Once a tennis superstar, Mark Philippoussis is now struggling to makes ends meet, writes Naomi Toy
IN SPORT, it's often the stats that tell the real story. Break a match - or a career - down to the basic numbers and a clear picture emerges of how victories were secured and champions made. A simple list of facts and figures can also reveal why it all went so went horribly wrong.
Let's look at some basic stats for Mark Anthony Philippoussis:
* Age 32. Total prizemoney $8.5 million plus endorsements;
* Turned professional at 18;
* At 19, became the youngest player ever to be in the top 50. Highest ranking: 8th in 1999;
* Operations on his knee: 6;
* Fastest serve: 229km/h;
* Career titles: 11. Grand slam finals: 2 (US Open and Wimbledon);
* Reality TV shows: 1. Age Of Love;
* Likes: Luxury cars, luxury boats, motorbikes and glamorous, young girlfriends;
* Dislikes: John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Pat Rafter, Tennis Australia;
* Davis Cup hero: 1999, 2003;
* Davis Cup villain: 1998, 2000, 2004;
* Nicknames: The Scud, The Poo;
* Comebacks: Many;
* Successful comebacks: Not many, and
* Current status: single, living at home with his mum and now in financial strife.
That is the story of Mark Philippoussis.
A career marked by jaw-dropping displays of brilliance on the court and some gobsmacking foolishness off it.
A gifted tennis player with a serve so powerful former world No. 1 Carlos Moya once said of it: "You just have to guess where the ball is going to go, and pray."
A celebrity playboy who signed up for one of the tackier American reality TV shows, which pitted kittens (young women) against cougars (older women) as they vied for his affection. No one was surprised - or even cared - when predictably, he chose a kitten.
Voted among the sexiest men alive, he earned more money than you should be able to spend in a lifetime but, with a taste for a flashy lifestyle, kept finding new ways to do so.
He now faces losing his family home, with a finance company suing him for failing to pay a $1.3m mortgage.
Some might say his story is a Greek tragedy . . . a young man full of potential hampered by injuries and who needed skillful management and mentoring but could never escape the firm grip of his father, Nick.
To others it's more like a Hollywood script. A young man full of potential too interested in fast cars and girls to knuckle down - now paying the price for a lack of discipline. Philippoussis himself likens his life to that of Entourage, a TV show about a young actor who becomes a star and lives the high-life with a close knit circle of friends.
"I did all that and more," Philippoussis said this week as he lamented his financial woes.
"All that" included flying friends to Canada to go snowboarding, buying a string of luxury cars including a Ferrari, a Range Rover, a Lamborghini and two Hummers, a seven-bedroom mansion in Florida (with at least four rooms he never entered) and dating a string of glamorous young women, including actress Tara Reid, tennis star Anna Kournikova and singer Delta Goodrem.
"Money came in left, right and centre; you just thought, 'That's how it was for everyone and that's how it will always be'," he said. "I've lived an easy life, the life you dream about. And at that time I thought it was normal, but it's so far from normal."
It's mind-boggling that someone who's earned possibly tens of millions can't pay the bills. But as Philippoussis sees it, he hasn't been able to work for more than three years - laid up fighting injuries that have prevented him getting back on the court.
Former Davis Cup star Todd Woodbridge says he is "saddened and staggered" by Philippoussis's position but not surprised.
"This is completely not being able to handle fortune," he says. "He had a motorbike collection, a massive car collection, watch collection, women collection."
Woodbridge says Philippoussis is an example of what happens to some young people in sport who suddenly make a lot of money but don't have the support or the skills to deal with it. He adds: "He's a lovely fellow and means no harm. But because of his lack of commonsense and decision-making process, he causes a lot of grief for people."
Philippoussis is the son of immigrant parents (Nick, his father, is Greek, and his mother Rossana is Italian) who settled in Melbourne's western suburbs in the 1970s.
He began playing tennis against his father on weekends and it is Nick who had, and still seems to have, the most control over his career. He has been coach and manager, the other half of Team Philippoussis and who even now remains connected to his son's future. The pair have opened a tennis school together in Melbourne.
But over the years many have questioned whether Nick, a former bank officer, has been the right man for the job. Some claim he is the one who fuelled the various feuds with tennis officials, other players and the media. As we've seen many times in tennis, fathers don't always know best. There seems to be two areas that have really shaped how this country feels about Philippoussis. The first was his Davis Cup appearances - and lack of them.
He achieved hero status when he was part of the team that returned Davis Cup glory to Australia in 1999 but just a year later, he found himself an outcast from the squad when he withdrew late from a tie because of injury.
That sparked a very public spat with Pat Rafter, his former doubles partner and the man who the year before had beaten him in the US Open final. Rafter, the darling of Australian tennis, accused Philippoussis of "jerking" the team around and it took three years before he was welcomed back. But when he did return, he did so in style, securing Australia's first Davis Cup on home soil in 17 years with a stirring win in a five-set match against Juan Carlos Ferrero in which he endured extreme pain from a torn pectoral muscle. He finished in tears, paying tribute to the crowd for cheering him on. A year later his commitment was questioned again when he lost both rubbers in straight sets against Sweden in 2004.
"One day you're the hero and the next day everyone jumps on you and that's tennis," he said afterwards. "So it's a tough time now but tomorrow's another day. Just put that behind me, have a rest, go on a holiday."
And then there was Delta. She could have been his salvation but instead, when their relationship ended in a blaze of front-page stories which accused him of dumping her for none other than Paris Hilton, he'd used up the last of his goodwill with the Australian public.
The flashy lifestyle, the Davis Cup debacles, they could all be forgiven but hurting Delta couldn't. A few months later, at the end of 2004, he hooked up with Miami model and property heiress Alexis Barbara, who was just 17. He was 28. Five months later the pair were engaged but the wedding never eventuated, the couple splitting in 2006. Two months ago he split from bikini model Siobhan Parekh, who he'd been dating for a year. He's since been linked to a Melbourne hairdresser but says he is now single.
For some, the outcome is not such a surprise. Sports psychologist George Shirling believes the way athletes get into sport also "dictates or affects the way they get out of it". "It's typically young people who rise very quickly who don't handle it," he says. "I always think people who are open to opinion, seek out views, and then make up their minds (do well) but stubbornness and pigheadedness and showy behaviour doesn't auger well."
If Philippoussis can get himself out of this mess now, it will become his greatest comeback.