Moscow: Marat Safin has the talent and the flair to become the Michael Jordan of tennis but lacks the desire and drive to make it all the way to the top, his Davis Cup coach says.
“I don’t think many people would disagree that Safin is the most talented player in the men’s game,” Russia’s Davis Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev said before leaving for Buenos Aires where the defending champions take on Argentina in a quarter final tie this weekend.
“He has the power, the agility, the speed, everything you need to be a great athlete. Not only in tennis. In fact, he could have been successful in most other sports, in football or basketball for example.”
Safin, 22, burst on to the tennis scene as a teenager in 2000, winning seven titles that year, the most on the ATP Tour, including a shock straight-sets victory over Pete Sampras in the US Open final.
But it has been a steady downhill path since. He won two titles the following year and tasted victory just once in 2002 at the Paris Masters Series where he beat world number one Lle yton Hewitt in the final.
This year, it has been one painful defeat after the other.
Safin was hampered by a wrist injury he suffered at the Australian Open in January, forcing him to miss much of the action in the following month, including the Davis Cup first-round tie against the Czech Republic in Ostrava.
Then last month, the Russian was humbled 6-0, 6-1 by US qualifier Robby Ginepri in the third round at Indian Wells before losing his opening match in the Nasdaq-100 Open.
The former world number one has slipped to eighth in the ATP rankings, his lowest position since early 2000.
One of Safin’s main problems, Tarpishchev says, is finding the right coach. Safin, tennis’s glamour boy, has changed coaches seven times in the last two years but has had trouble repeating his 2000 heroics.
“The problem is there are not that many good coaches around in the first place and finding the right guy becomes a really difficult task,” Tarpishchev said.Some believe that another of Safin’s obstacles has been his overactive social life, although the player himself does not see it as a big distraction.
But a source, familiar with the player, said that if Safin had spent as much time practising as he had partying, the results would be different.
Tarpishchev, however, was hoping that Safin would somehow rediscover the form which helped Russia to clinch their first Davis Cup title over holders France last December.