Safin Vows He Won't Play Moscow Next Year
By Richard Pagliaro
There's no place like home пїЅ unless you're Marat Safin and
your home happens to be Moscow. The 21-year-old Russian hoped
for a happy homecoming at last week's Kremlin Cup but received
a rude awakening instead when fans booed and jeered him during
his 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 loss to Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty. Incensed
by the crowd response, an irate Safin vowed he will not play
in Moscow next year.
"I have never been so humiliated in my whole life,"
said Safin, who entered the event with high hopes and earned
a first-round win over Max Mirnyi before his second-round
match degenerated into a debacle. "It was a terrible
feeling to hear the fans whistle and boo me on the court.
I didn't throw the match on purpose, I was trying my best,
chasing every ball, fighting for every point. I have had enough.
I wanted to quit right there after the first set as I couldn't
bear to hear them shouting insults at me. I just couldn't
take it any longer."
A year ago, the 2000 U.S. Open champion was a national hero
after crushing 13-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras in
the Flushing Meadows final. But Safin has struggled to find
his form this year and continued to play despite injuries
earlier in the season. His victory over compatriot Yevgeny
Kafelnikov in the President's Cup final in Tashkent last month
was his his first title of the year, compared to last year
when he won seven titles. He followed that performance by
traveling to Hong Kong where he was upset by Magnus Larsson
in the second round.
Safin's pursuit of ranking points and cash bonuses for playing
Masters Series events has caused criticism from Russian Davis
Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev, who said Safin should have
considered cutting back on his schedule.
"It was really stupid for him to go to Hong Kong right
after his win in Tashkent," Tarpishchev told Reuters
in an interview. "Instead of playing in all these tournaments
and chasing ATP points, he should have rather focused on better
preparation for playing here in Moscow. That way he wouldn't
have had a problem of getting acclimated once again."
Wile admitting he is trying to earn ranking points in an effort
to qualify for the year-end Tennis Masters Cup, Safin insists
his schedule is a product of a plan to improve his game by
playing more tournaments.
"I respect Shamil a lot but I don't agree with him,"
Safin said. "I went to China to get points as they didn't
have a particularly strong field, so I thought I would do
well there. If I had won there, had come here and played well,
everyone would have said I'm a genius. Now people say I made
a mistake. But I'm a grown man now and I make my own decisions.
I also have a coach, Mats Wilander, whom I respect a great
deal. Mats and I decided that it would be better for me to
play as much as possible. Besides, I have commitments to various
tournaments, to sponsors."
The bond he shared with Moscow fans appears to have been broken.
The Kremlin Cup crowd also booed and jeered Moscow-born Anna
Kournikova during her first-round loss and has booed Yevgeny
Kafelnikov in the past.
Stung by the crowd's critical response, a defiant Safin initially
said he might not play in Russia again before deciding to
turn his back only on Moscow. He plans to play in the St.
Petersburg tournament, which is scheduled for October 22-28th.
"St Petersburg is a different story, they have great
fans," Safin said. "Their support helped me when
I played Hrbaty in last year's final there. I was losing the
match but they kept urging me to fight on and it pulled me
through in the end. I'll go to St Petersburg again to thank
the fans for their support but I don't think I'll be back
in Moscow next year."