All Down to Us, Say the Russians
by Jo Sirman
It doesnï¿½t matter who they will play, or what surface they will
play on, what matters is how the Russians perform in the Davis
Cup Final, says Marat Safin.
Neither does it matter how victory against France is achieved.
Safin says they will take a win however it comes - with any
kind of scoreline, however badly they play.
"Just to win is most important.ï¿½
The countdown has begun in earnest to perhaps the most crucial
week in Russian tennis since Safin overwhelmed Pete Sampras
in the 2000 US Open final to win his first Grand Slam title
and Russiaï¿½s third, Yevgeny Kafelnikov accounting for the
other two. While the nation no longer lacks for titles at
the highest level of the game, a Davis Cup title so far remains
beyond its reach, despite consecutive visits to the final
in 1994 and 1995. It is believed that former Russian President
Boris Yeltsin will be at the Palais Omnisports to lend his
Having completed a week of practise in Monte Carlo that Kafelnikov
says was ï¿½productiveï¿½, the Russian team has now moved base
to Paris and are staying in the same hotel as their French
rivals. Itï¿½s easy to be relaxed together now, says Safin,
ahead of play starting on Friday. Things could get a little
Russiaï¿½s Captain Shamil Tarpischev also firmly believes that
his teamï¿½s destiny lies in their own hands and not those of
the defending champion: ï¿½Everything depends on how the Russian
Denis Golovanov, who is not amongst the Russians' four nominated
players, trained with the squad last week in Monte Carlo and
is continuing to do so in Paris. Mikhail Youzhny ï¿½ who has
been nominated ï¿½ has now joined up with the team having missed
last week's camp.
While others speculate about which of the nominated French
team ï¿½ Arnaud Clement, Sebastien Grosjean, Nicolas Escude
or Fabrice Santoro ï¿½ will be put forward for the singles matches,
or even if Guy Forget will replace one of his nominated players
with Paul-Henri Mathieu before the draw on Thursday, Safin
has no strong feelings about who he would prefer to see on
the other side of the net come Friday.
ï¿½They know how to play big matches,ï¿½ was his succinct assessment.
ï¿½Iï¿½m doing everything to play my best tennis over the next
three days,ï¿½ continued the 22-year-old Russian.
Losing all three of his matches at the season-ending Tennis
Masters Cup in Shanghai does not appear to have dented Safinï¿½s
confidence now he is back at Bercy, the scene of his recent
title success. In his third visit to the final of the Bercy
event, he blew away world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, reclaiming
the title he first won two years ago. Paris has been good
to Safin and he feels comfortable here, even if the Davis
Cup Final will be contested on clay rather than carpet.
Because of Safinï¿½s recent success, Kafelnikov would rather
his younger teammate was drawn to play the first singles rubber,
suggesting that he himself lacks confidence at this stage
and that Safin stands a better chance of scoring the first
point than himself.
Gamesmanship, perhaps? The enigmatic 28-year-old has had
a disappointing season, finishing the year ranked 27, but
has still collected two titles. He also won his first Grand
Slam title on the clay of Roland Garros in 1996, and has stressed
how much the Davis Cup means to him.
He has said several times that he will retire after the final
if Russia win, and whatever happens he will undergo an operation
on a varicose vein after the weekend.
There can be no doubt that Kafelnikov will play a crucial
role in Russiaï¿½s fortunes, for better or worse, in the coming