Marat Safin. A name analogous to the terms—Brlliiance. Great Expectations. Popularity. Excitement. Unpredictability. Agony...Underachievement!
It is rare to see him demonstrating all the above attributes in a short period of time.
The Marat Safin that humbled Pete Sampras on the day the Flushing Meadows stood still was not his true self. Neither was the man who upset world No. 3 after conquering the world's tallest peaks. And definitely not the one who tamely blew his chance for a second grand slam to an unlikely Swede.
These contests showed parts of the Russian's characteristics, but his full self? A big No.
But, during the last year of his career, in not a highly anticipated contest against a 31 year old Lapentti, Safin gave us a short summary of his career in a little over three hours.
During an epic encounter, with more twists and turns than Lombard Street, Safin held the upper hand in the match several times.
He started off the match brilliantly taking early leads in the set. He looked calm, didn't commit too many unforced errors and looked poised to take the set serving at 5-4. But he choked. Lapentti broke back, and took the match to a tie-breaker. Safin choked again, and went one set down from nowhere!
The brilliance of Safin then woke up in the second set, striking winners from every part of the court, and comfortably taking the set 6-2.
The momentum was carried on in the decider, with Safin breaking Lapentti twice to take an unassaible 4-0 lead.
But, for Safin, no lead can be considered safe. He squanders his chance of closing out the match, throws away two match points during the process and gets a point penalty for smashing his racket. The unpredictable nature of Safin in full flow.
But the drama does not end here. A fan faints away in the crowd, probably not able to digest the sudden twists in the turn. A long break follows, analogous to a commercial break.
Safin found himself serving at 5-5 from a commanding 4-0 lead. He loses his serve again, faces three match points down at 0-40 on Lapentti's serve, shows some brilliant tennis to win five consecutive points to force the second tie-breaker of the match. Electrifying drama.
In another topsy turvy tie-breaker, Safin was down 1-5, and three match points at 3-6. He saves two of them, and dodges the third one with an ACE. While the crowd was going berserk, I had bitten all my nails by then.
But, Safin never fails to dig his own grave. He serves a double fault at 6-6, and I almost pulled out my hair. Agony.
Lapentti closes out the match in the longest rally of the match, and I switched off the TV in disappointment.
This match is a perfect summary of the career of Safin. He would always be remembered for his shot making brilliance.His huge fan following is something even top players would be proud of.
Great things have been expected of this genius, but the moments of joy have been few and far in between. The end result of this match says it all—What could have been?
All is not lost, however. There are two more slams which Safin will contest, and as his fan, I hope that he bids goodbye to tennis in the same style with which he launched his arrival—winning on the second Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The chances are slim. But a ray of hope is still there.