It’s been an up and down two days for Mark in his quest for a wilcard. On the 15th he began by facing off against Brydan Klein after a seven hour rain dely. Brydan’s the reigning Australian Open junior champion and at 17 is a face of the future of Australian Tennis. Mark managed to show that age still has staying power by defeating him 6-3, 7-5, a good solid start. Unfortunately today the down happened as Mark lost 4-6, 3-6 to Samuel Groth, 20, who’s ranked 341. Not something to show the officials he’s back to take on the main tour players. But thanks to Lady Luck, Mark is still alive for the wildcard slot as it’s a round robin format and his next opponent Alun Jones had to withdraw to injury. Mark will play his replacement and still has a chance to make the quarter-finals where it’s back to elimination format. Reports from the event however are not encouraging as Mark is playing with a knee bandage and is showing only limited movement. We can only hope he’s just warming it all up slowly. If Mark doesn’t win the wildcard he still has a hope to show Tennis Australia that he’s playing well enough to get one of the remaining discretionary wildcards (which can go to players from all over the world, not just the Australian one he’s playing for now). Also Mark appears to have new management – Ice Edge Marketing and Rob Aivatoglou (familar to Aussie fans as Hewitt’s former management). Aivatoglou says that the plan for the upcoming weeks is to get a wildcard for the Adelaide International, skip Sydney and then off to the Australian Open where Mark will play qualies if he doesn’t get a wildcard.
It’s been a quiet month for Mark with not much news until recently. Mark has returned to Melbourne and is currently practicing at the Tennis Australia facilities with Darin Cahill (though it is undetermined whether this is a new full-time coaching arrangement or just temporary). Mark did apply for and receive an injury protecting ranking of 112. That ranking is available for nine months from the return to play or the first eight tournaments. Unfortunately while much better than his current ranking of 1115, it’s still outside the main draw (104) for the Australian Open so he will have to hope for a lot of withdrawls or a wildcard. The wildcard option is still very much a battle of wills. Tennis Australia is insisting that Mark come to the play-off like any other player and Mark is insisting that he will not come and deserves a wildcard due to past performance. It will be interesting to see who wins. Mark would like to start his season at the Adelaide International on December 31st but will have to wait on a wilcard decision from tournament co-director Mark Woodforde. Woodforde says Mark is being considered based on the crowd he would draw for his return to play. On a somewhat sour note both Rafter and John McEnroe were quoted in the press as questioning Mark’s will to return. McEnroe took the more severe line calling Philippoussis one of the laziest players he’s every worked with.
Better late than never, the rest of the results from the Outback Champions Series in Dallas. Following his match against Korda, Mark played Todd Martin and won the match 1-6, 6-4, 10-7 (Champions Tie-Break). I believe Mark then played a match against Ferreira but I could find no articles mentioning it. In the final match for third place on the 22nd Mark, the youngest player, took on John McEnroe, the oldest, and lost 4-6, 4-6. It was McEnroe’s crafty skills that vanquished Mark’s power. Philippoussis said he was not sure what his next event would be, but he is planning to play the Australian summer circuit in January and will ask for a wildcard into the Australian Open. Mark also posted a short blog entry on the tournament site where he spoke about his plan to move from Vegas back to San Diego (what that will mean for his training with Gil and Andre is anyone’s guess). Mark’s going to need help whatever he does as he dropped to an all-time low of 1109th in the rankings. He has an injury protected ranking of 112 but has yet to file any paperwork to take advantage of this.
Mark has begun speaking to the press again and has been speaking about his return to tennis. The good news is the knee is at 100%, the back problems are what’s been holding him back and right now that’s about 70% back to normal. He’s playing the over 30s event to judge his fitness and test the knee and back out. He hopes to play a few lesser events this fall and then return to the ATP main ciruit for the 2008 season – hopefully with an Australian Open wildcard. He’s been working hard in the gymn wil Gil and practicing with Andre in Vegas and says that every day things are going better.
For those still following what’s left of the tennis portion of Mark’s career, the numbers this week were disturbing at the least. Mark dropped 205 places to a professional career low of 370th in the World (his lowest ever is 410 from 1994 when he was first starting out on the pro circuit). The one ray of light is that Mark’s got a injury protected ranking of 112 (good for 8 tournaments over 6 months from his first tournament back). While Mark hasn’t made any official statements, rumors indicate he might attempt to qualify for the Montreal Masters and that it was back inflamation that kept him from Newport. As you can imagine, Mark is being savaged in the Aussie press for Age of Love and writers and fans wonder if they’ll truly ever see Mark on the courts again.
Mark has officially delayed his comeback until the Newport Championships in July. His manager says that Gil Reyes feels that Mark is only around 95% fit and they don’t want to risk further injury. In what is either a good case of spin or just an earlier misprint, Mark’s manager says that Mark was offered a Queen’s club wildcard but turned it down because he wasn’t fit enough. Because of his win at Newport last year, tournament officials have extended him a wildcard. Newport stars on July 9th.