Marat Safin : You Will Be Missed
This week in Paris has been absolutely fascinating. As far as end of season tournaments go, Paris has been by far the best. Despite del Potro’s retirement, Federer’s first round loss, and Mandy’s loss to the ever annoying Stepanek, tennis fans have had plenty to enjoy. Rafael Nadal fought his way through to the semi finals, Gael Monfils gave the home crowd something to cheer for, and Novak Djokovic captured the title with his best tennis of the year. But before any of this happened, we said goodbye to one of tennis’s most loved men, Marat Safin.
Writing about a player you know hardly anything about should be difficult. Especially when you are hardly even a fan of said player. But the thing with Marat is, he inspired conversation and enthusiasm with all tennis fans, no matter how much you liked him. And even if, like me, you found it hard to support a man that dragged his feet through his last year on tour, appeared to hate the sport, spoke about having no friends on tour, and stated time and time again that he could not wait to forget about tennis, Marat Safin would somehow find a way to wiggle into your heart. Because despite his anti Federer/Nadal personality, there is a lot to love about the angry, misunderstood Russian. And I don’t just mean his good looks.
Marat Safin has something we don’t see much amongst the stern faced competitors of the ATP: a fabulous sense of humour. His pressers were always honest, interesting, and funny. Whether he was putting himself down, bemoaning the price of strawberries, or telling Andre Agassi where to go, Marat could always be counted on to say something funny and shocking. You can forget the formalities with Marat, want an alternative to Nadal’s humble post-loss speeches? Then Marat was your man.
Not the world’s best role model, this is the man who showed up to a match supported by a girl with her nipples showing. Then there was the time he arrived with a black eye, having found himself in a fight the night before. We were hardly suprised. Marat has walked off court after being called for a foot fault, and he has smashed more racquets than Fernando Gonzalez. He has never been very good at controlling his temper.
With all this anger, slutiness, and disdain for tennis, a casual tennis fan might find it hard to see what all the fuss is about. Indeed, hardly anyone could get away with the behaviour Marat has displayed over his career. Andy Roddick has acted similarly at times, but recieves as much criticism as he does love. The men I was too young to watch that threw racquets and went off their head seem to gather a lot of dislike as well. I have heard many people express their dislike of John McEnroe. Even Andre Agassi is finding the public against him after basking in their praise for many years. What is it about Marat that makes him so untouchable?
It sounds cruel, but Marat Safin simply has not had the career success to generate much hatred against him. Despite his two Grand Slams, fifteen titles, and a number one ranking, many people think that with a backhand that beautiful, Safin is an underachiever. Defenders of Marat point to a man called Roger Federer, and others say Marat is a choker through and through. The truth is probably a combination of both.
Marat has more than just an underdog charm to win so many people over. Marat has charisma. Oodles of it. He is funny, he is emotional, he loves his little sister, and, let’s face it, Marat is incredibly good looking. Marat wins male tennis fans over with his anger and sense of humour, women flock to his charm and his rugged bad-boy looks.
Yet there is still much more to Marat than good looks, anger, and humour. These are all entertaining characteristics, but there is one more thing that makes Marat so loveable. So relatable. Marat Safin spend his last year on tour itching to retire. Especially in the first half of the year, he spoke frequently about how tennis was boring, coming across as a man who hated the sport that had made him rich and famous. He said he had no friends on tour, that he didn’t enjoy it. It was around this time I wondered if I liked Marat at all. Then his retirement grew nearer, and I think we all saw the truth. Marat Safin was a man once hailed as the next big thing. He must have been filled with hope and excitement after his grand slam success. Things just didn’t turn out that way for him. Over the years, Marat became someone known as a choker, an underachiever, and people wondered what could have been. When Marat spoke of tennis earlier this year like he did, I thought I heard hatred in his voice. But what I heard was disappointment and bitterness. Marat Safin won two slams, was number one, won fifteen titles, and finished his career inside the top one hundred. Looking back, what a marvelous career he had. At the time, though, we didn’t think so. It isn’t Marat that let himself down. Tennis let Marat down.
So heres to the most universally liked player of the last decade. The man that has made every fan smile at some point. Marat Safin is one of the most likeable players ever because he is one of the most human. There is no robotic like talent, no humbled victories, nothing we can’t relate to, or see within ourselves. He is a man noone hates. There is noone else like Marat Safin. No player can replace him. When we looks back on him in the future, it isn’t his tennis people will remember. It is the man.
Now what an achievement that is.