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Старый 21st June 2004, 18:52
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Re: Зарубежная пресса о теннисе

Safin The Russian Enigma
Wimbledon.org

In a sport like tennis, where the tendency is to look after yourself and talk in similar fashion, there was until recently a rare degree of unanimity about one thing: that on his day Marat Safin was the world's best player.

The recent ascent of Roger Federer has qualified opinions about Safin being top dog, but the 24-year-old Russian remains one of the most attractive, volatile, unpredictable and entertaining figures in a profession where the work ethic tends to dominate waking - and sleeping - hours.

Having vaulted to fame by destroying Pete Sampras in the US Open final of 2000, Safin became world number one later that year. Last season, plagued by injury, he ended up 77th in the rankings, a dispiriting plunge, and this year is proving to be one of restoring ranking and reputation, in the company of another new coach, Peter Lundgren.

Lundgren and Federer parted company last December but the Swede was not unemployed for long. Safin took him on board and now the tall player and the tubby coach are embarked, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, on a crusade to get Marat back to where he, and most of tennis, think he belongs.
The Moscow-born Safin owes his name of Marat to his grandmother, who thought that having someone in the family named after the 18th century French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat was preferable to having another Sergei or Andrei around.

Safin, too, has proved something of a revolutionary. He took up the game at six because his father, Misha, was director of a small tennis club in Moscow and his mother Rausa, a former Russian junior prospect, became his coach. His younger sister, Dinara, is also doing well on the WTA circuit.

The parents managed to procure sponsorship which enabled Marat, at 14, to base himself in Valencia, learning Spanish and the arts of clay court tennis. Though Safin still spends time in Valencia, he is based nowadays in Monte Carlo, a sure indication that his bank balance has prospered.

From the moment he made his Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the 1998 French Open, defeating Andre Agassi and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten and reaching the fourth round, Safin has been talking as hard as he plays. And, since he thinks tennis should be enjoyed, most of the talk has been lively, entertaining stuff.

From his early days he gained a reputation as a destroyer of tennis rackets which were not able to do what he expected of them. One year he smashed 48.

And as Safin's ranking soared, so did his tendency to speak out against an over-demanding playing schedule and authoritanism.But the fans loved him, never more so than in New York in September of Millennium Year when he crushed Sampras, a four-time champion, in the final of the US Open, conceding just 10 games to the great man.

That was the biggest of the seven titles Safin won in 2000 and remains to date his only Grand Slam success. He has twice been runner-up at the Australian Open, in 2002 and again in January this year when he was defeated by Federer, and has got as far as semi-finals at Roland Garros and the French Open.

Wimbledon remains the one tournament in the Big Four where he feels he has not yet shown his best form. In the four times he has competed, his best achievement was a quarter-final in 2001. Last year, because of a wrist injury which effectively ended his season from April onwards, he missed three of the four Grand Slams, Wimbledon included.

Now, he feels, there is an inviting new page on which to inscribe a fresh deed or two. For instance, it is surely time that he ended a title drought stretching back to the Masters Series indoor tournament in Paris in November 2002.

Until blistered hands ended his hopes in the fourth round of the French Open last month, Safin was on the road to rediscovering his best form. And, of course, having fun along the way, as he showed by dropping his shorts after one spectacular rally. So he remains very much Marat the Revolutionary.
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