The Tennis Curmudgeon

Rock Star On the Court: Genius or A-hole?

No, we here at the Tennis Curmudgeon are not talking about Marat Safin. No way we’re talking about Jeff Tarango. McEnroe? Not even close! We are talking about Marcelo Rios. Yes, Rios; quite possibly the most talented men’s player never to fulfill his potential.

Rios, a former #1 ranked player from Chile, was the first Latin American player to achieve that status of the top position in the ATP in 1998. Additionally, he’s the only player to ever achieve the #1 ranking without ever having won a slam. Was this guy too much of a loose cannon? Was he Jim Morrison and Axl Rose on/off the court? Capable of such poetry and yet such moodiness that led to his cold indifference to people.

Let’s take a look at some of the controversies surround his career which we culled from internet searches:

1. After achieving the number one in singles, an Argentine reporter ask him what it felt like to be at the same status as Guillermo Vilas; he answered “Vilas was No. 2 and I’m No. 1”.

2. He was fined US$10,000 for speeding during the 1998 Stuttgart tournament.

3. In a confusing incident, he ran over his physical trainer, Manuel Astorga, with his jeep, leaving him gravely injured at the foot. Astorga was later fired as trainer.

4. After a magazine published some photos of him dancing seductively with a woman at a Paris disco, his girlfriend (later to be his first wife), Giuliana Sotela, broke up with him. During a Davis Cup press conference, Ríos read a letter, asking Sotela for forgiveness. He ended the press conference in tears.

5. He was accused by his second wife, María Eugenia Larraín, of throwing her out of his car while driving to visit his daughter in Costa Rica. Larraín arrived to Santiago’s airport in dramatic fashion, in a wheelchair and showing multiple bruises on her legs. He claimed those bruises were caused by falling while skiing.

6. He was arrested in Rome in 2001 after he punched a taxi driver in the nose and then had a fight with the policemen arresting him.

7. In 2003, while training for a Davis Cup tie with Ecuador, he allegedly urinated on some men in a La Serena bar’s bathroom and was later expelled from his hotel after being accused of swimming nude. As a consequence, the Chilean team missed a flight to Ecuador the following day. He later apologized for the incidents.

8. In 2003, he and a friend were expelled from a Santiago bar after insulting other clients and being involved in a brawl with some waiters. Both were arrested and later released.

9. He reportedly told Monica Seles to move her “fat a$$” while on a lunch queue, but he has denied this.

10. During the 1997 Wimbledon tournament he commented that grass was for “cows and soccer” and not suitable for tennis play.

11. He was disqualified from the 2000 Mercedes-Benz Cup tennis tournament in Los Angeles, California during a first round match with Gouichi Motomura of Japan and fined US$5,000 for saying “f*ck you” to the chair umpire.

12. During a post-match interview at the Basel tournament, he insulted a journalist under his breath after she asked him whether he had Native American ancestry.

13. He tried to moon some reporters who were recording him while partying outside his apartment in Reñaca.

14. He fired his coach Larry Stefanki shortly after he became World No. 1, claiming that he wanted to go in a different direction.

15. He won the Prix Citron ‘award’ several different years (many in a row) for being the most disagreeable player on tour.
16. In April 2005, Ríos married model, María Eugenia “Kenita” Larraín, a former fiancée of football player Iván Zamorano. The couple subsequently experienced a very public break-up in September of the same year after an incident in Costa Rica in which Larraín was injured when Ríos allegedly threw her out of his car while he was driving to visit his daughter. Ríos claimed that marrying Larraín was “the biggest mistake of my life.”

Mark Malinkowski, who has written for Tennis Magazine,, and various other publications, wrote a book about him, “Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew” (published by CreateSpace, ISBN: 10: 1461162416) that came out last year or so. He was able to get some interesting quotes from others who were around him on tour that indicate he is/was certainly misunderstood, that there were so many sides to the guy:

Wayne Ferreira: “He was really good because he took the ball early and he had a lot of feel on the ball. He moved pretty well and he was a good competitor. But he was so good at finding where the ball was going and taking it so early…I didn’t really have a problem with him. I actually did pretty well against him…”

Ilie Nastase: “He’s the worst prick I ever met. The players of today probably have the same opinion of him. Ask all the players what they think of him, you’ll get the same thing. When somebody doesn’t sign autographs for the kids, that is a prick for me. (What about his game?) I don’t give a shit. I don’t look at him. For me, he’s an idiot. I don’t know what else to tell about him. And that’s the first time I say something about somebody like that. I think he was the worst thing for tennis. He did not deserve to be No. 1 — one or two days. To live with the other players like he did — terrible. He really was the worst. I never say anything about anybody else like this but about him I have to say this. Sorry.”

Angelica Gavaldon (Former WTA top 30): “My mom remembers him carrying my laundry bag in Sydney. I think he is a really sweet person. I really like Marcelo Rios. I know a lot of people had mixed feelings about him but I personally thought he was really shy .The first time I met him was at The US OPEN and my coach at the time, Pato Rodriguez, scheduled a practice session with him, we played baseline games and after he went up to Pato and said, ‘Wow, I did not know girls could actually play tennis.’ I thought it was funny. Later on in Australia we where at the same tournaments and I remember him waking up super early almost everyday to practice with me at 6:30 AM. I played okay that year and I think he didn’t win a match, so I felt guilty that it was probably because I don’t hit the ball like a guy.”

Michael Chang: “Why are you writing a book about Marcelo Rios?”

Marat Safin: “He had the talent to win ten Grand Slams.”

Roger Federer: “I was a big admirer of Marcelo.”

Thomas Johansson: “Rios could make you feel like it was your first time standing on the court.”

Mats Wilander: “I thought Rios was a ball kid.”

David Mercer: “I don’t think he respects many people in the media. I think he regards us as like parasites, living off his skills.”

Nick Bollettieri: “He was one out of a million. What he had you can’t teach.”

Mike Agassi: “In a way he was better than Andre because you could not read Rios’ shot.”

Michael Joyce: “He was serving down love-40. Triple match point. His first serve was a fault. Then he hits the second serve as hard as he can and it’s an ace. I walk back to the service line and then he says, ‘Now we win.’ I swear to God, then the guy hit like a winner on every ball.”

Mike Nakajima: “Marcelo cold-cocked him. We go into the bathroom and the guy is out cold.”

Peter Lundgren: “Marcelo said to me, I’m sorry I was like that. I thought you were a great coach.”


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