Safin dismisses surface tension

By Andrew Warshaw at Queen's Club.
Tuesday, 12 June, 2001

Some players build their whole season around the grass of Wimbledon.

Others, like world number two Marat Safin, simply give it a shot and let fate take over.

Unlike Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, who has opted to stay away from Wimbledon, the golden boy of Russian tennis isn't afraid to display his talents on a surface that is totally alien to him.

Despite being brought up on clay in Moscow, Safin, now based in Monte Carlo, is clearly out to destroy more than a few grass-roots reputations at the All England club in a couple of weeks' time.

It's really difficult to start again on grass because you can lose your timing, especially at the end of the week," said Safin on Tuesday after squeezing narrowly into the second round at Queen's via a second-set tiebreaker.
"I'm not expecting to still be there at the end of the second week at Wimbledon."

"Having said that, Andre Agassi did it, then got to the final again a couple of years ago. And what about Borg? It's difficult, of course, but I'd love to do it.

"I know HOW to play on grass but to actually do it is different."

Safin has had a sensational year by any standards. Last year, he won seven ATP titles - more than any other player - and finished 2000 as the youngest world number two since Boris Becker 14 years earlier.

Still only 21, he is learning quickly what's like to face up to defeat when you don't feel like talking to anyone.

At the French Open last month, Safin snubbed the international media after losing in five sets to Fabrice Santoro in the third round and took the opportunity on Tuesday to apologise for his no-show.

"These things just happen, I'm a human being. I couldn't talk and just felt so bad," he said.

He certainly appeared to have put that disappointment behind him when he beat a seasoned grass-court player, Jens Knippschild of Germany, on Tuesday.

Afterwards, he paid tribute to his new coach Mats Wilander, the former world number one who, in his day, was one of the game's cleverest tacticians and is now giving Safin the benefit of his knowledge.

"It's very easy to learn from him," said Safin. "The most important thing about a coach is to trust him and I trust Mats."