"It was a little bit disaster. It just wasn't my day"


January 21, 2001

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)

The words of reigning US Open champion Marat Safin after being soundly whipped by No.14-seeded Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia 6-2 7-6[6] 6-4 on Sunday in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Safin wasn't lying - he played poorly and Hrbaty, a one-time French Open semifinalist, put on an exquisite display of his own talents.

"I think he played very good today, I played very badly," said the No.2-seeded Safin, who possesses a remarkable aptitude for the game, but still suffers from occasional confidence lapses.
"I mean, I can't play this way being No.2 in the world. This is not my tennis. That's a little bit ridiculous what I made on the court."

Safin, who won seven of his eight career trophies in the 2000 season, didn't look like a Grand Slam champion against Hrbaty. His failing performance now put Hrbaty closer in their head-to-heads, with Safin still leading 5-4 in career meetings.

A glance at the statistics shows an appalling showing for Safin - he won only 89 points to 113 for Hrbaty; he had 47 unforced errors to 31 for Hrbaty; and he offered up 13 break point opportunities, a rather amazing amount considering the power of his serve, of which Hrbaty broke serve on five occasions.

For Safin, who ended his trip to the Australian Open in the two hours, three minute match against Hrbaty, a lack of self-assurance was the missing element on Sunday.

"If you don't have confidence, you cannot play - you cannot do anything with the ball," Safin admitted, honestly. "I had no confidence at all. I was playing from the baseline, which is my best game, and I just was afraid all the time."
While Safin was quick to call attention to the fact he was not at his optimum game level, he was even quicker to compliment Hrbaty on his fabulous play.

"The guy - he wouldn't sweat," Safin said, laughing. ""The guy was playing very comfortable from the baseline because I was making all the work - I was running, I was making unforced errors. I think he was much better than me today."

While Safin is the player with the noted serve, it was Hrbaty who was really impressive on that front on Sunday.

He barely trailed Safin's count of 11 aces by posting seven for himself, and whereas Safin had four double faults, Hrbaty had none.

Of not having any double faults in the match, Hrbaty said, "I don't remember that in my life. So I was serving really well today, especially the second serve."

As Safin leaves Melbourne to reassess what went wrong at this Australian Open and whether he needs to locate a full-time coach, he offered a parting word that Hrbaty deserved to win.

"I'm not the only person in this world who can lose against Hrbaty," he said. "It's also you have to give a little respect to Dominik. He played great."
Hrbaty remains behind and looks ahead to another great challenge - a quarterfinal date with Australian favorite and two-time US Open champion Patrick Rafter.

"It's going to be tough match, for sure, as any other match here in Grand Slam," Hrbaty said. "Got a little bit different game than Marat. He's [Rafter] playing serve and volley.

"I have nothing to lose. He's higher seeded than me, and I will fight and try to beat him."

Sandra Harwitt
courtesy ausopen.org