Safin insists grass is no enemy

By BBC Online's Andrew Warshaw

Ivan Lendl, who was impervious on a clay court, used to freeze whenever he came to Wimbledon.

Marat Safin, the latest eastern European tennis superstar, is determined not to go the same way when the All England Championships begin on Monday.

Unlike many of his contemparies, the world number three decided to restrict his grass-court preparation to just one tournament.

After winning just one match at Queen's Club after several weeks on clay, the 21-year-old from Moscow opted not to compete in the various other warm-up events the week before Wimbledon but instead to play in a couple of exhibitions.

Suggest to Safin that this was, at best, a surprising decision and, at worst, foolhardy and he simply shrugs his young shoulders.

"Listen, one week on grass was more than enough. You can't return the ball properly because of all the bad bounces," he said.

Safin knows he probably will not win Wimbledon.
At Queen's he was beaten by unknown Dutchman Peter Wessels in the second round.
But he still believes that on his day he can hurt more than a few seasoned grass-court experts.

"He played unbelievably," Safin said of Wessels. "It was nothing to do with the grass."

"Why do people think I can't play on grass? Okay I'm not a serve and volleyer like Sampras.

"But I have more options on grass than he does on clay. And no one ever says Sampras can't play on clay.

"It's not that I hate grass that I decided not to play a tournament in the second warm-up week. It simply wasn't on my schedule."

How he fares at Wimbledon will depend much on Safin's mood. Like so many naturally gifted sportsmen, the Russian can blow hot and cold, sometimes in the same match.

"He's always like that," said Wessels. "Even when he's winning. You just have to concentrate on your own game."

Elbow and rib injuries ate away at Safin's confidence in the early part of this year but now he is showing signs of regaining the kind of form that swept him to the US Open title last year along with six ATP events.

Significantly, he has a canny adviser in his corner as he approaches the world's oldest Grand Slam event.

Former world number one Mats Wilander is Safin's new coach, a partnership that looks like becoming a permanent fixture.

"I want to work with him for the next five years," said Safin. "He knows more than most people.

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