March 7, 1999
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
MIKI SINGH: Marcelo Rios has joined us today. He's the defending champion here at Indian Wells. He also won Lipton the week after last year, and went up to No. 1. This is his second event of the year. He played in Auckland, had a back injury which forced him out of his first match of the year against Andre Pavel. He lost almost two months of the year. This is his second event. He's ready to go. First question?
Q. How is the back?
MARCELO RIOS: Feeling much better. A long time ago, I didn't feel this good, since November last year. But you can't say you're a hundred percent. I'm going to try to play, start slow, just try to rally some balls, try to do my best. But always the first tournament is really tough.
Q. You're still wearing that protection on practice?
MARCELO RIOS: I just took it out yesterday for the first time after three months, two months. In the beginning, it's pretty tough. You lose balance after being two months with that. But you got to go slowly. I'm trying to recover my tennis. The toughest thing is to be fit and try to move the way I move before.
Q. How long did you actually not get on a court?
MARCELO RIOS: What is that?
Q. How long did you not play any tennis?
MARCELO RIOS: It was like four or five weeks without playing any tennis -- doing exercise, try to recover. But I really slow. I couldn't even hit some balls or move. Was really, really tough.
Q. What is the injury? What is it diagnosed as?
MIKI SINGH: It was diagnosed as a stress injury to the lower spine, lower lumbar.
Q. Stress from one thing that happened on a court or stress from playing too much? Do you have any idea?
MARCELO RIOS: I think it's playing too much. Being on hardcourt, playing a little too much all during the year, during my career. I think I've been playing a lot maybe.
Q. This was a big month for you last year. Obviously you're coming in here with not much matchplay. Are you concerned about defending your two titles, or whatever happens, happens?
MARCELO RIOS: Bad luck coming first tournament, tournament I won last year. That's the way it goes. I can't do anything. I just try to do my best, try to play good. But I'm happy I recover. I thought it was going to take longer. But I think I'm pretty good right now, really happy I can play, I can practice. Now try to do as much as I can.
Q. Many players from South America and Europe, born and bread on clay, have a difficult time on hard courts. Why does it seem to be so easy for you, to go from one to the other?
MARCELO RIOS: I think I have a game for hard court. I take the ball really early. I've been playing better on hard courts than on clay, though I was born on clay. But I think it's the type of game each player have.
Q. Do you actually prefer hard courts?
MARCELO RIOS: I've been playing much better on hard court. I don't mind playing on clay, but maybe right now my favorite surface is hard.
Q. I saw you practicing on clay yesterday. Was that a precaution?
MARCELO RIOS: I just was serving a little bit because I didn't serve in a long time.
Q. What did the doctor say about the long-term prognosis for the back? Do you have to play less now or can you do the same schedule that you did last year?
MARCELO RIOS: Well, I've not been playing that much this year, so I don't think it's going to be much difference all the way through this year. But maybe try to play maybe a little bit less or try not to fly that much. I've been flying a lot all over the world. That maybe make it tired.
Q. What are your plans for this year? Grand Slam?
MARCELO RIOS: I'm just starting the year. I'll try to keep my ranking maybe Top 10. I'll try to do as much as I can.
Q. If you get the problem coming back again, what do you face then? Operation possibly?
MARCELO RIOS: Well, I'm not thinking about that, so I don't know what I'm going to do.
Q. Did you change your schedule for this year as a reaction to the injury or anything?
MARCELO RIOS: Well, like I say, I haven't played anything this year, so I haven't changed anything. Just going to play maybe more tournaments on clay than hard court, try to feel much better and try to feel -- feel my back much powerful until I can start playing again.
Q. What have you been doing when you were not playing tennis?
MARCELO RIOS: I've been practicing, like not practicing tennis. I've been doing a lot of exercise and swimming, exercise in the pool, just hanging around.
Q. Did you find yourself missing the competition?
MARCELO RIOS: Well, I think for somebody that do this all his life, and you have all the day like doing something all day, playing tennis, suddenly you don't have anything to do, and you can't do anything, so maybe you miss a little bit playing. But that's the way it goes. I think maybe it help me a little bit for rest. But for sure you miss playing tournaments that you won, you miss playing tournaments that you did good, tournaments that you like. But I think it's a hard time. You've got to be tough mentally and not go down or try to think positive that you're going to come back.
Q. You probably follow the thing with IMG. Pete says he's going to stay with Jeff Schwartz. I know Jeff manages you. What is your situation with the whole thing?
MARCELO RIOS: Well, yeah, he left IMG. He's still my lawyer. He going to work as my lawyer still. Right now I'm still with IMG. I have a contract still. But I think was really fast what happened. I've been all my career with Jeff. It's really disappointing him to leave. But I think it's maybe a good decision for him, for his self, doing his own company, trying to work as a lawyer. But I still have a contract with IMG.
Q. So you're a client of IMG and you're going to be using Jeff for legal -- as your lawyer?
MARCELO RIOS: Yes.
Q. Both then?
MARCELO RIOS: That's it right now.
Q. How long is your contract with IMG?
MARCELO RIOS: I think it's until July.
Q. So like all those hours that you're not playing tennis, did you go to the movies, read, watch TV? Besides your exercise, what did you do?
MARCELO RIOS: Yeah. I was in the States. Just trying to keep my body, be on a diet, try not to eat too much, try to stay healthy. I watching some movies, going to the beach. But couldn't do that much.
Q. In Bradenton?
MARCELO RIOS: Yeah, I was in Bradenton.
Q. So it hasn't helped your golf game, I would assume?
MARCELO RIOS: I've been not playing golf since a long time. I think it's going to take a while me to go back. I'm really kind of scared coming back again. Think it's going to take a while.
Q. What's your handicap?
MARCELO RIOS: I was like a nine, ten.
Q. A lot of players have had problems playing here with the wind and a little bit of the altitude. You seemed to adjust really well. Did you like it? Did it bother you?
MARCELO RIOS: I think this year is much different. Balls are faster, I think. Maybe it's because I'm not playing that well. I just came here. I couldn't put a ball in play. I think you get used. I've been playing here a lot of times before. I think once the tournament start going, I'm going to feel better.
Q. What are your memories of last year at this time, how well you were playing?
MARCELO RIOS: I have a very good beginning of the year. I was feeling really good. Basically I was a hundred percent, playing good in this tournament, winning Lipton. But I think bad luck a little bit get injured like that. But that's the way it goes. I think everybody gets injured as part of the game. I think this help you to be more -- to take care more of your body, and I would like not to have it again.
Q. You practice with Alex Corretja. Why do you think he struggled a bit at the beginning of this year? What do you think are the weaknesses and strengths of his game?
MARCELO RIOS: Why you ask me about Corretja?
Q. If you don't mind, I'd just like your opinion.
MARCELO RIOS: Why?
Q. Because I'm doing a story on Corretja. I wondered if you had any opinion on his game.
MARCELO RIOS: I think he's a top player. He's been doing pretty good. I think maybe he have all the shots. He have all the shots in the game, but I think he fight a lot, and that make him win.
Q. Do you see yourself getting back to No. 1 in the world again ever, when you're healthy?
MARCELO RIOS: If I'm keep healthy and I do things good, I think I have chances.
Q. Has it been difficult to kind of lower your sights after challenging for No. 1 last year, now you just want to be healthy, get back out there, stay in the Top 10, those kinds of things?
MARCELO RIOS: For sure when you're at the top of the game, you go down, I went down because I didn't play. I was 1, 2, then I got injured and that's why I fell from the ranking. But obviously if you're a little bit bad, you couldn't recover your points. Like I say, I was No. 1 one time, I can go back.
Q. You say you prefer hard courts now, and your record is very good on hard courts. Is the French Open more important to you than the US Open?
MARCELO RIOS: Grand Slams are really important. I always like French Open a lot, but I like to play on clay. It's not that I only prefer to play on hard court. I think I play pretty good on clay. As I say, I've been doing much better on hard courts.
Q. Do you expect Sampras to end this year as No. 1 or do you think we're going to see a new player?
MARCELO RIOS: I don't know. I think it's going to change. I think there's a lot of players coming right now, top players. I think soon somebody's going to replace him.
Q. Do you see other South Americans who are able to come to the Top 10?
MARCELO RIOS: It's tough to say. I don't see a lot of South American players coming to be Top 10 guys right now. But maybe in a while, they have a lot of chance.
Q. What aspect of the game did you miss the most when you were away? The competition? The tennis itself?
MARCELO RIOS: I think we used to compete. I think that's a little bit you miss being on the court, win the matches. Running, playing your game, playing good more than anything.
Q. Have you been watching a lot on TV?
MARCELO RIOS: Didn't see any tennis in two months.
Q. Was that out of choice? Did you decide, "If I can't play, I don't want to watch"?
MARCELO RIOS: I didn't have TV where I was. That was the only reason I didn't see.
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