US Open 2000 - John McEnroe about Marat Safin

Sunday 17 September 2000

Okay, the best match of the open was probably the semi-final between Venus Williams and Martina Hingis, but the story of the Open was Marat Safin. We've needed some fresh blood in the men's game for a while - it's one thing to talk about it, it's another to actually see it come about.

To me, Safin is a really interesting development, a guy from Russia, with a personality, who shows he is now not just a contender, but a champion. He's like Lleyton Hewitt, who is going to be next on the list. It's up to the ATP Tour now to market them properly, they are a part of the 'New Balls Please' campaign designed to push the kids on and that's a step in the right direction.

Having a Russian in the final meant there was an opportunity for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in town for a United Nations summit, to come out and see him play, but he blew the opportunity. After that submarine tragedy, he could have done with earning a few brownie points. Our President was there which added such a great amount of electricity to the event and was exciting for tennis. He had a chat with Pete Sampras after his semi-final victory over Hewitt, and that made Pete feel 10ft tall, but it didn't do him any good to have to come back the next day and play the final. When is this schedule going to change for the good of the players?

Sampras handled what happened to him against Safin with class, he took his butt-whipping like a man, and said the Russian reminded him of how he was 10 years ago when he won the title as a 19-year-old. I don't think Pete's finished yet because a weight was lifted off his shoulders when he broke the Grand Slam record at Wimbledon and he's a lot more comfortable with himself now.

I want to see Safin become the real deal. He is a great story. He comes out of a country where people have struggled for so long, is sponsored to go to Spain to learn the game, the language and the culture, he develops a sense of humour in three tongues. He shows a lot of emotion on the court, a fantastic smile, he's a big, good-looking guy who plays in his first Grand Slam final and hardly misses a passing shot. Tennis has someone special and I hope it doesn't waste him.