Safin eyes November treble
What a difference a week makes. Marat Safin had been dogged
by inconsistency throughout 2002. But after winning his first
tournament of the year in Paris, the 22-year old Russian could
now complete a November treble by winning the Masters Cup and
lifting the Davis Cup for Russia.
One month ago, while France were cruising past the United States
in the Davis Cup semi-finals, Marat Safin and team-mate Yevgeni
Kafelnikov were struggling to scrape past Argentina. They even
lost the doubles 19-17 in the deciding fifth set to the lesser-known
duo of Lucas Arnold and David Nalbandian.
One week ago, Marat Safin carried a 13 month-title drought
into the Paris Indoor Masters. He had fallen short of his
second Australian Open losing in the final to Thomas Johansson.
Heï¿½d gone down in the semis at the French, and was bounced
out of the second round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Even
in Moscow, he could manage no better than runner-up, losing
to unseeded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.
Safin a burnout victim? Not so fast.
World number one Lleyton Hewitt got crushed by the third seed
7-6 6-0 6-4 in Sunday's final.
"He played a magnificent match," said the Australian.
"He has been just too good for everybody in the draw
this week and I've just got to take my hat off to him."
The difference was power. Hewitt has the speed, the spirit,
and all of the basic shots, but Safin served harder, hit blistering
groundstrokes, and pulled out deft touches around the net
which left Hewitt helpless.
Pundits also note the former world number oneï¿½s switch in
coaches, going in mid-season from Mats Wilander to Andrei
Whatever the reason for the revival, Sundayï¿½s performance
means Franceï¿½s Davis Cup captain Guy Forget now has to rethink
French number one Sebatien Grosjean was unceremoniously bounced
from the Bercy tournament by Carlos Moya on Thursday. Grosjean
was leading until Moya saved six match points and won the
match. French number two Arnaud Clement lost in the second
round in Paris and the great young hope who recently beat
Safin, Paul-Henri Mathieu, is not expected to return in time
from a back injury.
Fabrice Santoro has a 6-1 lead in head-to-heads with Safin,
but the 29-year old is not as strong as he used to be and
currently lies 35th in the ATP Race. The only French player
on current form, Nicolas Escude, unbeaten in Davis Cup play
and who stretched Safin to three sets in the quarter-finals
in Paris, is a serve-and-volleyer.
And thatï¿½s where the French might wind up kicking themselves
Captain Forget chose clay for the final with Grosjean in
mind, but thatï¿½s not Escudeï¿½s strong suit. Safin however went
to the semis this year at the French Open, and Kafelnikov
won Roland Garros in 1996.
Safin himself rubbed salt in the wound in Paris last week:
"I don't know why they chose the clay," he said.
"I think they are trying to use it against us, but it
also doesn't suit them. They don't really have claycourt players."
But first, thereï¿½s the Masters Cup. The road to the Davis
Cup final goes through Shangai. For a preview of whatï¿½s to
come in Paris, study the fortunes of one Marat Safin.