This is taken from the last issue of the French Tennis Mag. Enjoy
TM: You quietly improved through the last years, with a lots of discretion. In which circunstances did you discover tennis ?
I was six years old when some family's friends carried me on a court, in the Spartak Moscow. My first coach has been Rausa Islanova, Safin's mother. I stayed with her for 10 years. I can be thankful to her, because i wouldn't be where i am without her work. That's so important what you have been taught at the beginning. I grew up in Moscow without travelling. I always practiced there, and i was pleased with that. Even if it was the best conditions if you compare to somewhere else, it was OK. I had great childhood and adolescence.
TM: How is Marat's mum?
She's a wonderful and good person, as are yhe whole Safin's family. Marat's sister, Dinara, is pretty sweet too. So is Marat of course, i've played the Hopman Cup with him, that was great. But as cause, it's obvious that Rausa was very severe and exigeant. The discipline was the most important for her.
TM: Marat's notalways a discipline's model...
Yes, but that's because he went far away in spain (smile)
. Seriously, i can assure you that Rausa was very severe, but it was good. All i have now, i'm first thankful to her, and too my today's coach, Jens Gerlach, who helped me to pass some steps.
TM: Where did you exactly live in Russia?
In Moscow, near of the stadium actually. I went there by walking.
TM: What has been the role of your parents re your decision to become a tennis' player ?
An important role. Even if they weren't at all implicated in tennis. But they did everything for me. I'm an unique child, but i haven't been spoilt. My parents have taught me all it could be learnt to a child. My father was a policeman; and he stopped his career to help me. He didn't want to let me alone on the tour. He came with me during 4 years. Now, that's my mother who sometime came with me.
TM: You were 8 years oldwhen the Berin's wall has been destroyed. Which souvenirs do you keep from the former regim of your country?
Everything wasn't bad in Sovietic Union. It was a great system for tennis players i must say. We had to be the best players to be selected in the National Team, and to have the right to travel & the help for the practice. That was simple, clear. Now, there isn't any system, everyone has to find his sponsors. Nothiung is organized, that's sad.
Of course, now, we have liberty.Before, people couldn't earn money, travel or live where they wanted to be. That time is over, the life is different. That's why we see so much girls from the East Countries, that's so great for the tour and everybody i think.
TM: You have succeeded your best year last season. Did you change your preparation before 2003?
I began to work with my new coach, Jens Gerlach, at the end of 2002. I've reached the 3rd round at the US Open, then i won in Bahia, the results came quickly. In December, we worked very hard in Moscow. But the main changement was that my father stopped to carry me on the tour. Without wanting to do it, he put too much pressure on me maybe. And now, i'm feeling better on the court, more free. I play better technically & mentally speaking.
TM: What have been the specifics changements that Jens Gerlach asked you to practice?
He helped me to have confidence in myself.Especially when I play against the best players of the world. Before, I didn't think I could beat them. I don't have to be happy just by reaching the quarters in the big events. Jens has convinced me that I could do much better. I began to put some objectives. I was satisfied to be in the Top 50. But now, I have more ambition, and more than evrything, I enjoy so much the life that I have.
TM: And in your game?
We insisted in the serve. I improved a lot last year, not by searching the power, because i'm not a strenght of the nature (smile)
, but by trying to have a better rythm and concentration more intense.
TM: Physically, you seem more frailer than the other players...
Yes, generally people who don't know me can't believe that i'm a professionnal tennis' player. In fact, i'm please with it, cause they more think than i'm a model ! Whatevern i don't want to change my physical, i'm happy to be how I am. I'm feeling good in my body. But i'm certain that the most important is to be strong in your head. If you're solid there, you can improve everything.
TM: Yes, but other players generally do that physical's work. Don't you feel disadvantaged?
Everyone has his own choice, his practice's method. Some prefer the power's option, others the speed... The most important is to like what you do. If it's the case, you won't have problems.
TM: And which option did you chose?
I'm slim Ok ? Some try to lose weight, but i'm trying to gain some of it. But not too much, the speed is important for me. It would be a bad choice for me to only improve my power.
TM: You have beaten most of the top players. Which player is the most difficult to play?
Amelie ! It's inbelievable. At the end of the season, i played her in Moscow, Philadelphia, at the fed Cup, and again at the Hopman Cup & Sydney in 2004... I have the impression that i'm only playing her ! I'll be dreaming about her soon in my nightmares. At the Australian Open, i finally arrived to don't draw her, that's a miracle... The problem is that now she knows how to play me against me. She has the keys to beat me. Her coach, Loic Courteau, knows me by heart too. But anyway, Amelie is a great player, but i really hope that i'll beat someday in a big tournament.
TM: Haven't you the feeling that Martina Hingis has been discouraged by the power of the others ?
Martina took the right decision. She wasn't only the number one, she was the sweetest girl of the world too. During years, she's been at the top. An injury didn't let her to give the maximum. It surely emphasized her reflection about the future orientation of the game, always with more power. And after that injury, it would have been hard to come back at her former level. She couldn't be satisfied by being the N°8 or 10. I understand that a girl who has been N°1 don't accept performances who aren't as good as they were before.
TM: What do you feel when you face the Williams' sister?
You feel nothing. (laughing)
You just try to play your game.But for me, it's more easy to play them than Amelie. That three of them, it's the Top 3 of the high level. If you're ready to keep the same rythm with the Williams, you can enter on the court, but if it's not the case... With Amélie, it's much harder, because you don't know what she'll do : slice, top shots, go to the net... You've to be at 300% against her ! With Serena, that's the fastest tennis. You've to use her power.
TM: The last 1/2 final against in France in Fed Cup must be a difficult souvenir for you...
The whole week has been fantastic for France. I've never seen played Mary that good. She was inspired, in fire. I gave my maximum. I've beaten Mary after saving a match point, i took a set of Amélie. I'm sure that was some good days for the Russian's tennis. There were suspense and a whole great show. Of course I was sad. All my friends were there. I really gave all I had.
TM: The first tennis ' fan in Russia is Boris Eltsine of course. And you know him..
He's unbelievable, he supported us in every circunstances.Fed and Davis cups, tournaments, he follows everything. He's an amazing man. I know him personally. He was there when i won the Kremlin Cup. I wish him all the best.
TM: You've been also received by Poutine at the Kremlin...
Poutine is even more impressive. He's the President and has a lot of autority. You just have to look at his face... (smile)
Of course,world's affairs are more important than tennis for him, but he was very sympathic when he received me with some gymnasts.
TM: An another big moment of the Russian's tennis : Davis Cup won in Paris in 2002. Where were you during the matches?
I've seen the last match. I was at home in Moscow. And that was terrific because during the match, my TV went down. I've called all my friends to help me. But the match was in a pay-for-view. And nobody had it! I finally found someone, jumped in a car to come to see it in a friend's home. It was unbelievable for the nerves. I definitely prefer to be in the court.
TM: Players who came from Russia are generally blondes and tall. But you're dark hair and pretty frail. You're different. Do you like it?
Yes, i like it. I wouldn't like to be caricatured like every "anna's" : Kournikova for sure, Dementieva, Sharapova... I'm a "brunette" and it's great!
TM: Russian players seem now to don't want to look like Anna Kounikova. They say that the most important is to win tournaments. Does Kounikova became a counter-example now?
You know, there are a lots of firms who wish to make money witrh the girls. They want to make profit, like they did it with Anna. And they surely want to do the same thing with Maria (Sharapova). But if they want to win tournaments, they have to forget that, a,d it's not easy...
TM: What do you think about Kournikova's career?
I know her very well. But we've never talked about that. She knows what she has to do. And she likes the way she lives. What more can I say?
TM: Maria Sharapova seems different, isn't she?
As i said it, if she wants to succeed, she has to make abstractions about things which turned around tennis. She's capable to do it, and I find she's a lots of people around her to care about it : her father, her agents.She seems decided...
TM : You're the Number one in Russia. Is it important for you?
Very important ! I know that Elena Dementieva said that it wasn't for her. But for me it is. After Elena and myself, there twelve players who are near and who wish to be at our places. They're very talented. Their level is like an homahe to those who are ahead them. For me it's clear, i want to stay the N°1 Russian until the end of my career ! (laughing)
TM: What do you think about the seedings in Women's tennis, especially about players who come back from injuries? For example, Mauresmo wasn't happy to seed n°5 after Venus Williams n°4...
I'd say sometimes it's not fair. They want to protect at the maximum the top players. Sometimes, it can't be to the detriment of other players, even if they're at the top too. It has been the case for Amelie. But we're outthere to play. If you're strong and well prepared, yopu don't have to care about the draw. But it's just that there's a big difference by being seeded N°4 Or 5.
TM: You've been injured for a long time and had an operation. ow did you go through that ?
During 4 months after the operation (left wrist), i couldn't do anything. That was horrible, becuase i had the feeling i could go to practice again, but the doctors didn't say it was the time to do it. And i made the error to don't listen them . I played too much sooner and i've been injured at the same wrist. It restarted again. I haven't played then for 7 months. But the most difficult was when i came back on the tour. During 5 weeks, only losses at the first round. I even thought to stop, it was too hard. But they continue to support me. when i needed it.
TM : Do you still practice sometimes near of Los Angeles?
No, i did it before, 3 or 4 times by year. Now i prefer to only practice in Moscow.
TM: Do you like United States?
No. It's hard. The worst is when you have to spend there 2 months in-a-row, far of your friends and family. The food for example is terrific : only fast foods. So i go the Japanese restautrant when i'm there. I love sushis. If i'd the choice, i'd never go there there again. You can resume my thoughts like that.
TM: What's your favourite surface & your favourite tournaments?
I prefer clay. And i particularly like to play in Roland Garros. I love Paris.
TM: But this tournament haven't bring you luck : you only won 1 match for 4 particpations !
Yes, and i don't know why. That's the Slam where i never did better than a second round. It's unbelievable. You know what ? I think it's because of Paris. That's the love's city. And i've too much love in my head, it bothers me ! (laughing)
Ok, i forgot tennis... Seriously, the atmosphere of the tournament is fantastic., and i really hope to play better next times.
TM: What are your main goals in 2004?
I'd like to to do at least, quarters at every Slam minimum. I hope semi-finals and even better. It's difficult, the competition is hard. In Australia, i've to face Sharapova at the third round. It's hard.
TM: With your new ambitions, don't you be afraid to put on yourself too much pressure?
I try to don't. But you have to put some goals, especially if you want to be at the top. Basiaclly, you take match after match. That's what i do.
TM: What's the best part of a life's professionnal's tennis player?
To travel, discover countries and people. This is weird because i often need to come back in Moscow.
TM: And the worst part?
To travel (laugh)
. Finally, you have to pay the other face of the medal. Sometimes, deplacements are too much.
TM: The fact that you're now knew,. Do you sometimes feel in insecurity, because of your new notoriety, in Russia or somewhere else?
In danger, no. It's true that i try to don't be alone. But i don't care that much about it. I've a good nature and i like to have fun with people.
TM: Do you think that the question of doping is important in tennis, and that we've to care much about it in WTA Tour?
Definitely. Everyone has to be careful with it. To check every medicaments that you take. My doctor is always with me; and he knows what i am allowed or not to take. But we're controlled a ot on the tour :last year i've controled twice during Fed Cup, and on the whole of the last season, more than ten times i think. It's a lot. But there isn't mistery : if you have nothing to reproach to yourself, you have no problems.
TM: Which players do you prefer to watch on ATP ?
I love to watch Roger Federer. He's a great player. All he does is sensationnal. Forehand, backhand, everything. Physically speaking, i'd say Todd Reiid, the young Australian (laughing)
TM: You've already succeeded a lots of things. But what's your absolute dream?
To have a happy life after my career. It's a difficult moment i think, to discover yourself, alone, after the intense competition. Top happy after that, it's a great challenge.