Safin Skeptical Of France's Decision To Contest Davis Cup Final On Clay

By Richard Pagliaro

France selected clay as the surface for its Davis Cup final against Russia, which makes French Open semifinalist Marat Safin believe the Russians can bury the defending Davis Cup champions on the dirt in Paris. The Davis Cup final will be staged November 29th-December 1st at the same Bercy arena that is currently hosting the BNP Paribas Masters on carpet.

Questioning the choice of clay as the surface for the final, Safin suggested red clay is not conducive to the style of most French players and that France made the move in the mistaken belief the Russians were most vulnerable on clay.

"I don't know why they chose the clay," Safin said. "I think they are trying to use it against us, but it also doesn't suit them. They don't really have clay-court players. "

France's best clay-court player is Sebastien Grosjean, who reached the Roland Garros semifinals last year and advanced to the quarterfinals this year where Safin crushed him 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

With Paul-Henri Mathieu suffering from rib and abdominal injuries, French Davis Cup captain Guy Forget will likely select either Arnaud Clement or Nicolas Escude to join Grosjean as a singles starter. Neither player has enjoyed much success on clay: Escude is 4-7 lifetime at Roland Garros and was a first-round casualty to Fernando Meligeni this year, while Clement owns a 4-6 career mark at the French Open.

"(Sebastien) Grosjean, he can play on every surface, (Nicolas) Escude, he can play on clay, but he's dangerous on grass and fast indoor courts," Safin said. "Clement, he can play , but we have the same пїЅ we have no problems playing on clay."

The tournament runner-up on the red clay at the Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg in May, Safin is an accomplished clay-court player whose game was molded on the red clay of Valencia, Spain where he trained from the ages of 13 to 19 after moving from his native Moscow in seach of better facilities.

The 22-year-old Safin is trying to help friend and teammate Yevgeny Kafelnikov conclude his career as a Davis Cup champion. Kafelnikov, who captured the French Open crown in 1996, has repeatedly stated his desire to retire should he help Russia win its first Davis Cup championship in history.

"I'm getting a little bit tired of tennis and all the time being on the tour," Safin said. "But (after Shanghai) we will have two weeks to prepare ourselves for the Davis Cup. I think we have a chance to win here in Paris. It would be a great present for myself and Yevgeny. If he wants to retire, then he can retire."

While Safin insists the surface suits the Russians, French captain Forget may have been influenced by Kafelnikov's abysmal clay-court spring season as well as the fact that Safin can sometimes struggle against speedy counter-punchers such as Clement and Grosjean. The French may be hoping Safin will implode in impatience, but one objective observer пїЅ top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, who was a member of Australia's 1999 Davis Cup championship squad &151; said Safin is capable of carrying Russia to victory on clay.

"Marat is such a great player he can win a tie off his own racquet," Hewitt said. "But I'm sure Guy Forget is very happy with the squad he has got. I guess Grosjean is their only top 10 player, but you only have to look at how many guys could have got a wildcard here this week to know how strong the squad is. The slight advantage they've got is playing in France."