Marat Safin takes his bow in Paris

By Nick Howson

Marat Safin

Without uttering an over-used ‘legend defining’ cliché it is difficult to sum up the immense impact that Marat Safin has made in world tennis since his debut on the tour in 1997.

He burst on the scene during his first ever tournament in Holland, reaching the semi-finals before being eventually ousted by Spaniard Salvador Navarro.

The following year however his progress was rapid.

He hit the stage at Rolland Garros, beating Andre Agassi and Gustavo Gurten — both players who lay in the top 20 of the world at the time — before losing out at the fourth round stage.

As his career progressed, it became clear that he would begin to excel on the hard court, and that’s where his four Grand Slam finals have taken place.

A win at each of the hard court major events, including a victory over Pete Sampras in 2000, will assure that Safin’s name remembered in Open era history, but the way his career faded away as a result of injury and loss of form will probably linger just as greatly.

His victory over Leyton Hewitt at the Australian Open in 2005 was his last major tour final, with a semi-final on his less favoured grass court at SW19 in 2008 the only glimmer of success the Russian has mustered in his remaining years.

In fact in 2008, the year of his Wimbledon resurgence, he failed to surpass the third round in any major tournament, but maybe this single success highlights his ability to perform on the big stage rather than the inconsistent nature of his career.

Safin’s success opened the floodgates for an influx in Russian tennis stars with Nicolay Davydenko, his sister Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova — another player whose injury problems have affected her recent progress — all entering the world stage with prolonged success.

Safin was the first ever Russian to win the US Open in 2000 and perhaps part of the recent success and talent in Russian tennis can be attributed to his early victories.

It all leads us to this week, and Safin’s bow from professional tennis.

The Paris Masters is usually a tournament left for players scrapping for places in the season ending Masters Finals — this year to be hosted in London— but with many of the places all but secured it might be a week best left for reflection on Safin’s superb career.

He takes on qualifier Thierry Ascione in the first round in Paris on Monday evening, and if victorious will take on Juan Martin del Potro, a player who fits the Safin mould himself.

The Argentine won the US Open in September, beating world number one Roger Federer, and Safin produced as big a coup in 2000 when he beat Sampras at the same event. They are victories that both players will surely see as career defining.

Either way Safin’s career will be over by the end of this week, but will the Russian be remembered for his double major success and his number one ranking, or his battle with injuries and his brittle temperament? I’ll let you decide.

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