Remember Me? Safin Is Back!

11.02.2002 Paris, France
By David Law - Tennis Radio Network

After Marat Safin won the US Open in September 2000, it was assumed that the Russian would thereafter dominate men�s tennis, just as Pete Sampras, the man he had beaten in the final, had done for so much of the 1990's.

Sure enough, Safin went onto Tashkent the week after, won the title there, and then high-tailed it to the Tennis Masters Series event in Paris a few weeks later, and beat another of the game�s giants � Mark Philippoussis - and won that one too.

He seemed to have it all: a huge serve, explosive power off both sides, and the physique of a heavyweight boxer. The tennis racquet looked like a lollipop in the Russian�s mighty hands.

Victories over Alex Corretja and Lleyton Hewitt in the round-robin stages of the Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon that year meant that Safin only needed to win one more match to become the World Number One. The problem was that his next two opponents were Pete Sampras, and then Andre Agassi. Suddenly, Safin�s world turned upside down.

He lost to both Sampras and Agassi, and Gustavo Kuerten pinched the year-end number one ranking from under his nose in the very last match of the 2000 season.

Mentally deflated and physically drained after a year of winning seven titles, 73 tennis matches, and coming so close to his ultimate goal, the Safin of 2001 was a pretty poor impersonation of the man the world had come to know.

Injuries to his elbow and back didn�t help, but the wounds to his confidence seemed even more debilitating.

Safin no longer appeared to fill the court with such authority, and opponents knew that if they could take his best shots, he would eventually turn his frustration on himself, or his racquets.

Even this year he has been unable to win a title, a disappointing statistic despite reaching finals at the Australian Open and at the Tennis Masters Series event in Hamburg. He didn't let it worry him though, and now Safin is beginning to look like his old self.

Against Nicolas Escude and Carlos Moya on his road to the BNP Paribas Masters final, he looked, at times, almost unstoppable.

"Finally I got my confidence back," he said, after his 7-5, 7-6 win over Moya.

"I�m playing like two years ago here. I was looking for that game for a long time. Now I finally found it."

That spells bad news for every other player on the ATP tennis circuit.