Guys, here is the translation. As you can see it's long, so it's not perfect
Mens Health Magazine, July 2010
When he went on court we didn't know how the match is going to end, but we knew for sure – we will not be able to stop watching. When last year he left the big sport we didn't know what will happen next. Nine months after the career end of the brightest Russian tennis player Marat Safin we met him to make things clear – what it is to start new life at the age of 30 and waht are the biggest wins in the past.
If it was up to Marat himself, there would be no tennis in his life. The boy dreamed about football since his childhood and even went to the children training school Spartak. " I went there for month and a half, while they were making a team, but they didn't pick me. Hence I had to start with tennis. After five years I learned that this was staged – my mom arranged for me not to be picked. She did great, and made the right decision, because in football for me there would be much less chances".
Well, soon Marat wasn't picked also in Nick Bolletieri's famous academy, because they didn't see the future start in Marat. "When I went there for review, there were already Kournikova, Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Rios, Max Mirniy. After a month and a half I was told that I will not go up and sent me back to Russia".
International education Marat did receive after all.
"In 1994 we had nothing good: no courts, no rackets, no balls. My parents didn't have the money to send me to school abroad, but they helped my father – they have found a Swiss man, who I haven't seen in my life. This man, to whom I am extremely grateful, decided to help a boy from Russia – to give money for practice. I think this is great deed – to simply support a person, who is a total stranger to you. So in 1994 I went to Spain, in Pancio Alvarina's academy in Valencia.
I lived in a family, where I had a room, and I was practicing from dusk till down. The first half year I went crazy: at the age of 14 I was in a foreign country, in a family, where they speak Spanish, and I speak a bad English and Russian only. I didn't understand anything, but in the childhood years one picks up very quick. Communicating and watching TV I remembered words. It got easier, when I started having friends. I had to spend money to go somewhere during the weekends, and not to feel completely poor – I had a monthly allowance of $ 60. If now you mention this amount to someone, they would laugh".
In Safin's biography that's the year of the first tournament won, but few months before he lifted the prize Marat was sure that he is done with tennis in his life: after three years training in a tennis academy, people stooped believing that he will achieve serious success.
"In 1997 the sponsor said that since there is no progress, there would be no more financing. That meant going home. And he went home with blurry idea of what will he do next and with very clear understanding that he didn't become a professional tennis player.
"I planned to try enroll a college in the USA, to get a sport scholarship – and education grant. I was very afraid to go into the nowhere. Then I got lucky – they called me from IMG (note: one of the biggest sports agencies in sports world)
and told me that they could give wild card (note: a chance for tournament participation to a player with no rating)
to the junior Roland Garros. One can't refuse such a chance, despite that I haven't practiced in two months."
He got $500 from his mom and went at a venture, but there was no miracle and he lost in first round. He didn't collect points, but he convinced the IMG agents not to double cross him. "I was going and purely begging. At the end of the day they gave me around $7500 – good money, so that I could go on few more tournaments". Now that was the question – where to go to?
There are many tennis tournaments in the world and without a coach and experience it is hard to decide where to play, and where not. Even more so, when you are in the middle of 5th hundred in the rating and nobody has interests in you. Marat again got lucky.
"I went to the Netherlands to satellites – 4 tournaments, after end of whose one could play masters and collect points. There I was taken care of more experienced players – guys from France and Argentine. They saw: a young guy, with no coach and decided to help me. They made a plan for me for the near future – where and when is the best to play. I took this plan and followed it strictly. The mens tennis is like a big family. Since it is very hard to break through, it is easier to stay with the crowd. The more people you know, the easier it is – if someone has an apartment in the tournament's city, you could save on hotel costs. At someone's place you could sleep on a stretch coach, at other's place – you sleep on the floor. At the women's tour there is no such thing – the relations there are different.
After a month the results came, and I started earning little by little: two thousands here, one and a half there. I was lucky so many times! Like you play bad, but all of a sudden you accidentally win. That happened with the first won challenger (note Challenger series, Portugal, 27 March 1997). All started with the fact that they didn't want to get me on a plane. I had to find the manager and beg him saying that this is my last chance. After all they gave me a seat with the cabin crew. I arrived at the tournament at 5 a.m., my first match started at 10 a.m. and I won it by miracle, so did it go further with the tournament.
From one side – this is luck. But on the other side: in order to use the chances one has to be ready. I was always ready. Many people just don't see their luck. Like in that anecdote: at least buy a lottery ticket. One has to be tenacious, to have a character – and all will come.
When I borrowed money for Roland Garros I was 450th and ended the year at 200th with earned $ 10 000 – 15 000 to start the new year and pay a coach. There were even some money left to buy and old, hit by the door, VW Golf for one and half thousand and rent an apartment in Valencia for $ 500. It is easier to fly to tournaments from there, than from Moscow”.
Winnie the Pooh said that “so suddenly no one goes away”, but the 20-year-old Safin, who won the US Open and became the youngest tennis player in history to become Nr. 1 in ATP rating, decided that this is the best time to retire. At that time he was thinking that it's best to go away at the fame's peek and open an automobile service center and a shop for office equipment.
“At that time I have been alone for 6 years – explains Marat – And it happened that at this exact moment I had no close people around me. I had no one to talk, to discuss it. The US Open win seemed to me like the highest level of a computer game – I have passed it, and now what?
I have never had the goal to be Nr. 1. To me that was like flying to the moon. When that happened I needed a new impulse, because it's one thing to achieve something, and another to remain on top. The latter is harder, because when you have nothing to lose, you just go to your goal, but when there is something to lose – you start to chicken out.
Thank God, then there were people, who every discreetly directed me to the right decisions. Yet again I was lucky. It is very easy to make a mistake – and soon you will be sitting God-knows-where and being fat.”
After that success it came the expected decline: year 2001 Safin ended 11th having won only 2 small tournaments. But in the other parts of life all went well: a home in Spain, 5 cars, including Ferrari, Mercedes and Audi, apartments. Live and enjoy, the hell with it, with the rating! But Safin sells it all and leaves Spain.
“All that was a big headache. All that cars are absolutely unnecessary. Now I am driving an old Mercedes and old Cayenne. Sometimes policemen ask me 'Why do you drive old cars?' I don't need them - I had it all already. Probably everyone should go through that sickness. Money should be used, but in no way they should become meaning of life. It is pity in our country many people haven't understood that and they live only for the sake of money.”
In the next year they have stolen Marat's BMW, then two jeeps and robbed his apartment. He took it philosophically, and knowing himself, won on court and ended the year one step below the top.
Marat has 15 titles on his shoulders, 10 finals and millions as prize money – that all for 9 seasons “adult” career. The other result of 9 years professional career is in his medical card. Every season is 11 moths non-stop flights, practices and 4-5 hour matches under the hot sun. It gets harder for Marat – not to play, but to walk – and the question of retirement appears again.
“I had a problem – I won the AO and after a month my knee started hurting. I thought: I will suffer for a while – it'll go away, but every time it got worse. In three months before every match I took 1600 mg painkillers, that lasts for one set, and after that I took another 400 mg. They were freezing my knee, so that I wouldn't feel it, but for how long one could live in such regime? 2000 – 3000 mg painkillers per day and after a while the body will stop. I couldn't run, I couldn't drive, I couldn't sleep on my belly.
At the medical check in Italy they told me that a surgery is possible, but there are no guarantees – I could start running, or I could become disabled. They said: try not to do anything now, if you can't play professionally in an year, you could be able to play football with your friends. I was fine with that.
At the end, I did come back on court, but I understood clearly that I can't go back to the previous level – the speed was lost, I can't break at times, because all of the time I am thinking about the knee. And what for are all those sufferings?”
According to Safin the reason he didn't retire in 2006 was the simple thought: “I am leaving tennis – and tomorrow no one will need me”. That is why he came back an despite the injuries he kept on playing at high level. Half an year before his retirement in 2009 he was 20th in the world. But Marat knew that this would be his last year in tennis and early on started preparations, including morally.
“I went deep into the organizational matters, even though I knew a lot. Tennis is a perfect basis for a further career: you travel, learn languages, meet different people. New horizons open and one should only set goals.
When I was playing, I made a plan for every week, because you never know when this or that tournament will end for you. You set a goal: to win one match, two matches, to collect points. This is very delicate thing and such a goal understanding helps one to realize what is extra in your life, who and what are bothering you. This has a disciplining effect, but from that rhythm is hard to move on. Two months after career end I still planned the day so that I could lay until noon and get up at an exact time. When you have been in the army for 25 years (I am in tennis since I was 5), long after you keep on having a straight posture. This is disciplining you a lot!
I thought: a month without practice and + 10 kilos. Actually I started eating less, and as practice I have only football matches with friends, I not just didn't gain weight, I lost 5 kilos. See – my jeans are loose.
Step by step you start see yourself in a different perspective - not as an athlete, who can do something for himself and his career, but as a person, who can do something for the sport. This is what is interesting to me now, because I know the inside very well, and see how I can improve it. There are so many plans.
In September there will be opening of a tennis academy on Crocus Expo. Now there are 4 courts, another 8 are being built. This is just the beginning. I hired guys, whom I have played with time ago. I have set to them a goal to grow a player in 5 years. We try to gather talented, understanding coaches, because should be taught many things beside tennis game. It's game – it' snot just forehand, backhand, that's a life – life path that should be used in the right way. There are always bad people around, who can quickly spend all the money. It is important for the kid to have someone, who has been through that already. The Bolletieri Academy's format is correct one. They didn't pick me? No one is insured against mistakes. The way the process is built there, the coaches that they have – it's a very high level. If the conditions were bad, there would not go there so many starts.
We have no such places in Russia, and the kids had to go abroad, but how many can afford that? Many kids from the country cannot even get to Moscow. There must be selection across the whole country, an infrastructure – all this I want to develop. We try to create conditions, so that people could train in their regions. In Spain no one has to go anywhere, neither they have to leave the family. There is no need to send the kid nowhere. They have it all.
I would like to get kids from the junior age, so that they could be taught the right understanding and values. If to us comes a 10-year old “genius” on “bach semmark” (spelling?
), wearing “Patek Filippe”, who shouts to the driver, because he didn't open him the door – we immediately say “good-bye” to that kid.
There need to be the right conditions and coaches. I understand that is hard to motivate someone, who has fixed salary, so that I will create a format for the coaches to continue work on themselves in their free time, and this to be valuable to the kids. In Russia the sports infrastructure is weak, but there is one. People love the game, but a lot of work has to be done . I am ready, I want that, this is interesting to me now. In the plans there is also a big tournament in Russia, since in the whole country we have only 2 tournaments, while in the States there are 15.
All this is complicated but now I have the time. We try to help also athletes, who are disabled, we have a fund since 2004. Generally, my feeling is that my career didn't end an year ago, but on the contrary – it is all just starting”.