Thursday, 20 March 2008

Is it the end for Safin?

Marat safin smashes his racket
Marat Safin has a unique place in tennis history as the only man to beat both Federer and Sampras in Grand Slam events and then win the tournaments. Sampras in New York in 2000, Federer in Melbourne in 2005. Neither performance was a fluke.

The “future of tennis” (according to Pete Sampras) was also World No 1 for 9 weeks in 2000, and is a two time Davis Cup winner. But Safin has never fully realised that potential and has often been let down by his body and his head. All too often he has succumbed to both injuries and a tendency of beating himself on court by losing his cool.

For the past year he has been toiling away outside the top 40 and only this week was dumped out of Indian Wells in the first round. His decline underlines how difficult it can be to turn it around once you start to slide down the rankings.

Safin – like plenty of fallen champions before him – finds himself in the classic catch 22. You need ranking points to earn a seeding for the major tournaments, but to accumulate rankings points you need to go deep in tournaments, and this can be tough if you are unseeded.

His draw at this year’s Australian Open is the perfect illustration of how challenging it can be. He came up against former finalist Baghdatis in the second round and was beaten in four. Had he beaten Baghdatis he would have played Hewitt in the next round, and then Djokovic in the 4th round. Had he beaten the eventual champion his reward would have been a semi with Federer.

At 28 Safin has to ask himself does he have what it takes to get his career back on track? I hope the answer is yes - after all Agassi famously did it at a similar age - but life is not getting any easier for Marat as he comes up against a new generation of younger, fitter and hungrier players.

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