If ever you were going to make an impression on World tennis then why not do the unthinkable? That's just what Russian teenager Marat Safin did in the French Open in 1998. Safin at just 18 years of age was in fact still eligible to play the junior event but he opted to instead try to qualify for the men's open draw, which he did . The problem in qualifying is that there is a very good chance you will meet a very good player first round , as Marat did , he in fact drew Andre Agassi.
Now Agassi had never won the French but he had won every other major and his ranking at the time of the French Open in '98 was in fact 19. Agassi had some time away from the game which in turn allowed his ranking to go down as low as 141 , but he was on his way back. On paper at number 19 in the World Andre should have been all over an 18 year old who had to win 3 matches to make it into the main draw, funny game is tennis.
Safin somehow managed to beat Agassi in 5 sets , 6-2 in the decider, he simply wore him out , not too many players could ever lay claim to doing that to Andre Agassi. So after a win like that you would think that the next match would be a little easier, time to sit back and smell the roses. But tennis draws are not always kind . How's the defending champion sound for you next round young Marat??
Safin in fact drew the toughest possible section of the draw as he next faced defending French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten from Brazil. Oh well it was a good win Marat and you have your name up in lights for beating Agassi , already a legend of the game, don't be too upset with a second round loss.
This kid from Russia however owned a man's game and a veteran's tactics as he clawed his way to two sets all with Kuerten , a man who owned a clever mind regarding the intricacies of clay court tennis.
Safin took the final set 6-4 to do what no man had ever done before and that was to defeat a defending Grand Slam champion from the status of a qualifier.
Safin won his third round match before losing another epic 5 setter with France's Cedric Pioline 6-4 in the decider, perhaps physically and mentally worn out from his huge wins. Some players sneak into the game with some quiet standard wins that see their rankings steadily rise but Marat Safin was a kid who had the shots to match it with the best early in his career.
Within 2 years Safin had become number one in the World after a straight sets demolition of legend Pete Sampras in the final of the 2000 US Open 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. He went on to win the Australian Open in 2005 to prove that he wasn't a one slam wonder.
A real character of the game and a player who owned possibly one of the greatest two handed back hands that has ever been hit as well as possibly the highest kicking second serve that i have ever witnessed. A fiery character but also with a good sense of humor, Marat Safin will be remembered for many things. Currently a Russian politician, now there's a career change........