The Friday Five – Marat the Enigma

By Maud Watson

Farewell, Marat! – In a city that he loved, and at a tournament where he had always enjoyed great success, Marat Safin played his last professional match at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.  He lost to current US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in a tight three-set struggle that featured vintage Marat Safin, with smiles, cries of anguish, and yes, a broken racquet. Having won two Grand Slam singles titles, achieving the No. 1 ranking, and winning the Davis Cup, Safin accomplished more in his career than most players ever will. Despite these accolades, however, many critics have called him an underachiever. For the amount of talent Safin has, maybe those critics are right…but then again, his erratic play is what made him the enigma that is Marat Safin.  And that enigma has been a fan favorite wherever he went. Because at the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether or not Safin was playing top-flight tennis. What mattered was that he treated it like a game. He let you know what he was feeling, he was brutally honest on and off the court, and he always had a certain charm and wit about him. Marat Safin broke the mold, he will be missed, and he should be congratulated on a successful career.

Loose Lips – Within the next month, Frenchman Richard Gasquet will learn whether or not he’ll be serving a longer ban from tennis for testing positive for cocaine. Earlier this year, Gasquet served a 2 ½-month ban when he tested positive for the recreational drug, a substance he alleged entered his body when he kissed a woman in a nightclub who supposedly had cocaine in her system. Hopefully Gasquet’s case will be decided on its own merits, and not on pressure put on the CAS to make up for what happened with Agassi 12 years ago.

Stop the Madness – It would seem that the WTA and the ATP Tours have finally said enough is enough when it comes meting out punishments relating to doping in tennis. The reason for this chatter stems from the fact that Belgians Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse have each been handed a one-year ban for violating WADA’s “whereabouts” rule, which has long been considered one of the sport’s most controversial rules. As Stacey Allaster, the new WTA Chairman and CEO explained, it’s difficult for players to tell WADA three months in advance where they will be for one hour out of each day during competition, as they don’t know when their match will be scheduled, when they will practice, etc. It’s murder on the players, and it’s a joke that a player can lose an entire year of his or her career without even testing positive for any banned substance.

Molto Bene – In all the hullabaloo of the Agassi interview on 60 Minutes, the fact that Italy defeated the U.S. in the Fed Cup final was lost.  Hats off to Italy who claimed just their second Fed Cup title since the competition began in 1963.  Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are putting Italian tennis back on the map, and for Pennetta, who earlier this year became the first Italian female to reach the Top 10, it was the perfect way to cap off a stellar year.

It’s On! – In a dramatic day three at the Paris Masters, Rafael Nadal saved five match points to advance to the third round, while Roger Federer suffered a shock loss to elated Frenchman Julien Benneteau.  Federer’s early loss coupled with the fact that Nadal can only gain points at the ATP World Tour Finals means that the year-end No. 1 ranking is still up for grabs.  Who says that there isn’t a little bit of excitement at the end of a long tennis season?