Safin and Kafelnikov � their third attempt for the title


To Marat Safin the Rochusclub is �one of the most beautiful tennis sites in the world�, a traditional venue with �flair and style�. This year, however, the young Russian, who reached the second Grand Slam final in his career in Melbourne in January, intends not only to enjoy the great ambience in Duesseldorf once again but wants to finally win the World Team Championship against toughest opposition after two attempts in vain. �I am hot on this title�, the temperamental Muscovite says who forms the strongest team together with veteran player Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Most recently the two top Russian players defeated their strong opponents from Switzerland in the thrilling first round Davis Cup tie 3-2 in Moscow. Though Kafelnikov and Safin both lost their singles matches to the Swiss shooting star Roger Federer at the Olympic Arena, they achieved the quarter-finals in the end. �We are particularly strong in the doubles. That�s where we made the decisive point�, Safin says who � as Kafelnikov � is still waiting for a major team title. The two lost Davis Cup finals in the mid-nineties were before Safin�s time.

But at the ARAG WORLD TEAM CUP in Duesseldorf, 22-year-old Safin, one of the most promising young tennis players in the world, reached the final of this prestigious event already twice � and lost. �I have tasted bitter defeat, now I want to hold the cup in my hands�, he says. The crashing 3-0 defeat by outsiders Slovakia in 2000 was particularly galling for the hot-tempered youngster: �We really came a cropper and had no energy left.� The 2-1 loss to the courageous Australians a year ago was clearly easier to bear, considered by Safin as �unfortunate but not undeserved�.

Safin may undertake the difficult third attempt for the World team title with greater self-confidence and more consistency in his game than in his problematic 2001 season.

Since his strong performance last autumn which almost earned him a place in the Master�s Cup in Sydney and his great start into the current season in Melbourne, the young Russian has been more like that player who crashed tennis legend Pete Sampras in the final of the 2000 US Open. �I went through a real bad low for some time and had lost focus�, admits Safin who apparently let the New York success go to his head. He then made more headlines with going to gambling casinos, expensive cars and ever changing groupies.

Contrary to �Iron Man� Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 28, who does not show to be injury-prone in spite of an annual record number of singles and doubles matches, youngster Safin was plagued by back problems on the tour particularly in mid-season last year. Even the expert advice of the former world number one, Sweden�s Mats Wilander, as coach did not help the Muscovite. But already in Wimbledon the turn of fortune could be noticed, when Safin lost only to eventual surprising champion, Goran Ivanisevic, in the quarter-finals.

He did even better in his campaign to defend his US Open title where it fell to Pete Sampras to stop him in the semis in a replay of the 2000 final. �That�s when I got my confidence back�, Safin says today, �I had already thought I did no longer know how to play.� In Duesseldorf Safin might also meet that inconspicuous opponent who �robbed� him of his second Grand Slam title at the beginning of this season: Sweden�s Thomas Johansson. �I would like to take my revenge most of all in the final. That would be a great satisfaction for me...�
Safin�s and Kafelnikov�s ambitions concerning the final of the ARAG WORLD TEAM CUP are exactly the same. Olympic champion Kafelnikov will play for the sixth time in Duesseldorf and was the first player to return his written confirmation for this year�s event. On the year-end ATP entry-system as of November 19, 2001 determining the qualification for the ARAG World Team Championship, 1999 Australian Open and 1996 French Open champion Kafelnikov was ranked fourth, Safin eleventh. In May 1999 Kafelnikov was at the top of the ATP rankings, Safin in November 2000.

Together they are strong � strong enough to finally win the World team title in their third attempt?