In quick succession three coaches/trainers were fired or quit (Nick Bolletieri, Todd Viney, and Peter McNamara), all complaining about the meddling of the elder Philippoussis in the career of the younger. Bolletieri later recounted these difficulties in his book ‘My Aces, My Faults’. Throughout his career, Mark had acrimonious rifts with other coaches (Pat Cash, John Newcombe, and Tony Roche). Fellow Aussie, Patrick Rafter, has criticized him for burning too many bridges and making poor decisions in his career. And many believe that he did not always fulfill his professional obligations (such as to Davis Cup).

The second issue that marred Philippoussis’ career was his physical frailty. He has had several surgical procedures on his knees. I remember a match at Wimbledon when he seemed well on his way to crushing Pete Sampras, only to become hobbled by his bad knees. Even Pete acknowledged later that he had dodged a bullet.

And while some gossip columnists would say that Philippoussis’ current financial demise is probably the result of hanging around wealthy socialite viruses like Paris Hilton, I have always believed that his larger problem was one of mental frailty. One always got the sense that there was something not quite wired right with this man. There was a childlike immaturity to his presence that never went away. You saw it most clearly during his painful conversations with the women in his reality show. His eyes always seemed so empty, so bizarrely lost. About him there was always a sense that the lights were not only dim but that there was also no one, absolutely no one, at home.

UPDATE: Ebola strikes again?


Anonymous said...


Great blog and I certainly appreciate your perspective.

I played Div I college tennis in the 90's, currently I'm a teaching pro deep down south...


tennischick said...

Hey Mike:
Thanks for dropping by and for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Do you know where I can reach Mark Philippoussis? Please email me on
Frits Bosch