From l'Equipe 10/11/09
"I can't read French but I undersant some words". [the cover reads "Crazy Stuff!", it's about the Sunday match between Lyon and Marseille... 5-5!]
He had sworn not to answer any solicitation or he would not play his last tournament in Bercy. But Marat Safin the unpredictable let himself be conviced. He reluctantly arrived at l’Equipe headquarter, some time after noon, looking moody, he left all smile with some photo souvenirs. Remembering the highlights of his sinusoidal career cheered him up. [Summary of the match I skipped].
He knows the adventure will very likely be over after the next round against JMDP. He knows it. “At least it won’t be hard to lose to him”, he said after his match, proving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga right. Earlier he had said “we will miss his outspokenness”. Yes, Safin speaks his mind. Here is the proof.
Tarbes, « Petits As », 1994
I had come with two different rackets. At that time, I had money problems and my parents pushed me to play in Tarbes to find sponsors. There was a lot of pressure. I also had big knee and no muscles! (laughers) I eventually lost to Gonzalez in SF. He played with a huge watch around his wrist that he made sparkle by moving his wrist all the time… It was a nice tournament, with incredible stuff: free adidas clothes, free Yoplait yogurts and we could play video games for free. It was paradise, incredible!
Paris, Roland Garros, 1998
My first Roland Garros… I had qualified, with the best racket of all time: the Head Prestige, that they don’t make anymore. I was close to the top100 (116th) and I played superb tennis even though I had a horrible draw: Agassi, Kuerten, Vacek… But I felt good. When you are young, you are a newcomer, nobody knows how you play, it’s easy to do well, to play without pressure. A dreamy situation. I was lucky too. Not so much against Pioline (he lost 7-5 4-6 6-7 6-4 6-4). I should have won, I was leading 5-3 in the first set and I lost it. I was supposed to play Arazi in quarters. Easy. A lack of experience unfortunately. But I can’t complain, I finished the year in the top50.
I have loved that tournament right away, comfy, not too big. The clay is perfect, the rebound excellent, the balls good. One can play some great tennis. The atmosphere is great except when it rains. People don’t behave like at a football or basketball match. People know their tennis. You’ll never hear a cell phone ringing during a match, or see a camera flash, like anywhere else. The crowd supports French players but they respect and like you. Of course I have regrets at Roland Garros, especially in 2002, when I lost to Ferrero in SF. I should have won that year. Meeting Costa in the final would have been a piece of cake!
New York, US Open, 2000
I wasn’t playing well at the beginning of the tournament. I could have lost to Pozzi, Grosjean, Kiefer… I survived and all of a sudden I started playing great tennis. I felt that I couldn’t lose anymore. I had no pressure against Sampras in the final. I had beaten him a couple of weeks earlier in Toronto. It wouldn’t have hurt to lose to him. He, however, how could he lose to that 20yo Russian? I felt good on court and I won without thinking about the victory, even in the 3rd set. The match changed my life. Everything was new for me. It allowed me to become world number 1 a few weeks later but I wasn’t ready to handle the pressure. In the evening at the bar, I was still nervous. I had to drink a few vodkas to calm down, to come back down. I was too young. Nobody could guide me. Such a big thing engages your secret feelings, your own weaknesses. It’s not the kind of thing you can share with anyone. I didn’t feel good in my own skin. I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I should have.
Paris, Roland Garros, 2001
I played Santoro for the first time in Washington. Nothing special happened but he surprised me with the way he read my game and it became a psychological war. Fabrice, it seems he has been around since 1800! I don’t think that before retiring he ever felt the need to do something other than play tennis. I think that I am at the best age to retire. I have no family, no kids, I’m still young and I can discover new things. When you are older, there are many things you can’t do anymore like studying. He has a family, a daughter. We all have our way to deal with life. I would like to study law, just the basics to have the keys to do well in the business world, to have a better understanding of the working world.
Bercy, Davis Cup Final, 2002
One of the best moments of my career. I had lost to Paulo before the final, in Moscow where he won the tournament. He played some extraordinary tennis, he was a rookie. But I was very confident after winning Bercy and the surface didn’t matter. Against Grosjean the third day, chances of me losing were low. I was a little bit afraid of him but I knew what to do (to beat him). In doubles, we lost with Kafelnikov. He was very angry that we lost that point. We all knew – except him (laughers) – that he wouldn’t play the decisive rubber if it was 2-2 on Sunday, and that even before the doubles match. Kafelnikov wasn’t in great shape, he had lost in straight sets to Grosjean the first day. We were all scared so we decided to make Youzhny play. It was an incredible tactical choice. Here is the story: Youzhny and Mathieu are the same age. When you are young, it’s like a derby. It’s important to know who is the best in your age bracket. Against Kafel, Mathieu would have had nothing to lose. Against Youzhny, it was the opposite: it was the later that had nothing to lose. Mathieu plays at home, he MUST win, he is under pressure. A very smart strategy because it changes the psychological position of the two players. We’ve always felt good in Davis Cup. We do it the Russian way: nobody breaks the balls of the others, everyone does as he pleases, we go out together or alone. Everybody is happy. We’ve never talked about money! We solved the problem once and for all (the more we play, the more we get paid) and that’s it! It’s incredible what happens in other teams. In Davis Cup, money is not important. 5 000 or 10 000 dollars won’t change your life…
Melbourne, Australian Open, 2004 (should be 2002)
Here is the story. One of those girls used to do "extra experiences" (sic) and all the others were her friends. She was supposed to be Mirnyi’s friend who had gotten her a visa to come to Melbourne and in the end she came to all my matches. Unfortunately not to Max’. She later became an actress. People have talked a lot about those girls but it’s over and it was a long time ago.
Cho You, Nepal, 2007
I was tired of tennis. I want to escape the circuit. Some of my friends were going to hike in Tibet and I asked if I could go with them. We managed to reach Cho You (at about 4000m), that was our camp, but I had headaches. They went on to reach the summit but I gave up. I had not taken any pills with me. I thought myself an athlete but I never had thought I could feel so bad. The only thing that helped was whisky. When you take a sip, you feel better for a couple of hours. The pressure and the headache go away. But it comes back, more painful. How much whisky would I have needed to drink in a month?
Paris, Roland Garros, 2001 (should be 2004)
I didn’t think, I dropped my shorts, just like that. It was spontaneous, but the supervisor didn’t understand. The crowd liked it, the supervisor not so much. And it’s not the crowd that gives you the fine. At least I have some memories. I am smiling on the picture? Yes, at that time I didn’t know I would have to pay (smiles).
I must have broken 500 or 600 rackets in my career. When you think about it, many players who used the Prestige broke their rackets. Alonso, Ivanisevic, Arazi… These rackets are too fragile!