Marat Safin in 2000
Marat Safin was denied an official crowning at the Tennis Masters
Cup Lisboa, his No. 2 finish in the inaugural ATP Champions
Race proves testimony to why the Russian is considered the future
Hailed as one of tennis' top-rising talent, the "New Balls Please"
campaign star Safin padded his year 2000 resume with seven titles
in eight months. Impressive, no?
However, after two-straight fourth-round finishes at Roland
Garros, and then a victory in Boston to make him one of only
three teenagers after Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero
to take a title in 1999, Safin's anticipated year 2000 break-through
treaded dangerously close to being a 'might have been.'
Losing consistently throughout the first four months of the
new year, the sound of Safin breaking yet another racquet was
the only noise the Russian was making on the court.
Safin on his early season woes: "When you don't have confidence,
you are losing, you know, first - one week you're losing the
first round, second week, you are already afraid, you know,
of playing. Sometimes you think twice when you hit the ball.
You think, 'Ohhh, (is) it gonna be in or (is) it gonna be out?'
And you don't know. You lose again, and you're losing confidence."
A coaching switch to Andrei Chesnokov proved the much needed
Said Safin: "Then, Andrei Chesnokov came, and he explain to
me in very simple words with, you know, that let you know that
you are a little bit like this (knocking on wood). "You have
to do this, this, this, this." Few things that you need to do
to be good player."
And the wins ensued - immediately: Barcelona, Mallorca, Tashkent,
two Tennis Masters Series wins, at Toronto and Paris, his first
title on Russian soil at St. Petersburg, and not least of all,
becoming the first Russian to win the US Open, over no less
than Pete Sampras.
Seven titles later, Safin headed to Lisboa seeded No. 1: "I
think the confidence is the question. It's when you have a confidence,
you can play great tennis."
...then finished at No. 2. Said Safin: "Unfortunately, this
week, it wasn't the best in my career, but I'm satisfied (with)
what I did during all the year. I'm satisfied with the game,
with myself, with people, with everybody."
And that serve that eluded him at the Tennis Masters Cup? "I'm
happy that I have to improve something; otherwise the game gets
boring. I will improve it for next year."
But did he learn from his loss in Lisbon? "Yes, I'm learning.
That's why I'm here. I have to learn."