Marat Safin: The Enigma That Shall Cease To Be
Right from the word go, that name has attracted flocks of people to tennis tournaments.
From his on-court antics of smashing racquets and yelling at umpires and line judges, to his often bitter demeanor off-court, Safin is a man the world may never fully understand.
When he won the first of his Grand Slams at the U.S Open in 2000, he looked poised to take many more, to challenge at the top of men's tennis for some considerable time.
He certainly had the talent; there were few who could hit the ball more cleanly and precisely, or who had more variety to their games.
Yet, he waited five years for the second of his only two Slams, an Australian Open victory in 2005.
There are any number of excuses for Safin's fall from grace.
He struggled with injuries, a man named Roger Federer began to dominate the game. Perhaps Safin just didn't cope very well with the pressure.
Whatever the reason, I doubt there are many who, nine years ago, could have predicted Safin would end up with just two Grand Slam titles to his name.
He has had ups and downs all through his career, mostly due to injuries and a struggle to find his form. But to this day, Safin remains full of surprises.
In 2008, he seemed to be at the tail-end of his career. He was turning in few good matches anymore, and seemed to be struggling with motivation.
And then, bam! Out of nowhere, it seemed, a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon!
His route to the semis was somewhat illustrious—he took out Novak Djokovic in the second round, Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth, and Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals.
Inevitably, he was ousted by Federer, which is nothing any player can be ashamed of.
Playing against the very talented Gael Monfils in Miami this year, Safin came within a point or so of beating the Frenchman several times.
He served for the match not once, but twice in the third set, and actually held two match points on Monfils' own serve.
My point? The man still has some of the sparkle that once caused Pete Sampras to praise him as "the future of tennis".
Safin's career has been by no means ideal, plagued by various injuries and loss of form—He himself said he would "prefer to have the career of Roger Federer". (Who wouldn't?)
But still, he's been hugely successful, winning two Grand Slams, appearing in five Masters Series, and gathering an immense fan base.
With Safin's impending retirement, we have to wonder who will fill the hole he will leave?
Every sport needs its resident bad-boy, and Safin certainly took that role to heart.
Marat, you will be sorely missed—by all.
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