Russian Davis Cup Captain Tells Safin: Grow Up

By Richard Pagliaro

Marat Safin appeared to come of age when he won the 2001 U.S. Open championship at the tender age of 20, but injuries and inconsistency took a toll on Safin whose results regressed this year. Russian Davis Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev said today Safin has the talent to be one of the game's greats пїЅ if he mentally matures from a player prone to racquet-tossing tantrums to one poised to play for championships.

"It's a problem of growing up for Marat," said Tarpishchev, who also serves as president of the Russian Tennis Federation, in an interview with Reuters. "Last year, he came almost from nowhere to the very top, but it was awfully difficult for him to sustain his form this year."

A year ago, Safin captured seven tournament titles, reached the Tennis Masters Cup and challenged for the year-end No. 1 ranking before finishing second to Gustavo Kuerten in the ATP Champions Race. This year, Safin took a step back during a subpar season that saw him win only two titles. Safin, who is contemplating parting company with his coach, former Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander, suffered a season-ending setback to unseeded Sjeng Schalken at the Tennis Masters Series-Paris event last week which effectively ended his chances of qualifying for the Tennis Masters Cup.

"His problems are more psychological than anything else," said Tarpishchev. "He still has the talent and the ability to be the best in the world, it is just a matter of overcoming the growing pains."

A U.S. Open semifinalist this year, Safin said he is intent on reaching the top spot next year.

"I don't really care if I'm number 10 or number eight in the world," Safin said. "What really counts is being number one or at least in the top three. I've tasted the success of being on top, I know what it takes to get there and I want to dedicate myself to reaching the new heights. That's my goal for next year."

According to Tarpishchev, the farther Safin falls in the rankings, the more likely he will rise to in the future.

."I truly believe that the lower he falls in the ranking this year, the better it is for him," Tarpishchev said. "He just has to start from scratch again next year, and I think it will be a lot easier for him from the psychological point of view."