Marat Mubinovich Safin (Russian: Мара́т Муби́нович Са́фин; IPA: [mɐˈrat mʊˈbʲinəvʲɪtɕ ˈsafʲɪn], Tatar: Марат Мөбин улы Сафин Marat Möbin uğlı Safin; born 27 January 1980) is a Russian politician and retired professional tennis player. He first achieved the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) world No. 1 singles ranking on November 20, 2000. He was also famous for his emotional outbursts and sometimes fiery temper on court. Safin is the older brother of former world No. 1 WTA player, Dinara Safina. They are the first and only brother–sister tandem in tennis history who have both achieved No. 1 rankings.
In 2011, he became a member of the State Duma representing the United Russia party.
In 2016 he became the first Russian tennis player inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Safin was born in Moscow to Tatar parents, Mubin ("Mikhail") Safin and Rauza 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, is a former professional tennis player and silver medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Marat's father managed the local Spartak Tennis Club, where Safin trained in his youth alongside several tennis players, including Anna Kournikova, Elena Dementieva, and Anastasia Myskina.
At age 14, Marat 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 USA Today, 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 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 US 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 semifinals of Wimbledon at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. At the time of his retirement in November 2009, he was ranked No. 61 in the world.
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 world No. 1 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 No. 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 men's 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 three more Grand Slam finals, all at the Australian Open (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 Lleyton Hewitt in the 2005 final to secure his second Grand Slam in five years. En route to this final, he defeated top-ranked Roger Federer in a five-set semifinal match, and future world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who was making his first appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, in the first round losing just three games.
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 was reaching the semifinals in 2008, beating world No. 3 Novak Djokovic en route. He often lost in the first or second rounds in other years, although he made the quarterfinals in 2001, losing in four sets to eventual champion Goran Ivanišević.
Safin had his best performance at Wimbledon in 2008, where he reached the semifinals. He dismissed his performance in the 2001 tournament, in which he reached the quarterfinals, as a result of luck. Safin disliked playing on grass. Safin has said: "It's difficult to [break serve]. It's difficult to play off the baseline because [of] a lot of bad bounces." With Safin's semifinal performance at Wimbledon in 2008, he became the fourth of five active players at the time to reach the semifinals in all four Grand Slams, joining Roger Federer, David Nalbandian, and Novak Djokovic. Other active players have since then joined the list.
Safin 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, Texas, where he was defeated by Federer, 6–3, 7–6(20–18). The second-set tiebreak (20–18) was the third-longest tiebreak in the Open Era. Safin also reached the semifinals in 2000.
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 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 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.
In the 2009 Davis Cup quarterfinal tie, Russia was upset by the Israel Davis Cup team on indoor hard courts at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Russia was the top-ranked country in Davis Cup standings, and 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." Safin was held out of the first day of singles, and then went on to lose the clinching doubles match in five sets partnered with doubles specialist Igor Kunitsyn.
Prior to the Australian Open, Safin had caught fire towards the end of the 2004 season, thanks in part to his hiring of Peter Lundgren, and was seen as among the favourites for the title. In the first round, he defeated Novak Djokovic, who was making his first appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, losing just three games. Then, in a rematch of the 2004 final, Safin defeated Roger Federer on his seventh match point, in the semifinal. He also saved a match point late in the fourth set when Federer missed a between-the-legs passing shot.
In the final, Safin went on to beat hometown favourite Lleyton Hewitt. Safin attributed his revival and more consistent performance to the calming presence of his new coach Peter Lundgren, saying, "I never believed in myself before at all, until I started to work with him." Lundgren had been Federer's coach, until parting ways at the end of 2003; Safin hired Lundgren the following year. He was later defeated in the early rounds of each of the seven tournaments he played between the Australian Open and the French Open. In June 2005, shortly after his unsuccessful French Open campaign, Safin made a surprise finals appearance at the Wimbledon tune-up tournament in Halle on grass. He lost the final narrowly to the defending champion, Federer. During the clay-court season, Safin suffered a knee injury, which he played through all the way up to Wimbledon with the help of pain killers and anti-inflammatories. He only played one tournament in the summer hard-court season, in Cincinnati, where he lost in the quarterfinals to Robby Ginepri. He also missed the Tennis Masters Cup. In the following years, Safin never fully recovered.
Although a serious knee-injury hampered his progression and rankings within the ATP (he missed the 2005 US Open, 2005 Tennis Masters Cup and 2006 Australian Open), he made appearances at the 2006 ATP Masters tournaments at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg. On 17 August 2006, after a disappointing year during which Safin suffered injuries and his ranking plummeted to as low as No. 104, Safin temporarily parted ways with coach Peter Lundgren.
During his comeback at the 2006 US Open, Safin defeated Argentine David Nalbandian, who was then world No. 4 in a riveting second-round match. Safin then lost in the fourth round to former world No. 2 German Tommy Haas, also in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Safin helped Russia beat the USA 3–2 in Davis Cup play to gain a place in the finals in December 2006, and with a good run at the start of the indoor season the Thailand Open, where he was narrowly edged out by No. 7 seed, James Blake. On 14 October 2006, Safin made it to his first final in a year and a half at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, the first all-Russian final at that event, losing to compatriot, Ukrainian-born Nikolay Davydenko.
On 3 December 2006, Safin defeated José Acasuso in the fifth and decisive rubber of the 2006 Davis Cup, winning the Davis Cup for Russia. He had previously lost to Nalbandian in his first match. In the doubles match, he teamed up with Dmitry Tursunov to defeat Nalbandian and Agustín Calleri. The 2006 Davis Cup final was played in Moscow on carpet, which suited both teams well; it gave Russia a slight edge, as Argentina usually produces slower-court specialists (i.e. clay and slow hard).
Winning the Davis Cup for his country capped off a successful year and comeback for Safin in 2006. His seven wins (7–7 record that year) against top-ten players (Baghdatis, Nalbandian, Roddick, Blake, Gaudio, and Davydenko twice) were fourth-most on the ATP tour behind just Federer (19), Nadal (10), and Blake (8).
Safin did not play any warm-up tournaments in the run-up to the Australian Open. As Safin was forced to miss the tournament in 2006 because of injury, 2007 was his first Australian Open since he captured the title in 2005. Safin lost against sixth seed Andy Roddick in his third-round match in a grueling 3-hour match. Roddick commented after the match, "With Marat you know you are going to get an emotional roller-coaster. You just have to try and focus on yourself and I was able to do that tonight.
In April, Safin won the deciding quarterfinal Davis Cup rubber against France, beating Paul-Henri Mathieu in straight sets.
Safin reached the third round at Wimbledon, before falling to the defending champion Roger Federer. In July, Safin announced that he and his coach Alexander Volkov were parting ways, and that his new coach would be former pro Hernán Gumy. He won the doubles title at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow in October, his first ATP-level title since the 2005 Australian Open.
Safin prepared for the Australian Open at the invitational exhibition tournament, the AAMI Kooyong Classic in Melbourne. Other players in the field were Roddick, Fernando González, Nikolay Davydenko, Marcos Baghdatis, Ivan Ljubičić, and Andy Murray. Safin was victorious in his opening match, defeating Andy Murray. before losing in his second match to Andy Roddick, 6–3, 6–3.
In the third-place play-off, Safin rebounded from the Roddick loss and overpowered the prior year's Australian Open runner up Fernando González. Safin won his first-round match at the Australian Open against Ernests Gulbis in straight sets. He was ousted in the second round after a grueling five-set match against Baghdatis.
In February, Safin was granted wildcards into the tournaments at Memphis and Las Vegas. In Memphis, he was edged out by his 2002 Australian Open opponent, Thomas Johansson in the first round. In Las Vegas, he was defeated by Lleyton Hewitt during the semifinals. Safin was defeated by Hewitt once again.
In March, Safin lost in the first round of Indian Wells and Miami, to Jürgen Melzer and qualifier Bobby Reynolds, respectively. In the Davis Cup between Russia and the Czech Republic, Safin defeated world No. 9 Tomáš Berdych in a five-set encounter, after being two sets down. This was the first time in his career that he had come back to win a match after being down two sets.
Safin's next tournament was in Valencia. He defeated former world No. 1 and fourth seed Juan Carlos Ferrero. In spite of the fact that Ferrero is from the Valencia region, Safin was the more popular player, having been based in Valencia for many years and being a well-known Valencia CF fan. – local player Ferrero controversially favouring Real Madrid. He played Dutch teenager Robin Haase in the next round. He won the first set and was up 4–2 in the second set. However, Haase broke back to take it to a tiebreak. Safin had four match points, including one on his serve, but lost the tiebreak, and eventually the match. In the Monte Carlo Masters, Safin defeated Xavier Malisse, but then lost to No. 5 David Ferrer. He then entered the 2008 BMW Open in Munich, Germany, where he beat Carlos Berlocq in the first round. In the second round, he edged out Michael Berrer, but lost to Fernando González in his first quarterfinal of the year, and the first since June 2007 at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. Safin entered the 2008 French Open but was eliminated in the second round by countryman and fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko, in straight sets.
Ranked at No. 75, Safin entered the 2008 Wimbledon Championships, where he defeated Fabio Fognini in the first round. In the second round, he defeated No. 3 player and 2008 Australian Open Champion Novak Djokovic. Safin's victory came as a shock as Djokovic was described as a "serious contender" to win the tournament. In the third round, he played defeated Italian Andreas Seppi. In the fourth round, he defeated Stanislas Wawrinka. This was the first time he had reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam since the 2005 Australian Open. Safin went on to defeat Feliciano López in the quarterfinals to set up a semifinal clash with defending champion Roger Federer. His run to the semifinals was his best record in Wimbledon and made him the first Russian man to ever reach a Wimbledon semifinal. Safin attributed his great run at Wimbledon to the hard work he was putting in with coach Hernán Gumy. Safin then played at the Swedish Open, on clay, in Båstad against Marc López, winning in the first round. He lost his second-round match against Potito Starace.
Safin was awarded a wild card into the Rogers Cup Masters tournament in Toronto. He beat Sam Querrey in the first round. Because of rain delays, he had to play his next match against Stan Wawrinka on the same day. He lost that match. Safin was seeded fifth for his next tournament, the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles. He defeated Americans John Isner and Wayne Odesnik in the first and second rounds, respectively, to advance to the quarterfinals, where he was defeated by Denis Gremelmayr.
At the US Open, Safin lost in the second round to Tommy Robredo. At the Moscow Kremlin Cup, he defeated Noam Okun, Julien Benneteau, Nikolay Davydenko, and Mischa Zverev, only to lose to another compatriot Igor Kunitsyn in the final. It was Safin's first final appearance since 2006, in the same event. Following the Kremlin Cup, Safin withdrew from the Madrid Masters event with a shoulder injury. His next event was the St. Petersburg Open, at which he lost in the second round. He then lost his first-round match at the final ATP tournament of the calendar: the Paris Masters, to Juan Mónaco. In the post-match conference, he raised the possibility of his retirement from the sport. Via a message posted on his official website, he said he was going to take a holiday and then seriously consider his options regarding his future in tennis. He finished the year 2008 ranked at No. 29.
Safin started the 2009 season by playing in the Hopman Cup event in Perth with his sister, Dinara Safina. He arrived at the event sporting a bandaged right thumb, two black eyes, a blood-filled left eye, and a cut near his right eye, all suffered in a fight several weeks earlier in Moscow. In the 2009 Hopman Cup, the pair played off in the final representing Russia, but each was defeated in the singles rubbers. Safin said he had decided to play the 2009 season because of a great offer from his manager Ion Ţiriac, he made this decision despite not having a coach.
Safin withdrew from the Kooyong Classic tournament because of a shoulder injury, but recovered to play his first-round Australian Open match, which he won in straight sets over Iván Navarro of Spain. In the second round, Safin defeated another Spanish player, Guillermo García-López. In the third round, he came up against Federer and lost in straight sets. His next tournament was the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. He exited in the first round, losing to Richard Gasquet, and exited in the semifinals in doubles with David Ferrer. In March, Safin helped Russia advance to the Davis Cup quarterfinals by beating Victor Crivoi of Romania in the first rubber in straight sets.
Starting the year at No. 29 in the world, he placed in the top 20 during the year for the first time since the end of January 2006. His doubles ranking also improved from 300 to 195. In the first round at Wimbledon, at which he was seeded 14th, he was upset by 21-year-old American Jesse Levine.
Safin played at the Catella Swedish Open at Båstad, where he lost to Nicolás Almagro of Spain. He began his hard-court season by making it to the quarterfinals of the LA Tennis Open (his first quarterfinal of the season), where he lost to Tommy Haas.
He lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, his last Grand Slam, to Austrian Jürgen Melzer. After a second-round loss in the PTT Thailand Open, he found some late form, coming into the China Open tournament held in Beijing; beating José Acasuso in the first round. In the second round, he played Fernando González and produced a win. In the quarterfinals, he lost against top seed Rafael Nadal. As the tour rolled into Moscow for the Kremlin Cup, it marked the beginning of the end for Safin, as he played his last competitive matches in his native Russia. He defeated world No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko in the first round, but lost in the second round. He then played at the 2009 St. Petersburg Open, reaching the semifinals.
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 with a total of 24 aces and 41 winners. On 11 November 2009, Safin's career ended with a second-round defeat by reigning US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro, after which a special presentation ceremony was held on Centre Court at Bercy. Fellow tennis players who joined him in the ceremony included Juan Martín del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Gilles Simon, Tommy Robredo, Frederico Gil, Ivo Karlović, Albert Costa, Marc Rosset, and Younes El Aynaoui.
Safin is often characterized as a powerful offensive baseliner. Boris Becker, in 1999, said that he had not seen anybody hit the ball as hard from both wings for "a long, long time". He has a strong and accurate serve and a great forehand, while also possessing one of the best two-handed backhand of all time. He is also capable of playing at the net, with his volleys also being effective. However, lack of consistency and motivation has been described as Safin's ultimate weakness, starting after his victory at the 2005 Australian Open.
Safin generally dominates during the fast indoor hard/carpet season, which is usually during the last few weeks on tour; Safin considers grass to be his least favourite playing surface, despite the similarities between indoor courts and grass courts even though other opponents with similar playing styles generally dominate on it.
He is known as one of the most talented players ever during his time on the tour, however his career was hampered by persistent injuries and lack of determination that prevented the prolongation of his dominance, and is therefore agreed by many pundits and fans as one of the biggest underachievers in tennis.
Safin was also 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 stated that during his career he broke 1055 racquets.
Safin has used the Head Prestige Classic 600 since 1997 however throughout the years sported numerous paintjobs of the latest Head Prestige rackets (i.e. intelligence, Liquidmetal, Flexpoint and Microgel). His racquets used to be strung using Babolat VS Natural Team Gut 17L gauge, but he then switched to Luxilon Big Banger Original at 62 to 67 pounds. His apparel was manufactured by Adidas.
Grand Slam tournament performance timeline
|Australian Open||A||A||3R||1R||4R||F||3R1||F||W||A||3R||2R||2R||1 / 10||31–8|
|French Open||A||4R||4R||QF||3R||SF||A||4R||4R||1R||2R||2R||2R||0 / 11||26–11|
|Wimbledon||A||1R||A||2R||QF||2R||A||1R||3R||2R||3R||SF||1R||0 / 10||16–10|
|US Open||A||4R||2R||W||SF||2R||A||1R||A||4R||2R||2R||1R||1 / 10||22–9|
|Win–Loss||0–0||6–3||6–3||12–3||14–4||13–4||2–0||9–4||12–2||4–3||6–4||8–4||3–4||2 / 41||95–38|
1At the 2003 Australian Open, Safin withdrew prior to the third round.
Since retirement Safin has been an official for the Russian Tennis Federation and a member of the Russian Olympic Committee. In 2011 he began playing at the ATP Champions Tour.
In December 2011, Safin was elected to the Russian Parliament as a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party, representing Nizhny Novgorod. On 17 December 2012, he voted in support of legislation in the Russian Parliament banning the adoption of Russian orphans by United States citizens.