Today was the opening day at Wimbledon and Safin's opening round match against Fognini did not disappoint. After going up an easy two sets, Safin suddenly found himself face-to-face against his own inner demons, allowing Fognini to extend the third set all the way to a tie-break. Once again, we are fascinated with Safin, the troubled perfectionist. Safin, who plays some of his best tennis against the toughest opponents, and some of his worst when he only has to play against himself, exhibits all of the hallmarks of the classically gifted student who is not challenged often enough to develop his or her full potential. What Safin really needs at this point, is not a better coach, really, but more likely a sports psychologist who can help him "let go".
Darren Cahill made an intereting comment about an episode in which Safin came to have dinner with Andre Agassi. Safin, fresh from defeat, was hoping to hear some words of wisdom from the older tennis champion. Unfortunately, as Cahill recalls Agassi stating afterwards, the two grand slam winners spent the evening talking past each other. This is sounds fairly reasonable, as Agassi was brought up with a rather mechanistic approach to tennis (right down to the memorization of how many steps it was from one point on the court to another), that allowed him to develop a strategy based on returning balls, making high percentage plays, and outlasting the competition. Safin on the otherhand, was encouraged to make something out of every shot, and early on in his career, had the talent to pull it off. Agassi was taught to defend, Safin attack. No wonder the two couldn't understand each other.
In two days, Safin meets Novak Djokovic, and both are at the opposite ends of their career spectrums and promises to be highly entertaining. It only remains to be seen which Safin shows up . . .