Cup Could Inspire Safin's Singles Play Says Former Coach
By Richard Pagliaro
In terms of temperament, Mats Wilander and Marat Safin seem
about as similar as Mr. Rogers and Mr. T. During his brief tenure
as Safin's coach last year, the stoic Swede provided a sense
of stability and calm to Safin's career.
Wilander and Safin parted company earlier this year, largely
because Wilander's devotion to his family and his home in
Idaho made it difficult to travel to tournaments with Safin,
but the pair remain good friends and Wilander believes Safin
hasn't reached his professional peak.
"Obviously, he lost a tough match at the Open to Gustavo
Kuerten, which was a tough draw for Marat," Wilander
said in a conference call with the media. "I think he's
really focusing on Davis Cup and that could do wonders for
him, just being able to pull together with his friends and
win Davis Cup as a team. I think that maybe is what Marat
needs: something different. I think he may be getting bored
sometimes playing individual tournaments."
In terms of talent, the 6-foot-4 Russian may be the most
physically gifted player on the ATP Tour. But Safin's sometime
fragile psyche has yet to catch up with his physical prowess
and his results пїЅ particularly in Grand Slams since his appearance
in the Australian Open final in January пїЅ have been disappointing.
When Wilander assesses the state of Safin's career he sees
striking similarities to another talented ball striker who
elevated power baseline play to a new level: seven-time Grand
Slam champion Andre Agassi.
"Marat's 22 now and he's got such a big game maybe his
mental state hasn't caught up to his physical ability and
that can happen to anyone," Wilander said. "You
only have to go as far back as Andre Agassi to see that: Agassi
certainly had his best years after he was 25. I think Marat
might be a similar case to Andre. As a friend, I'm not worried
about his tennis career, but it would be nice if it (success)
happens for him. Because I think tennis needs someone like
him with that kind of big game and presence. He has the charisma
that tennis needs."
Top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt spent his youth literally looking
up to Wilander as he gazed at the poster of Wilander plastered
to the wall of his bedroom and dreamed of professional success.
Hewitt has often cited Wilander as the player who he modeled
his game after and when Wilander views the top players in
the world today, Hewitt's style reminds him of a former Grand
Slam champion who won three Australian Open championships:
"I think Lleyton Hewitt does remind me of what I did
in comparison to his peers," Wilander said. "He
doesn't overpower them, he can play on any surface and he
moves the ball around quite well. Compared to most players
out there today, for example a Safin, what Hewitt does is
he can move back and forth himself and he can move players
back and forth and not just sideways. Some players just move
opponents sideways, hitting corner to corner or down the middle
as hard as they can and try to win the point that way. But
Hewitt doesn't do that: he can move them up and down. He's
got a lot going for him including his legs and his foot speed.
But more than anything he plays with his heart and his brain
and he's No. 1 in the world because of that and because he