For a player who is on his farewell ATP tour, it is looking more and more likely that there may be no Cinderella story ending.
The mighty Russian may have aged physically, but temperamentally he still remains as volatile as, uh...well there doesn't seem to be anything much more volatile than his own self.
After willing him to win against Monfils in the Sony Ericcson Open third round, I could not help but wonder what exactly must have been going through his mind as he raced all the way back from the finish line to literally carry Monfils to that line. Here's a look at what Marat might have been saying to himself during crucial times in the match:
"Hey I've just won the first set. This is a breeze. Is this guy really top 10? I think this new shaved-head look is just the mojo I need to turn my year around."
Then Safin looks up into the crowd to see a bunch of college kids with the letters G-O S-A-F-I-N painted individually on their tummies, and thinks to himself:
"Now that's something you don't see often in this part of the world. The heat and humidity must be getting to these kids. Why are they rooting for me? Do they actually think I can win? Oh no, they're going to #@*& jinx me. Or are they just telling me to go home?"
Then with Monfils and Safin continuing to go at it and having traded breaks of serve, the score reaches 6-5 in the second set. Marat is looking to serve the set into a tie-break and thinks to himself:
"Hey, I can still play, but wait I've just proved that by breaking his serve. No need to work too hard. I'll just up it a bit in the tie-break."
Monfils hits a couple of scorching winners, and heads for the bench. Marat, still in a daze, is thinking:
"Hey, where are you going? Don't you want to play the tie-break now? You're giving up? What's that? I lost the game, AND the set?! No way!!!! Oh well, I'm seeded lower than him and it's okay to lose a set. In any case, there's nothing good on TV this evening (only Novak has yet to play, and it's not too hot and sunny to bother him) so I can hang around for another set."
It's 2-2, and Marat breaks Monfils' serve to move up 3-2. Now he's serving to consolidate the break and go up 4-2.
"Oh no, you stupid #@*& racquet, you're supposed to hit the ball inside the lines. Now I'm down break-point. I'm getting another racquet."
A couple of nervy points, and then it's deuce. After trading advantages, Safin holds for 4-2.
"Huff, puff, I'm winning, I'm winning. Wait, I don't want to jinx myself into a false sense of confidence."
And then Safin's in La-La Land when he breaks Monfils again. While relaxing on the bench before he gets to serve out the match:
"Two breaks of serve to the good! Yeeaaaaah!!! Wonder how I'll celebrate this win over a top-10 player? I can just picture myself taking a bow and laying my autograph on the camera."
Now is the time when Marat chooses to revisit and invite into his head all the demons of his fears and past failings. Monfils breaks serve to bring the score to 3-5.
"Oh, it's okay, I'm glad I got that second break for insurance. I'll just serve it out next time. But I'll still be late for that Miami Heat match this evening that Roddick invited me to. I'll just beat him in the fourth round to thank him for the invitation."
And lo and behold! Safin is down break point once again on his serve with Monfils threatening to even the score.
"Why God, why? What have I ever done to you? I think I'm seeing Federer on the other side of the net, or wait, is that Rafa? I thought I was supposed to be playing some French kid."
And Safin's shot sails long to even the score at 5-5 in the third:
"See. I knew it was too good to be true. I can't beat top 10 players anymore. They need to have a weaker mental disposition than me, a la Novak at Wimbledon last year. They should have a speed limit for these new kids. Chasing down everything I hit at him..."
And Marat holds serve this time to take the third set into a tie-break.
"Ah, here's where it's at. I can just boom away a few aces, and it'll be a walk in the park."
And, predictably, the temperamental Russian loses 7-3 in the tie-break.
"That was more like a walk in the car wash. Sheesh. Well at least Dinara won't have to travel home alone. In any case I was seeded to lose here anyway. If I could smash every single one of these racquets right now...See, you stupid kids told me to GO...and now I'm going. Why couldn't you have written something like W-I-N S-A-F-I-N or something?"
Walking past autograph-seeking kids into the tunnel: "Don't give me that pen, I might sign C-H-O-K-E-R. The ATP tour now officially has a DJOKER and a CHOKER. But look on the bright side, at least I beat him on the unforced errors count 57-46. Wait, that's supposed to be not-good. Aaaaaagh!!!!!!"
It's mind-numbing, really, how such a talented player can still contrive to lose after staring victory in the face, and in fact end up leaving victory stranded all alone at the altar.
Being a Marat fan of old, it does worry me that by the time Marat Safin says goodbye at the end of the season, it might be with a ranking outside the top 32. This is certainly not the type of farewell tour he and his fans would have been hoping for.
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