Interesting USA Today piece
following Safin's USO first round win over Dancevic:
Once-volatile Safin more subdued late in career
29 August 2007
NEW YORK — The stage was set for a classic Marat Safin moment. Returning serve on match point in a tense third-set tiebreaker against Frank Dancevic on Wednesday afternoon, Safin had climbed all over a second serve when a strange noise suddenly boomed over the stadium loudspeaker.
The chair umpire rightfully called a let to replay the point. Safin looked up in disbelief and disgust but slowly walked back to receive. He then lost the point.
Would he go postal? Destroy a racket? Charge the umpire? Mutter and gesture in loud voices to himself?
Not this time. Like more things of late, Safin buried it. On the next match point he stepped up and fired his 19th ace, sealing a first-round win against Canadian qualifier Dancevic 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7) to book a second-round match against Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland.
"Hopefully, it will never happen again," Safin said of the odd interruption while cracking his trademark grin.
It's always been tough to read the Moscow-born resident of Monaco. Mercurial, moody and exceptionally talented, Safin has earned fans as much for his outsized tennis as for his explosive unpredictability.
Big, at 6-4, and agile, the 2000 U.S. Open champ possesses a rare mix of speed and power. Safin, who has dissed Wimbledon, tortured unknown quantities of rackets and once dropped his shorts after hitting a spectacular winner, also has been that other rare mix: a Technicolor character who could win big.
Since capturing the 2000 U.S. Open at 20 and briefly ascending to No. 1, the Russian's name has rarely strayed far from the list of potential Grand Slam contenders. Despite bursts of brilliance, Safin has become more of an afterthought as injuries, age and apparent lack of commitment have taken their toll.
His last title came in early 2005, when he beat Roger Federer at the Australian Open on his way to a second Grand Slam title — the last man to beat Federer on a hardcourt at a Grand Slam and the last Grand Slam champ other than Federer or Rafael Nadal. This season, his best showing is a semifinal at Las Vegas, and he has suffered losses in the last few months to Janko Tipsarevic, Hyung-Taik Lee, Simone Bolleli and Kristof Vliegen.
"For me to make quarterfinal, it's a huge, huge deal lately," he says. "So kind of not expecting anything from this tournament and nothing from this year."
Safin is realistic about his No. 25 seeding, but not afraid to admit he still feels capable of winning majors.
"Basically I hope that I will have a chance to win another Grand Slam," he says. "It's tougher and tougher, but why not? There is a chance."
Smiling, he explains how: "If (Roger) Federer will lose to somebody, somebody will withdraw, (Rafael) Nadal will have something happen to him, the door is open."
If Safin often wrestles with demons in his head, he's not grappling with the past.
"Yeah, but who cares?" he answers when asked if his straight-sets whipping of Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open remains the best match of his career. "It's so far in the past. It's already history. It's a long time ago. It's time to move on."
And in case you didn't get his point, he adds: "I hate the people when they still live in the past and saying how great they were in, I don't know, in the past century."
Clearly, Safin isn't dwelling on his tennis past. The question is, how much future remains?
Injuries to his left wrist in 2003 and to his left knee in 2005 sidelined him for big chunks of the season and exacerbated his already erratic nature. His rankings the last seven years are yoyo-like: 2, 11, 3, 77, 4, 13, 26.
"It kind of broke the rhythm of my career," he says of the injuries. "I could have achieved more, but I didn't."
Safin says he has no regrets, even if some label him an underachiever. With more than $13 million in career prize money, tennis has made him rich and comfortable, allowing him to wine, dine and crisscross the globe.
"I'm not disappointed with my career," says Safin, who has reached four Grand Slam finals and won two Davis Cup titles with Russia.
He insists he remains motivated to return to the top — otherwise, why bother?
"It's not like I'm struggling with the money," he says. "It's not like I need it. I'm here just because I want to play and I'm enjoying playing. I'm enjoying fighting. I'm enjoying what I'm doing."
To shore up his game and shaky self-belief, Safin hired former pro Hernan Gumy of Argentina five weeks ago. Both say the partnership is paying off.
"He's starting to feel a little more confident," says Gumy, who has previously coached Guillermo Canas, Gustavo Kuerten and Guillermo Coria. "He's a guy who has the talent, who knows about the game. He will have a chance again."
If titles are scarce, the taste of victory remains sweet — "the most beautiful feeling in the world you're going to get," according to Safin.
"I think it kind of attracts you," he says. "It's what is moving you. And you still want to win matches and matches, so I think the motivation is there."