Federer was not an “entertaining” tennis player. Who says so? Marcelo Rios

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SANTIAGO, Chile – Not Roger Federer. Instead, Nick Kyrgios. The concept of entertainment in tennis for Marcelo Ríos lies in the personalities of the present that are similiar to the one he showed on the courts in the past: “Federer for me is not a player that you see and you say ‘how entertaining’. I like the way he plays because he’s a guy with incredible ease, very intelligent on the court, very good. But he is not a Kyrgios, a Fognini that you see him and you are waiting for him to make a fuss, to leave a mess. That’s more entertaining”.

“I don’t find Djokovic an entertaining guy on the court either,” said the former world number one in conversation with journalist Ricardo Shannon of ESPN.

“Tennis has always had restrictions. If you swear, you get a fine; if you throw your racket, another fine. In press conferences you couldn’t talk bad things about anyone. Wimbledon makes you dress in white making you look like I don’t know what. Tennis is boring, it’s like watching cricket. Then a guy like Kyrgios comes out and revolutionizes everything. He packs stadiums, it’s a spectacle. My personality was also a bit ‘wrong’. I used to attract a lot of attention by throwing racquets, or by saying ‘old fuck’ (to an annoying lady in the crowd). People were entertained”, reflected the Chilean in the interview broadcasted in FShow.

Journalist Nelson Flores writes in his book “El extraño de pelo largo” (The Long-Haired Stranger) that in Indian Wells 1997, Ríos forgot his clothes in the laundry room of the Californian tournament. He noticed when he was already in the hotel.

Then, he casually ran into Eller Evans, ATP supervisor at the time, and the first thing he did was to ask him about his clothes. Evans replied that he had the clean clothes in his room, which he could deliver later. Rios insisted that he needed it immediately.

“You could first say hello and thank you,” Evans replied. “Stay with them, then,” Rios said, before leaving Evans speaking alone. In the afternoon, the Chilean found his clothes floating in the club’s jacuzzi.

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The year after that episode, he became champion. Marcelo Rios relives those images from 25 years ago, when he beat Greg Rusedski in the 1998 Indian Wells final. “I was so fucking young,” he exclaimed when he saw himself as a 22-year-old on Shannon’s cell phone. One later he would beat Andre Agassi in the Miami final to knock Pete Sampras out of the number one spot.

“They gave me a Mercedes. I went to the hotel and when I got to the room, I filled the bathtub with beer. I was alone, I started drinking beer. My dad came in and said, ‘You know what you just did, don’t you? You’re number one in the world’. With this thing, millions of Nike and Yonex dropped,” he recalled in Zoom show.

One of the toughest challenges in tennis. Winning the Sunshine Double in the same season means stringing together a streak of at least twelve wins in the two longest and most demanding tournaments on the calendar after the Grand Slams: “I don’t even know how I did it. Winning for three weeks, apart from becoming number one, apart from beating Agassi, apart from knocking Sampras off the lead. I have memories, but I don’t live in the past, it’s not that I’m not grateful and I don’t care”.

“Talking to Hernan Gumy (former Argentine tennis player), he mentiones me 50 guys who played well in my time. Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Chang, Muster, the Swedes. Nowadays you have the super 4 that were there and suddenly you see top 20 guys you don’t know. Tennis used to be very competitive, with very good guys,” he said.

Rios returned to Chile (he lives in Sarasota, United States) to play an exhibition with Spaniard Alex Corretja. It wasn’t exactly to celebrate a quarter of a century of his success  on the US hard courts. It was just a friendly match that they had pending and that could not take place thanks to the pandemic and the Chilean’s back injuries.

The same physical problems that prevented him from playing another exhibition that he had already scheduled precisely with Nick Kyrgios. “We were ready. Nick was going to play, but it was Marcelo who pulled out because of his back,” Daniel Horsefall, the Australian’s manager, told CLAY.

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Alex Corretja and Marcelo Ríos before the exhibition they played in Santiago // AGENCIA UNO

To play the Spaniard, the five-time Masters 1000 champion had to give a twist to the gym routine that had him looking like a bodybuilder. He weighed almost 100 kilos. He lost 12 for the exhibition against his friend.

During his time in Chile, he was unable to watch on television the 2023 edition of the Californian desert tournament that Carlos Alcaraz ended up winning: “Would you believe I didn’t watch anything because the house I rented doesn’t have internet? The old lady was stingy and didn’t put internet”.

Marcelo Rios and the Shang did not understand each other

Marcelo Rios had a brief experience as a coach in the professional tour. The Chilean guided Juncheng Shang for a couple of months in 2022. The Chinese won two Challengers with the winner of 18 ATP titles at his side.

“I was motivated by what (Juan Carlos) Ferrero did with Alcaraz. Besides that Shang is similar to me, he is left-handed. And he was the only Challengers player who had a former world number one with him,” he said on ESPN.

Rios, Federer and Ferrero during the tribute to all the ATP’s number ones in 2013 // ATP

But the Chilean was fired. Later, Shang in an interview with CLAY referred to the Chilean as “disrespectful”.

“It’s another culture. The South American works hard. I wanted to train after the matches and they didn’t. If his leg hurt, we stopped. Besides, they live well, they have money, sponsors everywhere. I told him he wasn’t going to get anywhere like that. If you see Alcaraz, he kills himself. I sent him videos of Nadal that Moya sent me. The young guy was happy, but when the parents start to get involved, it’s impossible”.

Would Marcelo Rios return to the tour as a coach? “No. I wouldn’t coach anyone else, although if Federer calls me I couldn’t say no. I would even look after his babies”.

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