He may have lost his match against Rafael Nadal, but Marat Safin was still king of the court at least for one more night.
Marat Safin of Russia holds up a Chinese seal spelling his name that was presented to him as a gift after he lost his quarterfinal match against Rafael Nadal of Spain at the China Open in Beijing on Friday. (Yang Shizhong/China Daily)
With cheers and applause from a standing ovation at National Tennis Center in Beijing, Safin bid farewell to his Chinese fans on Friday after losing to top seed Nadal 6-3, 6-1 at the China Open singles quarterfinals.
After the loss, the Russian star and former world No 1 said goodbye in a farewell party the organizers of the event held especially for him.
"I'm retiring at the end of this year and it's the last time I will play in this tournament here," Safin announced. "It's great to say thank you and I'm glad to see all of you here. I had a great time and I never thought that I could see so many fans here. You cheered for me more than Rafael. It's been a great week here. It's a really warm and great feeling."
The 29-year-old stated earlier that he would retire at the end of this season before his stop in Beijing. He will play in three more tournaments in Shanghai, St. Petersburg and Paris.
The China Open organizers had been planning the farewell party for a long time, an act that moved the current world No 59 a great deal.
"I knew a little bit of this but I didn't know it's going to be so official," he said "It's very nice for organizers to do this for players. It's impossible to describe the feeling right now."
At the ceremony, organizers presented a huge panel with hundreds of photos of his fans, as well as a big traditional Chinese seal with four Chinese characters: "Sa Fen Zhi Yin" that translates to "Safin's Seal".
Videos featuring Safin's fans, friends as well as sister Dinara Safina were also played on the big screen. A number of fans in the stands were visibly tearing during the ceremony.
As for life after tennis, Safin said he had no plans as of right now. He said he wanted to get a good rest.
"I will take a couple of months off to relax. I've been doing this for 25 years. I have to wake up," he said.
The two-time Grand Slam winner also gained respect from his opponent.
"I'm happy he ended up his China Open like this. It's an important loss for tennis. Marat is a very important player for tennis and for the fans. We are going to miss him a lot," said Nadal.
Nadal is also a big fan favorite at the China Open, but the Spanish world No 2 had to relent the stage to Safin on Friday night despite showing more speed and firepower on the court.
Nadal will now take on 8th seeded wildcard Marin Cilic in the semifinals. Cilic beat 4th seed Nikolay Davydenko, 6-4, 6-4.
In the other men's matches, second seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia overcame Spain's Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in the quarterfinals to move within one victory of reclaiming the world No 3 ranking.
The 22-year-old Serbian will meet Sweden's Robin Soderling in the semifinals on Saturday. The 6th seed Soderling beat Croatian Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (3), 6-4 on Friday.
On the women's side, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who became the fifth player to secure her place at the women's season-ending championship in Doha last week, reached the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She will meet Nadia Petrova of Russia, who defeated Peng Shuai of China 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2.
Elena Dementieva earlier joined the exodus of top women's seeds when she was upset 7-5, 6-3 by Poland's Agnieszka Radwanskas.
The 12th-seeded Radwanska will meet Marion Bartoli in the semifinals after the Frenchwoman came from behind to beat Russian seventh seed Vera Zvonareva 3-6 7-5 6-2.