Category Archives: Marat Safin

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

Marcos Baghdatis beat Marat Safin in five sets in the second round of the Australian Open, but Baghdatis’ career might look a lot like Safin’s by the time it’s over.

To be a championship tennis player you need the appropriate balance between intensity and amnesia. You need enough fire in your belly to slog through five set matches in ungodly heat for two weeks straight and enough amnesia to forget a stretch of bad tennis.

While I was watching Marcos Baghdatis beat Marat Safin by the score of 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, I spent a little time placing both players on the intensity/amnesia spectrum. The exercise brought up a number of interesting comparisons between these two players.

First of all, we know Safin does not have amnesia. He not only doesn’t forget his last bad shot but he’s very likely to respond to a stretch of bad tennis by getting into an argument with the chair umpire, or any other willing participant.

You could never, however, accuse Safin of lacking intensity or lacking effort. Safin had game point at 4-2 in the third set when Baghdatis hit a beautiful running forehand down the line. Safin was at the net and he lunged towards the sideline and hit what could only be called a stretch stab volley. I mean, he launched all six foot four inches of his body horizontal. The volley was perfect.

Baghdatis, on the other hand, is short on intensity. He’s not as aggressive as he needs to be. He’s my top candidate to take Safin’s place as the player most likely to fail to fulfill his potential. Here’s a guy who made it all the way to the final at the 2006 Australian Open and got up to the number eight ranking and he’s been rattling around with a 15-20 ranking ever since.

Whereas Safin is a tall powerful tennis player who’ll attack the net – he’s the most powerful tennis player I’ve ever seen, Baghdatis has a lot of baby fat on that body and he ventures to the net only when the situation requires it. He could impose his game on opponents by moving forward much more but he seems to float above the game instead of get down and dirty.

Baghdatis started the match off doing what he does well: aggressive counterpunching. He was on fire for the first two sets and got out to a two set lead. Safin fought back to win the next two sets as he went through is own patch of exceptional tennis.

When the fifth set came around, Safin went on a walkabout. As he put it,

..unfortunately my concentration and my — everything went a little bit downhill, and he was just preparing himself for the fifth set. So it’s a little bit unlucky.

Consistency is neither player’s hallmark but I have hope for Baghdatis. He’s only 22 years old and he’s playing more aggressively than he used to. He plays very well indoors and on grass courts – he has a semifinal and quarterfinal at Wimbledon already. I could see him winning a Wimbledon some day, maybe even two.

Two slams. That exactly the number of slams owned by one Marat Safin.

Grinders/Retrievers

Safin hit the shot of the tournament but Roger Federer and Fabrice Santoro played the point of the tournament and it tells you why grinders and retrievers are such a pain in the butt. Those are the players with ugly games that get the ball back no matter what you do.

Here is a point from that match that demonstrates what I mean.

Santoro blocked a wide serve into the court then ran deep to the ad corner to retrieve Federer’s response. Santoro’s response was short so Federer came in and hit an approach to deuce corner. Santoro got to it and hit a lob to the middle of the court which Federer hit softly to the ad corner. Another short response by Santoro was followed by yet another Federer approach. This time Santoro’s lob hit the sky and landed just inside the sideline. Federer telegraphed his overhead and off went Santoro to retrieve it. By the time he got there he was at least ten feet beyond the sideline, but get to it he did and his lob pushed Federer back to the baseline where he….yup, shanked the ball and lost the point.

Federer beat Santoro easily, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0, but this point shows you why most people want to strangle player like Santoro. Have any of you readers had a similar experience? I know I have and I was none too successful at dealing with it either.

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Let’s hand out the Teddy Awards. Tomorrow I’ll look at the contrasting way that Martina Hingis and Roger Clemens are handling their illegal drug use problems.

I’m disappointed that Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Iowa presidential caucus – the opening state primary for the U.S. presidential election. But the Teddy Awards votes are finally in and I can’t complain about them.

1. Best Player: Justine Henin and David Ferrer

Both players got the same number of votes and, really, the only surprise here is Ferrer. He deserves the vote even if he was helped along by Federer-fatigue (the state of being tired of talking about Roger Federer).

2. Most Improved Player: Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer

Another tie for this category. Fair enough though Anna Chakvetadze probably suffered because we didn’t have separate categories for men and women. Djokovic shot up like a rocket. He won two Masters series events, five tournaments, and, unbelievably, reached the semifinals in two slams and the final in another. What more can you say about Ferrer? While Djokovic jumped by leaps and bounds in his physical and mental play, Ferrer aged. What else can you call it when a player doesn’t figure out he’s a top five player until he’s 25-years-old?

3. Most Disappointing Player: Marat Safin

I personally am over my disappointment in Safin. I’ve been disappointed for too many years. Besides, he really hasn’t been the same since his knee surgery.

4. Most Surprising Player: David Ferrer

No need for more comment except that David Nalbandian got more than a few votes in this category and Marion Bartoli might have done well if she’s had any good results after her Wimbledon final appearance.

5. Male Centerfold of the Year: Feliciano Lopez

6. Female Centerfold of the Year: Ana Ivanovic

There wasn’t much competition in the centerfold category. There was a little Rafael Nadal and some Carlos Moya in the mix but Ana was the unanimous choice for the women.

7. Player in Most Need of a New Coach: James Blake

Poor Brian Barker. People have been trying to take James Blake away from him ever since Blake hit the top 20. Blake will never leave his coach. Barker has drilled the idea of improving as the main goal into Blake’s head since he was an adolescent. Improving is just nebulous enough that Blake feels comfortable with it. If Barker had set the goal of winning a slam instead, Blake might have fulfilled it by now. As it is, Blake will continue to justify playing poorly in high profile events by coming up with something, anything, that can be counted as improvement. Lose yet another five set match in the fourth round at the U.S. Open? No problem, at least he won his first career five set match in the second round and that’s an improvement. See what I mean?

8. Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008:

There’s no winner here because I asked the question incorrectly. Some people thought I was asking who’d win the most slams in 2008 – Federer got those votes – and some people thought I was asking who would improve the most in 2008 – Andy Murray got those votes. I meant to ask who would improve the most and I agree with the choice of Murray. I think he can compete with Djokovic in finally taking a slam from Federer and Nadal. Then again, that’s what I said last year.

9. Player Who Should Really Think About Retiring: Mark Philippoussis

Philippoussis won by a landslide and deservedly so. Last year he was heard saying that he thinks his best tennis is still ahead of him. I believe in pumping yourself up but that comment was surreal. Anyway, he reinjured his knee during the competition for an Australian Open wild card so it’s probably the Outback Series for him from now on.

Pollster

Since I botched the Player Most Likely to Succeed in 2008 award, let’s do this. Mosey on over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player most likely to break Federer and Nadal’s stronghold on slam titles. Ferrer is ranked number five in the world but I just don’t think he’s got enough offense to win a slam. You could say the same thing about Murray and he’s only got three titles to his name so far though that might change tomorrow – he’s in the Doha final. But he’s one of my two choices. Djokovic is the other. I just can’t picture Nalbandian doing it.

What say you?

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The Davis Cup final is finally finished after two meaningless matches. Let’s see what it all means.

an•ti•cli•max (ān’tē-klī’māks’, ān’tī-) n.

  1. Something trivial or commonplace that concludes a series of significant events.
  2. The act of sitting through the fourth and fifth rubber of a Davis Cup tie after the home team has already clinched the title by winning the first three rubbers.

I did sit through Bob Bryan’s match with Igor Andreev even though it was a dead rubber – the results did not affect the outcome. The U.S. clinched the Davis Cup title last night after Bob and his brother Mike took the doubles rubber and concluded a dominating weekend of tennis.

You have to wonder how anyone could play today after Saturday night’s celebration as described by Bob Bryan:

We spent a couple of hours here just dumping champagne all over each other. Then we went out to a local spot and danced, did everything. We had a long, drawn-out celebration.

I left to play some indoor tennis myself after Bob’s match was over, but before I left I had a few thoughts about this title and this weekend.

Will the U.S. Repeat?

It depends how many ties they have to play on clay. They beat the Czech team on clay this year but the Czechs don’t have anyone other than Tomas Berdych.

The U.S. avoided Argentina on clay because Sweden beat them on a fast surface at home. Can you imagine having to play David Nalbandian on any surface this fall? He won two Masters Series events in a row after never having won even one of them.

If the U.S. has an early match against a weaker opponent on clay they should be okay – they won a tie on clay early last year too over Belgium. But if they have to play a semifinal or final on clay, it’s not gonna happen. They were bounced out of the Davis Cup on clay in three of the last six years so let’s say they have a less than 50/50 chance.

Biggest Surprise

No doubt about it: James Blake. He took the one match the Russians hoped to win by beating Mikhail Youzhny in the second rubber and he did it after failing to serve out the match at the end of the fourth set.

Blake failed under pressure in the third set tiebreaker too but he kept at it and his victory made this competition a route.

Against all odds, he does seem to keep getting better. It’s not happening as fast as I’d like. He’s still terrible in five-setters and he dropped out of the top ten this year after going to the year end championships last year. But this week was a big step forward. He not only won a critical match but he won the fifth rubber over Dmitry Tursunov after losing the first set 6-1.

I’m pretty excited to see if it carries over to next year.

Let’s Give Marat Safin Some Love

This is the essentially the same team that won the Davis Cup title over Argentina last year except for Marat Safin and they won it on a fast indoor surface similar to this week’s surface in Portland. Safin won the doubles match with Tursunov and clinched the title with a victory in the fifth rubber.

Safin also won both his singles matches when Russia beat France in the 2002 final.

Safin hasn’t had a great season this year but his ranking is actually one point higher than it was at the end of last year. He hasn’t yet recovered from his Tibetan mountain trip but if he had, he might have given Russia the emotional fire they were sorely lacking.

Do We Like Unlimited Challenges?

No we do not. Challenges have joined bathroom breaks and unnecessary injury timeouts as tools of gamesmanship. If your opponent is serving up aces and you have unlimited challenges, call up a few hopeless challenges to mess with his rhythm. At the very least it’ll create confusion as it did this weekend.

In the second set tiebreaker in the match between Blake and Youzhny, Blake challenged one of Youzhny’s first serves which had been called out. Blake hit a return winner off the serve so he wanted to the ball to be in. It turned out the serve was out so the chair umpire gave Youzhny another first serve because the wait for the challenge result had delayed Youzhny’s second serve.

Oh great tennis gods, make up your mind. If you give players unlimited challenges then both sides should be able to deal with the delay. A better approach would be to allow only three challenges so they can’t be used to mess with an opponent’s head. If you’re concerned that a match could be decided by a bad call because a player’s challenges are all used up, do what the National Football League does.

In the final two minutes of each half of an NFL game, the replay official in the booth can call for an instant replay if the official thinks it’s necessary. In a tennis match, allow the chair umpire to call for a challenge in a deciding game or tiebreaker if the umpire thinks it’s necessary.

Politics

By the time I got back from playing tennis, the award ceremony was in full swing and now I know who U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe is voting for in next year’s Presidential election.

I didn’t get the exact quote but when McEnroe thanked his players for their classy behavior as members of the Davis Cup team, he made a point of saying that it hasn’t been easy traveling the world as a representative of the U.S. in the past few years.

If that is not a political statement about the war in Iraq, I am not a tennis fan.


I wrote about the deciding doubles match yesterday and the first day of Davis Cup on Friday. You can also see if my predictions were correct. Of course they were!

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