Safin Returns From Ballot Boxes To Service Boxes
by Mark Hodgkinson|
To survive in both elite tennis and Russian politics, you need good intelligence or just to be exceptionally astute. Who can you trust?
"In tennis and politics, you have to know who your friends are and also who your enemies are," says Marat Safin.
The Russian has navigated both worlds. And now, he is stepping back onto the tennis court to compete in Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall in London, an ATP Champions Tour event taking place from 29 November through 3 December.
As a former world number one, and a winner of two Grand Slam singles titles, Safin could have spent his retirement "making commercials left and right and pretending that I'm a celebrity", and perhaps competing on the ATP Champions Tour.
But that wouldn't have been the life for him, and instead he sought and won a seat in the Duma. From 2011 until earlier this year, he sat in the Russian parliament as a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. In Safin's analysis, there are a number of similarities between tennis and the Duma, where he represented the Nizhny Novgorod region, with his success as an athlete helping him in his second career as a politician (and not just because it meant he already had a public profile).
"As a tennis player and also as a politician, you have to be in the moment and you have to be very sure of what you're doing,” said the 37-year-old Safin, who retired from tennis in 2009. "There are lots of moving parts, so you have to know what your goal is and what your strategy is to achieve that goal. I've taken what I learned from tennis and implemented that into a life after sport."
Safin once suggested he "could be the best looking guy in the Duma, but that's only because all the other guys are over 60." Known during his playing days for his destructive tendencies — he has estimated he broke around 700 racqets during his career — Safin has appreciated creating something, and "getting things done", as "part of a big machine."
"Being in the Duma has been a really important ride for me. I was in the Duma for six years and I learned a lot. I learned how the system works and there were lots of things to discover that the normal person, outside the Duma, perhaps wouldn't understand,” Safin said. "It was a pleasure to experience this for myself to see how everything works in the world, and you start to have a lot of respect for a lot of people because you see how they get things to happen."
According to the Muscovite, working in politics takes a massive effort.
"Things don't happen on their own; they happen because of the work that people put in, because of the system,” Safin said. "It's a big machine and being a part of it was a great thing. Anybody who gets the opportunity to work for any government at a federal level, that's going to be a huge thing in their life. It's probably going to be difficult but you can take pride in the work that you do."
Feeling as though "it was time to move on", Safin stepped down from the Duma to begin "a new life", which includes making his first appearance in the ATP Champions Tour event at the Royal Albert Hall. The power in Safin's game is sure to captivate the fans in London.
It was at the 2000 US Open that Safin, with his muscular, aggressive tennis, hit Pete Sampras off the court to win his first major, and five years later he defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the 2005 Australian Open final to score his second. Among other highlights, he twice won the Davis Cup for Russia, in 2002 and 2006, and in 2008 reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon, his deepest ever run at the All England Club.
"There used to be lots of stresses on the tour, but playing tennis now, there's a lot more pleasure. You have to think about it this way, because too much stress is really unpleasant. I'm enjoying tennis a lot more than I used to when I was on the regular tour," says Safin, whose fitness regime has included playing ice hockey. "The players say the Champions tennis tournament is a great event, and I've been looking forward to playing in London. For sure, it's going to be a great tournament, and I think I'll enjoy the experience."