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Old 02-23-2005, 03:04 PM   #5
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Default Re: Mark's career back on track

Scud ends eight-month horror
By Richard Hinds and wires
February 24, 2005

It remains to be seen if there is any light at the end. But, for the first time in almost eight months, Mark Philippoussis has at least found the tunnel.

A tough three-set victory by the Scud over Germany's Tomas Behrend, the world No.103, in the first round of the Tennis Channel Open in Scottsdale, Arizona, will not rank as the greatest accomplishment in the career of the Wimbledon and US Open finalist and two-time Davis Cup-winning hero.

But after a year-long battle with poor form and fitness, the 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 victory will come as an enormous relief to those who feared that, at age 28, Philippoussis's sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating career might have to come to an end.

"Of course it's a relief to win," said Philippoussis, whose previous victory came over Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the third round at Wimbledon last year.

That performance came amid a miserable eight-month stretch in which Philippoussis lost 11 first-round matches, including defeats by such luminous names as Ian Flanagan, Thomas Zib, Luis Horna, Jan Hernych, Glenn Weiner and Julien Benneteau.

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AdvertisementThen came a groin injury at the Hopman Cup in January that kept Philippoussis out of the Australian Open.

In Scottsdale, Philippoussis failed to convert a match point in the last set, then had to endure a long rain delay before finishing his match against Behrend.

"Physically I feel fine, I've been working hard on-court in Miami, I'm feeling strong, I've lost 8.5 pounds (3.8kilograms)," the Scud said. "I've been hitting the ball well in training, but matches are so different. You get the same balls but you spray them; it's easy to lose confidence."

The victory came just 24 hours after Philippoussis had been left out of Australia's Davis Cup team, a decision he made in tandem with captain John Fitzgerald. "I took an extra two or three weeks to make sure I was ready [for Scottsdale]," Philippoussis said.

"I didn't want to rush like I've done in the past. I wasn't setting any tournament goal, I wanted to see how it was going. A few days before this event, I felt ready."

Philippoussis plays Croatian Mario Ancic in the second round. Given he has so few world rankings points to defend, any victories will help improve his status of No.201.

While his first-up win was encouraging, Philippoussis still faces a tough road to get back to the top. He is hoping to get a wild card into either of the big-money US events - at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne - in coming weeks, but may end up having to play minor-league Challenger events to boost his ranking.

"If that's the way he has to go, Mark will do that," said his manager, Brian Cooney of IMG. "He needs to play and, like with [Andre] Agassi [who played Challenger tournaments when his ranking slumped], it probably doesn't hurt to eat a bit of humble pie and get your game together."

There was more good news for Australian tennis fortunes in Scottsdale, where Wayne Arthurs, the man most likely to take Philippoussis's Davis Cup singles berth, was also a first-round winner. Arthurs beat Taylor Dent 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), continuing an encouraging run of form for the big-serving 33-year-old. Incidentally, Dent might have been Australia's No.2 singles player next week had he chosen to play for his father Phil's native country rather than for the Americans.

"We're both serve-and-volleyers and we've had some close matches, and I've been fortunate to get through each time," Arthurs said. "The last time, at Wimbledon, we played four tie-breakers and only a few points here and there the difference."

In Dubai, No.2 seed Marat Safin was beaten 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 by Germany's Nicolas Kiefer in the opening round of the Dubai Open on Tuesday.

Playing his first match since winning the Australian Open, the Russian never found his rhythm against an opponent who also won their previous meeting, at the Toronto Masters last year.

Kiefer, who often came to the net, mixed aggression and a deft touch to frustrate his opponent.

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Good luck to Mark next round!
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