Marat Mikhailovich Safin is a retired Russian tennis player and politician of Tatar descent. Safin won two grand slams and reached the world number 1 ranking during his career. He was also famous for his emotional outbursts and sometimes fiery temper on court. Safin also holds the record for most broken racquets in a year with 87. Safin is the older brother of former World No. 1 WTA player Dinara Safina (Dinara Mikhailovna Safina) (Russian: Динара Михайловна Сафина), born April 27, 1986 in Moscow. They are the first brother-sister tandem in tennis history to both achieve No. 1 rankings.
Safin began his professional career in 1997, and held the No. 1 world ranking for a total of 9 weeks between November 2000 and April 2001. He won his first Grand Slam title at the 2000 U.S. Open after defeating Pete Sampras, and won the 2005 Australian Open, defeating Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Safin helped lead Russia to Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006. Despite his dislike of grass courts, he became the first Russian man to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. At the time of his final Grand Slam appearance at the US Open on September 2, 2009, Safin was No. 58 in the official world men’s tennis rankings.
Safin was born in Moscow, USSR (now Russia) to a Tatar family of father Mikhail Alexeivich Safin and mother Rausa Islanova. He speaks Russian, English, and Spanish as well as his native Tatar. His parents are former tennis players and coaches. His younger sister, Dinara Safina, is a professional tennis player and silver medalist at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. Safin’s father managed the local Spartak Tennis Club, where Safin trained in his youth alongside several tennis players, including Anna Kournikova, Elena Dementieva, and Anastasiya Myskina.
At age 14 he moved to Valencia, Spain, to gain access to advanced tennis training programs which were not available in Russia. Safin says he grew up “very fast … with no muscles” and that he moved to Spain because clay courts were “better for the knees”.
In an interview with the newspaper USA Today, Marat Safin identified himself as a Muslim, stating, “I’m Russian, but I’m 100% Muslim. All the Muslim people are passionate, stubborn. We have hot blood.”
Safin started his professional career in 1997. In 1998, Safin consecutively defeated Andre Agassi and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open.
He won his first ATP title at the age of 19, in Boston and later in 1999 he reached the prestigious Paris, Bercy final losing a closely contested 4 set match to Andre Agassi.
World No. 1 and Grand Slam history
Safin held the No. 1 ATP ranking for 9 weeks during 2000 (making him the tallest number 1 ranked player of all time) when he won his first Grand Slam tournament at the US Open, becoming the only Russian in history to win this tournament in the Mens Singles draw, by defeating Pete Sampras in straight sets. However, a succession of injuries hindered his progress and Safin missed the majority of the season in 2003 as a result.
Safin reached the final round in three more Grand Slam tournaments, all in the Australian Open in 2002, 2004, and 2005. He has cited nervousness as the reason for his loss in the 2002 event, and physical exhaustion for the 2004 loss. He defeated home-country favorite Lleyton Hewitt in the 2005 finals to secure his second Grand Slam in five years. En route to this final, he defeated top-ranked Roger Federer in a five-set semi-final match. After ending Federer’s 26-match winning streak over top-10 players, Safin described the match as “a brain fight.”
His best result at Wimbledon is reaching the semi-finals in 2008 often losing in the first or second rounds in other years.
Safin has won five ATP Tennis Masters Series titles during his career. His first was in 2000 when he won the title in Toronto, Canada. He holds a record-tying three (2000, 2002, and 2004) wins in Paris, France, and one in 2004 in Madrid, Spain.
Tennis Masters Cup
In 2004, Safin reached the semifinal of the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, where he was defeated by Roger Federer, 6–3, 7–6 (18). The second-set tiebreak (20–18) was the third-longest tiebreak in the Open Era. Safin also reached the semifinals in 2000 and 2002.
Safin helped Russia achieve its first Davis Cup victory in 2002, with a 3–2 tie-breaking win against France in the final round at the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy. His Russian team included Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Mikhail Youzhny, Andrei Stoliarov, and team captain Shamil Tarpischev. The team made Davis Cup history by being the second to win the event after losing the doubles tie-breaker, and becoming the first team to win a (live-televised) five-set finals match by coming back from a two-set deficit. Safin also helped Russia to win the Davis Cup in 2006. After a straight sets defeat by David Nalbandian in his first match, his doubles victory (partnering Dmitry Tursunov) against Nalbandian and Agustín Calleri and singles victory against José Acasuso drove Russia to victory.
Heavily favored Russia was hosted by Israel in a Davis Cup quarterfinal tie in July 2009, on indoor hard courts at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Russia had won the Davis Cup in both 2002 and 2006, and was the top-ranked country in Davis Cup standings. The stage was set by Safin, who prior to the tie told the press: “With all due respect, Israel was lucky to get to the quarterfinals.” The Israeli team then beat the Russian team in each of their first three matches. Harel Levy (world # 210) beat Andreev (world # 24), and Dudi Sela (# 33) followed by beating Youzhny. The next day Israelis Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich beat Safin and doubles specialist Kunitsyn 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (3), 4–6, 6–4 in front of a boisterous crowd of over 10,000. With the tie clinched for Israel, the reverse singles rubbers were “dead”, and instead of best-of-five matches, best-of-three sets were played, with the outcomes of little to no importance. Israel wrapped up a 4–1 victory over Russia, splitting the final matches.
Safin’s final tournament as a professional tennis player was at the 2009 Paris Masters. In the first round, he saved three match points with three aces against Thierry Ascione, eventually prevailing 6–4, 4–6, 7–6(3) with a total of 24 aces and 41 winners. On November 11, 2009, Safin’s career ended with a second-round defeat by Juan Martín del Potro, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6 in one hour and 56 minutes, after which a special presentation ceremony was held on Centre Court at Bercy. Fellow tennis players who joined him in the ceremony included del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Gilles Simon, Tommy Robredo, Frederico Gil, Ivo Karlović, Albert Costa, Marc Rosset and Younes El Aynaoui.
Safin was known for his emotional outbursts during matches, and has smashed numerous rackets. Safin is estimated to have smashed 48 racquets in 1999. In 2011, Safin revealed he broke during his whole career precisely 1055 racquets.
Despite his emotional outbursts, Safin had a very laid back demeanour and was widely regarded as the most charismatic player on tour.