Safin the Suit

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 /by

Marat Safin may have hung up his racquets, but he hasn’t left tennis altogether. Now he’s taking care of business as a Russian tennis official.

During his colorful tennis career, Marat Safin did not seem cut from diplomatic cloth. He spoke from the cuff (often outrageously), demolished hundreds of racquets (usually furiously), and of course famously yanked down his shorts after a brilliant winner at the French Open (spontaneously). But just a few months removed from the tour, the two-time major winner with a strong libertine streak is glad-handing officials and selling himself as a member of both the Russian Olympic committee and the Russian Tennis Federation. Or as he puts it with a broad smile: “Now I have to run around and be nice to everybody.”

Since announcing at the start of 2009 that he would hang up his racquets at the end of the season—a decision the 30-year-old seemed to regret as his ranking dropped and his tolerance for unending retirement questions evaporated—Safin defied speculation that he would sit back on his wealth and just…chill. In December, Safin was elected to his country’s Olympic committee and he’s also working behind the scenes in Russian tennis.

He showed up at Wimbledon’s second week not to check out the tennis, greet old friends, or even to scout the tennis venue for the 2012 London Olympics. “It’s still a little bit far for that,” he said. After all, he reminded a reporter at Wimbledon, “everything is great” at the world’s most prestigious event. (It didn’t seem necessary to remind Safin that he once declared after a loss here that he “hated” grass and that he often complained of the food being too expensive.) Instead, Safin was at the All England Club strong-arming ATP tour officials—and presumably players themselves—to play at his native Moscow event, the Kremlin Cup. “I just want to bring more players to our tournament,” says Safin, who has a vested interest since he says he’ll “officially” be in charge of the event soon. “We need to make it more interesting. Lately we’ve struggled with the tennis players. The people in Russia want to see a little bit more the good quality players.”

No conversation with Safin goes too long without mention of his sister, Dinara Safina. The two are the only siblings in history to rank No. 1 on the men’s and women’s tours. But these are troubled times for the 24-year-old Safina, who has been plagued by injuries and a crisis of confidence. After holding the top ranking for much of 2009, the three-time Grand Slam runner-up has dropped to No. 33. “She’s struggling,” Safin says. “She has a stress fracture in her spine. She’s been playing with pain and it’s not the way to play.” Big brother’s advice? Take a big chunk of time off, re-evaluate, and stop trying to play through the pain. “I think she needs to rest six months and think about the future,” Safin says of his sister. “Don’t play two weeks here and two weeks there and get [re-]injured.”

For a player who operated in the fast lane and celebrated with champagne and chilled vodka when he defeated Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final, life as a bureaucrat can sometimes blend into the mundane. Although he attended the Vancouver Olympics and also stopped by Roland Garros, Safin has his Dilbert moments. “I go to the office,” he said, “I sit down and answer the phone, I send some e-mails.” Safin says he is working to “restructure” the federation and is looking forward for a new “team” he’s helping put in place. The deskwork does not seem to bother. Life, says Safin, is good. “Very good,” he smiled.

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