Safin Looking Forward to French Trip

Mon Sep 23
Sports - Reuters
By Gennady Fyodorov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Marat Safin says he is looking forward to facing France in the Davis Cup final in Paris or Marseille because there is far too much pressure on him when he plays at home.

"It is just too much," the Russian number one said after he clinched the semi-final tie against Argentina by beating David Nalbandian in the first reverse singles match on Sunday.
Safin overpowered the Wimbledon finalist 7-6 6-7 6-0 6-3 in front of a noisy home crowd at Moscow's Luzhniki Sports Palace to give Russia an unassailable 3-1 lead in the three-day tie.

But he found the encounter stressful. "It's just too difficult for me to play at home," said the 22-year-old Muscovite.
"I have so many friends here and everyone expects you to win. They won't settle for anything less than that."

Safin was the hero of the weekend, winning both his singles matches and partnering Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the longest doubles match in Davis Cup history on Saturday.

The Russians eventually lost to Lukas Arnold and Nalbandian after a marathon lasting six hours and 20 minutes to set up the decisive match in which Safin had to battle his opponent, fatigue and the expectations of the home fans, including former President Boris Yeltsin.

"Please, don't get me wrong," the former U.S. Open champion pleaded with the Russian media after the match.
"It's not that I don't want to play here, in front of the home crowd. It's just the pressure that I can to do without."


Such pressure troubles Safin so much that last year he angrily vowed never to play in Russia again after he was booed off the court following his loss to the unseeded Slovak Dominik Hrbaty in the second round of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

"I have never been so humiliated in my whole life," the temperamental Russian said at the time. "It was a terrible feeling to hear the fans whistle and boo me on the court.
"I didn't throw the match on purpose, I was trying my best, chasing every ball, fighting for every point. I have had enough," he added.
"I wanted to quit right there. I couldn't bear to hear them shouting insults at me. I just couldn't take it any longer."

Aside from the home-town expectations, Safin also has to deal with pressure from his Davis Cup team mate.
Kafelnikov, who has said on numerous occasions that he will retire at the end of the year, desperately wants to bring Russia their first Davis Cup title.
"He keeps telling me all the time: 'I want to retire, I want to quit, let's go and win it this year'," Safin said.
"Of course, I want to win it for him but it gives you so much extra pressure that can harm you at the last minute."


Safin said the French team were heavy favorites to retain their Davis Cup title in the final, to be played in Paris or Marseille from November 29 to December 1.
"I know how strong the French team is, especially on their home court," he said. "They have so many great players, so many weapons, they can play on all surfaces, hard, soft, they can play on clay or really fast surfaces, they can even play on grass."

"They will also have huge support from the home crowd," he added. "But it's easier to overcome because you know it in advance, you expect the French crowd to cheer against you. It's much tougher to have the home crowd turning against you."

Twice in the mid-1990s, Russia reached the Davis Cup final only to lose both times on home turf in Moscow, first to Sweden in 1994 and the following year to the United States.
Partly because of that, Safin said, he was looking forward to playing the French away from home.
"Of course, it would have been easier for us to play them here in Moscow but because of all this pressure I would rather face them in Paris, Marseille, anywhere," he said.
"And you can count on me to give it my best. It will be awfully difficult for us to win but we'll give it a try."