This is Marat Safin’s last year on tour (assuming we can believe anything the tempestuous Russian says), and I’m going to try to make the most of it. The man always makes things interesting – whether it’s a surprise run to the Wimbledon semis or showing up to this week’s Hopman Cup with war wounds from a Moscow street fight. It’s quite sweet that he made the effort to play with his sister, given his bruised and battered condition (he sustained a thumb injury in the brawl that made it impossible for him to hold a racquet for days afterward). I picture Dinara crying into her Sony Ericsson mobile phone: “But Marat! You promised!” And guess what, they both won their singles matches, defeating the photogenic Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Flavia Pennetta 2-1 (the Italians won the doubles).
In honor of the Year of Marat, I thought I’d share this entertaining brother/sister press conference from earlier today. The best part is when Marat tells the reporters to ask his sister some questions and then starts answering for her! Perhaps he’s angling for a post-retirement gig as Dinara’s publicist?
Marat, congratulations on your win. What’s it like to be back in Perth and playing at the Hopman?
(Marat) Oh thank you very much. It’s all a pleasure. Especially when we have a great companion and family team. Especially with my sister this time. So I couldn’t refuse the offer and I got to play with her. Especially the first time. And especially here. You know it’s a very nice atmosphere. Easy going tournament. And everybody’s enjoying, there’s a lot of people watching. So it’s nice to play. Especially it’s the first tournament, and the first tournament is indoors. So it’s not really rough and you can practise here and outdoors. It’s a really pleasant atmosphere.
It’s pretty much straight off the plane and onto the courts. How are you feeling physically?
(Marat) Well, struggling a little bit. I’ve been flying forever and we arrived very late last night. So I’ll keep on practising a lot. Yes, and yes we warmed up a little bit today, and I actually played my match. And of course it’s tough to play your best tennis, especially when you are just flying for such a long time. It’s difficult to move, difficult to serve, difficult to basically whole thing. Just too complicated to play and to play good tennis.
There’s been a lot of talk about, you know, possible retirement. So what sort of motivation are you carrying into this year then?
(Marat) Well, just it’s probably going to be my last year this year for sure. Because I’m moving to my new life, so I’m not quite sure, that’s why I’m playing. It’s easy for me to play, play good tennis. So hopefully I can enjoy it, and get me some great results.
What do you have lined up?
After your tennis career?
(Marat) Well, I leave it, I leave it up to me. You know I don’t wanna speak really about it, and just my bosses they know about it. And I wanna do it this way. You’ll see, you’ll see me.
Is this time probably your last time on the tour?
(Marat) Yeah most, most probably yes.
Marat, can we ask you how you damaged your eyes? Or how you got…
(Marat) Working hard. Practising hard.
You indicated that there were some problems in Moscow, or…
(Marat) Yeah well, just some small problem that I wasn’t, I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. So let’s put it at that.
Did you win the fight?
(Marat) Ah yes. I won the fight.
Marat, we see your thumb is injured as well. Was that injured in the same incident?
And is that ok? Did that…
(Marat) I’m, I’m good. I’m ok.
How long ago did the incident happen?
(Marat) A week ago.
How are you feeling out on the court? Does it affect your vision at all?
(Marat) No, I won my match. I didn’t play for two months, so I think it’s pretty good. It’s a pretty good match. [pause] Any questions for my sister?
Just, sorry Marat, one more on yourself. This will be your last Australian Open, obviously a tournament that you’ve won. How, what sort of a chance do you give yourself there, especially with the good preparation here if you continue to do well this week?
(Marat) Well, we’ll see. You know it’s still two weeks to go and I need to prepare myself a little bit more. And I’m still looking forward to play well there. And I’m looking forward to have a good draw. It’s very poor in there, and a couple of, two, a couple after two rounds I would prefer to play over there with somebody who can give me some pace and so I can get used to the courts and the conditions. And then afterwards there’s third round, third round would be already I can play with somebody, play a tough one. But first rounds I would love to be easy, to have easy. As any other player for sure.
Obviously you’ve shown us a real bit of what you can still do. With a farewell year on tour this year, are you capable of winning another grand slam?
(Marat) Well, it’s complicated. Too many players are playing well. Andy Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer. So I’m not looking, I’m not really looking into doing some great things. But I don’t want to have any pressure on myself. And I wanna just enjoy it, and escape it. I don’t care what the results are going to be. I just wanna have, wanna have fun.
Knowing that it’s your last year on the tour, is that a good thing? It just takes all the pressure off and you can…
(Marat) Yeah, it’s much easier then, then when you have someone expects anything from you. So, so I think it’s much easier to play this way and I hope, that’s why I was saying, that hopefully I can have our best results this year. Because there’s no pressure.
Will you miss the game at all?
(Marat) Not really.
So, you’ve just had enough?
(Marat) I’m okay. I like to play, but I like to enjoy my life and also I’m not really crazy about it. So I just, I’m having fun right now.
Dinara, after having such a successful year last year, what are you hoping to pull from the Australian summer, to get out of it to set you up for this year?
(Dinara) Well, as I didn’t have a great start last year. Especially as I have nothing to defend, I just want to, to play my game and get as far as I can in Sydney and Melbourne in the upcoming tournaments.
And with Marat saying that he’s pretty much playing just to get a chance to play with you, what does that mean to you?
(Dinara) Well, I think I’ve said it already many times. Because it’s kind of a dream to play with him together, and I was like always looking forward to playing here together. And, you know, it came true so hopefully we can enjoy it together and have fun.
How are you finding all the new attention on you, with the new pressure of being one of the top ranking women in the world?
(Dinara) I don’t know. I…
(Marat) I would love to be her, be in her shoes, that’s for sure. So I think she’s, she’s having fun. She will not recognise it but she, she is having fun. For sure.
Dinara, this is your first Hopman Cup. Has Marat told you much about it over the years?
(Dinara) No, actually we try not to talk about tennis. So not really, but we speak about this, no.
Click here for an entertaining account of Marat’s recent off-court battle.
Click here to peruse the Hopman Cup website.