Livid 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."