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After the 2005 season, my greatest wish for 2006 - besides Jarkko winning his first title - was to get Marat back to the tour and show his full potential. So it was a great moment when Safin returned in Dubai famously beating Davydenko in the come-back match. After that, though, to many he's been back to his normal "predictable unpredictability", as atheneglaukopis puts it in his/her blog. But really the losses to Rochus, Nieminen and Henman were always on the cards, even if the victories against Kolya and Gaudio were not.

By now MTF is full of frustrated people, ready to conclude Safin won't win a tournament all year -- It's all in his head, and he just lacks the confidence. And because he's a head case, Marat is destined to have a few incredible runs in GS's here and there and then fall back to his normal unconfidence and mood swings. Hence the unpredictability that is already becoming way too predictable: when he's expected to win a match he's sure to lose it. Or so the story goes.

Somehow this is becoming paradoxical, though. Let's be more clear about it. Marat has lost a couple of matches he was expected to win: PHM in Monte Carlo and Kolya in Estoril. So he couldn't handle the pressure, goes the verdict. But we all know Mathieu can play incredible tennis once in a while, and that it was just a matter of time when Davydenko found his stride again and overcame his mental block against Russian players. The rest of the losses -- Rochus, Nieminen, Henman -- well, he would have needed huge confidence to turn these around so soon after his long absence from the tour.

Perhaps the whole problem is in our heads, then. When Marat is playing, we tend to play the game through his eyes, forgetting about the opponent. But maybe things are not the way they used to be, maybe the matches are no more decided in Marat's head and Marat's head only. During the injury, he's lost much of his fear-factor, and there are a lot of players who believe in their chances against him nowadays and are not only going out there to pray for ue's from Safin. Possibly it always was an illusion, but Marat no longer can dominate the play like the he used to do, or the way he made us feel he could.

I still believe Marat will do something great this season, and I'd love him to beat Roger or Rafa in any tournament. But from now on I won't approach his matches only from his point of view. He is no longer able beat anybody anywhere anyday, even if he's playing his best.

Well, maybe when he's playing his best.
 
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