by Randy Walker
Marat Safin provided for press conference laughs, visited Rio’s famous Corcovado and played a little soccer Thursday upon arrival in the 2016 Olympic city in preparation for his debut tournament on the Champions Series tennis circuit.
Safin, the former world No. 1 who retired from the ATP World Tour last fall, will make his Champions Series debut at the Banco Cruzerio do Sul Rio Champions Cup that starts Friday. Safin, the champion at the 2000 U.S. Open and the 2005 Australian Open, will play Wayne Ferreira in Friday’s quarterfinals. The Banco Cruzeiro do Sul Rio Champions Cup is the opening event on the 2010 Champions Series tennis circuit, the U.S.-based international tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over.
After arriving in Rio, the 30-year-old Safin joined Cedric Pioline and Mark Philippoussis and visited the city’s most iconic site — the Corcovado — and enjoyed the view of the city from the famed statue of Christ. Following his tourist jaunt, Safin then stole the show in the tournament’s kick-off press conference, showing off his humor and charisma that earned him many fans around the world.
“It is almost a comedy that I am back in such a short time,” said Safin of so quickly jumping from the ATP World Tour on the Champions Series circuit. “It is an honor to be playing with these legends.”
Asked if it is true or not that he enjoyed the night life and women so much that it affected his tennis, he answered without hesitation. “I am gonna answer with another question to you,” he said. “If I drink, go out and do all the other things you said about the women, how would I have managed to be who I am?” After listening to fellow competitor Jim Courier whisper in his ear the word talent, he continued. “I would either be too talented or too organized.”
When asked by the media if he planned to hit the party scene in Rio, Safin said, “As some of the players are here with their wives, they will definitely be out of my team.”
Courier then said that he would probably spend his time having the national drink of Brazil, the Caipirinha. Safin then replied that he came here to play and to work and that he intends to spend a lot of his time on court and with the kids and the sponsors.
At the end of the 2000 season, Safin and Brazil’s superstar Gustavo Kuerten battled for the year-end No. 1 ATP World Tour ranking until the waning days of the season at the year-end championships in Lisbon, Portugal. Said Safin, “I will never forgive Guga because he stole the number one ranking from me in 2000, but we had great matches, he has a great personality, was very important for tennis in Brazil and I think he was the first one that played fast and aggressive tennis on clay.”
Safin’s trip to Rio marks his first trip to South America and he explained to the media why he never cared to play the ATP South American tournaments. “I am going to explain to you,” he said. “Early on the tour, I learned that it wasn’t interesting for me to play in South America, because here it is too much work and not a lot of money. The tournaments here are ATP 250 and if I come, I play (Fernando) Meligeni in the first round, (Juan Ignacio) Chela or (Gaston) Gaudio in the second, maybe Kuerten and then I would have spent four or five hours to win each match, would maybe lose in the semis and get a prize money of approximately US$10,000. With the taxes and air fares, I would win nothing. That is why I always played in Europe and in the States, on the hard courts that I like better.”
To end the meeting with the media, Safin said that he doesn’t intend to be a tennis coach and that being a coach is much different than being a player. “I am not ready to be a coach and I am definitely not going to follow this career,” he said.
Following the press conference, to continue a tradition that started last year at the inaugural Rio Champions Cup, all of the competing players went to the famed soccer field, the Maracana Stadium, where they were greeted by the stadium’s most famous player, Zico. Having scored 333 goals during his career at Maracana, Zico waited for the players inside the field, autographed and gave each of them a national team t-shirt and kicked the ball around with the men who are more talented handling balls with racquets than feet.
“It is an honor for me to meet Zico at the Maracana Stadium,” said Safin. “I would have liked to be at the Stadium when it could host 200,000 people. Now it is only half, but it still big. It is very nice that the event did it for us and we had a lot of fun playing with him.”
Also competing in the eight-player, single-knock out event are Courier, Pioline, Philippoussis, Meligeni, Mats Wilander and Mikael Pernfors. The event will feature $150,000 in total prize money, with the singles champion earning $60,000. Tickets can be purchased by calling 5521-3005-4023. Ticket information — as well as behind the scenes video footage from the event shot by Courier — can also be found at www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com. The full schedule of play at the event is as follows:
Friday 12th March: Starting at 6 pm
Quarterfinal #1 — Fernando Meligeni vs. Mikael Pernfors
Quarterfinal #2 — Mark Philippoussis vs. Cedric Pioline
Quarterfinal #3 — Marat Safin vs. Wayne Ferreira
Quarterfinal #4 — Jim Courier vs. Mats Wilander
Saturday 13th March: Starting at 6 pm
Men’s Doubles Match
Semifinal #1 — Winner of Safin/Ferreira vs. Meligini/Pernfors
Semifinal #2 — Winner of Philippoussis/Pioline vs. Courier/Wilander
Sunday 14th March: Starting at 11 am
3rd Place Match
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