Ma-rotten: Safin’s last Wimbledon ends on sour note

Wimbledon 2009
By Matthew Zemek, June 24th, 2009

marat-safinMarat Safin never liked the grass of Wimbledon and the tricky bounces created by tennis’s most organic playing surface. Now, the mercurial Russian won’t have to worry about returning to the All-England Club.

The 14th-seeded Safin, who has made it clear that 2009 will be his last year on the ATP Tour, didn’t last long in his final visit to SW19. The two-time Grand Slam champion tumbled out of The Championships in a first-round loss to American qualifier Jesse Levine. Safin’s 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 defeat added one final chapter of serial underachievement to a career that should have produced far more trophies than it has.

With the abrupt exit from suburban London, Safin’s slam career has been reduced to just one tournament, the U.S. Open in September. At that point in time, the global press will bid adieu to this temperamental 29-year-old, but for now, it’s worth noting the contrasts between this Wimbledon and Safin’s previous visit to the English countryside.

William Hill Tennis Betting

In 2008, Safin came to SW19 without so much as a quarterfinal showing in his previous 11 slam appearances. Just as disappointing was the Russian’s inability to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since 2001. Considering the power of his serve and the generally explosive quality of his groundstrokes, Safin had the big game that could win on grass, but his famously impatient demeanor and deficient work ethic prevented him from doing damage at the Big W. When French Open semifinalist Novak Djokovic appeared in Safin’s section of the draw, few dared to think that Dinara Safina’s older brother was going to enjoy an extended stay in England.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Heathrow Airport for a flight out of town: Safin played committed, focused tennis to dismiss Djokovic in straight sets. The convincing second-round upset propelled Safin through the rest of the tournament, as a revived competitor-tasting the kind of satisfaction that had eluded him since his 2005 Australian Open championship-rolled to the semifinals, reminding tennis fans of the immense talent that, at the beginning of this decade, humiliated Pete Sampras in the finals of the 2000 U.S. Open. While Roger Federer did stop Safin in the semifinals, the Russian’s encouraging display of lawn tennis in 2008 suggested that a 2009 return to Wimbledon would send Safin out in style.

Pacific Poker

True to form, however, this up-and-down enigma chose to throw yet one more curveball at the pundits and prognosticators who have found it impossible to gauge the trajectory of Safin’s game.

Just when it might have seemed safe to at least pencil Safin into the second round, this Court 18 match with Levine proved to be the Russian’s final Wimbledon graveyard. With Safin all too often pinned to the baseline, Levine took big cuts from the backcourt to press the advantage. One of these golden groundstrokes-a running down-the-line forehand-gave Levine two set points at the end of the pivotal third-set tiebreak. When Levine won the next point to claim a two-sets-to-one lead, Safin-smelling not the finish line of victory, but the relief of never having to play on grass again-moped through a fourth set in which Levine dominated. The American broke Safin in the first game of the set, established a 4-1 edge, and cruised home to finish another sad story for Safin at Wimbledon.

Many fans and journalists who have come to embrace the emotional accessibility and personal expressiveness of Safin will lament the passage of this funny and candid figure. As for “El Maratski” himself? He’ll relish the fact that he never has to play on a lawn ever again. So ends the Wimbledon odyssey of one of tennis’s most puzzling yet compelling people.


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