Friday, 10 October 2008

Conquering Demons...

Marat Safin has just defeated Nikolay Davydenko 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 in the quarter finals of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. He will now play Mischa Zverev (ranked 98) while the other semi final will be contested between Fabrice 'The Magician' Santoro and Igor Kunitsyn (ranked 71).

Were it not for Santoro's 7-2 head to head against him, this should have been a straightforward proposition for Safin. If he triumphs here, it will be his first title since the 2005 Australian Open and as such provides a much needed opportunity to recapture that winning feeling.

With the greatest of respect to Zverev and Kunitsyn, this is really all about Santoro and Safin. Not just because of their greater standing in the game but also because of what Santoro has come to represent to Safin.

In a sense 2008 has been something of a turnaround for Safin; since taking on a new coach he's beaten a top 10 player for the first time since 2006 (Berdych in a Davis Cup tie against the Czech Republic) - this was also
incidentally, the first time he's come back from 2 sets down; he also finally put right his horrendous record on grass with that incredible run to the semis at Wimbledon.

This may be a little simplistic, but I get the feeling that Safin's poor record against Santoro is largely down to his loathing of the irregular. Lets consider surfaces: he's had his best results on a hard court where you don't have to contend with uneven bounces and changes in pace that are such a feature of the other surfaces. Its taken him the best part of his career to put in a good performance at Wimbledon and he's only won two out of his fifteen titles on clay.

Santoro is just about as irregular and nuanced a player as you'll find on tour (can you imagine what Bollietteri makes of his double handed scything forehand!?) and is for all intents and purposes the antithesis of what Safin considers tennis to be about (he'd probably prefer to play Nadal on clay).

However I've got a good feeling about this: Santoro has already signalled his intent to cut down his schedule over 2009, so he may not provide as stiff opposition as he's done in the past. Moreover, getting past an old adversary such as Santoro, whilst also winning his first title in three years is certain to allow him to shed some psychological baggage and may prove to be exactly the kind of springboard he needs ahead of Madrid and Paris (a tournament he's already won three times).

Safin image by Toga

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