Fans in China love to watch Marat Safin practice

2009/10/04 18:20

  When Marat Safin practices in China, people pay attention. More than

  100 fans gathered around the former No. 1's practice

  court Saturday to watch a warm-up set between Safin and the American

  James Blake. There were a few Blake fans, but people came out en mass

  to cheer Safin on.

  One fan wearing Safin's image on his shirt reached under the court

  fence to snag a ball that had been graced by the touch of Safin's

  racquet. When Safin laughed at him, the crowd cooed. When he missed a

  point and threw his racquet in disgust, the crowd gasped. One fan

  waved the flag of Safin's Russian homeland while another held a "We

  love Safin" sign upside-down, perhaps unfamiliar with the particulars

  of the English language.

  Though Safin won the China Open in 2004, he is no longer at the top of

  his game. Currently ranked 58, Safin only reached the Beijing-based

  tournament after officals gave him a wild card.

  But that doesn't stop his fans from obsessing over him. When asked why

  the Chinese love Safin, one female fan replied, "He's just so sexy. I

  love looking at pictures of him."

  It seems that there are many Chinese who want Safin's picture. Fans

  pushed cameras through the court fence hoping to get a clean shot of

  the tennis star. Even a police officer took a break from his patrol to

  capture a picture of Safin, trying different angles in hopes of the

  perfect shot.

  And Safin is good to the fans who love him. After practice, Safin

  instructed his entourage to toss used tennis balls into the crowd,

  transforming them into a sea of grabbing hands. Safin then spent a few

  moments signing autographs, causing guards to re-enforce the barricades

  holding the masses at bay.

  Organizers of the 2009 China Open plan to throw a farewell party Safin this week.

  By Jim Buell