Most people know Marcelo Rios as a former world No 1 who failed to win a Grand Slam, but he was also known for “being just plain horrible”.
Make no mistake, the man from Chile was one of the best in his heyday, especially on clay. After all, he won 18 singles titles, including five Masters trophies, finished runner-up at the 1998 Australian Open and reached No 1 in the world.
He made his professional debut in 1994 and was as controversial as they come. His breakthrough season was in 1995 when he claimed three titles and by 1996 he had broken into the top 20.
His career really took off in 1998 as he reached the Australian Open final, only to lose in straight sets against Petr Korda in a final that didn’t even last 90 minutes.
In March 1998 he beat Great Britain’s Greg Rusedski in four sets to win the Indian Wells Masters and by then he had become Mr Unpopular.
When asked about his growing reputation for being mean, he replied: “I’m nice sometimes. In Chile, there are even a lot of kids who want to be like me.”
Sports Illustrated went with the title “The Most Hated Man In Tennis Marcelo Rios, who shot to No. 3 in the world with his victory at Indian Wells, has long been top ranked in boorish behavior”.
Yet he wasn’t thrown off as he followed up his success in California by beating Andre Agassi in the Miami Open a week or so later, which resulted in him becoming world No 1.
He was heralded as a hero back in Chile, but was never going to win a popularity contest over in the United Kingdom.
After losing in the first round at Wimbledon a few months later, Rios was quite critical of the SW19 event, saying “grass is for cows” and the tournament was “over-rated”.
He added: “Grass is not a surface to watch tennis on or to play tennis – it’s really boring. I don’t take Wimbledon, playing on grass, like an important thing. Playing on grass is not tennis.”
Then two years later he was disqualified from the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles for verbally abusing a chair umpire, although the Chilean admits he used foul language, he claimed it was not directed at the official.
“I said it to me,” he was quoted as saying by the LA Times.
In 2002, Martin Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “When it comes to being just plain horrible, Marcelo Rios is the No 1 seed at every tournament he plays in.”
In Scoop Malinowski’s book “Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew”, Ilie Nastase describes him as “the worst prick I ever met”, adding: “The players of today probably have the same opinion of him.”
Rios himself was never afraid to take a shot at other players and he once had the following to say about Argentina great Guillermo Vilas: “I’ve been compared to Vilas for a while now. I don’t know him. All I know is that he was No. 2 and I’m No. 1.”
He also told Monica Seles to “get your fat a*** out of my way” while they were queuing in the players’ dining room at Wimbledon.
The Chilean was also never fond of the women’s game as he once called it a “joke” as he felt there wasn’t a lot of depth.
“Winning a Grand Slam is easy for girls,” he said.
After he was criticised by top players like Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati and Venus Williams he responded: “I’m not saying that the girls are better or that guys are better than girls – I just said girls win too easy.”
He won his last title in 2001 when he beat Rainer Schuettler in the Hong Kong final and retired in 2004.
But if you think he has mellowed over the years, then you are wrong.
At the Davis Cup earlier in 2018, he insulted a group of journalists.
“As my personal friend Diego Maradona says, I don’t speak to reporters… you all s**k at it,” he said, translated by Santiagotimes.cl.
When the reporters tried to ask him another question, he added: “You can all keep su***ng.”
He was hit with a $2,500 by the International Tennis Federation, but had another go at journalists.
“I understand that many people disagree with what I said, but it bothers me that journalists lie so much and no one stops them: I came to Chile to help the team without getting paid,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I am here to help the team in the training sessions because I want to and coming to Chile I get involved in personal conversations, why? Journalists like to make victims. They keep being the same.”
— Marcelo Rios Mayorga (@MarceloRios75) February 1, 2018
He remains part of the Chile set-up so we have probably not seen or heard the last of the colourful Marcelo Rios.
Part two of our interview with Emily Webley-Smith.
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