and painful defeat drive Safin to victory
Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy, Paris, FRA,
With former Russian president Boris Yeltsin cheering from the
front row, it was Marat Safin's memories of Moscow that inspired
him to victory in the opening singles of the Davis Cup final
Safin, like his team mate Yevgeny Kafelnikov, is determined
to bring the Davis Cup back to the Russian capital for the first
time and a painful lesson learned in Moscow just last month
may have laid the foundation for such an historic win.
Safin beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4 to avenge a loss
to the 20-year-old in the Kremlin Cup.
Mathieu had beaten Safin 7-6 6-4 in the semi-finals on his way
to his first ATP title, playing what the Muscovite called "risky"
The Russian was convinced Mathieu did not have the weapons or
experience to play this extravagant game over five sets in the
cauldron atmosphere of a Davis Cup final, and so it proved.
Mathieu blazed away for two sets, won one of them, but was then
ground down by the greater consistency and shot-making of his
22-year-old opponent who, having won the U.S. Open two years
ago, knows what it takes to play big matches.
Only in the final stages, when he sacrificed his first match
point with a double fault, and then let Mathieu fight back from
5-2 down, did Safin's concentration slip.
But he held his nerve to win on his second match point, when
yet another big serve at a key moment deceived Mathieu.
"I lost a little bit of concentration in the second set
- I slowed down and I couldn't get my game back until the third,"
the world number three said.
"But in the third and fourth sets I controlled the match.
I was very satisfied with my game at the end of a long season.
"He kind of surprised me in Moscow with how he played.
But in this second match I knew what I had to do and that was
not let him dominate the match.
"I was nervous of course and it is difficult to play your
best tennis in such a match. I wanted to finish it really quickly
and I served too fast (on the first match point)."
Yeltsin, a keen tennis player, invited the team for a reception
before they left for Paris and promised he would be at the Bercy
stadium to offer support.
The 71-year-old was seated next to French President Jacques
Chirac, 70 on Friday. Yeltsin applauded Safin warmly as his
compatriot left the court after a gamble by French captain Guy
Forget to give Mathieu his Davis Cup debut had failed.
Forget sealed a stunning victory for France in last year's final
in Australia when he brought in Nicolas Escude who beat world
number one Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs.
Mathieu felt he had performed to the best of his ability and
said was not overwhelmed by the feverish atmosphere in the Bercy
stadium. But his naivety and lack of match practice after only
recently recovering from a stomach injury was exposed repeatedly
by Safin, only two years older in age but a decade better off
"I think today he was the best player in the world,"
said Mathieu. "When he plays like that its like being on
"But I have nothing to regret, it's not finished. It was
just the first match."