“They are good together.” So says the mother of Marat Safin and his sister Dinara Safina. It’s a view of this special twosome that rarely breaks through the media veneer.
Since Safin broke onto the men’s tennis scene, all charisma, cheekbones, and unbridled talent, to win his first Grand Slam in 2000, he has thrilled and frustrated his many fans in equal measure. He is known to be a free spirit, passionate, and eager to enjoy not only tennis, but also life to the fullest.
The image of his younger sister could not be more different. For Safina, six years his junior, admits to few outside interests:
“For me it’s tennis first: tennis, tennis, and tennis. I don't do anything besides tennis. It's my life and I've chosen it…when I finish my career I can say: ‘OK, at least I was honest to myself, I gave everything.’”
Their difference was epitomised when they joined forces to play in the Hopman Cup in Australia in January. Safina arrived early to work on her game, while Safin turned up late with two black eyes. “I wasn’t in the right place at the right time, but I won the fight.”
They reached the final, nevertheless.
But on the rare occasions when the curtain is lifted, the world catches a glimpse of a close relationship.
Their mother continued: “Their spirits are pretty much identical. They have the souls of a brother and sister and always felt that way, and as parents we put in much effort and time so that they would grow together.”
Big brother showed his true colors at the moment in 2009 when Safina finally reached the No. 1 ranking after seven years on the Tour (she’d broken into the top 100 as a 17-year-old in 2002). People quibbled that a player without a Slam title was not a worthy No. 1, to which he countered:
“I am very proud of what Dinara has accomplished and it is sad and hurtful to me that all anyone ever wants to talk about is her not winning a Grand Slam. I feel very protective of her. I have supported her through the years and will always do so. She doesn’t deserve the negativity. She is the ultimate success story. She has proven that you can get to No. 1 by working incredibly hard. She is the perfect sportswoman.”
Such was his belief in her that he funded her early development and subsidised her career until she broke through.
The young Safina reached No. 1 almost nine years after her brother achieved the same. They thus became the only brother/sister duo ever to achieve this.
What a perfect retirement present for her devoted older brother.
Footnote: though there were many photos of Marat playing at the Hopman Cup, the Russian siblings were the only pairing not to yield a joint photo. Safina may well wonder what she has to do to emerge from his shadow....