They were dubbed Marat Safin’s blonde fan club — or the Safinettes — and they received almost as much attention as the Russian bad boy as he went all the way to the 2002 Australian Open final.
That year’s edition of the Melbourne grand slam wasn’t overly memorable.
Two-time reigning champion Andre Agassi missed the tournament with a wrist injury and the top two players in the world — Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten — were both stunned in the first round.
It opened the door for Safin — who lost in four sets to surprise packet Thomas Johansson — and the fiery baseliner certainly captured the imagination of the public. But it was as much with his off-court entourage as with his play.
Safin’s “harem”, as they were called in a newspaper article at the time, included no fewer than eight blondes, which worked out to one for every round of the tournament, plus a spare just in case.
“Marat never has difficulty finding female supporters. His little black book would be pretty impressive,” a tour insider told the Herald Sun.
The trio who got the nod for the final were two Moscow models — Anna Gorski, 22, who was studying marketing at Monash University, and Katya Bestojeva, 21. They were joined by Newcastle financial analyst, Di Vekosa.
Ms Vekosa was introduced to Marat and other players on the circuit via — you guessed it — Mark Philippoussis.
“I’ve got to know Marat over the past few years, and he’s a really nice guy,” said Ms Vekosa. “I’ve been watching from the players’ box all tournament. It’s great to be able to support him like this.”
The 22-year-old Safin had a reputation as a playboy, but Ms Vekosa was quick to reject talk of romance. “Offcourt, Marat’s a great guy and really down to earth, but there’s nothing going on there,” she said.
Ms Bestojeva met her countryman at a Moscow tournament last year.
A longer-term friend, but still no spark, it seems. “She’s not his girlfriend, just a friend,” said Ms Gorski.
The women became a focus of the Channel 7 broadcast during Safin’s matches and his on-court interviews.
“I have to say thank you to all my family sitting over there,” he said to centre-court laughter as he gestured to the unmissable misses.
But not everyone was a fan of their presence.
Former Alex Metreveli, who was in Melbourne commentating for Russian television, pointed to those in the box for Safin’s downfall after leading by a set in the final.
He said the problem with Safin’s game was that he doesn’t know who to have around him.
“They are friends for a week while he is doing well,’’ Metreveli said.
A photo of the player box went viral on Twitter just a few days out from this year’s tournament and Aussie star Thanasi Kokkinakis couldn’t help replying with a “goat” emoji.
— with Herald Sun