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By Tennis Now | Friday, June 5, 2020

Marat Safin Roger Federer

"It’s a pleasure to watch him. It’s like a genius. He mastered tennis to an incredible level," Marat Safin says of Roger Federer.

Photo credit: Getty

Stress of facing Roger Federer in a Grand Slam is so severe, Marat Safin sometimes felt spent before even stepping on court.

In a wide-ranging International Tennis Hall of Fame chat with Blair Henley for the Hall of Fame's Instagram Live Series, Safin said Federer by far is the most physically-demanding opponent he's faced.

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“Physical match? Federer is always tough,” Safin said in response to a question from a viewer named Yulia. “Federer [is physically toughest] because he makes you play extra. You have to play your best tennis, but you have to do something extra. You spend a lot of energy on that.

“You have to run full time. You know he’s not gonna give you any free points. You have to fight for it and it makes you tired. Even before the match. You go in the match you’re already tired. It’s already exhausting. You got out on a Grand Slam playing Federer and it's like five sets we need to be there for four hours running. Not free points—nothing.”

Elegance, desire and a mastery of the entire shot spectrum make the Grand Slam king “a genius”, said Safin, who partnered the young Federer to the 2001 Gstaad doubles title and marveled at his ease on court.

“Roger is fun. It’s nice to see him play,” Safin told Blair Henley. “When you play next to him, he plays so smooth. It’s the only guy for me that I know he’s doing much better. I could do the same thing but he could do it much better.

“It’s a pleasure to watch him. It’s like a genius. He mastered tennis to an incredible level. It’s a pleasure even to watch you don’t need to play. At the age of 39 still running, look how many five-set matches he played in Australia. He’s still playing. He’s still hungry. He doesn’t have any gray hair—he still has hair. Unbelievable. [He’s a] Swiss watch.”

The 40-year-old Safin joked the Swiss should send him a residual check for sparking him to world No. 1.

“It was the first tournament we won in doubles you see how good luck I gave to him—he’s still playing,” Safin told Blair Henley at about the 34-minute mark of the video. “He should send me some bank check, come on. If it wasn’t for this doubles he would never become No. 1 in the world. It’s obvious no?"

The explosive Safin out-dueled reigning champion Federer in an epic 2005 Australian Open semifinal conquest before beating Lleyton Hewitt to take the title.

Fellow Hall of Famer Jim Courier, a long-time AO TV analyst, recently told Tennis Now his chat that followed is the most memorable Australian Open interview he's ever conducted. 

"My first year doing it, this is 2005, Safin had that amazing come-from-behind win over Federer in the semifinals where he saved match points, went on to win it deep in the fifth, ended up beating Hewitt in the final," Courier told Tennis Now. "I talked to him right after that match. I had some questions prepared.

"We got to a place where he was sort of overwhelmed with the moment. He just blanked. I asked him a question, and he froze. So I asked him, Do you need a hug, to sort of break the ice. We gave a hug to each other on the court.

"So that was for me a guy who I still don't feel like I know exactly what I'm doing out there, but I have a lot more experience now. Then I had no confidence, no experience. That was a panic moment for me. It turned out to be a nice moment between a guy I played against. So that was a special one."

A special moment capped a special match.

It began as a birthday rematch and concluded as a career rebirth.

Safin celebrated his 25th birthday in sensational style, saving a match point to topple top-seeded Federer, 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7 in an epic encounter that was a rematch of the 2004 final.

Tennis Express

The fourth-seeded Safin fought off a match point at 5-6 in the fourth-set tiebreak igniting a rally to defeat Federer for just the second time in their eight career clashes.

The upset left an exhausted and elated Safin searching for words to describe his emotions.

"To be honest, it's difficult to tell the people what I'm feeling right now," Safin said. "I think we played the best we could and I can't give much more than that."


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