Patrick Rafter’s accomplishments on the tennis court are not the only credentials that make him a hero in many Australian’s eyes. Pats humble roots as a Queensland country boy and the unconditional love that his family have showered upon him, have modeled him into a sincere, caring man. Even though his parents were very poor at times, his dad always found time to donate at the local church, and this has obviously rubbed off on Pat.
He has donated much time, and money, to charity work, fundraising and helping those less fortunate than him. After receiving US $900 000 for his Grand Slam win in 1997, Pat proceeded to anonymously donate a third of this to the Starlight Foundation in Brisbane. He repeated this amazing feat of generosity a year later, when he won at Flushing Meadows again.
In February 1999, Patrick Rafter founded the ‘Patrick Rafter Cherish the Children Foundation’. It was Pat’s personal desire to help provide children in need with the means to make a difference to enrich lives of our next generation. He wanted to help more than one child, more than one charity. Through the ‘Patrick Rafter Cherish the Children Foundation’, funds are distributed to many charities, including those providing assistance to homeless children, and to organizations caring for children with physical and or emotional disabilities.
Just recently, for charity, Pat shaved of his trademark ponytail and beard. This act, performed by renowned bald headed athlete Michael Klim, help raised $50 000 for Pat’s own “Cherish the Children Foundation.”
You will not find this kind of generosity and commitment in your average person around the world. But then again, Pat Rafter is not your average person. His dedication and compassion for children along with his exploits on the tennis court make him one of Queensland’s loved and revered heroes.
Pat Rafter’s love for sport was instilled in him from a very young age, but then again, it is hard to become interested in anything else when you have a father and three sports crazed older brothers. It is also very handy when your childhood is spent in a small Queensland mining town, where all the sporting facilities are within walking distance.
Patrick Michael Rafter is the seventh of Jim and Jocelyn Rafter’s nine children. His has three older brothers, Geoff, Peter and Stephen, three older sisters, Teresa, Louise and Maree and two younger brothers, David and Michael. He was born on December twenty-eighth 1972, at the Mt. Isa Base Hospital.
His early life was spent in very happy conditions, surrounded by a loving family and brought up on a healthy diet of sports. “We had a couple of active little blokes and so we made sure we wore them out playing sport so they were easier to handle” says Jim Rafter, Pat’s father. Swimming, football, cricket; young Pat Rafter tried his hand at all of these until he found his niche: tennis.
At first the only coaching he could get was ten minutes at the end of brother Geoff’s training sessions. This, however, was enough to spur Pat’s love for tennis, and in only a couple of months, at the tender age of five, Patrick Rafter played in his first tennis tournament: the 1977 Quilty Classic.
The Rafter’s moved to Brisbane in 1980, but not even a change of cities could stop young Pat. By the time he was completing his last year of primary school at Eumundi State School, he was ranked number four, in the Queensland boys twelve and under age group.
Pat had been putting off turning pro for a while, because of his height, because at only 173 centimetres, he was often passed at the net. This all changed when at the age of seventeen he grew an astounding twelve centimetres in one year.
Pat turned professional in 1991 and in only two years was named ATP Newcomer of the Year. A year later, in Manchester, England, Rafter won his first professional tournament, beating Wayne Ferreira in the final, 7-6 7-6.
Rafter had to wait three years until his next win, though he had three double wins in between, but it was worth it. Pat’s win at the 1997 US Open was his first Grand Slam win. It was made all the more sweeter by him overcoming such opponents as Magnus Norman, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang in later rounds. His four set win over British number one, Greg Rusedski, in the final, was what clinched it for him though. 1997 also brought Pat a doubles victory with partner Bryan Shelton at Adelaide.
Pat finished the year ranked number two on the ATP’s official ranking system. This year had been Pat’s most productive in terms of tournaments won, but the following year held more in store.
In 1998 Pat won a total of six single titles and three doubles titles. Perhaps his most memorable though was his second win in as many years at Flushing Meadows, making him only the fourth player in history to successfully defend a US Open title. His four sets win over friend and countryman Mark Phillopousis, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, was a time full of mixed emotions for Pat.
A recurring shoulder problem haunted Pat during 1999. It forced him to pull out of the Quarter Finals of the Indianapolis RCA Championships and then to retire in the first set of the US Open against Cedric Pioline. In October of that year, Pat underwent shoulder surgery.
Australia beat France in December to win the Davis Cup. Pat was sidelined due to injury and was forced to watch from the sidelines. He was a vital part of Australia’s wins over Zimbabwe and USA.
Pat’s comeback was made in 2000, and he established himself right away as a force to be reckoned with, with his Australia Open Doubles win with partner Jonas Bjorkman. It was also in September this year that Pat was chosen to represent his country at the Olympics. Pat was of course devastated when he lost in the second round to Canadian Daniel Nestor, but as many great sportsmen do; he put it behind him and went on with his life.
Pat just recently completed at the 2001 Australia Open, making it to the Semi-Final against Andre Agassi. Pat put up a brave fight before cramps severely restricted his play, and he lost in five sets. It is these cramps, along with several other determining factors, that have forced Pat to seriously think about giving away the sport he loves. He sights travel and time away from his family as the main reasons tennis is becoming boring to him.
If he does retire, the rest of Australia hopes that he continues his work for charity, because this kind of hands on assistance is what makes him a likeable personality and a common hero.