Used to a playboy lifestyle full of fast cars and wild purchases, Mark Philippoussis became ashamed when money troubles finally hit.
Australian tennis great Mark Philippoussis has opened up on his shame about not being able to provide for his family during one of the darkest periods of his career.
In Tuesday night’s episode of Channel 7 program SAS Australia, the contestants are asked to be honest with everyone about what they’re most ashamed of. For Philippoussis, that revolved around the belief he’d let his loved ones down when he was forced off the court through injury and wasn’t making the same money he did in his prime.
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“Family’s my world. It’s my priority. My everything. I had a dream to become a professional tennis player and my family put everything on the line,” Philippoussis said. “My father had a good job in the bank business and quit because he said he wanted to help me fulfil my dreams — so he let go of his dreams and I worked very hard and I was lucky enough to fulfil my dreams.
“And the good news was that I could take care of my family so they don’t have to work again. My father or mother didn’t have to work. But I’ve gone into a tough situation with injuries where everything stopped.
“When you’re an athlete, the last thing you want to think about … They always say, ‘Save for a rainy day’. And I feel like you’re weak if you feel like you might get injured and you have to have something to back up to — that’s a sign of weakness.
“You can’t think that way because you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to get back from injuries and you’re going to be OK.”
But no amount of wishful thinking could protect Philippoussis forever. The Wimbledon finalist and former world No. 8 hit rock bottom after his sixth knee surgery in 2009, where the emotional toll of seeing his family suffer hurt far more than any lingering physical pain as money struggles hit hard.
“I was out for a few months. I couldn’t afford much, actually. I had to ask friends just to shop for food,” Philippoussis said.
“We would always, just, for seven days in a row we’d have this cabbage pasta that ends up being one of my favourites but my mum calls it ‘poor people’s food’ because it’s so simple, it’s just cabbage with some spices and pasta.
“I felt very much ashamed because they gave their dream for me and my responsibility was to look after them. I was in a dark place and had depression. There’s no greater pain in my heart than watching my loved ones suffer because of my actions.”
Philippoussis has spoken previously in the series about his “ridiculous” lifestyle as he spent absurd amounts of cash out of boredom – just because he could. When sponsorships and tournament prizemoney were flowing during his peak, he had more coin than he knew what to do with.
He owned numerous flashy sports cars and around 15 motorbikes. Then there was the time the man who helped lead Australia to Davis Cup glory in 2003 paid $100,000 on a whim for a brand new Dodge Viper simply because he didn’t want to get a taxi home, only to sell it the very next day.
But life in 2009 was a world away from that sort of extravagance. That year, Philippoussis faced a legal battle to keep his $1.3m family home as he fell behind on mortgage repayments.
“I haven’t played tennis since 2006, and tennis is one of those sports where if you don’t play, you don’t get paid,” he told the Herald Sun at the time.
“Paying bills and no money coming in has been tough for a number of years, but everyone has to go through that.”
Pittman opens up on money struggles
Philippoussis’ fellow SAS Australia contestant, former track star Jana Pittman, also revealed the role money played in her greatest shame. The four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and 400m hurdles specialist – who also competed in the two-person bobsleigh at the 2014 Winter Olympics – pursued medicine after her sporting career finished and felt like she’d failed as a mother when she could no longer afford basic necessities for her kids.
“I think my most shameful moment was in my final year of medical school. I thought I’d budgeted well for my family, as a single mum of three kids to get through medical school,” Pittman said. “And then I found myself unable to pay the mortgage and unable to put food on the table for my three kids because I’d decided to chase success again.
“So I had to go, cap in hand, to my old 70-year-old parents and ask for money to survive that year. It’s fairly humiliating to think, at 30-something years old, I was almost on the street with my three kids.
“All this success – what does it mean if you can’t provide for your family? So that was pretty shameful and I’m a bit nervous to admit that to people.”