It wasn’t an o-face surprise to hear that Mark Philippoussis lost in the Australian Open wildcard playoff tournament over the weekend to No. 341-ranked Samuel Groth. Flipper hasn’t played an ATP event in 11 months after knee surgery, and two months ago he displayed his rustiness in losing to Wayne Ferreira and the almost-50-year-old John McEnroe at a senior tour event in Dallas.
Yes, the 31-year-old Philippoussis is now a “senior” player.
Philippoussis is also likely now flat-out of luck for playing in Melbourne in January, as Tennis Australia has indicated it wants to favor younger Australian players with wildcards.
It may be time for a re-think from Tennis Australia, which oversees the lowest event on the four-Slam totem pole behind the French, Wimbledon and the US Open. The Aussie Open no longer has a state-of-the-art facility, and aggressive tournament promoters such as Ion Tiriac who runs the ATP Madrid Masters Series event wants in to the Slam picture — as do other promoters out of the Middle East and Asia who have money to burn. Shanghai spent almost $300 million to build a stadium for the ATP Masters Cup. That’s no typo, $300 million. They would buy a Slam outright if they could, load it on the back of a truck and relocate it to China.
With their reputation in need of repair, the 2008 Aussie Open needs to put on a good show, a great show, create as much buzz as possible, and are you going to get more PR mileage out of Philippoussis or, say, a Samuel Groth? Would Aussie Open fans and the world tennis audience prefer to see a former Top 10-ranked Wimbledon and US Open runner-up who has starred in his own reality dating show, has professed to relations with Anna Kournikova among (many) others, was named in People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 1998 issue as one of the “sexiest imports,” and sports sleeveless shirts that make women swoon over his Alexander the Great tattoo?
Or would more PR be generated by the 20-year-old Groth, who…it’s not even known the date he turned pro, according to the ATP website.
Tennis is entertainment first and sport second, a concept that many who promote the sport have failed to grasp. When Andre Agassi was at the top of his game he was a one-man commercial-making, entertainment-headline-producing machine unto himself. Nowadays, with the even-keeled Roger Federer dominating the game, the powers-that-be think that telling fringe and non-tennis fans ‘This guy is going to be the greatest player ever!’ will sell tickets. In the U.S. at least, the non-tennis fan response is ‘Yawn.’ (Count up the number of Sportsman of the Year awards Federer has been awarded from Sports Illustrated magazine — you could count them even if you had no fingers).
In the U.S. we no longer have Agassi, but we do have Andy Roddick, who for his part “gets it” and puts himself out there in regards to doing promotions, charity gigs, exhibitions, putting out opinionated blogs, dating supermodels, etc. Philippoussis may be slumping in the confidence category, but he has been putting in some hard yards at his Las Vegas-based training camp in an attempt for another run at the game.
Time to throw Flipper a wildcard Tennis Australia. In terms of appeal, the former Davis Cup hero is your Andre Agassi. Take advantage of his Q-rating while you have it, because once he hangs it up, your Top 50-ranked prospects will be comprised of the aging Lleyton Hewitt and a whole lot of nothing else.
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