Davis Cup Could Inspire Safin's Singles Play Says Former Coach Wilander

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: himself.

"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 tries harder."