Turns out Marat Safin and I do have something in common: Neither one of us will be in attendance in Portland when the US meets Russia in the upcoming Davis cup finale. For me, visiting Portland in December is just not my cup of tea. For Safin, he says the Davis cup final is not in his future plans after spending the early part of this month traversing one of the largest mountains in the world.
In a statement on his official website, maratsafin.com, reads, “Marat was not very happy with his standard of play at the Madrid Masters and has decided after discussion with his coach Hernan Gumy and his management that it would be better to finish his 2007 season now. His mountain adventure which he thoroughly enjoyed, took him out of his rhythm and also left him with no energy. He thought he was ready coming back in Moscow but found that the stress of playing back to back tournaments was too much and his body just was not ready to cope with it. He thought he could play at a good level but it didn’t happen.”
Safin’s absence will be a big loss not just for the Russian team, but also for tennis fans in this country. I’m a big Safin guy, and I know I’m not the only one here in the US that supports the big Russian. I mean how can you not like the guy? He speaks his mind, he breaks rackets, he wins a Slam every now and then, he pulls his pants down, he likes to throw down a few vodkas, he climbs mountains, and of course he likes to roll a with some pretty fine looking women. He is one of the true characters in tennis today. I would imagine that if you polled fans on which player they’d most like to have a drink at the bar with, Safin’s going to be that guy.
And the Marat’s done just about everything there is to do in the sport, but sure you could argue that for all his accomplishment and talent he has underachieved. For a variety of reasons, perhaps due to injury or malaise, Safin has not won a title on the ATP circuit since his incredible 2005 Australian Open title run, and his two career Slam wins might not meet the expectations initially set for him after his US Open win. But I think to some extent Safin may be a victim of his own interests.
For guys like Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and others, getting to the top of the tennis world only drove them harder to stay on top. They liked the grind of being No. 1. On the other hand, I think when Safin got to the top he actually took a look around and smelled the roses. He enjoyed what it offered him. And I think he just knew to maintain that position would take away from his other interests in life – like getting to the top of a mountain! Obviously injuries set him back otherwise he’d surely have some more hardware in his trophy case. But if he had truly committed to tennis 100% who knows…
Another player like Safin who I think suffers from general tennis disinterest at times is David Nalbandian, who today absolutely destroyed World No. 2 Rafael Nadal at the Tennis Masters in Madrid. Nalbandian, who’s been MIA for most of the year, lost just three games in the match in his first meeting against Rafa. Nalbandian is a great player, an incredible talent, but dropping that kind of scoreline on Rafa in his backyard tells me Nadal had to be under some sort of physical distress. But credit to David for taking care of business.
With Nadal out, Roger Federer has a pretty clear a path to the Madrid title, with Feliciano Lopez today and then either Fernando Gonzalez or Nick Kiefer in the semi’s. If Novak Djokovic can stay healthy and beat Nalbandian in the semifinals tomorrow it would set up a tasty rematch against Fed on Sunday.
Back to the Russia-US Davis cup tie. With Safin now out of the lineup (for the moment at least) it will be interesting to see who Russia selects on their team. I think it’s pretty clear that Dmitry Tursunov will be on the squad but who’ll also be selected to play singles is the question. Obviously Nikolay Davydenko is the top ranked Russian, but the Nickel has never beaten either Andy Roddick and James Blake. That said, Russia could select Ivor Andreev who’s proven himself against Roddick and Blake or even Mikhail Youzhny. My early guess is that they will go with Andreev and hope for the best.
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