I came upon this article today on another message board. Its such an amazing article and i don't think too many people have read it. Its from Moscow Kosmosolets, June 1998. Enjoy!
The Prince in Shappy Jeans
For a good three years, everyone in Russia has been saying;"Besides Kafelnikov, we don't have any other good players! Only he will be able to achieve anything. When Kafelnikov leaves, Russian tennis will die altogether." So remembering this, it was generally accepted before Roland Garros, that the blond Kafelnikov, having married again, was Russia's champion. A very young Marat Safin was not even mentioned. Well, what was to be expected from a little known 18 year-old, who had only just managed to qualify for the draw with his god-only-knows entry number?
In the first round, he cut Andre Agassi into ribbons. In the second round (a first, by the way, in Roland Garros History) our Marat completely destroyed defending champion Kuerten, then 'nailed' strong contender, Czech player Daniel Vacek. And all this was accomplished with his deadly, impertuable form as if he'd never been anything else. It seems, Russia now has a new star. The star who seems modest, and until now, quiet. And about whom, we know nothing yet.
Russia's team captain, Shamil Tarpischev, had already noticed Marat long ago. He even placed Marat in the match against the Americans during Davis Cup. For a novice like Marat, this was a mad testing , but he withstood the test in a worthy manner. Although he lost the match, he exerted a game beyond his own limits. And to the press, Agassi remarked, "I will tell my grandsons about this match." When the former world number one threatens to describe in precise detail his struggle with an 18 year-old boy, any commentary is unnecessary.
The telephone in the Safin apartment hasn't stopped ringing. Rausa and Mikhail, the parents of the new hero, were congratulated by people they haven't heard from in years. "Does Marat ring you?" I ask. "Certainly", replies Rausa, "Honestly, we barely talk about tennis. This is the first big tournament for our son. We don't want to make him nervous. However, I remind Marat that things are now difficult, heavy. True, there was a ridiculous moment when we spoke to him after his Agassi victory: Marat said, 'Mum, I'm going to book a flight to Moscow.' But I answered him, 'You know, you've had a tough time in France, but sit still.' Marat stayed, and he beat Kuerten."
Rausa Islanova knows better than anyone, what is necessary for Marat. Indeed, the mother of the young prodigy was well known in the past as a tennis player, the champion of the USSR and the first coach of young players: 'a supplier of hits.' "It is strange, " she smiles, "30 years ago, I played at Roland Garros, and if someone had said to me that after many years on the same courts, I would see my son also play..............."
But it must be said that Rausa did not impose tennis on Marat, unlike many arrogant parents. Although, Marat was only 5 months old when he first appeared on court - he arrived with his mum during her coaching sessions in a carrycot, because there was no-one else to leave him with. As he grew up, he began to toddle around the other kiddies, who were being taught in a group by his mum. He walked, he looked, then he picked up a racket. "Do you know what struck me?", recalls Rausa, "with all the other children, we had to teach them tennis: how to hold the racket, how to hit a ball, how to move. But with Marat, it all came together immediately, without any explanation. "
Recently in a Roland Garros press conference, Marat said something that really surprised the reporters. When asked "Why did you come without your coach?", he replied, "I was confident I would pass through the qualifiers. And he [my coach] had agreed to meet me later." But Safin's parents had known about this since his childhood. His mum has never forgotten the time she sent Marat to buy some milk for his then newborn sister, Dinara. But instead of milk, he bought porridge. "Why did you buy porridge?" asked his mum. Marat authoratively stated, "The shops sometimes run out of milk. Let her get used to porridge. It is always possible to buy more porridge."
There is another example: by the age of 10, Marat had a serious rival, Nikitin, in Moscow. And time after time, Marat lost to him. Just before another match against Nikitin, Marat, picking up his bag, suddenly announced to his parents, "You know, today I'll go on my own. It will make things simpler for me. It's not necessary for you to come with me. I'll be destroyed by Nikitin anyway." And so it happened: 10 year old Safin defeated the invincible Nikitin.
However, Rausa and Mikhail can only describe so much about Marat. They only see their son during rare visits to Moscow. Indeed, Marat hasn't lived there with his parents since he was 14. Yes, Marat was only 14 when it was decided that he should go to Valencia and start an independent life at the local tennis academy.
"It was very difficult for my wife," says Mikhail, "Indeed, Rausa wasn't a bad coach for Marat. But she clearly understood that there is a point when a mum can no longer be a coach. It was necessary, for him to become a man we needed another strong man involved. So we involved Marat's sponsor. Parting was painful. How do you let a 14 year old boy go to into a strange country? Especially as Marat spoke no Spanish. After only 2 days, he rang home almost in tears saying "Take me back to Moscow! I don't understand anything! I can't even understand what my landlady says to the shop assistants........"
However, Marat soon overcame this small weakness. He made many friends, but the landlady became almost like Marat's second mother. Neighbours, with great affection, would watch each morning as the Russian tennis player accompanied the old lady into the store and followed her around, carrying all her heavy bags. "He was so simple, and polite," said the landlady herself, "He was nothing like the other young people. It was as if Marat was from another century." Rausa, on the whole, agrees with his landlady, "You know, my son is simply not capable of being rude. He likes to help anyone who asks him. For example, Marat was becoming uninterested in some of his old school friends. However, he never said to these children that they could no longer call him. He would ask me to tell them he had gone to train. I tell you, you'll see it on court."
That, then, is the truth. During Roland Garros, a curious thing happened during his match with Kuerten, which confirms the words of Marat's mother. The umpire decided that Kuerten's ball was out and Kuerten began to argue that it was in. Marat approached the umpire and said, "Include Kuerten's ball, actually, it was in."
The destroyer of Agassi and Kuerten, and a person of extreme modesty. A popular guy in France, he only recently bought a car.......even if it was second hand. And he's completely indifferent to the clothes he wears. For the last 2 years, Marat walked around in only one pair of jeans. When they invited the Russian team to a banquet, it was necessary to wear a navy blue suit, a suit they had to provide Marat with. All the coaches were assured that the players owned a suitable white suit [tuxedo?] and necktie as well. And yes, they all owned one, except Marat, who turned up in a striped jacket!!
At the moment, after losing in the fourth round of Roland Garros Marat rang home and said, "Why do journalists chase me? It's quite simply, a nightmare!!! An hour after every match, I have to do an interview. I'm always watched in the hotel. Really, do they have no-one else to write about? I won three matches and suddenly I'm a star?!?"
"He is always like this," sighs mum, " when he wins, he plays it down with a wave of his hand and says, "well, you would think...." and after losing, he still reassures us with, 'well, it's not like it's the last match of my life. Tomorrow, I'll take it and win.'" Unlike many boys, Marat never had a childhood idol. "I never wanted to imitate anyone." said a young Safin. But he won many admirers, even Cedric Pioline, and even if he hadn't, many Russians will begin to imitate Mr Marat Safin now.