Russian racket wrecker

Wednesday, 20 June, 2001
By BBC Online's Peter Sanderson

Safin: Has signed a new deal with Dunlop

BBC Sport Online's Peter Sanderson catches up with Russian baseline king Marat Safin to discuss tantrums, tactics and silverware.
Marat Safin is living proof that the tennis world still has a few characters in its locker room.

Whether he is swishing his racket in exasperation, trading insults with an innocent ball boy or collecting the latest in a growing catalogue of winner's cheques, you can be sure there will be fireworks on court when the world number three is in action.

Big on personality and thankfully for his coach Mats Wilander, even bigger on talent, Safin aims to add spice to this year's All England Championship.

More importantly, the Russian is anxious to add some silverware to the Safin mantlepiece.

Safin: Plenty of spare rackets

Critics of Safin's style have bravely - some might say foolishly - already written off his chances of winning Wimbledon, claiming his game is more suited to life on the harder surfaces.

His record on grass isn't brilliant, reaching only the last 64 at Wimbledon last year - just weeks after beating Greg Rusedski at Queens Club.

But the towering Russian is keen to prove his doubters wrong.

He insists he is fond of the grass and maintains that his form is as good as ever with the Grand Slam less than a week away.

He told BBC Sport Online: "My game is great at the minute. Everything has been organised well by my coach and I have prepared myself well for Wimbledon.

"I can do some damage with my serve and my backhand wins me a few points - there is no reason why I can't win Wimbledon"
Marat Safin

"I have a good feeling about this year's championship. Contrary to reports I love playing on the grass and, after drawing a qualifier, I feel I can go well beyond the first round of the tournament.

"The Wimbledon crowd seem to like me so, hopefully, there will not be any need for me to lose my temper!"

As well as earning him praise from John McEnroe and accumulating a supporters club almost as big as that of his favourite football team - Spartak Moscow, Safin's explosive temper on the court has forced his coach to discipline him.

Last year he broke a phenomenal 48 rackets - nearly one a week - forcing Wilander to introduce a $100 penalty for every moment of madness.

Fortunately, the amendments to his game have reaped spectacular reward, curbing his temper, bolstering his devastating serve and improving his sledgehammer backhand.

This new blend of maturity and focus have given him renewed belief that he can beat the best players on the circuit - even on grass.

"I feel I can win Wimbledon," he admitted.

"People talk about the style of tennis you play being particularly important at Wimbledon and, unlike some, I think my game lends itself well to the conditions.

"I can do some damage with my serve and my backhand wins me a few points - there is no reason why I can't win there.

"All the men who have excelled at Wimbledon in the past few years will once again be a threat - it is no coincidence that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras always seem to perform well.

"Sampras' record speaks for itself and in an ideal world, you wouldn't have to cross his path until as late as possible in the tournament.

"Agassi too is someone who seems to save his best tennis for the All England Club and, of course, he is in decent form coming into the event.

"It is their career and if they feel they can afford to miss a tournament as important as Wimbledon then so be it"
Marat Safin

"No doubt all the serve and volley experts such as Tim Henman will be tough to get past - especially with Henman performing in front of his own crowd.

"And Pat Rafter is another top seed who can beat anyone on grass - this could well be his year but I would prefer it to be mine."

Curiously, the game's premier tournament has been hit by a number of controversies before a ball has been hit in anger this year.

Safin admits the growing list of players missing from Wimbledon is a little worrying - although he believes, if anything, it is to his advantage.

"Yes there have been a number of controversies ahead of this years tournament with some people pulling out - but that is there decision.

"It is their career and if they feel they can afford to miss a tournament as important as Wimbledon then so be it.

"I don't think it does the game any favours but from a personal perspective, it gives me more chance of winning the tournament outright, so I am not going to complain.

"They clearly have their reasons for their decision and that's their choice."

Whether the Russian's belief can be turned into silverware on the grass remains to be seen - but you can guarantee the racket's will be flying if he fails to deliver.