Fifteen months ago, Roman Safiullin had never cracked the Top 100 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Now the World No. 45, he will face one of his biggest challenges yet on Tuesday at the Rolex Paris Masters against Carlos Alcaraz.
Having played Novak Djokovic in last year's Tel Aviv semi-finals, Safiullin has gone from outside the Top 100 to consistently competing against the best players in the world.
“For this year, I made different preparation. So during the season, we changed maybe two or three times the preparation for tournaments, and it worked very well. For the next year, we're going to change something and adapt to be even better,” Safiullin told ATP Podcast. “Like training schedule, training hours, fitness, tennis, physio, everything. We were mixing it up regarding the time and quality, everything.
“So we were changing, adapting, see what's working, what doesn't work. And slowly we were finding the solution which worked the best.”
In short, Safiullin explained that it is important for him to focus on “better quality work than quantity”. That strategy has paid dividends. In 2023, Safiullin has earned more tour-level wins (19) than he had previously claimed in his career (12).
Next up he will try to secure the best win of his career in the Bercy second round against World No. 2 Alcaraz. It would be the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking.
It has already been a year of firsts for Safiullin, who advanced to his maiden major quarter-final at Wimbledon before making his first ATP Tour final in Chengdu.
“It showed we are working in the right way. And by the ranking, by the game, it's improving. Quarter-final of Wimbledon is really my best result in the Tour and Grand Slams as well,” Safiullin said. “It was a nice to play there and it was my first attempt in the grass-court season because once I played just once Wimbledon then another season I played one tournament on grass. And this season I played three tournaments before Wimbledon on grass and Wimbledon was great.”
Safiullin is no stranger to some of the best players in the world. The former junior No. 2 grew up with the likes of Andrey Rublev, but did not ascend the Pepperstone ATP Rankings nearly as quickly.
“I had many problems regarding my health. I had big injuries and after big injuries, it's tough to come back and especially if it's something like a wrist, shoulder or something like hip, I don't know,” Safiullin said, referencing how injury has affected the likes of Dominic Thiem, a major champion. “My highest position before injury, it was 315, 325. Let's say after the injuries, I had to start all over again, and then these guys are working every day while I was not able to work.
“So let's say everyone has a different life and I had a harder life. But still, I made it and hopefully I will be improving and improving and catch up with them in Top 10.”
The 26-year-old has prospered under the guidance of former World No. 39 Andrey Kuznetsov, whose playing experience has proven valuable for Safiullin.
“A lot of advice, because he used to be also a Top 50 guy and he knows many things like how to play, how to act on court, off court. Also some coaching advice. I can't say it here, but regarding my game, he's also helping a lot,” Safiullin said. “And the second coach, [Adrian Noerstenaes], is also more kind of a positive guy and he gives these energies when we travel in tournaments. They are completely different guys, but I always feel better to travel with them.”