Aug/12

15

French Reporter Asks Questions About Marcelo Rios Book


Another tennis publication recently asked some questions about Marcelo Rios and my book about the Chilean marvel. Here is the interview with Regis Delanoe of France…

Regis Delanoe: Very soon in his career, Marcelo was seen as a very talented player, almost a genius, finally, did he has the career he expected or do you think he could do better, like winning a grand slam?

Scoop Malinowski: For a small man I believe Rios had an excellent career. He achieved the ATP world # 1 ranking – for six weeks – and played some of the most spectacular and memorable tennis of his era, like in the Key Biscayne and Indian Wells finals in 1998. However Rios only had a short time when he was on top, and after achieving #1 his decline began. Then injuries compounded his decline to when he eventually retired before the age of 30 in 2004. Some people like Marat Safin and Nick Bollettieri think Rios underachieved, while another player Vince Spadea believes Rios overachieved. So it’s a matter of perspective.

Regis Delanoe: How can you explain that he didn’t win many big tournaments while he seemed to have the qualities for?

Scoop Malinowski: Rios certainly had the talent and the arsenal to win a major title but maybe not the physicality to do it for seven best of five matches over two weeks. Pete Sampras and Wayne Ferreira both said they thought Rios lacked the “heft” and “power” in his game. Todd Woodbridge also suggested that the rebellious personality of Rios gave other players extra motivation and incentive to want to beat him. Mats Wilander suggested that Rios maybe never really learned how to play majors, which required eight hours a day and 2 1/2 weeks of total focus. Maybe he had some bad luck. Carlos Moya told me he played the best match of his career against Rios in the French Open quarters, the year Moya won. So there are a variety of reasons why Rios fell short of winning a major title.

Regis Delanoe: What was the major problem for him? His mental? His physical problems due to a fragile body?

Scoop Malinowski: My theory was that to be a champion of the world you have to be a good person, you have to be able to speak to all the people, fans, media, sponsors, peers, and get along with them. Champions are supposed to be inspiring and uplifting figures for the public. Rios had the talent of a champion but he did not seem to want to have to do all the requirements and obligations that a champion must do. Rios was most happy and comfortable on the court between the lines playing the game, his way. It seemed everything else related to tennis – dealing with fans, media, sponsors, business – was like a punishment to him, it was not freedom. I believe this quality of Rios defiance contributed to making him a great player but it also prevented him from becoming a champion of one of the Grand Slam events.

Regis Delanoe: Do you think his reputation of bad boy is justified? Was it really an unpleasant person for the other players or the journalists, or is it exagerated?

Scoop Malinowski: Rios bothered and upset many people in the tennis arena because of his different, non-conformist personality. He did not like to talk to the media, or strangers or other players he did not know. I have been told of many examples of behavior by Rios that justify him being called “the tennis bad boy” or even “the most hated man in tennis” as he was by Sports Illustrated magazine. Rios did not go out of his way to offend or upset anyone, but he did not like being approached. For example, I approached him several times to do an interview and every time he blew me off, one time just making a “yeah right” noise and walking away without any eye contact. But this was normal behavior from Rios, he also treated friendly, respected people like ESPN commentator Cliff Drysdale and Hall of Famer Roy Emerson with a similar disdain. You can read the examples in the book.

Regis Delanoe: Did he make some effort about that at the end of his career? Or maybe he didn’t care?

Scoop Malinowski: Yes, some of the players said he mellowed later in his career and was not as much of a loner as he was in the early years. I found several players he got along with – Michael Joyce from USA, Alberto Berastegui of Spain, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, Arnaud DiPasquale of France, also the Swedes like Magnus Norman, Jonas Bjorkman, among others liked him. Then once he became a senior event player after he retired, he became much more sociable and even attended player parties and mingled with players, fans and tournament officials.

Regis Delanoe: What has he done since the end of his player career?

Scoop Malinowski: He got married for the third time, he now has six children including triplets last December. I was told he still trains and does exhibitions, does some TV commentating work. Also he works with his father in a construction project business. And he took classes in order to learn how to better manage and invest his money. His appearance has changed, he is very muscular now – like a boxer, said Gilad Bloom who played him in an event in Brazil, and he has a short haircut now. Also he has many tattoos.

Regis Delanoe: Is it a famous personality in Chile ?

Scoop Malinowski: Marcelo Rios is one of the most popular and famous sportsmen in the history of Chile. He was an idol of a generation. And when he became #1 in the world it was an historic occasion in the sporting history of Chile.


(Rios artwork by Andres Bella www.andresbellaart.com)

18 comments

  • Michael · August 15, 2012 at 5:35 am

    “My theory was that to be a champion of the world you have to be a good person, you have to be able to speak to all the people, fans, media, sponsors, peers, and get along with them….it also prevented him from becoming a champion of one of the Grand Slam events.”

    His record at Majors stunk. It’s incongruous with your idea that this was a great tennis talent and your theory tying it into his behavior off-court toward fans, media etc… doesn’t holdup.

    Try Connors on for size. In my view one of the greatest ever.

    (Please don’t cite me the late in his career resurrection as a fan favorite. Anyone that wins and stays around long enough will eventually win over the fans if he/she tries. When Connors was ripping up the tour he didn’t get along with anyone. It was him, Riordan and Mommy.)

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Deep down Michael I don’t think Rios wanted to be a champion of a major, he didn’t want all that extra attention, could not deal with it. There was a boxer parallel to Rios, his name was Andrew Golota. A very talented HWT boxer from Poland, the most famous and infamous controversial sportsman in his country. Always getting into trouble, brawls, street fighting, drinking, etc. He won bronze at the 1988 Olympics. Came to America to be a truckdriver but went to the gym and they saw him train and their jaws dropped. Soon Lou Duva was training and managing him. He had all the talent, enough to destroy Riddick Bowe twice. But he was shy and spoke with a stutter and hated to deal with the media and fans and all that stuff. He didn’t have the character to be a champion. He got four title shots and lost each time, though two were controversial. He almost seemed to have a fear of success, and would do strange things to fail when so close to winning. I think Rios might have had a smilar quality. Rios would rather be the spoiler, than be the top dog, the face of tennis. Rios and Golota just were not comfortable to play that role as the face of their sport though their talents were undeniably spectacular.

  • Steve · August 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I have to say Rios would have and should have won is Aussie final. It is what it is.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    An ATP eyewitness told me Rios was tight before the match with Korda. Another one told me Rios even went to the Nike Korda celebration party that night, believe it or not, it’s described in the book.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Wait a second, Andrew Golata, he was essentially a tomato can, wasn’t he? A more modern-day Chuck Wepner. All I remember him for is being a big galuk who hit Riddick Bowe under the belt. I don’t recall him being championship-caliber. Rios was different. You can make your assessment that psychologically he didn’t want to win a major–which is really bunk, Scoop–did Tomas Johannson or Alberto Costa have more of a championship mindset than Rios?

    Rios got to one major and got creamed. Yes, he got to No. 1, but wasn’t able to stay there very long. His game just wasn’t good enough to win at higher levels. Or maybe he didn’t work hard enough. A modern-day comparison would be Monfils. The guy was certainly good enough to win a major, but he was a headcase and choked in big matches.

  • Steve · August 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Well, Scoop, that’s hearsay. It’s a matter of record that his opponent was on sauce during that period and was punished later for it.

  • Steve · August 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    n December 1998, it was publicly revealed that Korda had tested positive for the banned substance, nandrolone, following his quarter final match at 1998 Wimbledon against Tim Henman. This resulted in Korda being stripped of the ranking points he had won at 1998 Wimbledon and fined the $94,529 he had won in prize money. Despite this, the ITF’s initial decision not to suspend Korda from tennis competition over the positive drugs test, created much controversy in the tennis world and amongst the tennis players. It was also hugely speculated that he would be disqualified from the 1998 Australian Open and award his trophy to runner-up Marcelo Rios instead, but the results were unchanged.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Absolutely wrong Dan, Golota was an amazing talent! Poetry in motion, amazing jab and combination punching, excellent movement. He beat up Bowe, who was considered the #1 heavyweight when they fought (just came off a KO of Holyfield), Bowe suffered permanent damage after surviving 18 rounds with him. Golota beat the hell out of Bowe twice but twice was DQed for repeated low blows. Very strange and the boxing world still wonders about those fights and why Golota could give away two sure wins. It wasn’t stupidity, he is a very bright man, I know him personally and have spent many hours with him, even played tennis with his son who is very good player. Go to you tube and watch the Bowe fight highlights. He was a special talent. Golota is the most popular athlete in the history of Poland, one of his fights in Poland got higher TV ratings than when the Pope visited Poland. There are many parallels between Rios and Golota, both were stubborn non-conformist talents who did things their way.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I remember this episode Steve and this is around the time when Bjorkman said a quote that appeared in Sports Illustrated that he has heard of cases of the ITF covering up positive tests. I think if Rios were a more liked guy by the establishment, he might have gotten the title that some say should have been stripped from Korda. But nobody was going to do any favors for “the most hated man in tennis.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Yes I’ve interviewed both Johansson and Costa and they are both honorable champions. They did not create negativity by snubbing kids who waited two hours for autographs, or punch out their own fans or parade around tournaments with five women dressed in high heels and stillettos. To be a champion you have to have the right character, I don’t think Rios had the maturity to have the right kind of character when he was at the height of his tennis powers. And this played a psychological factor in his failure to win any of the major titles in pro tennis, though he did achieve the #1 ranking for six weeks which is a colossal achievement that many great players failed to achieve.

  • Steve · August 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    It is interesting that Rios doesn’t seem to care much about that incident. A truly amazing player.

  • Andrew Miller · August 16, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I agree with Steve on Rios – Korda’s doping really did do a job on Rios in the finals at AO.

    Amazing Korda was not stripped of his title. That should have been more motivation for Rios for a major. Doesn’t happen that way though.

    All that said – traces of Rios’ game do show up all over the place on tour – look no further than Federer, who idolized Rios until he beat him three straight times. Or even after he beat him – he still loved Rios’ game.

    I still believe that Toni Nadal, Uncle Toni, made some notes on Rios’ game and helped Nadal develop shots that evoke Rios. Rafael Nadal said to Scoop that he knows absolutely nothing about Rios. But I can’t think Uncle Toni didn’t see a few matches.

    Pure speculation on my part. Toni Nadal seems more open though – he praises Federer for the beauty of his game. I wonder whether he also marveled at the virtuosity of Rios’, as well. We’ll never know!

  • Andrew Miller · August 16, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Dan – thank you so much for asking Djokovic my question – enhanced via your improvements to it! I’ll never get a chance like that and it was special to read what Djokovic said. Thank you for making that happen.

    As for the Serbians’…can’t say I blame Dancevic. Try to make the top 50, or marry one of Serbia’s most beautiful women? Seems like a no brainer here, but Dancevic’ game hasn’t seen many highlights since 2005. When I saw him play I thought Dancevic, on beating Robin Soderling, would go all the way (I saw them in qualies in 2001 in DC/Legg Mason). But as you all know regarding my predictions

    They are meaningless! Soderling is the superior player. By way more than a long shot. By a whole universe.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 16, 2012 at 2:29 am

    You’re welcome, Andrew. It’s a good question and I think Novak does really try to break a player down even as he plays point to point. Another reader asked me to ask him what his reaction was to Federer’s charge that he played like a wild junior, but so far I haven’t received any answers.

  • Patrick · August 24, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Scoop,

    Not to be a dick, but your theory that the reason Rios didn’t win a major is because he wasn’t “a good person” is complete nonsense on multiple levels. It’s so outlandish that I’m not even sure how to respond. If a person wanted to write a book on sports champions of the world who were complete assholes and generally terrible human beings, they’d need a really good editor to keep it under 1,000 pages.

    I remember watching Rios when he was at his peak, and he was immediately my favorite player. I was a high school junior or senior — and avid tennis player — at the time, and was just in awe of his game. The whiplash forehand. The absurd angles he created with his shots. His fluidity of movement. The complete absence of any wasted motion on his serve and the resulting pace created on the serve by a man his size with such seemingly little effort.

    He was the most natural player I’ve ever seen play. People speak of the grace and beauty of Roger Federer’s game, but Rios was a stratosphere above Federer in that department, and I imagine Federer would agree with that statement.

    So why did a player that great never win a major?

    For one: he had very few chances to do so. His back injuries began as early as early ’99, and he was really never the same player from that point on. So we’re talking about a man who was in his “prime” for only about a year. I have very little doubt that if Rios could have maintained his peak form for even four or five years, that he would have ended up with a major or two.

    Secondly, (and this is interrelated to the first reason) is that he didn’t take the steps necessary to get his body in the condition it needed to be to withstand the grind that is professional tennis. As mentioned, Rios wasn’t a big guy. If I had to guess, I would put his weight at 150 lbs. He needed to make his body stronger a la Agassi to expect to withstand the constant grind. I know he worked with Bolleteri. I wonder why Bolleterri didn’t make it a point to get him hooked up with an excellent physical trainer that could have worked with him to help turn his physique into a strength rather than a liability.

    Third, some people are just physically frail — we might call it injury prone — by nature. Perhaps Rios’ physical breakdown was inevitable. Either way, it’s really a shame because I loved watching Rios play more than anybody else. And would have enjoyed seeing him at his best for several more years than he actually was at his best.

    Fourth, the 1998 Aussie Open final situation is a bum deal for him. He got hit off the court by a juiced up on ‘roids. That sucks. That sucks for Rios, and for the fans.

    In closing, I think that if we’re talking about the tings that Rios was able to do with a tennis ball, he is one of the best players of all time. Pull up the youtube clip of him in that amazing set against Agassi or against Henman. You’ll be treated to some of the best tennis you’ll ever see.

    I know Rios is an absolute asshole, but I still consider him one of my favorite players of all time. Listen, a lot of people in this world are assholes. It doesn’t really bother me a great deal to be honest. But very few people can play a game in the way that Rios played tennis. So I focus on that part.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 24, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Patrick, I was just asnwering the questions I was asked. Rios is still and always will be my favorite player to watch, for the reasons you say – he was extremely talented in a special way more than any other player I saw. Watching him made me want to go out and play, he was my inspiration to become a serious player, which I did. I still watch videos of his best matches too. You made a good point about his small window. But Rios was very physically fit and trained like an animal. I was in Bradenton in the winter before the 98 season and Rios was training hard since early Dec. and obviously the hard work paid off and he had his great run in the first half of 98. But I was told his body began to breakdown that year because he played too many events, ten more than Agassi and Sampras, not including Davis Cup and lucrative exhibitions. His body did not have the proper time heal and it began to breakdown. Then there are rumors he was a consumer of adult beverages and that also is like poison to the body. He did not take care of his body as well as he could have. I know someone who saw him after a match in Australia with ice bags all over his body. Some great champions are asses some of the time Patrick but none of them are 100% always badly behaved. Rios was pretty bad. A champion just can’t be the way he was. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about how bad he was yet he was also good to many people too. It doesn’t bother me either that he was the way he was, I still like him. Other ATP players like Michael Joyce and Gambill and Jensen said the same thing. He was who he was, with no fakery at all. Welcome to the site Patrick and thanks for your comment.

  • Patrick · August 24, 2012 at 5:02 am

    I’ve actually started reading the book. I’m around the part where you have the transcripts of his post-match press conferences in early ’99. I get a chuckle out of the fact that whenever a reporter would ask him about another player, he would get so pissed.

    Like when someone asked him about Corretja, and he was like “why are you asking me about Corretja”?

    I guess I don’t even have enough asshole in me to understand the thought process behind taking such offense to an innocuous question about his hitting partner.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Hey thanks Patrick for picking it up and giving it a look, hope you are enjoying it. Yes Rios was quite prickly to the media for most of his career, as you will learn, even to the dedicated Chilean media which was not looking to cause trouble. Rios viewed the media as parasites, making a living off of the talent of the players lol.

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