Former US Open Champions will bring top-player PK; Superstars Sampras and Safin arrived at new court of China Open on National Day eve
When the US Open is in full swing, we cannot help but remembering the classic games presented the two former champions at Flushing Meadows. Russian individualistic superstar Safin and American tennis king Sampras had 3 matches at Flushing Meadows, creating a legend in the tennis world between two generations.
Both Safin and Sampras have announced their retirement from professional tennis, but they are never far away from tennis. On September 30, these tennis kings of two generations will re-present classic moments at the new stadium of China Open, warming up the new stadium that will soon be used in the new China Open. As champion of 1st China Open, Safin enjoys almost the same advantages in Beijing as in home court, while Sampras, former head of top 4 American tennis players and legend of his generation, has inspired tennis fans for generations. What kind of splendor is going to appear at this top-player PK? Tennis fans have been thoroughly excited.
Two generations, mixed feelings; American tennis king PK Russian superstar creates nothing but “classic”
Sweeping 14 Grand Slam championships in his professional career, Sampras got his first US Open title at the age of19 in1990, and stood at the top of New York three times after that. In 2002, Sampras won his 5th US Open championship, perfectly ending his remarkable professional career. Safin’s 1st Grand Slam championship also came from US Open. When he fought his way to the finals in 2002 as a black horse, he was up against Sampras, who was at the height. The victory of young and energetic Safin in that match was considered the symbol that the post-80s golden generation was rising.
After the 2000 US Open finals, Sampras, who was devastated by the defeat, slipped quickly in his athletic performance, and was constantly challenged by younger players in the following two years. He hadn’t conquered anything in the tours until he broke the deadlock and won US Open two years later, when he retired from the fierce competition. Safin, on the other hand, was one of the best who led the post-80s players to take the crown from the older generation. Since he came to the fore in 1998 French Open, this Russian superstar has been nominated by many renowned players as successor to the king. In the same year, Safin made to the eighth-finals when he played in US Open for the first time, and it was Sampras who stopped him from going further.
That was the beginning of seven peak matches between Safin and Sampras in professional tennis. When Federer was still accumulating strengths, Safin’s baseline-focused style and Sampras’ net-rusher style formed sharp contrast, offering the fans many spectacular matches. Safin first beat Sampras in Toronto in 2000, and the close victory of 12-10 in tie-break was breathtaking. Sampras took revenge for the loss of US Open finals at Tennis Masters Cup of the same year, and consequently crushed Safin’s dream to become No.1 of the year. The enmity between them continued afterwards. In 2001, Safin beat Sampras again on the red earth of Germany, whereas the American player thwarted the Russian’s endeavor to defend his US Open championship. When Safin made to the Australian Open finals for the 2nd time in 2002, Sampras was one of the defeated opponents, and that was their last match in professional tennis.
When Sampras retired in 2002 with 5 US Open championships, Safin didn’t become the new king in tennis as he expected. The unruly personality has attracted a number of fans for Safin, but also caused him to squander his talent ceaselessly. Consecutive ankle and wrist injuries have broken Safin’s professional career into pieces, and the rise of younger players such as Federer and Roddick also squeezed his living space. Although he won the 2005 Australian Open after beating Federer and Hewitt in succession, that was the last championship in his career. In the end, Federer overtook Sampras to become the new tennis giant, while Safin chose to leave in 2009, to the disappointment and regret of many of his fans.
Former tennis lords active in performance matches today; what sparkles will come out of mixed doubles?
Despite the age difference of nearly 10 years, the capability of fortyish Sampras is not to be overlooked. Having many performance matches with Federer in the past few years, the American’s characteristic service and forehand offensive are as trenchant as ever and his ball sense is as fine as ever. Although Safin’s performance has declined in the late years of his career owing to his knee injury, he has stayed as fit as an athlete, and his two-hand backhand is almost as powerful as in his peak. It’s imaginable that the two will present a competition between baseline and net in the China Open performance match, a high-level dialogue of speed, strength and angle. After the singles, each of them will also partner with a Chinese woman player. What splendid sparkles will come out of the mixed doubles? We are all holding our breath.
It is learnt that Peng Shuai, who has moved up by leaps and bounds in the new season to approach the Top10 list, has confirmed to play in this mixed doubles. Coming to the view of tennis fans in 2005 as a genius girl, Peng Shuai has finally embraced a steady and splendid season after several ups and downs in her professional career. She made to at least the semifinals in 5 tours this year, and was runner-up on the red earth of Brussels. Steady performance in the Grand Slam has enabled Peng Shuai to constantly refresh her personal highest ranking in the world, making it to Top 15 before the US Open. As to the other mysterious player, there have been countless guesses. Is it Grand Slam champion Li Na or the popular tennis queen Zheng Jie? Let’s wait and see!
Marat was “home” again after two-year leave
Coming back toBeijingand to China Open may make Safin remember a lot of things from the past. In 2003, being at a low ebb of his professional career, Safin had hung up a truce sign for a long time because of wrist injury. But the Russian player enjoyed that period of ease and came to Beijing with famous Thai tennis player Srichaphan for publicity of the upcoming China Open, for which he became a symbolic figure in the early days. At that time, the young player believed that he was still able to make a comeback although he had gone through many professional rise and fall.
Carrying the runner-up halo of 2004 Australian Open, Safin arrived in Beijing to participate in the 1st China Open, and took men’s singles title after beating such strong rivals as Nieminen and Youzhny in succession. It was the first title won by Safin after nearly two years’ low ebb. Taking that as a starting point, Safin began to create a second peak in his professional career. At the end of that year, Safin got back to world’s Top 4 after taking the title in Madrid and Paris Masters, along with Federer, Roddick and Hewitt. At the centenary Australian Open next year, the four of them met in semifinals. Safin defeated Federer, who was in the zenith at that time, in the semifinals and then turned the tables against Hewitt in the finals, getting his 2nd Grand Slam title in career. All those glorious moments began with the China Open title in 2004.
However, Safin’s rise to the peak was suddenly stopped by an unexpected knee injury. Although he got back to the court after rehabilitation, Safin could never be what he used to be, and never came back to China Open court. It wasn’t until 5 years later that Safin, who has been playing goodbye matches all over the world, came back to this court, where he once reached the top. With advantages almost equal to home court, Safin defeated the then 12th-ranking Gonzalez with great efforts in 2nd round and made to quarterfinals. However, confronted by the younger-generation top player Nadal, Safin could no longer catch up with the young player and handed over the victory after two quick rounds.
However, that match was never about winning or losing. As the losing side, Safin was greeted by thundering applauses from fans on site, and China Open organizing committee especially arranged a farewell ceremony for him. Nadal also sent his most sincere wishes for the big brother. A video was played on site in which many players sent their wishes, including Safin’s sister Safina. All these have made Safin feel the sincerity and love from China Open organizing committee and Chinese fans. With tears in eyes, Safin waved goodbye after the ceremony, with many believing that they would never see him again.
Perhaps out of his wish to meet with Chinese tennis fans again, Safin decided to return to China two years after retirement, and will have a peak match with Sampras, the predecessor that he looked up to when he was young. With numerous links with Beijing and China Open, Safin is ready for this year’s China Open. Returning to this familiar “home”, Safin is sure to feel again the passion and warmth from fans whose love for him has never changed.