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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January, 2005, 20:55 GMT
Making Marat believe
By Nick Crowther

Marat Safin celebrates winning the Australian Open
At 4-1 down in the third set of the Australian Open final, having been warned for smashing a racquet, Marat Safin was in danger of missing out again.

The Russian, who has built a reputation for being at the mercy of a volatile temperament, had twice been runner-up in Melbourne.

But this year, rather than lose his head, he beat Lleyton Hewitt on his own territory, having ended the 26-match winning run of Roger Federer on his way to the final.

So what made the difference?

One major factor was his decision in April 2004 to link up with Federer's former coach Peter Lundgren.

The Swede had helped the Swiss world number one to his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003 but they parted company just weeks after Federer had won the season-ending Masters Cup.

Safin decided to try working with Lundgren, initially for the clay-court and grass seasons, and by September had ended a 22-month title drought with victory in the China Open.

He went on to win the Master Series events in Madrid and Paris and, having slipped to 77th 12 months earlier after an injury-blighted year, ended 2004 ranked fourth in the world.

I am a little bit more calm and more confident
Marat Safin

"He really has made me believe in myself," Safin said. "I never believed in myself before, until I started to work with him.

"It took us a little bit longer time than usual to come up with results. But it went right; it went in the right way."

And it certainly seems to be paying off.

Safin had been outplayed 3-6 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-4) by Thomas Johansson when he first appeared in an Australian Open final in 2002 and, after a gruelling route to the final in 2004 (he played 27 sets), lost 7-6 6-4 6-2 to Federer.

But he was far more economical (17 sets played) on the way to this year's semi-finals and, helped by Lundgren's knowledge of the reigning champion, claimed a superb five-set victory.

"Normally Roger toys with everybody," Safin explained after his win.

"That's why the job of the coach is to improve you to try and be as close as you can to Roger."

Peter Lundgren
Lundgren coached Federer to the 2003 Wimbledon title

But, asked how Lundgren had helped him overcome Federer, Safin smiled and said: "I'm not going to tell. I keep it for me."

One of the obvious changes that Lundgren has helped Safin develop, though, is a more relaxed approach, born out of his new-found belief.

"He tries to make me more focused on the court, try not to get too crazy, not to snap," Safin explained back in December after his Paris Masters victory.

"I can still snap but it's less now. He tells me to be more solid and, even if it isn't going well, just to keep going, keep on trying."

As he put it more simply after his latest success: "I am a little bit more calm and more confident in a way."

Mats Wilander, who won the Australian Open three times, was one of Safin's numerous coaches before he teamed up with Lundgren.

SAFIN CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
1999 - wins first ATP title in Boston
2000 - wins first grand slam, the US Open, and two Masters Series titles
2002 - wins Paris Masters and finishes year in world top three for second time in three years
2004 - wins two Masters Series titles and finishes year ranked fourth in the world
2005 - wins second grand slam, the Australian Open

"What I found hard (coaching him) is that these guys need to learn the game themselves," Wilander said.

But Lundgren, who never made it past the second round in Melbourne as a player but did win three ATP Tour titles, seems to have the knack.

"We communicate really well. He understands who I am and I understand what he wants from me," Safin revealed.

And the 25-year-old is reaping the rewards, to the point that he feels their partnership could be a major turning point in his career.

"One grand slam, you can win by mistake, like I did in the 2000 US Open, but this one, I've worked really hard for that," he said.

"So I would love to now win a couple more. I think I have a chance if I am continuing this way.

"If Peter will stick around with me and he wants to work with me for a bit longer, I think I can make it."


WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Marat Safin


Interview: Lleyton Hewitt



SEE ALSO
Safin calls on Lundgren
15 Apr 04 |  Tennis
Spanish success for Safin
24 Oct 04 |  Tennis



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