BestTennisEver.com is proud to present a story on a longstanding friend, Marat Safin, that appeared in 2005 in SMASH, a leading American tennis magazine. I've known Marat since we were teenagers back in Russia. Even then he was quite a character. Now, of course, the whole world knows about his unique personality - and extraordinary tennis game. The interview below was conducted by one of the world's premier tennis writers, Joel Drucker. For those of you who I teach in the Los Angeles area, Joel too was raised and learned to play the game in LA. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Marat Safin: SMASH Interview
By Joel Drucker
SMASH: What's the biggest misconception people have about you?
Safin: I don't know where to start. People think I'm a little bit brainless, that I don't care about anything, that I'm thinking about women all the time. That's wrong. There's a time for everything. You need to use your brain in a lot of what you do in life. What I've achieved isn't so easy. I've had my difficult times, and to go through them and enjoy my life, well, that's something people should know about me - that I enjoy my life. Well, I guess people pretty much know that. Here, try this for an answer: I guess it's good in some ways that people don't know everything about me. If you know everything about someone, it's boring. This way, it's fun.
SMASH: Well on the court you haven't always seemed to have such a great time. What happens to you when you start to get upset during a match?
Safin: When I'm playing bad, I get bored and disappointed. It's just not happening for me out there. The opportunities are there, but then, you want to win so badly, you get pissed off. Hey, we're not machines who can just go out there and play the same everyday. Tennis is hard enough just to deal with your opponent. But everyone has a private life, and if things go on with your family or friends, you feel it, and then you get angry. The worm gets in your brain.
SMASH: Which leads us to this question - How many racquets have you broken?
Safin: Around 500.
SMASH: Is there a proper way to breaking a racquet?
Safin: It's an art. I've got it down to perfection. I can't do it any better.
SMASH: So what's the key to breaking one?
Safin: You've got to do it in a way so that everything from inside of you gets out. Everything.
SMASH: And speaking of racquets, you've been playing with the Head Prestige for quite some time. What do you like about it compared to other racquets you've tried?
Safin: That racquet perfectly suits my game. I couldn't play with another. It's just very personal, a feeling that's hard to explain, and you don't want to explain feelings; you can't. If you could, you'd be Ernest Hemingway. I don't mean him specifically, I mean just any writer.
SMASH: Speaking of Hemingway, do you read much?
Safin: I like to read some. Let's just say I've read my share of classics, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. But that stuff is pretty hard reading. After reading ten pages of that, you want to kill yourself. So you don't always want that when you're also trying to work hard to win tennis matches.
SMASH: Let's talk a bit about your development as a player. When did you know you were going to be a pro?
Safin: From the beginning, from when I was 6-7 years old. My mother always wanted me to play. She was my coach. And I had no other opportunity to do anything but play tennis.
SMASH: Do you wish you had a chance to have done something else?
Safin: No, I don't regret this. When you have a lot of choices you don't know how to choose. You send up choosing the wrong thing. My mom knows tennis, she knew what she was doing. Besides me, she taught people like Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva.
SMASH: When you were a kid, you spent a lot of time in Valencia, Spain. Talk about that decision and how it was for you.
Safin: It was tough. I couldn't speak Spanish at all, I hardly even knew English, I had no money, I was homesick, I missed my family. But in six months I could speak Spanish, and then it started to get better. It was my parents' idea, and tough as it was at first, that experience helped me become a pro, no question.
SMASH: So what would be your advice for kids thinking about turning pro?
Safin: Enjoy it. It's a difficult time, trying to be a pro, so let what happens, happen. And the key thing I've seen at every level - satellites, challengers, pros -- is that the guys who won't make it are the ones who take the easy way out.
SMASH: What do you mean by that?
Safin: The guys who go party too much, or who start getting lazy when the coach walks away, the guys who don't take extra practice for their serve or whatever. You need to dedicate yourself 100 percent if you want to be as good as you can be.
SMASH: But surely all work and no play makes life a bit dull. What do you do to unwind?
Safin: What I like most is relaxing with good friends, laughing, eating, being normal.
SMASH: Besides the great tax break, what is it about Monte Carlo that makes you want to live there?
Safin: It's safe, it's got great weather, great people.
SMASH: And your home?
Safin: Just a two-bedroom apartment. Of course I've got a big 61-inch TV, and a good stereo, and loads of DVDS, and a big beige couch. But I've never been there more than two straight weeks.
SMASH: What kind of music are you into?
Safin: Metallica, pop, R&B, MTV. The best concert I ever went to was Metallica.
SMASH: Russian women often talk about Anna Kournikova being one reason for tennis taking off among girls. Who's the big catalyst among the men?
Safin: Andrei Chesnokov, Alexander Volkov and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. It also helped that our president, Boris Yeltsin, was really into tennis.
SMASH: Speaking of Kafelnikov, what do you make of his second career as a professional poker player?
Safin: That's great for him. He can do whatever he wants. People may judge him, but why should they? He did what he did in tennis. He had a great career, and now he enjoys what he does after tennis.
SMASH: Do you like to gamble?
Safin: Not at all. Pretty boring as I see it.
SMASH: So who do you think is the hottest-looking player on the WTA Tour?
Safin: (Long pause) I'll pass. I don't want to get anyone - including me - in trouble.
SMASH: What's Marat Safin's ideal woman?
Safin: She's easygoing, but also strong, someone with passion.
SMASH: Any idea when you'll find that right woman?
Safin: I will get married when my kids are old enough. I want them to see how their momma and papa love each other.
SMASH: Wait a sec. Kids, then marriage?
Safin: Yes. I want four kids. I don't want to be like everyone else. Not too many marriages work, so let's have kids, raise them, and then commit to each other in front of our kids. How beautiful would that be, to get married in front of your kids?
SMASH: So what do you think of America?
Safin: It's funny. How come American movies always show Russians as pretty stupid? We Russians sometimes think the same thing of Americans: that they're pretty dumb. And we're the two nations that determine who lives and who dies. America was more fun to travel to and around before 9.11. Now it's a mess traveling to the States. You have to get to the airport five hours before your flight.
SMASH: And you fly first-class?
Safin: Yes, I like it that way. I've run a lot of miles to have a comfortable life.
SMASH: So what's your life motto?
Safin: Don't take life too seriously. Just enjoy every minute, because you never know when you're going to go.
The SMASH 10:
- Favorite pre-match meal? - "Pasta - There's not much else to choose from."
- Favorite rainy-day movie? - "No repeats, though I love Godfather I & II."
- What songs are on your iPod? - "Mine's still unpacked."
- Your first tennis racquet? - "Wood, white and yellow."
- Favorite ice cream flavor? - "I don't eat sweets."
- Best advice you ever got from your mom or dad? - "I never got any advice from anyone. My mom taught me how to hit tennis balls, but that was it."
- Pro athlete you most admire? - "I don't really follow sports. I respect everyone who ever did something impressive - Carl Lewis, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates."
- Person you'd most like to meet? - "I'm not into that famous people thing. I love to be with my friends."
- What would you be if you'd never picked up a tennis racquet? - "Nothing typical, but it would help me have a good life."
- What frightens you? - "Nothing scares me. On second thought, I hate dentists. I fear dentists. You want to know how many cavities I have? Don't embarrass me. Going to the dentist for me is worse than playing Fabrice Santoro (the slice-and-dicer who's never reached a Slam singles quarterfinal was 7-2 versus Safin as of July 2005)."
The Fairy of Success
By Vladimir Simonov
Lina Zdorovytska is a professional tennis couch. She is a multiple champion of Ukraine; the First Racket of Ukraine; winner of various international competitions not only as a single competitor, but also in double matches. She is number 300 in the official WTA world tennis rating.
Dina, a businesswoman, client of the Zdorovytska Tennis School: “Lina is a real friend, someone you can really trust. She is inspiring and sincere on the court, as well as off the court. She helped me believe in myself, which made me successful on the court and in my personal life.”
She was born in Kiev. When she turned six, her parents brought her to the tennis court. From that moment on tennis became her life. Lina felt an insurmountable need to prove that she was the best. At the age of eight she entered her first adult competition, which turned out to be an immediate success: she won the Kiev Championship. The game gave her self-confidence, molded her character and stamina - qualities she would rely on when the everyday hours-long practice began. Those days sport uniforms and rackets were hard-to-get items in Ukraine. But Lina’s hard work and dedication to sport did not go unnoticed. The famous tennis couch Svetlana Medvedeva, who by then had already reared two world-class tennis players - Andrei and Natalya Medvedev, took notice of the promising youngster.
Professional tennis required from Lina total commitment. Since the age of nine, team practice, training camps and competitions became her every-day routine. Lina became the First Racket of Ukraine working hard year after year towards the much-desired title of the Champion of Ukraine.
Marc (48 years old), investor, client of Lina’s school: “Lina helped me discover a tennis player in me. At that time my first marriage had just fallen to pieces, and the sport helped me get over the pain and desperation. I feel very comfortable on the court. Lina knows how to support and inspire her students when pointing out mistakes and misses. I am endlessly grateful to her for the support and skills she has given me”.
At the age of 11 Lina had her big breakthrough: she was one of several promising young players to train at the world-renowned Nick Bollettieri tennis school in Florida. After Ukraine of that time in its state of economic distress and substandard living conditions, America felt to Lina like paradise. Lina trained with incredible elation and dedication, avidly absorbing the mastery of the game.
However, the happy days in Florida flew by very fast…Upon her return to Ukraine she was offered by her previous couch Svetlana Medvedeva to move to Germany to continue working on her career in sports. Lina accepted. This new period in her life began with five, six-hour-long tedious training sessions, kilometers of cross-country running, and endless car travel around Europe to compete. It was exhausting. And the lack of financial support constantly prevented her from entered such coveted competitions as Wimbledon, Grand Slam Tournament…
Laurence (44 years old), top-ranking manager, client of Lina’s school: “Even as a child I knew that sport wasn’t really my thing. I was clumsy and completely lacked coordination. But when I joined Lina’s school, a miracle happened: she gave me the self-confidence that I was missing to advance in personal life and career. She never crushes her students, even the ones like me. Instead she inspires us, makes us believe that we can get better. Being around her gives me a more positive outlook on life.”
At the age of 17 Lina was faced with a tough choice: it was either “running around in circles” due to lack of funding, or entering the university. By that time Lina knew exactly what she wanted to do: move to the US. She entered the Kiev State University, Department of Financial Management. And in 1999 she received a grant from the prestigious Loyola Marymount University as a promising tennis player. Several months later, on the petition of the University, Lina received her Green Card as an outstanding athlete. Successfully combining sports and academics, Lina soon became the first racket of the University and won several prestigious tennis competitions. In 2,5 years Lina completed the 5-year academic program in marketing and received her bachelor degree.
Vladimir, (38 years old), businessman, client of Lina’s tennis school: “When I’m on the court, Lina makes me forget all my problems. I get the exercise I need, and the training sessions are always fun. Every time I come home after practice, I feel that I bring home to my wife and children the much-needed charge of energy and optimism. At the beginning I never thought I could ever feel comfortable on the court. But now I genuinely enjoy the game. Lina is an excellent couch!”
At her tennis school Lina is working with students of all ages. Many of her students transitioned over time to personal friends.
Lina Zdorovytska tennis school owner: “I can find a special approach to each of my students. I have a sincere interest in people, and every time I help somebody believe in themselves I feel genuine delight. Tennis is very much like real life. I teach my students to take their losses on the court wisely, as temporary set-downs, and move on. I know that these skills help them get over the stress of our every-day life. My own experience in sports has taught me this. And I also know the sweet inspiring taste of victory. But every step of the letter of success rests upon hard work and dedication. It makes me happy to see my students, who at the beginning of their training couldn’t even hit the ball, start showing intuition and skill on the court. I have seen genuine transformation in many of them, and I believe that tennis, unlike any other game, gives people the joy of self-creation and self-improvement. Every self-conquest is an unforgettable sensation, which fills you with self-confidence and inspiration leaving no space for depression or fear of life. My clients often thank me for helping them discover and develop the best qualities of their personality. Well, what can I say; I really do know how to point out their mistakes through encouragement and support. During the sessions I try to develop an individual training plan for every student, which would allow this specific individual to discover his potential to the fullest. And I find incredible joy and fulfillment in working with children… ”
She dreams about raising a champion.
Lina Zdorovitskaya. Remember this name. She will definitely make it. Because she is a magic fairy. The Fairy of Success.