Marat Safin happy with grass credentials

24 June 2002

Last year, Marat Safin's Wimbledon quest was ended in the quarter-finals as Goran Ivanisevic bulldozed his way towards a date with destiny.

Safin has proved himself on all surfaces (Reuters)
This year, the brooding Russian is a live contender and he underlined his title credentials with a 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 destruction of Cedric Pioline in the first round on Monday.

Safin is one of the few players in the game to pose a serious threat on all surfaces, and he is now well versed in the art of grasscourt tennis.

And after a highly impressive victory against Pioline, Safin admitted that his chances of success at the All England Club are far greater these days.

"Every year I get more experience," he explained. "You have to change your game after playing on clay courts, and I now know what I need to do to play well on grass.

"My favourite surface is hardcourt, so for me grass is not so different. It's quite easy to adjust after four years here."

For a man whose temperament is so erratic, Safin is remarkably consistent on court and has already reached the last four of the Australian and French Opens this year.

Thomas Johansson denied him a second Grand Slam title in the final in Melbourne, while Juan Carlos Ferrero ended his dreams of glory at Roland Garros.

So can Safin make amends by going all the way at Wimbledon? Last year, he shunned such talk, but even the modest Russian is starting to believe in himself.

"Things are changing in tennis. Players are improving and the gap between the top 10 and the rest is smaller.

"Everybody can beat everybody, so it's difficult to say if I can win it, but why not?

"Many others can win it also, but if I can get to the second week then anything can happen. The first round is very tough, but from second week you can play your best tennis."

Safin certainly played some of his best tennis against Pioline, who has only progressed beyond the first round once since reaching the final in 1997.

After edging a tense first set in an even tenser tiebreak, Safin cut loose and reeled off a string of winners from the back of the court.

Pioline saved two set points in the second set but a timely net cord gave Safin the two-set advantage he craved and the rest was pretty inevitable.

The Frenchman could have thrown himself a lifeline had he converted one of three break points at 1-1 in the third set, but Safin slammed the door shut.

The second seed eventually found the decisive break at 4-3, unintentionally lobbing the advancing Pioline, and he wrapped up a fine victory with an ace.