More to life than tennis for Safin

26 March 2002

For Marat Safin there has always been more to life than tennis, and it showed on Monday when the sixth seed was almost swept out of the Nasdaq-100 Open Masters in the third round by Peruvian qualifier Luis Horna.

Tennis super-stardom and a trophy case of Grand Slam titles have long been predicted for the talented Russian but do not expect Safin to become the next Pete Sampras, consumed with the sport and his place in its history.

"Sure, I would love to be the next Pete and I'm doing everything possible to get there," said Safin after rallying to beat Horna 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-3). "I love tennis but I also like to enjoy my life.

"It would be a pity to spend probably the best years of my life just living with tennis. It would be the biggest mistake of my life.

"I don't think you have to destroy your life because of tennis. I don't think it does any damage living your life and doing your job on the court."

While most of the top players competing in Miami are cloistered away at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on quiet Key Biscayne, Safin has settled in amid the college Spring revellers and holidaymakers on bustling Miami Beach.

To spot the 2000 U.S. Open champion strolling along Ocean Boulevard through Miami's trendy Art Deco district would not be unusual -- in fact it might be expected.

The 22-year-old Russian has developed a well-deserved reputation as a fun-loving guy, his pursuit of life's more hedonistic pleasures occasionally distracting from his pursuit of tennis titles.


"You cannot practice during a tournament, so you play one hour and a half, you go to the gym and, what do you do with the rest of the day?" asked Safin, who lost in the final of this year's Australian Open to Swede Thomas Johansson.

"You stay home, watch stupid TV. That's all there is? It's boring. I want to enjoy my life.

"I am living now at Miami Beach. I'm having so much fun. So why do I have to change my way of life? I love it."

Now, not even Pete Sampras wants to be the Sampras who ruled the tennis world throughout much of the 1990s.

Since his marriage to actress Bridgette Wilson last September, Sampras has seen his world ranking slip from number three to 13.

The 30-year-old American is in the middle of a title drought, having gone 24 tournaments without lifting a trophy. The last time was nearly two years ago when he claimed his seventh Wimbledon crown.

But the man considered by many to be the greatest of all-time says he would not trade his current happiness for a return to his glorious past.

Even a humbling 7-6 (7-1) 6-1 loss to Chilean qualifier Fernando Gonzalez in the third round in Miami could not faze Sampras, who was more excited about the future than the past.

"The years I was (world) number one I was probably consumed with the sport," admitted Sampras, who holds the record for weeks at number one with 286.

"It's hard to say how really happy I was. I was happy winning tournaments.

"But in order to stay up there for as long as I did, it took a lot of sacrifice. Those days are over, I've lost enough hair with all the worries and all the stress I put on myself.

"I still want to get back to winning Slams and contending for majors but I'm happy now as a tennis player.

"I'm married and things couldn't be better. I just wish I could be playing a little better."