Safin gives girls the flick

January 6 2003

The giant world No 3 from Russia will have fewer distractions in the stands than he did last summer, reports Jessica Halloran.

There will be no "beautiful bench". The blondes, with plunging necklines, the trio who adorned the Australian Open stands last year, had nothing to do with Mr Marat Safin.

Revelation No 1: they were not part of his entourage. There's no such thing as a "Safinette".

"Let's put it this way, I have nothing to do with these ladies. I'm not going to explain, but I have nothing to do with that, I swear to God," Safin said firmly.

"They were friends of my friends that asked me to get them tickets . . . I got them tickets, it's not a problem."

Revelation No 2: "They are not my types." Safin said this with a little grin - but he meant it. What is his type? "My type? Not this type."

And don't expect a new, authorised bench this summer. "Just myself - coach, doctor," he said.

No blondes, even though Safin clearly stated at the open in Melbourne last summer: "You have to admit I have an unbelievably beautiful bench." Not that they have anything to do with the giant Russian.

Safin's skin was a patchwork of sunburn yesterday after he practised on Rebound Ace. But his -30C Russian tan should soon disappear under the Sydney sun.

After working with five different coaches in the previous three seasons, Safin is back in Sydney with Denis Golovanov, whom he appointed last November. Golovanov is an "old friend" Safin grew up with.

"I make a deal with him for one year and let's see if we can do some great things this year," said the 22-year-old who is ranked No 3 in the world and is the top seed at the adidas International at Homebush Bay this week.

"It's difficult to find a guy who can coach and travel with you all the time and you can trust. I know him really well. I don't know if it's the right decision - a bad decision or a good decision - but it's a decision I made because I couldn't find any other guy I trust."

Safin would love nothing more than to win a grand slam event and be No 1 in the world.

"That's my goal [to get both], it's too much maybe, but that's the draw, we live because of the dreams."

But to achieve this "dream" he said some glitches in his game must be fixed - glitches he describes as "not a tennis thing" but a "mental thing".

"Sometimes my concentration just goes away in the game and it's difficult to [get it to] come back," he said.

"That's why sometimes I'm suffering. I understand this. I know what I have to do but it's really, really tough to bring myself to this level.

"I'm trying and I'm trying, and I'm growing up. I'll be 23 soon and I'm hoping I'll manage to bring this level to my game."

Safin said even though Lleyton Hewitt had shown less than stellar form at the Hopman Cup last week, the world No 1 would still be a real threat at the Australian Open.

Safin believes it's "more important not to play real well before a big tournament" because some players wear themselves down.

"It's better to start slowly and win a couple of matches," he said.

Safin was also philosophising about his life at yesterday's press conference. Softly spoken with his gentle hand gestures, he said his life was all about living for the moment.

"This is the best time . . . enjoy every moment of your life, every day and not regret afterwards," he said. "It's really important to enjoy what you are doing, enjoy the way you are living because time is running really fast, every year faster and faster and your best times are when you are young."