Skip to main content

Surf and volley: Life's a beach as 'The Scud' finds peace

By Chris Murphy, CNN
March 29, 2012 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Australian Mark Philippoussis reached No. 8 in the world tennis rankings but now he spends his days lapping up the surf in San Diego. Australian Mark Philippoussis reached No. 8 in the world tennis rankings but now he spends his days lapping up the surf in San Diego.
HIDE CAPTION
San Diego surf
The Age of Love
Aussie arrival
Tennis star or film star?
Grand Slam blow
On top of the world
Beware 'The Scud'
Wimbledon woe
Double Davis Cup delight
Slowing down
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former tennis star Mark Philippoussis has turned his hand to surfing in California
  • Philippoussis won two Davis Cup titles with Australia and reached two grand slam finals
  • The 35-year-old last played professionally in 2010 but now has a different focus
  • He surfs every day and says he is as dedicated to it as he was to tennis back in the day

(CNN) -- He used to be found slugging it out for major tennis titles on the Centre Court turf at Wimbledon -- now Mark Philippoussis spends his time lapping up the surf in San Diego.

After more than a decade in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of top-level tennis, and a stint as an eligible bachelor in a television dating show, the man who was known as "The Scud" because of his fearsome serve and aggressive approach now prefers a slower pace of life.

The 35-year-old enjoyed a 14-year career in the game, his pair of Davis Cup titles with Australia tempering the bitter sting of his two grand slam final defeats.

But Philippoussis has swapped his racket for a board, and insists he is as dedicated to surfing as he was professional tennis.

"The first wave I stood up on and rode to the beach, I thought, 'This is what I am going to do for the rest of my life.' I knew right then and there I was just hooked," he told CNN's Open Court show.

Philippoussis: From serving to surfing
Michael Chang's historic French victory
Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace
On court with Pete Sampras

"It's so hard to explain until you go out there and you surf -- you can't really explain what surfing does to you. For me it's my meditation. People do yoga, they go on their runs and they see it as their way to release and for me it is getting in the ocean.

"Some of the things I have seen in the ocean -- whales and dolphins on a wave I'm on, a dolphin underneath you -- it makes you feel so small but also at the same time that you are part of something so special. It's an incredible thing, it's amazing surf."

"It's completely in the now, my mind's not wondering what I'm going to do later, what I did yesterday, it's only about being out there, being in the moment and surfing that wave, nothing else."

If life is a beach for Philippoussis now, it wasn't towards the end of his career when injury blighted his final attempts to snare the one thing his resume lacked -- a major title.

He lost twice in grand slam finals -- to compatriot Pat Rafter at the U.S. Open in 1998, before running into a young pretender called Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2003. The "Fed Express" would go on to win the next five titles at the prestigious grass-court major.

But though disappointment will forever linger in those twin failures, Philipoussis regards his two Davis Cup triumphs as his finest achievement.

In both the successful 1999 and 2003 campaigns, Philipoussis won the decisive rubber that handed his team, and his country, victory.

The first came against Cedric Pioline in front of a hostile crowd in France, while the second installment saw him beat Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in front of a partisan crowd in his home town of Melbourne.

The first wave I stood up on and rode to the beach I thought 'This is what I am going to do for the rest of my life.'
Mark Philippoussis on his love for surfing

That commitment to the team, rather than the individual, is a typically Australian trait, where representing your country inspires pride and every last ounce of effort.

"It's the pinnacle of what you want to do as an athlete," he said, "especially in Australia where we are so sports driven. We love our sports. With the Olympics, with swimming, with everything we want to do, with the history.

"Davis Cup has huge history with Australia, with the names and how many times we have won the cup so you grew up watching a lot of those matches.

"There's a tournament every week on the ATP Tour so obviously we want to do as well as we can, but if we don't the mentality can be easily, "OK next week." With Davis Cup, well, it is every year, but it's every few months that you play that tie, and it's not just you, you are playing for your teammates, your coach, your captain, your country.

"There's a lot of pressure there, the atmosphere at Davis Cup is like no other event and it's an incredible experience."

His efforts in 2003 proved to be the final year Philippoussis threatened tennis' top table, as persistent injuries and erratic form saw him slide out of the top 100 and turn his thoughts to life off court.

There's a lot of pressure there, the atmosphere at Davis Cup is like no other event and it's an incredible experience
Mark Philippoussis

As such Philippoussis, who completed various stints of modeling throughout his playing career, played the role of eligible bachelor for the 2007 television show "The Age of Love" in which he had to choose one lady to date from a group of younger "kittens" or older "cougars."

"If I could sum it up in one sentence I would say it was quite an experience," he explained. "It was fun, then extremely frustrating, then I kind of wanted to get off the show and it was one of those things that I look back on and I don't regret at all.

"I did it, it was another experience in my life and it was fun. Would I want to do anything like that again? No. Absolutely not, but it was fun."

His last competitive tennis match came in Dallas in 2010 but now his main focus in life is to plan board meeting after board meeting, in the Pacific Ocean.

"One of the amazing things about surfing is that every wave is different, every condition is different, every time I get up on the board is different. But the most important thing for me is it's my passion, I want to try to get as good as I can.

"I'm improving; I'm out there every day. Just like tennis, if you want to get better, you've got to get out there, so I am."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1420 GMT (2220 HKT)
At the 2009 Australian Open, French men's tennis was the talk of the town.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 14: Rafael Nadal of Spain sails a boat during day two of the ATP Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Tennis at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 14, 2014 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal may be most at home on a clay tennis court, but he has always found comfort on the sea.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1107 GMT (1907 HKT)
Tennis star Venus Williams reveals how she is beating the autoimmune disease that derailed her career.
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
After two decades dedicated to the game, Amelie Mauresmo wants a second life -- one away from tennis.
Rafael Nadal of Spain wipes his face after losing his men's final match against Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during day 14 of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
Almost five years to the day after reducing Roger Federer to tears at the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal shed a few in his own loser's speech.
February 2, 2014 -- Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT)
Li Na outperformed Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, but can she now surpass the Russian as the world's richest female athlete?
Roger Federer may have lost again to Rafael Nadal in the business end of a grand slam, but he can take some heart from yet another record says CNN's Will Edmonds.
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg, Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker -- today's tennis stars are teaming up with past legends of the game.
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
Can't stand the heat of the first tennis grand slam of 2014? Then you clearly haven't been doing enough Bikram yoga.
After nearly a decade without any real change at the top of men's tennis, CNN's Will Edmonds looks at next generation of future stars.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
Ana Ivanovic is still seeking to rediscover the form that took her to the top of the rankings -- but she has found a new lease of life.
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
As a teen sensation, Bernard Tomic had the tennis world at his feet -- but he's in danger of blowing it, says Australian great Pat Rafter.
ADVERTISEMENT