Looking Forward to French Trip
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,"
"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
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."