Thursday, July 23, 2009
It is fitting that Marat Safin, the last of a dying breed of tempestuous and eccentric entertainers on the Professional tennis circuit, will play his last precious hours of Grand-Slam tennis at this years U.S. Open.
It is fitting because, held both prior to and after Labor Day weekend, the U.S. Open always brings with it a touch of nostalgia. Much like what is left of Safin's breathtaking natural ability on the tennis court, early September in New York reminds us that the summer is finally slipping away, and that soon all we'll have left is photographs plastered dolefully into scrapbooks, and fading memories of what was and what might have been.
What would make this summer especially sad for Safin fans, and for tennis in general, is another uninspired performance by the imposing 6'4" Russian who has always been long on talent, but to his detriment, almost fatally short on patience. Dubbed "The Magical Misery Tour" by tennis.com's Tom Perrotta, Safin's farewell performance in 2009 has been morose at best. The 29-year-old has been content to leave the big-time tennis to his kid sister, compiling an anemic 7-12 record and performing progressively worse in each Slam that he has appeared in.
But don't let the results fool you. The enigmatic Russian can still play - his run to the 2008 Wimbledon Semi's is proof - when he feels like it. The question this summer, as the American Slam approaches, will be more about Safin's desire to play than his ability to do so.
That is why I am sending this heartfelt message to Marat, in the hopes that he might shelve his jaded persona for a few weeks at the end of this summer. If not for himself, then maybe for his little sister who I'm sure wouldn't mind being reminded of just how pristine her bloodlines are. And if not for Dinara, then how about for us, the fans and journalists who've been rooting for you for the better part of 10 years, in spite of your painfully obvious indifference for the tour.
Please, Marat (I will get down on my knees if it helps), play this last Grand-Slam like you mean it. Play it with heart and soul and focus, and most of all, patience. I'm not asking you to repeat what you did in 2000, when you trampled over the legend Pete Sampras like he was a mere speed bump on your way to the No. 1 Ranking. I'm not even asking that you do what you did last year at Wimbledon when you upset Novak Djokovic on your way to an improbable run all the way to the semis. I'm just asking that you play the sport like you love the sport, because there is no way in hell that you don't love it - nobody plays tennis with the flair and power that you do if they don't love it.
Marat, I'm begging you, and I think I speak for all true tennis fans when I say this: Get that one foot that has been hanging out the door for most of 2009 and put it back on the tennis court. Channel that fiery temper of yours into something positive. Make it to the second week and who knows what might happen?
Please Marat, Play the 2009 U.S. Open like it will be your last, because this time it really will be.