Safin at his characteristic best
By Sandra Harwitt
From the time Marat Safin arrived in Australia, he made it
know that he thinks the tennis season is way too long and
the end-of-season vacation is way too short. For the '00 US
Open champ, last year's season was longer than for most as
he worked overtime, leading Russia to its first ever Davis
Cup victory at the end of November.
Safin, a highly talented player sometimes accused of not
always being focused on his tennis, said he wasn't ready for
action this early in January. On Saturday, Safin finally decided
to stop trying to play and walked away from playing a third
round match, giving Ranier Schuettler of Germany a free pass
into the fourth round of the Australian Open.
"My wrist is bothering me and I decided not to play,"
said Safin, a finalist in Melbourne last year. "In the
first match, I fall down, and then I hit the backhand a little
bit too late, and I felt some pain here. Afterwards, for the
second match, they put me injection, so I didn't feel in the
second match. Afterwards, at night, I had my wrist really
big. Just I couldn't move it. So no reason to play."
Safin said he was advised by the doctor not to play and offered
a very reasonable explanation for not trying to go forward,
saying, "The year is just beginning. (This is) just one
tournament, why would I destroy all my season? I prefer to
stop now, even if it's a Grand Slam. Still the health is more
important than the rest of the things."
When Safin arrived in Australia, he had no complaints about
his wrist, but he was forced to pull out of the Sydney event
the week before the Open with a shoulder injury and was taking
anti-inflammatory medication. During his first two matches
in Melbourne, he was taking painkillers to ease the pain from
SECOND YEAR OF FRUSTRATION
For Safin, the early exit from the Australian Open has to
be frustrating, especially after his failure to take the trophy
at last year's tournament. Safin, who has long been touted
as a given to be a multiple Grand Slam champion, was considered
a shoo-in to defeat Thomas Johansson in last year's final.
But as has happened to him in the past, Safin fell apart in
that match, lost his way and failed to live up to his potential.
At the beginning of the Open, when asked about his hopes
for this year in perspective to his disappointment 12 months
ago in Melbourne, Safin sized up the situation clearly.
"Last year is history already пїЅ it was one year ago,"
he said. "This is another chance, another year, another
tournament. I would like to do the same thing. It's difficult
because it's another year. You are not playing the same tennis.
The other people are not playing the same tennis. The situation
is difficult. But I think I still have a great potential to
do well here, and we'll see if I will be able to make it."
Now Safin knows he won't make it this year and needs to look
ahead to the other three Grand Slams for glory making in 2003.
There's no denying that Safin is a great talent пїЅ most tennis
pundits will tell you that he should be the No. 1 player in
the world more than Lleyton Hewitt. But Hewitt has one important
element that still seems to elude Safin пїЅ an unquenchable
desire to succeed. The feisty Hewitt, attempting to become
the first Australian since Mark Edmondson in 1976 to keep
the Open trophy at home Down Under, never allows his desperation
to win wane. Where Safin seems to run hot and cold when it
comes to keeping his head and his desire in check, Hewitt
never falters in his quest to win, win, win, at all costs.
For now, it will be a wait-and-see situation as to whether
Safin will be able to live up to his potential in 2003 and
score a second career Grand Slam title. One thing that tennis
fans can be sure of is that however it turns out this season
for the Russian, with Safin, it's guaranteed to be an entertaining
Safin's early Australian Open departure opens his portion
of the draw for the highly touted Swiss Roger Federer and
2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian, who will face each
other in the fourth round for a shot at the quarterfinals.