Safin bids farewell to tennis in Paris
Known for furious, racket-throwing rants, Marat Safin would rather be remembered for the hard work he put in during a 12-year career marked by two Grand Slam titles and a Davis Cup win. The former No. 1 ended his career Wednesday after losing to Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in the second round of the Paris Masters. "A lot of people there really thought that I'm not a really hard worker," Safin said. "But you can ask all my coaches how I dedicated myself to tennis. They will tell you it's completely the opposite of what a lot of people think." The 29-year-old Safin first made headlines in 1998 when he reached the fourth round at the French Open with victories over Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerten. He won his first ATP title the year after, and claimed his first major at the 2000 U.S Open with a victory over Pete Sampras in the final. Safin reached No. 1 in November 2000 before injuries and other issues prevented him from a long stay at the top. He lost two major finals before adding a second Grand Slam title at the 2005 Australian Open. Safin, who said he will miss high-level competition, is relieved he won't have to deal with injuries and pressure anymore. "You are completely stressed 24-7," the 65th-ranked Russian said. "This is what I hate about it. It's just too much. There is no rest for the brain at all. Once you are top 10, and then you can drop to 150. And it's difficult to comeback. It's a very tough living." Safin said he'd love to change the outcome of two painful defeats. "French Open semifinals against (Juan Carlos) Ferrero and Australian Open final against (Thomas) Johansson," said Safin, remembering losses dating back to 2002. That year, the Russian was beaten by Johansson in four sets on his 22nd birthday, but also gave Russia a Davis Cup win over France in Paris. "It's where I started and where I finished," Safin said about the French capital. "I couldn't have found a better place to (retire). French people have been great to me. Great fans, great spectators. They perfectly understand tennis." Safin, a three-time winner at the Paris Masters, captured 15 singles titles during his career. But the charismatic Russian hasn't won a tournament since his Australian Open victory in 2005. His best result this year was reaching the semifinals last month in St. Petersburg, Russia. "Today I will put all my memories, all my wins and losses in a small box," Safin said during a small ceremony where he received a special trophy. "Today a door is closed, hopefully another one will open." Safin was joined on the court by several current and former players, including Marc Rosset, Younes El Aynaoui and Albert Costa. "It's really a special feeling to see Younes, Marc and Alberto here," Safin said. "We had some fun together. For me it means a lot that they came to say goodbye." Safin, known for his outspokenness, also teased some of the players who came to greet him. "Of course it's very nice to see all the people coming to the court," Safin said. "And I hope the ATP people didn't push them to do that. Because I didn't expect some of them to be here." For his last match, Safin gave the Parisian crowd terrific winners from the baseline, fine touch at the net, strong first serves but also horrendous unforced errors and a tossed racket. In the first set, he missed a chance to break Del Potro when the fifth-seeded Argentine served a winner to even it at 3-3. Safin then lost his serve after sending a forehand wide and Del Potro ended the set with a service winner. Safin saved a break point at 5-5 in the second set and earned three set points when Del Potro sent a forehand in the net. Del Potro survived the first one with a service winner but was left stranded by Safin's forehand winner on the next point. In the third, Del Potro broke for a 2-1 lead and finished Safin off on his second match point with an ace. Del Potro congratulated Safin at the net while the audience gave the Russian a standing ovation. Safin remained unclear about his projects for the future. "Sportsmen are great when they are sportsmen," Safin said. "Afterwards, it's a little bit tough for them. The transition from being a tennis player to do something else is difficult. And if time passes too much, you're just an ex-tennis player."