Marat Safin, who won two majors and hit world No. 1 despite the challenges of playing tennis with lit sticks of dynamite strapped to his head, spoke out about the state of the men’s tour on Thursday. It was refreshing, and typically Safin in its overt frankness. Safin took the unspoken undertone of the entire 2017 season and made it explicit: Roger and Rafa are great, he said, but their sustained dominance at ages 36 and 31 is only possible because the younger generation has failed to challenge them.
“If Federer and Nadal are still winning I think there’s something wrong,” Safin told The Independent. “I don’t see any upcoming superstars today.” While this reads as an unusually harsh assessment of Alexander Zverev, Safin appears not to have mentioned him by name, instead roasting his countrymen Andrey Rublev—who, it is worth mentioning, has already has made a U.S. Open quarterfinal at age 20—and Karen Khachanov because they “win one tournament and then they don’t win a match for six months.” Still, it turns out Safin does respect the talents of one young player. His identity may not come as a surprise:
There are some young players Safin admires—he singles out Nick Kyrgios—but the Russian questions how far they might go in the sport. “If you want to be a really good pro you need to be beating Nadal and Federer now,” he said. “Look at Murray and Djokovic. They were beating the top players when they were 19 or 20, but you just don’t see that from the younger players today.”
Nick Kyrgios was only 10 when Safin won his last major, but somehow seems to have learned everything from him, in a syllabus spanning from “professional decorum” to “equipment maintenance” to “how to responsibly handle being blessed with the most innate talent of any man in your generation.” They are sure to understand one another on a deep level. Safin endured a “brain fight” with Roger Federer and lived to tell the story. This must be an inspiring example for Nick, for whom every single tennis match is a brain fight. Both men play with compact, lethal two-handed backhands. As pictured below they use slightly different grips on their forehands, but I still believe this could be a productive partnership. Yes, I am proposing that Marat Safin serve as Nick Kyrgios’s mentor and coach.
Ever since Safin won that Australian Open in 2005, Fed, Rafa, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka have combined to win 49 of 51 majors. Those men are all 30 and older, and yet their stranglehold on the sport appears unlikely to let up anytime soon. If Safin is as concerned by this pattern as he claims, the clear choice would be to go coach young Kyrgios. Many rackets would be harmed in the making of those two Grand Slams, but it would be well worth it for the viewers.