Sunday, July 20, 2008
The Russians are Coming
* Tim Clarke
* July 21, 2008 - 11:41AM
Barmen, nightclub owners and tennis fans all over Perth have been given a massive reason to smile with the news Russian star and renowned party boy Marat Safin is coming back to the Hopman Cup - and this time he is bringing his sister.
Safin became an instant legend on and off court on previous visits to WA in 2001, 2004 and 2005, with his sublime skills with a racket and with the ladies getting tongues wagging and eyebrows raised all over the city.
Announcing the former world number one would be returning in 2009, tournament director Paul McNamee also announced he would be partnering his sister Dinara Safina for the first time in any form of tournament play.
And while McNamee admitted Safina had a big task to try and keep her brother entirely in check in between matches, he believed Safin is more focused on his tennis than ever before - highlighted by his Wimbledon performance.
"It is a big task (for Safina), and Marat is Marat wherever he is in the world. But he really has refocused this year and everyone is saying it in the sport that he is different now," McNamee said.
"He realises he is starting to get into the home straight of his career and it has been a fantastic career. You can't say he has not had a great career but many think he has underperformed a little bit.
"These last few years are very precious for him and I still think he thinks he has got it in him to win another major. He is very serious about his tennis at the moment."
"He is a great player, and twice he has come here and got to the final of the Australian Open … there is no doubt he is very popular here, but I don't think he has played his best tennis.
"And I think playing with his sister he has got an incentive to do really well. That will make a difference, a bit of sibling pressure."
While Safin will bring his fans and past history to the event, Safina is now a world tennis star in her own right, winning one Grand Slam title, the women's double title at the 2007 US Open with partner Nathalie Dechy and also reached the final of the French Open in 2008.
Despite the loss to Ana Ivanovic, Safina is established as one of the best on the WTA, and McNamee said she now feels deserving of a spot next to her brother in the team event, runs between January 3 and 9.
"The interesting thing with Dinara is that we have broached this subject before and she honestly did not feel she was really worthy to play with her older brother she holds him in such high regard," McNamee said.
"For the first time she thinks she is worthy, and why not. She has reached the final of a major this year and is in the top ten singles players in the world."
With local hero Casey Dellacqua and Lleyton Hewitt already confirmed as starters, McNamee was ebullient in the regrowing stature of the Hopman Cup.
"I don't think it is unfair to say this is now the most prestigious invitational tournament in the world," McNamee said.
But it was confirmed neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal on the men's side, or Ivanovic on the women's, would not be attending having given commitments elsewhere.
McNamee said there were several big name irons in the fire, with Novak Djokovic the biggest fish organisers are keen to hook.
"Until he is off the agenda I am still hopeful Novak will do it," McNamee said.
"And with these dates being after New Year my expectation is that we will have a very strong field. We went downhill for a little bit and now we are coming back up.
"I know Roger and Rafa are not coming but no player is out of bounds for us going forward, something we could not have said a couple of years ago."
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