“I’d rather come here (to L.A.) without tennis. It’s much more pleasant than coming here and playing tennis. Even though the tournament is great.”
So said Marat Safin after beating Ernests Gulbis, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday at the LA Tennis Open.
For Marat fans, Wednesday’s match was a rare gem – a hard-fought, hard-hitting, rollercoaster ride of traded breaks and missed opportunities that Safin actually won in the end. But the Russian was quick to squelch any hopes of a Sampras-like finish to his career. When asked about the U.S. Open, Marat gave himself “no chance” to win.
Pete Sampras, who played Marat in an exhibition match on Monday (which Safin described afterwards as “too much stress”), explained that he was “emotionally spent” when he retired: “I didn’t have much left in the tank,” he said in a pre-match press conference.
Marat admitted on Wednesday that he’s feeling the aches and pains of twelve years on tour. “I need to spend much more time at the gym,” he said. But, like Pete, it’s the emotional stress more than the physical grind that is pushing him to retire.
“I need some vacation. At least half a year just to relax and realize that I’m not anymore a tennis player. And to understand that there is life afterwards. To relax because it’s too much stress throughout the years.”
He added that he’s looking forward to a “different way of thinking” when there are “no more match points, no more deuces, no more second serves” to stress-out about.
And no, he’s not going to miss the camaraderie of the tour. Safin says there is none, at least nowadays:
“Nobody (on tour) talks. There is no more friendship on tour like there used to be coming up. You can’t find Rafter and Philippoussis hanging out together. Now it’s become too professional. Nobody has as much fun as it used to be before. . .It’s a business – a huge business. Everybody’s hungry for money, obviously. (Like) any other job. Everybody’s walking with five or six guys – some of them even carrying their bags for them. Which is not really nice to see. But it happens.”
“I don’t have (best friends) on tour. It’s not sad. It’s okay. I’m okay with that.”
He hedged when asked about future plans. Will he suffer the enviable fate of Pete Sampras, who admitted on Monday that he’s still “looking for things to do.”?
“There are so many things to do.” Marat said, not needing to finish what he must have been thinking: “As long as it’s not tennis.”
Television coverage of the LA Tennis Open begins on Thursday. Click here for the schedule.