How Kuerten Solved The Safin Puzzle

Gustavo Kuerten did not know how to beat Marat Safin. Guga lost his first three duels with the mighty Russian, all close contests.

Guga lost 36 76 36 61 64 in the second round at 1998 Roland Garros as defending champion.

Then he lost again at 1999 Australian Open 63 57 46 63 64.

Then another heartbreaker at 1999 Paris Indoors 76 36 76.

As you can see Kuerten and Safin had quite an interesting rivalry but then the tide turned. Kuerten accidentally discovered how to beat Safin, as he explained in my book “Facing Marat Safin” ($9.99 at amazon books).

“To play Marat Safin…it makes my brain very confused how I should face him. Because normally my natural game didn’t work so well when I was playing him,” Kuerten told me at the Miami Open three years ago. “So I had to adapt myself to find a way of being successful against him. How much trouble I had in the first two times that I lost to him. He was very young in ’98 in the French Open he beat me when I tried to defend my title. It’s funny because the first time I beat him in Hamburg I was so tired at the end that I started to use a little bit of the slice, that was not normal for my game, and it worked [smiles]! And then I discovered it helped me to beat him. Because it was really hard to find a gap in his game.”

“Basically I needed to make him play bad a little bit to be able to play myself and play my game. So it’s very tricky. Sometimes I want to go for my shots. But then he loved to play hard from the baseline. And he’s a great striker. He can return well, serve very big. And he gets the opponents very frustrated because normally he would step up on the big points…”

Kuerten defeated Safin in Hamburg finals in 2000 64 57 64 57 76. And guess what? Kuerten beat Safin in their final three ATP meetings to take the 4-3 edge in their head to head rivalry.

Kuerten bested Safin in the 2000 Indianapolis final 36 76 76. And again at 2002 US Open, 64 64 75. And finally, 2002 Lyon, 75 46 76.

So Kuerten learned quite by accident that his slice backhand was the turning point which enabled him to figure out how to beat Marat Safin.

Or did Kuerten learn that his slice spin troubled Safin from the spin doctor himself, Fabrice Santoro, who famously beat Safin the first five times they played from 1999-2000? Santoro went on to beat Safin seven of times times they clashed.



  • Andrew Miller · September 19, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Perfect. Kuerten did the perfect thing. Give an opponent that hates slices a steady diet of slices. Just as Nadal used to hit to the Federer backhand when he spotted the problem with the high backhand until Federer improved his backhand.

    If you realize a player can’t adjust,pound that groundstroke. Hit a million of them. The player generally won’t improve it in time to win the match.

  • Hartt · September 19, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    It’s a shame that even in this era of elderly players, Safin is too old to come back. His female fans certainly miss him. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    Guga admits he figured it out when tired. Yet it was still a struggle, all the match scores were close and tight.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 19, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    Safin has no desire to compete anymore, he’s into travel and philosophy and finding himself it seems. Follow him on Instagram.

  • Hartt · September 20, 2019 at 9:22 am

    At the Laver Cup Thiem beat Shapo 13-11 in the match TB. As you can tell from the score, it was a close match. Not only am I Shapo fan, but am rooting for Team World, so it was tough to see that loss. Dominic was just a bit more consistent, and played well when he was facing MP on the Shapo serve.

    Fognini vs Sock is about to start. Fabio has to be a big favourite over Jack, given Jack’s recent form.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 20, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Don’t understand the logic in inviting Sock to Laver Cup, he has not win a singles match all year, 0-6 or 0-7 I believe. There are plenty of other players more deserving – Albot, Opelka, Pella, Nishioka.

  • Hartt · September 20, 2019 at 9:50 am

    Because he can keep Team World alive with his doubles. In the last 2 years he has lost only 1 doubles match at the Laver Cup.



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