Philippoussis joy after triumphant injury fightback

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The Independent Online

A couple of cardboard kangaroos were held aloft to welcome Mark Philippoussis back to the Master Series here yesterday, and he responded with a victory that advanced him to a second-round match against Goran Ivanisevic, the Wimbledon champion.

The atmosphere in the secondary court at the Schleyer-Halle here was hardly the stuff of dreams as the tall Australian ground out a first-round win against Alberto Martin, of Spain, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. But Philippoussis is delighted to be mingling with the élite of the ATP Tour again after being told six months ago that a knee injury might end his career, leaving him haunted by wasted opportunities.

He told how he had been inspired by the successful fight against cancer by his father, Nick, and how his father coaxed him out of a wheelchair to rebuild his career. "After my third surgery, in April, I was miserable for three weeks, taking pain-killers," he said. "Then I went on the court in the wheelchair with my dad. We started off with a long table, where I could sit and rest my left leg out wide and just hit forehands. I snapped the armrests off my wheelchair. I was on the court playing my dad. I had two bounces, he had one bounce. That's probably the time I realised how much I loved tennis. My dad had a smile from ear to ear. I was so happy, I just couldn't wait to get back."

Although Philippoussis reached the final of the United States Open in 1998, and led Australia to Davis Cup triumph in Nice in 1999, he realised that his talent was unfulfilled. "I had too much fun off the court," he said. "I wasn't hungry enough. I was just happy to stay in the top 20, maybe get inside the top 10 here and there, drive some fast cars, go out. That's how my life has been for the past few years.

"Looking back now, I don't regret it. I'm a young guy. I only live once. I'm happy I've gotten that stuff out of the way. I'm still going to play, don't worry about that. But if you want to become the best, or be one of the best, you've got to have tennis as a number one priority in your life. And tennis was number three in mine for the past few years."

It was not that Philippoussis lacked people willing to warn him of the consequences. "My coaches, my father, even Boris Becker – but it doesn't matter who says it to you and how many times you hear it, if you don't want it, you're not going to do it. I really, really want it now."

With Greg Rusedski's inspirational Davis Cup performance for Britain in Ecuador still fresh in the memory, it seems churlish to point out that his outstanding display on clay has not been repeated on indoor courts, usually his preferred surface. But Rusedski's disappointing first-round defeat in Vienna last week was followed here by a loss to Julien Boutter, of France, 6-3, 6-4, yesterday.

Having complained about the slowness of the court in Vienna after his defeat by the Czech Jiri Novak, Rusedski had nothing but praise for the Stuttgart surface. He acknowledged that Boutter, like Novak, was the sharper man on the day

Boutter out-served Rusedski, hitting 11 aces, and was generally more efficient after breaking for 5-3 in the opening set. "He played awfully well," Rusedski said. "He's a flashy sort of player who comes up with big shots." Not your average bread and Boutter player.