Shanghai Preview: Marat Safin

November 9, 2002

Blessed with extraordinary talent, immense physical gifts and an abundance of charisma, Marat Safin has the potential to become one of the most successful and popular stars the game has ever seen. Now, entering the Tennis Masters Cup, it appears that he is gaining the one element that has thus far held him back - consistency - which could indeed portend a frightening future for his rivals on the ATP circuit.

Age: 22
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Residence: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Height: 6'4" (1.93m)
Weight: 195 (88kg)
Turned Pro: 1997

Career Titles: 11
2002 Titles: 1
2002 Win/Loss: 54-23
Career Win/Loss: 164-78

The 22-year-old Russian is coming off a sizzling performance at last week's BNP Paribas Masters, where he dominated the field to seize his first title of 2002. Disposing of Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets - foes he will face in round robin play this week in Shanghai - Safin's powerful, aggressive attacking game was nearly flawless. Perhaps more importantly, Safin managed to calm his notoriously volatile temperament en route to his Paris triumph.

While Paris marked the 2000 US Open champion's first title of the year, Safin could confidently say that he has had a successful season overall, as evidenced by his 54 match wins and strong No. 3 standing in the 2002 Champions Race. His year began at the Australian Open, where he downed Pete Sampras and Tommy Haas en route to the final, where he had a golden opportunity to capture his second Grand Slam title against surprising Swede Thomas Johansson. However, unable to meet the great expectations, he surrendered to Johansson in four sets.

Safin racked up a pair of impressive results on clay during the spring. He reached the final at the Tennis Masters Hamburg, crushing Hewitt in the quarterfinals, before losing to Roger Federer. At Roland Garros he made a run to the semifinals, where he succumbed to Juan Carlos Ferrero.

His drive to qualify for Shanghai was evident, as he played for six straight weeks during the fall indoor season, with his best result prior to his win in Paris being a semifinal showing in his birthplace of Moscow (l. to Kuerten). Also this season, he reached the quarterfinals in three more Tennis Masters Series events (Miami, Monte Carlo, Toronto) and three other ATP tournaments.

Perhaps the accomplishment that Safin would be most proud of this year is his 6-2 record in Davis Cup in singles and doubles (teamed with Yevgeny Kafelnikov). He has led Russia to the Davis Cup final against France, set for later this month in Paris.

Safin must vividly recollect his only prior Tennis Masters Cup appearance. In 2000, the year that he won the US Open among his circuit-leading seven titles, he went into the inaugural Masters Cup in Lisbon with a 75-point lead over Gustavo Kuerten, and was twice within one victory of clinching the year-end World No. 1 ranking. But his round robin loss to Pete Sampras and semifinal loss to Andre Agassi opened the door for the Brazilian to steal away the No. 1 ranking. Thus Safin will surely be seeking some Masters Cup redemption this week in Shanghai.