Safin talks himself to victory at Open

Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2005

 

  Russia's Marat Safin reacts as he plays Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero during their third round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Saturday May 28, 2005 in Paris. Safin won 7-6, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6. AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

Russia's Marat Safin reacts as he plays Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero during their third round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Saturday May 28, 2005 in Paris. Safin won 7-6, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6.

AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

PARIS — Cap backward, his dialogue with himself rarely pausing, Marat Safin negotiated around danger once more in his zigzag path through the French Open for a shot at a second straight Grand Slam title.

He didn't break a racket or even throw one. He kept his cursing to a mild mutter.

''It's a one-man conversation,'' he said. ''Nobody's answering, which is good.''

Down in each of the first two sets and thrashed in the third, the Russian escaped each time by calling on his full range of shots — serves in the 120 mph range; punishing, two-fisted backhands; exquisite touch for a big man on lobs and drops; and more volleys than in the past — to post a 7-6 (5), 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (2) victory Saturday over 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.

''It was a great match, I will remember it, I will get it on video,'' said Safin, who spent much of his youth in Spain and still trains there part of the year. ''A few years ago we were newcomers. Now we are 25 and we have spent a lot of time here. It's becoming a classic between us.''

The third-seeded Safin, reaching the round of 16 along with last year's runner-up and No. 8 seed Guillermo Coria, has been squeezed into the background the first week of the tournament by No. 1 Roger Federer's bid for a career Grand Slam and 18-year-old phenom Rafael Nadal's quest for a title in his French debut.

But the immensely talented, if sometimes tempestuous 6-foot-4 Safin should not be overlooked as he tries to add the French title to the Australian he won in January when he beat Federer in the semis and Lleyton Hewitt in the final, and the U.S. Open he won in 2000 when he downed Pete Sampras in a straight-sets final.

In a woman's third-rounder Saturday, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo broke French fans' hearts, double-faulting on match point and losing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to No. 29 Ana Ivanovic, a 17-year-old from Serbia-Montenegro.

Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne, the 2003 champion, won her 20th consecutive match, all on clay, when she beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to set up a meeting with reigning U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 6-1, 2-6, 6-0 victory over American Marissa Irvin. Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport is the only remaining American, male or female, among the 22 who entered the tournament.

No. 2 Maria Sharapova, trying to overtake Davenport for the No. 1 ranking and win the French for the first time, beat fellow 18-year-old Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-1, 6-4. Two other Russian women also advanced — No. 7 Nadia Petrova and No. 12 Elena Bovina. Sharapova will next play unseeded Nuria Llagostera Vives, who upset No. 13 Nathalie Dechy of France, 7-6 (1), 6-3.

Safin and Ferrero have known each other since they were 14, practicing together at times, then playing against each other in the juniors. As pros, they've now split 10 matches. Each has been No. 1 in the rankings briefly and each has had ups and down because of injuries and illnesses.

This was their first match to go past three sets, and it featured fine shot-making by both players. Ferrero, the No. 32 seed, won three more total points, but lost key points when he was ahead in the first two sets. Serving for the first set at 5-4, Ferrero held off two break points before yielding when a backhand drifted long by about half an inch. In the tiebreaker, Safin took a 6-5 lead on a brilliant point that ended when Ferrero tried a backhand drop, Safin scooped it up, Ferrero tossed up a lob and Safin drilled an overhead that hopped into the stands.

Safin's power on serve — he had 13 aces to Ferrero's one — was countered, in part, by Ferrero's greater accuracy on first serves. Four of Safin's aces came in the second set when he fought back for 1-4, then put the set away with a 120 mph ace on set point.

After virtually giving away the third set — ''I lost concentration completely,'' Safin said — he settled down to take the fourth-set tiebreaker easily, putting away the final shot with a forehand approach.

Safin rarely stopped talking to him throughout the match, especially after errors.

''It's because you really feel the moment, where you can make mistakes and where you cannot, the important moments and the not important moments. You say to yourself whatever you think about yourself ... just a little bit of desperation.''

Those little one-man conversations seemed to help Safin keep his temper in check here as he did in the Australian Open.

''You don't want to waste any energy,'' he said. ''Of course, I get (angry) and sometimes I will explode during the match. But definitely I try to stay as calm as I can. Every single point is really important here. Especially against players like Ferrero, you can't go crazy because he feels this straight away and it's even more difficult to come back.

''Sometimes, of course, it's difficult because if you swallow too much, it's also really difficult to continue playing well. If you have a war in your head, you need to explode sooner or later.''



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