By defeating the Chilean Marcelo Rios yesterday, 6-1, 7-6, to advance to the semi-finals of the Compaq Grand Slam Cup, the 24-year-old Rafter increased his month's earnings to $1.3m (pounds 840,000). He is guaranteed $675,000 (including a $250,000 bonus for being a Grand Slam champion) even if he loses to Petr Korda tomorrow. The Czech defeated Cedric Pioline, of France, 7-5, 6-3.
Rafter has won $25,000 more in two matches in a 16-man field here than he did for finishing first in a cast of 128 at the US Open. "Tough, huh?" he grinned.
But why does he not need a car? "Living in Bermuda," he explained. "The cars rust after about four years because of the salt water. The speed limit is 35 kilometres per hour [22 mph]. I have a moped that I rent when I go there. I have a ball on that. I have more fun on that than I would in a nice car."
If the prize-money causes Rafter little pause for thought (his career total is $3.699m), his mind has yet to grasp the magnitude of what he accomplished at New York's Flushing Meadow, defeating Britain's Greg Rusedski in the final.
"Every now and then I catch myself," the Australian said. "I start thinking, `It was a great achievement.' The weirdest thing is, I still don't feel like I did it. It's just such an amazing thing that's happened to me."
With last weekend's Davis Cup semi-final against the United States to contend with, and points to chase for qualification for the ATP Tour Championship in Hannover, Rafter will not be returning to his homeland until the end of the year.
"It's hard for me to be back here and to actually know what is going on there," he said. "I've heard that it's been pretty exciting, and I've seen some of the newspapers - six to eight pages in some of the big ones back home, just the whole thing, the family, everything. They've gone nuts. Just from what I've heard, it's going to be sort of big time when I get back there. I don't how it was for Greg."
Rafter's attacking style against Rios was a joy to watch yesterday, although it has taken a great deal of perseverance, hard knocks and rehabilitation from injuries to raise his game to its current exciting level.
"I matured a lot later than a lot of other people," he said. "I was a lot smaller. The people out there, they're like men at 17, 18. I wasn't physically strong till I was 21. So I had to go through all those learning things. If you're not physically fit and strong to play the way I play, then you're just not going to succeed. They'll just pass you all the time. You've got to be quicker. I've worked a lot on that."
Rafter is enjoying his play as much as the spectators. "I think over the years I've learned to really appreciate tennis," he said. "There was a couple of years where I was very frustrated, a bit of a miserable bastard on the court. I just wasn't enjoying the game. But now, I really enjoy it. and after I lose, I still come off with a smile on my face."
One reporter was keen for Rafter to elaborate on the smiling image. "I don't smile as much as Greg," the Australian reminded him, not wishing to take more from the Briton than he already had.Reuse content