He was also renowned -- some would say notorious -- for his lavish off-court lifestyle, replete with glamorous women on his arm and flashy cars in his driveway.
In recent years, however, the two-time Grand Slam winner has done a lot to temper his brash bad-boy image. The opulent trappings of fame are no longer so evident and his impetuous racket-smashing antics are now a distant memory.
Since his retirement in 2009, he has consolidated this newfound respectability by becoming an elected member of parliament for President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.
In the eyes of many, Safin has added a dash of youthful vibrancy to Russia's old guard, something he himself acknowledged ahead of his election in December 2011.
"I could be the best-looking guy in the Duma," he said. "But that's only because all the other guys are over 60."
With his political star in the ascendant, Safin has also embraced his ethnic Tatar identity.
Tennis fans who still associate him with the temperamental, volatile party animal of old would find it hard to recognize the modest, seemingly devout Muslim who attended prayers wearing a traditional Tatar tubetey during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Nizhny Novgorod last week.
Nonetheless, Safin himself maintains that his faith and ethnicity have always been an integral part of his make-up, even during his hell-raising playing days.
"You can't fight your genes," he told "USA Today" in 2005. "I'm Russian, but I'm 100 percent Muslim. All the Muslim people are passionate, stubborn. We have hot blood."
Of course, Safin's very public mosque appearance during one of Islam's biggest feasts is also good politicking for any ambitious tyro seeking to bolster his grassroots support.
It could even be seen as a timely endorsement of Russia's system of ethnicity-based republics, which was roundly condemned on October 27 by leading opposition politician Mikhail Prokhorov.
In this sense, Safin could be seen to embody what United Russia thinks of Prokhorov's proposal to abolish ethnic republics such as Tatarstan, Daghestan, and North Ossetia.
-- Coilin O'Connor