Safin closes door on career
Former world No.1 Marat Safin yesterday bowed out of professional tennis with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 loss to US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro at the Paris Masters.
The Russian, one of the game's great characters, announced earlier this year he would be bringing to an end a career that included two grand-slam titles as well as a spell on top of the rankings.
The match itself saw flashes of Safin's brilliant best and the 29-year-old fought impressively to take the second set but there were also too many mistakes as fifth seed Del Potro won through.
Safin was presented with a souvenir trophy and then addressed the crowd, saying: 'It's a very special moment. I'm happy to get through to the second round and play Del Potro, I hope he's going to do well here.
'He's confident now because of me so if he's going to win it he can send me some prize money! 'This is the day where all my memories will be in one box. I'm closing one door, hopefully another door will be opened.'
Safin, a three-time champion in Paris, was given a warm hug by Del Potro after the final point and a host of current and former rivals, including world No.3 Novak Djokovic, then joined them on court to pay tribute.
Safin, who had saved match points in his first-round win over Thierry Ascione, appeared to have the tennis world at his feet after beating Pete Sampras in the 2000 US Open final. But injuries hindered his progress and his unpredictable temperament took centre stage, although he upset the odds for an incredible Australian Open triumph in 2005.
Safin was born in Moscow, Russia, he describes himself as a non-practicing Muslim. He speaks Russian, English, and Spanish. His parents are former tennis players and coaches. His younger sister, Dinara Safina, is a professional tennis player and silver medalist at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. Safin's father managed the local Spartak Tennis Club, where Safin trained in his youth alongside several tennis players, including Anna Kournikova, Elena Dementieva, and Anastasia Myskina.
At age 14 he moved to Valencia, Spain, to gain access to advanced tennis training programs which were not available in Russia. Safin says he grew up "very fast ... with no muscles" and that he moved to Spain because clay courts were "better for the knees", he speaks fluent Spanish as a result.
Safin has won five ATP Tennis Masters Series titles during his career. His first was in 2000 when he won the title in Toronto, Canada. He holds a record-tying three (2000, 2002, and 2004) wins in Paris, France, and one in 2004 in Madrid, Spain.
Tennis Masters Cup
In 2004, Safin reached the semifinal of the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, where he was defeated by Roger Federer, 6–3, 7–6 (18). The second-set tiebreak (20–18) was the third-longest tiebreak in the Open Era. Safin also reached the semifinals in 2000.
Safin helped Russia achieve its first Davis Cup victory in 2002, with a 3–2 tie-breaking win against France in the final round at the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy. His Russian team included Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Mikhail Youzhny, Andrei Stoliarov, and team captain Shamil Tarpischev. The team made Davis Cup history by being the second to win the event after losing the doubles tie-breaker, and becoming the first team to win a (live-televised) five-set finals match by coming back from a two-set deficit. Safin also helped Russia to win the Davis Cup in 2006. After a straight sets defeat by David Nalbandian in his first match, his doubles victory (partnering Dmitry Tursunov) against Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri and singles victory against José Acasuso drove Russia to victory.
Marat Safin Tribute Video
Why Marat Safin will be missed
While capable of sublime tennis, Marat Safin will be best remembered for his bizarre and often hilarious outbursts. Here are some of the favourites:
He's a Hippo
After a match in Canada in 2004 Safin was asked about his inner demons, and responded with this curious reply:
"I'm not fighting with myself. Oh my god, that's how I am. You know the story of the hippo? The hippo comes to the monkey and said 'Listen i'm not a hippo' so he paints himself like a zebra. But he's still a hippo. The monkey said 'But look at you, your painted like a zebra, but you are a hippo'. So then he goes 'You know, like, I want to be a little parrot. So he put the colours on him and he comes to the monkey, who said 'But sorry, you are a hippo'. So in the end, he comes and said, 'I'm happy to be a hippo. This is who I am'. So I have to be who I am and he's happy being a hippo!
Safin celebrated winning a tricky point in a French Open marathon against Felix Mantilla by dropping his shorts, and then complained about tournament officials who penalised him a point. "All of the people who run the sport, they have no clue", said Safin. "It is a pity that tennis is really going down the drain".
Pain in the Grass
After his early Wimbledon exit to Dmitry Tursnov in 2004, Safin shrugged, "I don't like to play on this surface. After a while, I get bored, I completely lost motivation and I gave up. I give up on Wimbledon. It is definately not the tournament for me, I hate this, I have to admit it. I don't think I will be coming back. I love tennis but I just don't like grass." Having said that, Safin slouched into Wimbledon 2008 with his ranking plummeting and sailed all the way to the semi-finals.