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post #84 of (permalink) Old 12-02-2002, 07:24 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: At the rise of the Donald Duck Slam
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Very nice article from

Will Kafelnikov truly retire?

Now that Yevgeny Kafelnikov has backed himself into a corner, it will be interesting to watch carefully as he makes a decision in coming weeks about retiring from tennis.

All year long, the two-time Grand Slam champion has been saying if he is part of the first team to bring a Davis Cup title back to Russia, he would retire from the game. It is true that the 28-year-old has lost his focus and too often his touch when playing this year, which led to his retirement pronouncement. But as it turns out, Kafelnikov's being a member of the Russian squad that conquered the French defending champions 3-2 in Paris this past weekend turned into a very bittersweet moment for the Russian star.

The problem stems from the fact that Kafelnikov's dream likely painted a vivid picture where he was an essential ingredient to a Davis Cup victory, but alas, that was anything but the truth. Kafelnikov donned his distracted persona during the weekend tie and, after losing to Sebastien Grosjean in singles on Friday and losing the doubles with Marat Safin to Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro on Saturday, agreed to be released from the reverse singles match on Sunday in favor of young Mikhail Youzhny. The younger Russian took his place and took his opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu, in the decisive fifth rubber.

The final barely over and Kafelnikov was already wavering as to whether he would truly retire. He announced that a decision will be forthcoming next week, but the only thing he knew for sure is he is about to undergo varicose vein surgery in his leg.

Credit should be given to Kafelnikov, who realized that to use his seniority and insist on playing the final match of the tie could have been disastrous for the Russian squad. His willingness to step aside graciously worked for the good of everyone involved even if it didn't do much for his own self-confidence – maybe this type of selflessness stems from a childhood under a communist regime?

"My ego was saying I should play but I realized that Mikhail would give a better effort than I could," Kafelnikov said. "It was tough but I did everything for the best interests of the team. I am proud of what I did – I sent my ego back to Siberia. Sometimes you have got to put your personal ambitions somewhere else."

You can't help but admire the importance that Kafelnikov places on Davis Cup competition and the great desire to bring home a Davis Cup title for the first time in history, even if the glory behind the victory did not belong to him in terms of his performance. But in a certain way the glory did belong to Kafelnikov because he knew that leaving the final two matches to Marat Safin and Youzhny gave his team the best opportunity to prevail.

Kafelnikov's decision only sadly highlights how a country like the United States misses out when their top players fail to get into the Davis Cup spirit and make the competition a personal priority. How ironic it is that the US is the founding country of Davis Cup – Dwight Davis was a Harvard student when he developed the concept for Davis Cup – and these days it's probably the country that takes the competition the most for granted, even though the Yanks own a record 31 titles.

It's true that young American players such as Andy Roddick and James Blake are answering the call to Davis Cup duty, but the elder statesmen aren't being very supportive these days. Although Andre Agassi anchored many Davis Cup squads during the majority of his career, he's not taken part in the competition since 2000. And Pete Sampras, who rarely played Davis Cup throughout his career, had committed to play for the entire 2002 season. But when it came time to venturing to Paris for the semifinals on clay just a couple of weeks after he won his 14th Grand Slam trophy at the US Open in September, he took a pass. True, clay has never been Sampras' best surface, but just his stature as the greatest player in the game could have helped put the US into the final instead of France.

But back to Kafelnikov, who sat on the sidelines watching the 20-year-old Youzhny escape Mathieu's clutches as he came back from a two-set deficit in the final match, it would seem like a good bet that when the 2003 circuit commences, the Russian will be in the game. Even before this bittersweet Davis Cup result for Kafelnikov, it was hard to see the Sochi native abandoning tennis. What he does need to understand is that after so many years on the tour, it might be advisable to no longer attempt to play almost every week of the year, choosing to formulate a leaner tournament schedule.

Not only is the ATP tour wagering that Kafelnikov will be back – his bio in the 2003 ATP Media Guide will occupy two pages – but his compatriot Safin thinks he'll stay around for another year.

Safin said, "He brings big support for the team and he is very important for us and tennis in Russia. Tennis is his life and his career and he loves it."
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