Russian wants to reassert himself in Paris
DUSSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) -- The towering man with the
wild eyes and thick wavy hair, who just moments before had
been screaming in Russian and flinging his racquet into the
clay on missed points, had regained his composure.
Marat Safin, the U.S. Open champion whose 2001 season has
been marred by injuries, was a different man as he spoke in
a voice barely above a whisper after his win over Franco Squillari
at the World Team Cup.
"I'm getting older and more clever," said the 21-year-old
Russian as he contemplated his chances at next week's French
Open. "It's very important for me to win something."
"I've had two good matches here this week," he said,
referring to his win over Argentine Squillari on Thursday
as well as his straight-sets win over former world No. 1 Pete
Sampras. "I will be ready for the French Open. I think
And despite his soft-spoken demeanor in interviews, when he
went out on the court in Dusseldorf there was still plenty
of fire in Safin.
He was given three code violations and docked points in a
loss to Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean.
Upset at some controversial umpiring calls, he first hit a
ball into the nearby forest then destroyed his racket, and
later hit the referee's chair with another racket.
Safin later said the American referee, Norm Chryst, had "something
The Russian was born in Moscow but moved to Spain as a teenager
to perfect his game in a warmer climate.
He was the surprise of 2000, his seven tournament wins were
the most of any player and climaxed with the U.S. Open win
over Pete Sampras. He topped the ATP Entry System rankings
at the beginning of this year.
But elbow and back ailment injuries have made 2001 a struggle
for him and he reached only one final -- in Dubai, where he
lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero -- before the back injury sidelined
He was beaten in his opening matches in three Masters Series
events and last week was knocked out of a fourth at Hamburg
in the second round.
Safin is still second in the ATP Entry System, but has slipped
to 30th in the Champions Race, which is based on 2001 results.
"Last year I was beating everyone," said Safin.
"I was like 'Marat Safin, this rising young Russian star'
who could beat everyone.
"This year has been difficult. The back problem took
a lot longer than I thought. I was playing great and then
And even when he returned, he found his opponents were raising
their game against him.
"I've noticed they are all playing great tennis against
me," Safin said. "Or maybe I make them play great."
Safin knows how satisfying it can be for a young player to
upset someone from the top of the rankings. He reached the
fourth round of the French Open in 1998, beating Andre Agassi
"I know what it's like -- it's a double motivation for
them to beat me," he said.
He said that his understanding of the game he has played almost
his whole life -- his father is a tennis instructor -- has
grown recently since he hired Mats Wilander, who won seven
Grand Slam titles in his career, as his coach.
"Mats has helped me learn about how to win, how to be
clever," Safin said. "People would ask me 'How did
you beat Pete Sampras at the U.S. Open' and I would say 'I
don't know. I just beat him'. I didn't realize 'how.'
"But now with Mats, I have learned more about 'how' to
beat people. I have learned to be more clever."
Safin said he has enjoyed working with the stoic Swede.
"Mats doesn't really say a lot," Safin said. "I
don't need someone telling me what to do all the time. I don't
like it when coaches talk to much, try to teach you too much.
"If they talk to you from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. it drives
you crazy. The guy lets me do what I want to do."
Despite his patchy performances this season, Safin believes
he can justify his number two seeding at Roland Garros.
He said he feels fit and is glad some people view him as an
"There's no pressure on me anymore, the pressure is on
them," he said. "If I can get past the first two
or three rounds I think I can be in the fight for the championship."