Marat Safin

Born: January 27, 1980 in Moscow (Moscow Oblast in Soviet Union)
Height: 1.95 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Марат Сафин – a prototype of a new player, quite characteristic in the third decade of the 21st Century; he was the first very tall man who was effortlessly traversing the entire court. His remarkable Grand Slam debut occurred during his first significant victory, over Andre Agassi at the French Open ’98. A few months prior, he displayed his dominance over Jim Courier in the Davis Cup first round, leading 6-0, *4:1 (!) before succumbing in five sets. This match, played on a hardcourt with shorter rallies, didn’t fully showcase his exceptional defensive skills, but one thing was certain: the teenager had no fear facing the best players in the world.
Before Safin’s emergence, players over 190 cm were often associated with limited and awkward movement, they were reluctant to operate a few meters behind the baseline. Although Safin demonstrated competent volley skills, it was evident that he would predominantly construct points from the back of the court, relying mainly on his super solid backhand. At the time, serve-and-volley tennis wasn’t yet in decline, with Pete Sampras still reigning as the world’s best player and Patrick Rafter, a natural serve-and-volleyer, clinching the US Open title twice.
Returning to Paris ’98; Safin, then a qualifier, stunned Agassi. In the second round, he triumphed in another five-setter against the defending champion Gustavo Kuerten, marking the rise of a new star. However, the subsequent 1.5 years brought disappointment, as Safin often exited tournaments early, earning a reputation for his racquet-smashing antics akin to Goran Ivanišević‘s struggles during that period. At the end of 1999 the tall Russian reminded how dangerous he would be advancing to the Paris-Bercy final.
An extraordinary turn of events occurred during the European clay-court swing of Spring 2000. Despite starting the ATP season with five consecutive defeats, Safin revitalized his game, claiming back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Mallorca. This kick-started the best seven months of his tennis career, during which the 20-year-old secured seven titles (including Toronto, the US Open and Paris-Bercy) and ascended to the top spot in the world rankings, narrowly losing it out to Kuerten in the ‘Masters’ 2000.
Remarkably, Safin’s subsequent career saw a stagnation in titles won compared to his stellar 2000 season. It’s challenging to pinpoint the exact reasons behind this, as factors off the court likely played an important role. Despite his undeniable talent, Safin couldn’t maintain his status as the dominant player born in the 1980s throughout the 2000s.
Safin’s first significant setback occurred in Barcelona in 2003, where he retired in the final due to a bothersome left wrist. This injury marked the beginning of a rough patch, culminating in a drop from world No. 8 to No. 86 by the end of the season. However, Safin astonished the tennis world by advancing to the final of the Australian Open in 2004, enduring multiple gruelling matches along the way. Being fatigued, he couldn’t overcome Roger Federer, who began his reign over men’s tennis on that historic day, a rule that would last over four years until Rafael Nadal dethroned him at Wimbledon ’08.
During the years 2004-05, Safin’s performance was unpredictable. He could lose to anyone one day, yet on another, he could defeat the best players in the world, as demonstrated in successive rounds of the Australian Open ’05. Safin began the event by dispatching an unknown Serbian youngster, Novak Đoković. In the semifinal, he survived a match point against Federer (their second amazing match within two months following ‘Masters’ semifinal in which they equalled a record for the longest tie-break), and in the final, facing the partisan Australian crowd, Safin defeated the local favorite, Lleyton Hewitt, in four sets. This victory marked Safin’s swan song in some sense. At 25 years old, he played a more mature style of tennis compared to his triumph at the US Open ’00. His serve and volleys were significantly improved, yet he wouldn’t win another title for the next five years playing just three finals.
The years 2006-08 were frustrating for Safin after he came back from a right knee injury; however, he helped Russia to clinch the Davis Cup for the second time, and at Wimbledon ’08, he reached the semifinal, once again defeating Đoković in straight sets, bringing their head-to-head to 2-0 in favor of Safin. The inability to secure a title for several years led to his decision to retire after the farewell ’09 season. For the ~30-year-old Safin, that season was less profitable (only one semifinal) than the 1996 farewell season for the 30-year-old Stefan Edberg.
Throughout his career, Safin’s matches could be likened to Russian roulette; luck often played a significant role in his dramatic encounters. He could win tight matches against elite players as often as he could lose them to inferior opponents, he never gave impression that it matters what is the scoreline or who is on the other side of the net. However, in 2009, he seemed to be losing everything narrowly. At Roland Garros, he even suffered a defeat to a seemingly casual player like Josselin Ouanna, whose main-level record was just 9-17. This loss was reminiscent of his Davis Cup defeat to Max Mirnyi more than five years earlier (first two sets lost in tie-breaks, the decider with a two-game advantage). Safin continued to struggle until his final tournament at Paris-Bercy. In the first round, he saved three match points with three aces to overcome the French journeyman Thierry Ascione. In the last match of his career, Safin faced Juan Martín del Potro. Perhaps it was Safin’s best match of the season, as Del Potro was fresh off a triumph at the US Open and mirrored Safin in terms of posture and abilities. The Argentine was perceived then as a potential leader of men’s tennis in the years to come, although that story would unfold differently…
Career record: 422–267 [ 260 events ]
Career titles: 15
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (champion 2005; runner-up 2002 & 04)
Roland Garros (semifinal 2002; quarterfinal 2000)
Wimbledon (semifinal 2008; quarterfinal 2001)
US Open (champion 2000; semifinal 2001)
Davis Cup champion 2002 (singles) & 2006 (singles & doubles)
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1 Response to Marat Safin

  1. Voo de Mar says:
    Activity: 1997 – 2009

    Five-setters: 28–13 (68%)
    Tie-breaks: 206–181 (53%)
    Deciding 3rd set TB: 15-31 (33%)

    MP matches: 11-11
    Defeats by retirement: 7
    Walkovers given: 2

    Longest victory: French Open ’04 (2R)… Felix Mantilla 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7, 11-9… 4 hours 37 minutes
    Longest defeat: French Open ’09 (1R)… Josselin Ouanna 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 8-10… 4 hours 34 minutes

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