It's hard to believe that the last man not named Federer or Nadal to win a major championship was Marat Safin, the enigmatic Russian with an explosive game and personality who won the Australian Open in 2005. That run to the title included a five-set win over Roger Federer in the semifinals that saw Safin fight off a match point before dismissing the seemingly invincible Swiss legend. Oh, how high our hopes were for Marat after that now classic victory!
Fast forward three years to today's second round of the 2008 Aussie Open and the only thing remarkable about Safin is his ability to frustrate the hell out of tennis fans. After losing the first two sets to another affable underachiever, Marcos Baghdatis, Marat found his rhythm and seized the momentum to level the match at four sets a piece. In his entire career, the former U.S. and Australian Open champ had never come back from two-sets-to-love down. Still, didn't well all sense it? Marat's game was clicking. Now was the time!
Then, just as quickly as fans' hope had skyrocketed, Safin crashed in an error-strewn display of loose, disappointing tennis. It's maddening being a Safin fan, because his game is still so full of promise and hope. Going into the fifth set, it looked for the entire world like he was going to win. Worse still, today's roller coaster match mirrors Safin's whole career. The man once thought to be Federer's main competition atop the sport is too wildly inconsistent. Safin will never again challenge Federer if he can't beat the Baghdatises of the ATP tour. One increasingly gets the sinking feeling that Marat's return to top tier tennis is nothing more than a pipe dream for us all. A really sexy pipe dream, mind you, but a pipe dream nonetheless.
Perhaps Safin summed it up best himself when asked once about the media's prediction and public's expectation that he would be able to rival Federer for control of the sport:
"They were wrong," he said with a charming smile. -Wyman Meers