Safin happy with grass credentials
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
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
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.