Safin will 'go for everything' en route to Open
by Bill Scott
July 25, Rome
As he crosses the Atlantic Ocean to start a summer campaign
that leads to an attempt to defend his U.S. Open crown, Marat
Safin is aiming to take on some of the more aggressive characteristics
of the fearful Russian bear as he battles for survival on the
The power-stroking Safin is not exactly an endangered species
in the pro game, but 21-year-old from Moscow is determined to
fight for his life. 'I'll be tough out there,' said Safin, who
is starting his campaign at the Mercedes Benz Cup in Los Angeles.
'I'll go for everything -- I'll fight like a dog.'
His performance may include a few tricks: 'I'll jump, I'll dive,
I will be there. I'll do everything possible to win some tournaments.'
Taking a page from the book of Andre Agassi's coach Brad Gilbert,
the results might not be pretty, but that's not the point: 'I
don't care about anything else, I just want to win. It doesn't
matter how, if it's going to be an ugly match or a nice match,'
he said. 'I want to beat everybody, I want to get my game like
it was last year.'
The Russian is carrying memories of an outstanding 2000 season
in the United States. A year ago, the young talent made his
breakthough on a surface where he had nurtured many doubts.
The clay-bred European won the Masters Series title in Toronto,
lost the final at Indianapolis to Gustavo Kuerten and then stunned
Pete Sampras in three sets at Flushing Meadows to take the U.S.
But the start of 2001 was not too rosy, as the contender slumped
through a back injury in the closing stages of the Dubai tournament
in Februry. And after a clay season to forget, Safin has slowly
recovered his fitness and now is taking tentative steps back
to world-class form.
While his physical form is strengthening, the wild card remains
in his mental form.
'When you're coming back from an injury you don't have much
confidence and you don't play well. I'm completely recovered
-- the problem is that I don't have enough confidence to play
big matches,' said the Russian.
'But I'm looking ahead. I think it's going to come, but perhaps
it's already too late for this year.'
Like many of his countrymen, Safin exhibits a healthy dose of
Russian pessimism. But it took only one Wimbledon title, for
example, for Goran Ivanisevic to vault up close to the Top 10
in the Champions Race earlier this month after lingering in
the depths for the past 18 months. It may not even take a tennis
miracle for the same to happen to Safin, who currently stands
20th alongside Sampras and well within striking distance of
Safin called his current form 'about 60 percent' of his best.
'I haven't won enough tough matches, so things can be difficult,'
he explained. 'Last year I didn't have any doubts and everything
was perfect: My condition was perfect and I was full of confidence.
I was playing great and, actually, not many people could touch
Safin knows better than anyone exactly what targets he must
hit if he wants to resurrect his sharp game. Last year the Russian
complied a standard-setting 12-2 record heading into the Open,
where he certainly was not reckoned as a serious contender,
let alone an eventual champion after his unexpected demolition
Coasting somewhat on his success, he finished last year with
seven titles as No. 2 in the world behind Gustavo Kuerten. Now
Safin's playing L.A. for the first time and hoping to mark a
smooth transition between clay tennis and the cement. The slow
clay surface ended on a high note as Safin won the Stuttgart
title last week.
The player and coach Mats Wilander have mapped a full schedule
for August and the first half of September. After Los Angeles,
Safin will travel to Montreal to defend the Canadian title he
claimed over Israeli Harel Levy, then visit Cincinnati, Indianapolis
and New York.
With that long stretch of strength-sapping events ahead of him,
Safin now knows the importance of fitness and staying in form
for the long haul on the most punishing surface in the game.
'I think I'm healthy and everything is perfect,' he said. 'I'm
happy with this, I'm starting to play better. Of course, I will
go for everything -- I want to win a tournament in America.'