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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Safin Looking to Emulate Compatriot Kournikova

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Marat Safin, a contemporary of Anna Kournikova at Moscow's Spartak tennis school, hopes to emulate his glamorous contemporary by moving into the world top 20 in the next year.

At the age of 18, the Russian No. 2 reached the quarterfinals of both the French and U.S. Opens to shoot up the rankings.

"This was a good year for me, as I started at 210," the tall Muscovite said in a recent interview.

"It would be good to finish in the top 50 this year and get to the top 20 some time next year."

Safin and world No. 10 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a former French Open champion, each won their singles then formed a winning doubles combination as Russia defeated Japan 3-1 in their Davis Cup world group qualifier in Osaka last weekend.

The 3-1 win was some compensation to Safin after the disappointment of taking the Russian team to the brink of an improbable Davis Cup victory over the United States in April before narrowly losing to Jim Courier in the fifth set.

If Courier remains the one that got away, Safin has claimed some big scalps elsewhere on the international circuit this year, downing Andre Agassi and Brazilian defending champion Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open before bowing to Cedric Pioline.

He matched that fourth-round performance in his debut at the U.S. Open.

"I played quite well until the French Open but after that I lost my confidence. If you have confidence, then you play well naturally, but when you do not you start to think too much.

"It's difficult to put this behind you f you just have to win matches, as with each match won comes confidence."

Safin, whose rise has coincided with that of world women's No. 13 Kournikova, is not concerned about the enormous media and public interest generated by the teenage duo.

"I don't feel too much pressure from that point of view, and don't care too much what people say to me," he said.

With perhaps a decade or more to go in his professional tennis career, Safin, whose mother Roza Islanova was one of the top Soviet players of her day, is in no hurry.

"I have enough time f I'm still young. I would like to play up to the age of 30."

But growing up on the circuit has not been easy, he added.

"Of course, we all make mistakes, but then you have to think about what to do about them afterwards.

"As a tennis player, you are travelling alone with your coach. Your parents are not around, and you just have to learn to grow up like everybody else."

The Russian game still lacks depth and Safin, who is now based in Valencia, Spain, is concerned about new economic problems. "The situation is difficult in countries like Uzbekistan and Russia. It is not so easy to develop tennis there, because you need money and you need to travel," he said.

He said more satellite tournaments were needed in the Russian provinces to encourage youngsters to take up the sport and raise the game's profile in a country where in Soviet times it was despised for its associations with the wealthy bourgeoisie.