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March 11, 2005

Marat Safin


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Marat.

Q. What do you think about the rivalry between you and the other three in the Top 4 right now? Looks like it's starting to materialize into one of those kind of special rivalries amongst four guys.

MARAT SAFIN: Hopefully will become classics, you know. This is probably the goal of every generation. Of course, Roger, he made -- he put the tennis on the higher level, much higher level. So like basically three of us were behind him. We've been there for a long time already, and we adjusted to his game so basically we can compete with him. Everybody who wants to be in this top five, in top group of tennis needs to adjust himself to Roger. So basically he's leading the group. But I think it's good for tennis because tennis improve -- has improved so much that any guy who is in top hundred can play great tennis.

Q. What have you done to adjust your game to Roger's?

MARAT SAFIN: Improve a lot of things. Improve being more professional, being more consistent, I guess, was not my case, but I'm getting there. But I think everybody who wants to be there needs to be consistent throughout the year. Of course, there are going to be ups and downs and nobody can avoid this. But especially has to be as close as possible. Of course, I need to have a complete game to be able to compete at a top level.

Q. How do you see Roddick and Hewitt? What kind of adjustment did you see them make?

MARAT SAFIN: That's completely different styles of games. But there are basics on what they do. Of course, Roddick, he has a huge serve. He has probably best serve on the ATP Tour. Hewitt has the best legs and the best fighting spirit in the world. So that's why they are there.

Q. What improvements did they make to close that gap between them and Roger?

MARAT SAFIN: Yeah, if you -- I mean, if you follow tennis for last couple of -- last five years, Hewitt improved a lot his serve, his forehand, his volley. He can volley. Of course, return was his best shot. And also the fighting spirit that he's always fighting, he is always there. Roddick improve his volleys. I mean, it's incredible. He's moving much better. He became much smarter, of course. All of us, we have much more experience than before. Of course, we are growing. It's already enough. You can't improve much more.

Q. You've been No. 1 before. You spent a lot of effort during the few months after you won the US Open by getting to that No. 1 spot. To get to No. 1 again this year, there's so much distance between you and Roger. How much is it going to take from you physically and mentally to get to that position again?

MARAT SAFIN: Well, it's a little bit too early to speak about, speculate about who going to be No. 1 in the world, what it will take and everything. Of course, everybody has an opportunity because, as we know, there is a race. Race eventually at the end of the year becoming a real ranking, which is basically the old ranking. There's two systems, right? One is like Roger is No. 1, and another one is Roger is No. 1, but another one is a race. At the end of the year, it's real. So basically it's who going to make more best results throughout the year will become No. 1 in the world. And everybody has a chance because we're starting from zero points.

Q. And you started very well to this year.

MARAT SAFIN: Yeah, but it's only beginning.

Q. You won your two Grand Slams. Obviously, winning Roland Garros would be a great thing for you, I'm sure. Wimbledon is another question. Being No. 1 for a longer period of time - I think you were No. 1 for a couple of weeks.

MARAT SAFIN: 12 (smiling).

Q. Sorry, 12 weeks. But for an extended period, that might be something you desire again. What would it take for you mentally, physically to go all the way up there?

MARAT SAFIN: Like I said before, you have to be consistent, you have to be really committed to what you're doing. It's like day to day, every day it's a work. You don't have -- you have to sacrifice a lot of things, unfortunately, because you can't play tennis and at same time enjoy and everything. But you try. Because if you don't enjoy, you can't play tennis. So you have to find the right balance, find the right people next to you, around you, just be focused, be ready for anything what's going to happen throughout the year and take every match very serious because everybody going to try to beat you, because basically nobody has nothing to lose against you, as well as against Roger, against Hewitt, against Roddick, against the top guys. The guys that are behind us, they going to go for it, because for them it's a great challenge and it's a great opportunity to, you know, get the confidence and basically break through, especially in the big tournaments like Masters Series events, Grand Slams, et cetera.

Q. How much has it helped having Peter Lundgren on your team, specifically at the Australian Open?

MARAT SAFIN: It was really -- it is really important to have a right person in the box that will be able to control your emotions, to work on the things that need to be worked before actually, but eventually it took me like a couple of years, you know, to really realize it and to find the right coach. And, of course, it's difficult to find the right one because all of the right ones are busy, and the other ones that have been great players before, they don't want to travel. And you need to have a right person next to you if you want to achieve something big in tennis. He did a great job. Like it took us a couple of months to get some results. Eventually they came. Now it's working because we found -- we know each other much better and it's easy to work, it's easy to communicate.

Q. Should the No. 1 rivalry in men's tennis become you and Roger, do you think the American people would accept that and embrace it, because there wouldn't be an American involved? What do you think about that?

MARAT SAFIN: Why? Roddick is there.

Q. But he wouldn't be involved in it. It would be you and Roger. You'd be the two big guys.

MARAT SAFIN: Well, thank you very much for the compliment. But still, you know, is like another top players that they won't let me do this. And also Roger, being in the top of the game, because they want to be also there, because it's the real sweet spot. Everybody wants to get there. And I think Roddick, he has the potential to be there. That's why he changed the coach. I think he's doing pretty well. He's really, really dangerous at any surfaces. So won't be so easy, unfortunately.

Q. But he wouldn't be involved in this scenario that I just created. It would be you and Roger.

MARAT SAFIN: I'm satisfied with that. For me, it's fine.

Q. Do you think the American people would be satisfied with it, to have a leading rivalry without an American?

MARAT SAFIN: I have a lot of Russians behind me.

Q. Playing the French team in Moscow in July in Davis Cup, how do you feel?

MARAT SAFIN: For us actually it's a big year in Davis Cup, we have to admit. To be honest, everybody is talking about it because it's the year that basically all the matches we're going to play at home. We want to do really well because it might be the last opportunity for us to do well. Hopefully not. It's a big year. Basically it's a big year for us. We want to do well. We going to play in front of our home crowd. We going to get to the semifinals. Against the French team, it's easier to play at home than in Paris. But it's a big match for us. It's going to be big match for all the guys, my partners in the team. Because, you know, everybody except me and Youzhny, Davydenko didn't play a lot of matches in the Davis Cup, so it's going to be a huge test for them also.

Q. What did you think when you saw that the US lost at home to Ivan Ljubicic -- I mean, Croatia?

MARAT SAFIN: They had no chance against us anyway. They were not dangerous this year at all because we will play at home also. There is no chance for them, unfortunately (smiling).

Q. After the Croatians won, they all said that the team they feel is the most dangerous is Russia.

MARAT SAFIN: It's us, of course.

Q. They got it right?

MARAT SAFIN: Yes, they know (smiling).

Q. You talk about the sacrifices to achieve that balance that you probably have learned over the past five years. What are the biggest sacrifices that you've given up?

MARAT SAFIN: Well, you can't -- basically we don't have the regular life of, you know, like the young person. Basically everybody goes to college, to university, then they have a couple of years to decide what they want to do. They go to the shrink, all this stuff. So basically we're already grown-ups. We have to be really professional. We can't go like, for example, take a week off and go hiking somewhere, you know, go fishing or do whatever we want to do. Traveling, for example, some people do half a year of traveling around the world. We can't do this. We can't have fun sometimes like for three months, whatever, do whatever we want. We can't because we have to be professional. We can't. We can't. We can't.

Q. You said many times in the past that you're not the type of person who can go hotel, tournament, plane every single day, that you need to have at least a little fun, a little outside life. Maybe it's not six months, but one day here, one day there, being a regular person. If you're not enjoying it, right, you can't enjoy your tennis.

MARAT SAFIN: That's what I'm doing. I'm trying to do, trying to squeeze the maximum of my time free. Whenever I have time free, I try to rest as much as I can because really it takes a lot of energy for us, believe it or not, being on the court, especially in the heat. It's a lot of pressure, a lot -- takes a lot of energy, a lot of pressure. You have to be mentally tough. Even maybe sometimes you go for a month and a half outside of home. You don't really see your family. You're actually talks to the people, they don't even speak your language. For example, in autumn we going to go to Asia. Sorry with all the respect to Asian people, I love to spend there, but for one month and a half, it's a little bit too rough without going home. That's what I mean, sacrifices, because you cannot go there for a week and say, "No, I had enough, I have to leave." No, you're committed to the tournaments. You're committed for what you're doing. It's your job. So you can't. You have to be there. You have to stay for one month and a half and deal with that. Of course, it's fun when you are winning. But when you are not winning...

Q. It's been difficult for people who follow tennis to predict how you will do at a certain event. When you enter an event, do you have a feeling of how well you might play?

MARAT SAFIN: Of course, every -- well, every tournament that I come, everybody comes, I mean, for sure, everybody feels the same. Everybody wants to do well. And everybody is working hard and practicing and doing everything is possible to be as fit as they can before the tournament. But it doesn't really -- you don't make sure that you're going to do well. You might have a bad day, you're not lucky. Maybe the linesmen will call out when the ball is in, for example. All kinds of things can happen. You don't really feel good on the court. You don't feel comfortable. You're not feeling the ball. So many reasons that you might lose in the first round, especially the first round is the most difficult one, especially when they coming to the desert, when the ball is flying. Takes you like five days to really get used to the courts, to the balls, to the crowd, to the air, to the heat, to everything. You might lose. But, of course, you have to be prepared. And, of course, you're fighting. Of course, you're running. Of course, you're shouting, breaking racquets and everything. You do everything that's possible to win because you didn't fly 12 hours here to lose the first round. You want to do well. Of course, you have to be as confident as you can, to be able to pass the first two rounds, to get used to it. And then, of course, if you got the confidence, the right confidence, they can expect for the good result. But I don't think first or second round is a great result for any player.

Q. First round is hardest round for you?

MARAT SAFIN: For everybody. For everybody. Because it's the round that everybody -- most of the players are really nervous because they want to do well, of course. Especially when you are playing in desert, have you to get used to it, like I said, heat, everything, all the conditions.

Q. I spoke to Dinara the other day. She gives you a lot of credit for advising her, helping her learn to trust herself on court and not look to other people to help her when she's out there. How proud of her were you when she won the title in Paris? Talk about your relationship with her.

MARAT SAFIN: Of course, I'm happy that she's -- whenever she does well, I'm more than happy. What the most makes me feel good is that she really likes tennis, she really enjoying it, and she's happy with that. It doesn't matter -- for me as a brother, it doesn't matter if she going to win all the titles in the world, she going to become the best player in the world. I want her to be happy, just a happy person. Of course, everybody knows life is too short, you know, to waste time on useless things, being unhappy. She should. Why not? She has all the support, my support, the family support, to be happy. And that's why I'm trying to give all the advices in the world in order for her to be happy. I will never criticize her. I will never complain about her. I just want her to be happy and to make right decisions. Of course, is difficult to explain to the girl that she's 18 years old what is right and what is wrong. But at the end eventually she will make her mistakes in order to be able to improve herself as a person.

Q. Last year we saw three Russian women break through and win slams. You won a Slam. Took you a few years to win your second one. What sort of advice would you give to three young Russians who won Slams as they pursue these titles as defending champions?

MARAT SAFIN: What advice can I give to them when they're going to defend the title?

Q. What advice would you give to someone who breaks through and wins a Slam at a young age.

MARAT SAFIN: Then has to come back and defend?

Q. Yes.

MARAT SAFIN: That they don't have to come back and thinking about defending. They should be coming and thinking about winning it. It's completely opposite way of thinking. Pessimism, optimism. A lot of people, what's happening, they saying, "Oh, I have to defend. What I'm going to do? I wish I could get to the fourth round and then I'm okay, I have no pressure." You don't have to come this way, thinking this way. You should come there, be strong, saying, "I'm coming here to win it. Why not? Why is not possible to win it two years in a row?" Of course, it's possible. So whatever comes comes. No matter if she No. 4 in the world, she going to win it, if she lose in the first round, she going to be No. 6, big deal. No. 10, big deal. If she has the potential, she'll be there always. Instead of winning Wimbledon, she going to win the French Open. The person who won the French Open, okay, she will make the semifinals here and they're going to win in another tournament there. But you should come there and feel free and feel like why not, you have a chance to win it.

Q. People don't usually go in with that mentality. How hard is it?

MARAT SAFIN: It's hard. It's hard because everybody knows their weaknesses, as well as I know my weaknesses. It's difficult to deal with them sometimes when you're feeling the pressure. The pressure is the most dangerous thing, most dangerous thing in tennis. Once you get too much pressure on yourself, you can't play, you choke. This is the worst what can happen to any player in any sport, to choke.

Q. Do you feel any different going back on the road after winning the Australian, your second Grand Slam, compared to the US Open?

MARAT SAFIN: I forget already that feeling, you know, five years ago. Because you start to look at the things a little bit different way. You have much more experience than I used to have five years ago. I had no clue basically. It happened to me, was fun, was cool. Basically also I became No. 1 in the world. I didn't know what to do, what else to do. That's basically for the player. I don't know, Roger, how he's still playing. It gets to a point, for him it's even tougher because for him it's so, so simple, tennis, he wins all the Grand Slams he wants, whenever he wants. Okay, he had bad luck against me. But he's No. 1 in the world. So for him it should be boring playing tennis. People should admire him. To come back and back, come back to the tournaments and play, everybody wants to beat you, and you can't -- you almost touching the roof. You touch the roof. Is difficult to come back and play. But my -- you know, I still have many goals. I hope I will achieve much more than what I did before. This is my goal. I have something to climb up, way to climb up.

Q. Do you have any superstitions about playing certain tournaments that you do well at? In Bercy, you do well, you won it a few times.

MARAT SAFIN: Yeah, here, for example, I never pass the second round.

Q. Hopefully you'll do better.

MARAT SAFIN: I hope so also. Not much you can do. Just need to be -- you have to be prepared. Whenever you have bad luck, bad luck. Is not my best week, for sure. There's like some tournaments I really never did well. Every year you come back and you try to do something different, work a little bit harder, less, do something fun. You know, like try to change a little bit so in order to maybe this year, because you have the expectation, maybe this year. This year maybe is going to be the one that I'm going to pass, I don't know, at least two rounds I'm going to win.

Q. Do you think it affects you mentally when you go to the tournament, you never get past the first or second round? Does it affect you the next year?

MARAT SAFIN: No, because you already know. You know this feeling. Basically you have nothing to defend. It's already you have no pressure, which is a good thing, good start.

End of FastScripts….

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