Marat Safin is a legend of men’s tennis. He is the Australian Open 2005 champion, the US Open 2000 champion, a former world No.1 and the winner of 15 professional titles overall.
Since his retirement in 2009, Safin has kept largely out of the public eye but senior tennis reporter and SBS Executive Producer ANDREJ BUCKO caught up with the popular Russian to discuss all things past, present and future ahead of his appearance at the Champions of Tennis at Royal Albert Hall from 30 November 2017.
Bucko: Why did you enter politics?
Marat Safin: I was young and unexperienced. They talked me into it. ‘Polite’ and ‘likeable’ people. But I don’t regret it. I practised and used my law degree, I have learned a lot. I got much more experience and finally, more importantly, six long years in the top politics on the federal level in such a huge country like Russia is an amazing achievement, and a very serious lesson.
In May this year you resigned and terminated your seat surprisingly early and too quickly. Why?
Safin: I am taking a long break. This was too much for me. Because of political issues I didn’t have time for anything. I love meeting friends, going out, travel, play for fun, and relax. Just enjoy life. It was impossible.
Besides, last year they have inducted me into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and that brings some responsibility – as a first Russian I have to represent the country to fulfil some tennis commitments and give back something for getting a such an honour. So I left politics, I gave up all sporting positions and roles, and finally I want to enjoy life.
The President of State Duma Viacheslav Volodin offered you a position of an advisor for sport. Did you take it?
No. I appreciated it, I mentioned that I could help with my advice sometimes, but I did not want any appointments at all. Enough. As I said, I am looking forward to living a relaxed life.
Peter Sampras told the media in Chengdu at the Champions Tour competition that you could be President of Russia in about 20 years, and he could see you as a successful politician. Some journalists asked you, whether you are going to compete with Vladimir Putin, and apparently you responded that you were younger and nicer than him. What happens now? Don’t you want to be a President? How can you become now, when you quit?
Crap. Who told you that? I have never had an ambition to become a President. The only thing I said about Duma was that I was really younger then many of them. Journalists are making up stories, 90 per cent of the stuff on the Internet about me are lies, myths and fabrications.
You are still very young, not even 40. You earned good money from tennis, but you can’t just stop now and live the rest of the life to spend it. You have to do some activities and earn more. Did you think about new roles and businesses?
I do have some small businesses and projects. I received a few offers and invitations, even in the social life and back to politics again, even in tennis. But I need to consider and think wisely before I jump to anything.
You are a Tatar, a devoted and practising Muslim. As a parliamentarian you have been in charge of the religious issues in Russia. Wasn‘t it very hard and demanding?
As I mentioned, Russia is huge, I had to look after more than 280 religious groups and organisations, it was definitely not an easy task. Yes, I am Muslim, but hats off to Russia, there is a space for all religions.
How is your sister Dinara? What is she doing?
She started coaching. First in December 2016 she went to New York for a few weeks to a tennis clinic called MatchPoint together with the Bondarenko sisters (Alone and Kateryna) and now she is cooperating with the 4Slam Academy in Barcelona, especially with the former Spanish players Galo Blanco and Fernando Vicente. She also started to look after a big talent Anhelika Kalinina.
We have three Russian stars in Barcelona academy – Karen Khachanov, Andrej Rublev a Andrej Kuznetsov. I have visited them in early August to give them some courage and advise. Look at Rublev, not even 19 (years old), he advanced to the quarterfinal of US Open at the last Grand Slam.
Do you want to become a coach?
No coaching, no commentating. I don‘t want any tennis commitments. I love to play here and there sometimes, just to stay in the shape, but no official positions for me. I am playing in London the Champions Tennis with Rafter, Leconte, Henman, Ferrero and others in the Royal Albert Hall, so this would be my little come-back to the court, but nothing long term.
I actually don’t follow tennis too much and don’t watch it on television. I lost the interest. They all play the same. We don‘t have too many more personalities like Federer and Nadal. I don’t miss tennis.
But tennis made you successful. You owe tennis. Only through tennis you can become famous and popular. You made history with many records and great wins. You and Dinara are the only brother-sister pair who have both achieved a No.1 position in professional tennis. Your mum Rauza Islanova is the only mother in the world who raised both children to the tennis throne. You have to be proud of that!
Yes I am proud. And what? What’s next? Nothing. Does that change anything in my life? Nothing. Does that change anything in Dinara’s life? Nothing. Did that change anything in my mum’s life? No. So, okay, my mum deserves a big honour, but it is gone to the history. Every time when someone writes anything about the big history or any player 20 or 100 years ago, I am laughing. What was in the past, belongs to the history. We live now. What’s next?
You don’t give many interviews; you don’t appear too much on public eyes, you try to stay out of public. You had a great and exceptionally interesting sporting and political life, but there is not many verified information about your activities out there. The fans want to know more.
To who I am supposed to give interviews? I don’t trust anyone. To idiots? We don’t have real journalists in Russia. Everyone wants sensations and everyone is writing what they want. Why should I give interviews?
Do you want to have a family? A wife, and kids….
Not indeed. Not. I had my opportunities; I lived about six years in a very serious relationship, but no more. All my life I lived for someone else. Now I want to enjoy myself.
You grew up and developed your tennis in Spain, in Valencia. We can see you often in Spain. Is it your second home? Do you travel a lot?
Yes, Spain is my other home. I have spent 15 years of my life there. And I love holidays. So the most of the time I spend now between Russia and Spain.
You are very popular here in Australia. People loved you here. You reached three singles finals and you won in 2005. Every time in Melbourne you celebrated your birthday on the court on 27th January. We miss you and the tennis is missing you. When can we see you back in Australia?
Australia ranks outside Russia next to Spain. It stays in my heart; I have great memories from Australia. I played well and happy there. I don’t know when I come, as I said I have no idea what I am going to do in the future. I can’t promise anything. Last time I played there it was almost nine years ago – January 2009. We tried with Dinara to win the Hopman Cup but we lost to Cibulkova and Hrbaty from Slovakia in the final.
When talking about Hrbaty, he was your fierce opponent, second most dangerous after Federer. You lost to him 7 times, more than any other player besides Federer. What do you think back of it?
Again, it is the past. I don’t think about memories, rivalries, it doesn’t matter whether it is Federer, Hrbaty or Kucera, doesn’t bother me. We did have tough games.
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