Marat Safin played the last match of his professional career today at the Paris Masters in Bercy, losing in three sets to Juan Martin del Potro: 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. It was a “good” loss for him, the dignified exit he was hoping for. He could have won it, but didn’t “lose” it. He smashed just one racquet and hugged a friend and respected colleague over the net – a young gun who also made his name by beating a legend in the US Open final.
Fellow tour players and veterans were on hand to honor Marat after the match. Safin was given the “Bercy Key” and invited to come back anytime by Cedric Pioline. True to his personality, Marat didn’t shed a tear. But he made sure his fans welled up:
“This day will stand out for a very long time – until I pass through a different world. This is the day where all my memories will be in one box. Through my career all the defeats, all the losses, wins, all the new experiences that I had in tennis, all my money opened a lot of doors. This is a special day because I’m closing one door and hopefully another will open.”
“I know (retirement) is going to be difficult. . .We’re sportsmen and we overcome a lot of tough moments on the court. (This) will give me some perspective in future life and strength to continue.”
Here’s some video of Marat Safin’s retirement ceremony in Paris:
“A world class player and a world class guy,” said a commentator about Marat Safin today.
Yep, that about covers it. But let’s indulge a little. . .
Marat Safin won 15 ATP titles, including two Majors: the 2000 US Open (beating Sampras) and the 2005 Australian Open (beating Hewitt.) He was No. 1 in the world, twice led the Russian team to Davis Cup victory (2002 and 2006), and made the semifinals or better in all four Majors.
An impressive career, but considering that 7 of his 15 titles came in 2000, and that the 2005 Australian was the last title he ever won, could Marat Safin have done more? After losing to him in straights in the US Open final, Pete Sampras called Marat the future of tennis. Did Marat live up to that declaration? Did he achieve enough? Did he fulfill his massive potential? These questions came back to me recently when I read how Agassi swiped Darren Cahill away from Marat in 2002: “You can’t coach Safin,” Agassi appealed to Cahill. “He’s a loose cannon.” (via “Open, an Autobiography”)
But what if? What if Cahill had the silver bullet? What if Marat had focused? Been injured less? Worked harder? Wanted it more? The “what ifs” have dogged Safin for much of his career.
Safin tried to put these questions to rest after his match today:
“I don’t have a lot of them [titles] only 15, so not too many majors. But they were really special and very welcome. A lot of people [think] that I’m not really [a] hard worker, but you can ask all my coaches how I dedicated myself to tennis. I worked for it, and I worked very hard.” (via ATP)
That was his his official answer to “what if” today, but I prefer the answer he once gave to his buddy Svetlana Kuznetsova (via USA Today):
“Once I asked Marat this question, and I loved his answer,” Kuznetsova, the reigning Roland Garros champ, told a small group of reporters at the U.S. Open. “Maybe it’s not good for press, but he just says, ‘If grandma would have balls, she would be a grandpa.’ It’s an expression we say it in Russian: If? What would happen if? But ‘If’ didn’t happen.”
Marat Safin happened. And we’re grateful for it.