Safin vows to keep his cool

06 January 2002

Marat Safin intends applying a muffler to his volatile tennis game as he chases the No 1 ranking in the world.

But the top seed for the Heineken Open will face a searching examination when he plays popular American and fellow grand slam winner Michael Chang in the first round of the Auckland tournament tomorrow.

The matchup means the Open will lose one of its drawcards in the opening round.

After arriving in Auckland on Friday, Safin revealed he intended toning down his on-court antics where he is renowned for his racket-smashing.

Many of those close to the Russian have been urging him for more than a year to curtail the combustibility, saying he will not fulfil his potential till he overcomes his growing pains.

Yesterday, in an interview with the Sunday Star-Times he gave the first indication he may be prepared to listen.

"I will try, I will try," he said before heading off for a Stanley Street practice session. "I will try to be a little bit more calm. If it would help my game, it would be great.

"Otherwise (if it doesn't help), I will have to start again and throw the racket or do something."

The winner of the US Open in 2000, Safin reckons he is in a no-win situation over his antics.

"The difficulty is that they (the fans) complain if they don't see any action on the court," he said.

"And then they see someone breaking a racket and chanting and they complain.

"Basically there is no middle ground.

"I think at the end of the day they (the fans) like it."

Whether a calmer Safin emerges at Stanley Street is very much a wait-and-see proposition. It is even more hypothetical when you consider the world No 11 was named after the great French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.

In Chang, he faces an iceman and a player who chases down everything and who at the start of the new ATP circuit could be dangerous given his exceptional fitness.

Last year, Safin's end-of-year ranking slipped from No 2 to No 11 and he was a slow starter.

He is very serious about kickstarting this year.

"The beginning of the year is always important," he said.

"I think this (playing Auckland) is a good way of starting the year. I want to start the year very well and try and finish No 1.

Safin said he had prepared well for the Open.

"I had one month of preparation," he said.

"I am ready.

"The tournament will be tough but I have a chance. I want to win here because the only way to get confidence is to win a tournament."

Safin began his tennis career at the same Moscow club which unearthed the darling of the ASB Bank Classic, Anna Kournikova, and the beaten finalist in yesterday's Classic final, Tatiana Panova.

He has hit against both professionals, reckoning the women always used to win.

Source: Sunday Star-Times - Wellington