Safin Clubs Kiefer


by Matthew Cronin
Thursday, September 7, 2000

Raging Russian Marat Safin continued his ground assault of the bottom half of the men's draw on Thursday, clubbing No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.

No. 6 seed Safin will meet the winner of tonight's match between late-night American hero Todd Martin and Swede Thomas Johannsson.

The bright-eyed basher has his eyes on the prize.

"The semifinal is not enough, definitely," Safin said. "It's never enough."

Kiefer said his opponent has a great shot to bring home his first Slam title.

"His confidence is getting bigger and bigger," Kiefer said. "He's a had a great season. He beat Sampras a couple weeks ago. He has a good chance to win."

In outslugging the cagey Kiefer, Safin was on fire from the baseline, powering his technically perfect two-handed backhand and burying his sharply angled inside-out forehand. The good natured 20-year-old from Moscow never lost his cool in the contest and stole the tiebreak from the German. And as he has much of the tournament, he served and returned serve with a vengeance, winning 84 percent of his own first serve points and 55 percent of Kiefer's second serve points.

"I found my game," Safin said. "I was afraid against Grosjean [in the fourth round]. I was very close to go home very fast. I said, 'Please, no, don't do this again. Just play your game, win fast and go home.'"

The multi-talented Safin said he was nervous coming on court and added that bringing butterflies on court is not necessarily a bad thing. "You have to be afraid, otherwise you think you are going to win. Guys like Kiefer are playing great," said Safin. "If you go on court and you're not afraid, he can beat you easy.

You have to move a little, because if you're 100 percent sure you are going to win, you're not going to move. Fear gives you motivation, adrenaline. Otherwise you go on court like you're at the beach."

Safin said he has matured a tremendous amount since incurring approximately $10,000 in fines at the Australian Open for busting rackets.

"Guys, for $10,000, you know what I can do? You don't know what I can do with $10,000," said Safin ,who broke 48 rackets last year and 36 so far this year.

Safin is the product of a tennis-teaching mother (Rausa, who also taught women's semifinalist Elena Dementieva how to play) and a Moscow-based club tennis director, Misha, who Marat said is an intense competitor.

They sent him to Valencia, Spain, when he was 13 to grind it out against the likes of Moya, Corretja and Ferrero. Marat needed to grow up.

"In all families it's the same,' he said. "You fight with your mother, your father. So they sent me to Spain. I thank my mother very much for this because she put me in the right place to play tennis, otherwise I don't know who I would be, but definitely not a great sportsman."

How does Safin's mother feel when he throws his racket?

"Well done, kid, do it again," he laughed.

Like his son, Safin's father is an intense competitor and occasionally hits with Marat's coach, former U.S. Open semifinalist Alexander Volkov.

"Sometimes he hits Volkov on the head when they play," Marat said.