Roman Safiullin (Photo Getty Images)
“It reminds me a bit of the story of Karatsev in Australia, doesn’t it? He plays tennis very, very well…”. This is how Jannik Sinner talks about his opponent in today’s quarter-final game, Roman Safiullin. The Russian is not as well known to those less frequent at the Challenger or ITF junior circuits and the 25-year-old, who was born on the outskirts of Moscow, promised a career at the highest level from an early age. He won the Australian Open at junior level, climbed to No. 2 in the ITF world rankings and then struggled to break into the professional world. “When I saw Roman on my side of the draw, I got excited.” Daniel revealed Medvedevremembers his past as a junior, “I knew that it would have been very difficult against him…”.
A couple of injuries (a fairly serious one to the hip), a very nice style of tennis, but a bit “one-string” and not so incisive in the shots early in the game, slowed his rise, so he floated a step from for a long time removed from the top 100, today it is 92 (best 82). Above all Roman lacked attitude, staying far too calm and unable to ignite the combat fire needed to fight in the main arenas where the competition is fierce. The victim and his coach, former Russian professional Andrey Kuznetsov (n.39 ATP Best Player a few years ago), spoke about the need to improve the management of emotions and energy on the pitch.
“It’s a fantastic tournament for me,” says Safiullin. “It should definitely help me gain confidence and, more importantly, that confidence isn’t easy to come by, because confidence comes from games and wins, and that’s basically what I do.” Now”. He had a good moment at the 2022 ATP Cup, but then his athletic stock remained stationary and grew very slowly instead of increasing. This tournament changes his career prospects forever. Given his striking resemblance to the talented British actor, he could easily be the stunt double for actor Jude Law, but now Roman’s career could really be at a turning point. With the quarter-finals in Wimbledon, he is already in 74th place in the live rankings. He experiences this great event, the “shot in the keg” that is life changing in the truest sense of the word, a bit like what happened to Filip Krajinovic with Bercy in the past to introduce Roman to another great young talent, the first very late exploded max stage.
“Before the clay court we trained very intensively for 10 days”said his coach Kuznetsov. “He usually never plays well in his first tournament after this preparation, maybe he’s tired from work. But he played much better in the second and third tournament. Basically the same thing happened on grass. He played badly in Stuttgart, the following tournament better, and now he’s playing really well.”
No magic formula, but work on technical details and above all on the mentality, which according to the coach has been the Achilles’ heel so far: “We hit a lot of balls from the corner and then from the middle, run, do a lot of reps and he feels good after that kind of work. But it’s the setting that we invest a lot of energy into. Every time he won the point it was like he was just overwhelmed, no emotion, nothing. And when he lost the point instead, he experienced it as a disaster and he expressed it. That was the first thing to do to make it stop. I think we’ve improved a lot. He still does it from time to time, but it’s gotten better. Especially when we won the other day, I told him two or three times during the game to support each other and show feelings. Grab your racquet or something, do whatever, but do it, cheer, show presence, serve yourself and your opponent too.”
A very interesting reading key is that of coach Kuznetsov, who explains how the ‘quiet’ Roman is working to believe more in himself and bring out the energy he needs to sustain his performance.
Today, Sinner is clearly the favourite. Safiullin plays excellent tennis, his ball is rather clean but less intense and continuous than Jannik’s. As always, the shots at the beginning of the game will be decisive: if the blue man serves well and has an effect in return, he can start from an advantageous position and put the Russians under pressure in the course. One Grand Slam semi-final is available. It is a goal not to fail…