: YOUNG GUN ON THE ATP TOUR
His hometown of Moscow may be the epicenter of tumult and chaos,
but everything about Marat Safin suggests stability and grace,
from his disposition to his strokes to his steady climb in the
rankings. Safin, 18 and now No. 60, plays with an efficiency
and dignified power that recalls Pete Sampras, the player to
whom he finally capitulated after winning his first three U.S.
Open matches. "He has the ability to be in the Top 10 very soon,"
said Safin's first-round victim, 24th-ranked Magnus Gustafsson.
"He hits his backhand as hard and consistently as anyone on
At age 14 Safin moved to Valencia, Spain, to train with coach
Rafael Mensua. Safin plays Davis Cup for Russia and frequently
visits his family in Moscow, but he's a full-fledged Western
teenager. "This trip to New York, he was most excited when he
walked around Times Square and bought a laptop computer on Fifth
Avenue," said Mensua, who communicates with Safin in Spanish.
"His game needs work, especially his volley, but he plays like
In keeping with his namesake, this revolutionary Marat knows
about wielding a dagger at an opportune moment. He punctuated
his Open win over Thomas Muster with a 130-mph ace on match
point. Asked afterward if he liked his chances of winning the
tournament, Safin laughed and said, "No. Right now I need to
improve too much." Says Mensua: "By next year it could be a
09/14/98 Sports Illustrated