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

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

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.

"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.

Philippoussis: From serving to surfing
Philippoussis: From serving to surfing


    Philippoussis: From serving to surfing


Philippoussis: From serving to surfing 03:24
Michael Chang's historic French victory
Michael Chang's historic French victory


    Michael Chang's historic French victory


Michael Chang's historic French victory 06:16
Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace
Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace


    Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace


Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace 04:04
On court with Pete Sampras
On court with Pete Sampras


    On court with Pete Sampras


On court with Pete Sampras 08:03

"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.

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.

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."


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