Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mercurial Marat!

The word ‘genius’ is often overused when describing sportspersons and in fact some would go to the extent of saying that the word can be used only to describe a persons intellectual ability and hence should never be used in association with sportspersons. However the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as denoting exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability, which would mean that the word can be used to describe sportspersons, but only a very elite category can fit the bill. Even when used in its most restricted capacity, the tag of ‘genius’, rests with the greatest of ease on the broad shoulders of Marat Safin. On his day, he can beat whoever he wants to, in whatever manner that suits him.

Safin is without a shadow of doubt, the greatest talent that the tennis world has been privileged to witness over the last decade or so. He sent hearts racing when he burst on to the scene in the 1998 French Open by defeating Agassi in the first round and the defending champion Gustavo Keurten in the second round only to succumb in typical fashion to Cedric Pioline in the fourth round. The manner in which he despatched Pete Sampras in the finals of the 2000 U.S. Open to win the first of his two Grand Slams drew adulations from one and all and Sampras labelled him as the “tennis of the future”. But since then, Safin has on most occasions flattered to deceive, only to remind us whenever he deems fit of his unique talent. Yesterday was one such occasion. Novak Djokovic is a player who possesses the required special ability and fortitude to become one of the all time greats of the game, but he was no match for the mercurial talents of Safin. Djokovic was undeniably a tad weary and lethargic, but Safin was in the kind of form that he showcases when he beats the best in the world as though it was just a walk in the park. Of course, the dismal coverage on Star Sports meant that I only got to watch Safin stamp his class on the third and final set of the match, but then again when Safin is playing, even a glimpse of the game is worth beholding.

Some of Safin’s stroke play in the final set was reminiscent of the 2000 US Open final. The ‘jumping backhand’ (See picture) was very much on display as Safin brushed aside Djokovic’s awful attempts of putting up a fight. Djokovic doesn’t seem to move very well on grass, a problem which Safin himself professes to have, although it was anything but apparent last evening. The grass has gotten slower over the years and the bounce seems to be a lot more consistent, which means players like Safin can dominate the play without venturing near the net. On current form, would I back Safin to go all the way? Well, I wouldn't even bet against him losing to Andreas Seppi in the third round.

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