Safin Gives Russia 1-0 Advantage

Apr 05, 2002, Sports Palace "Luzhniki", Moscow, RUS, by Nick Imison

Marat Safin avenged his Australian Open final defeat by Thomas Johansson to give Russia a 1-0 lead over Sweden in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal at the Luzhniki Sports Palace this afternoon. The 22-year-old from Moscow produced a display of power serving to ease to a straight sets victory by the symmetrical scoreline of 6-4 6-4 6-4.
This was a different Safin to the player who faded under a weight of home expectation in Russia's first round match against Switzerland and lost the opening rubber to Roger Federer in straight sets. In fact it was Johansson will looked ill at ease on court at the start of the match, allowing his opponent to reel off the first four games before most of the crowd were able to find their seats.

Serving at 5-2, Safin managed to get embroiled in a row with the umpire over an overrule which saw the Russian face his first break point. Safin lost the game, and temporarily his cool, but managed to compose himself sufficiently to serve out for the set two games later. That was to be the only break point the Russian faced all match.

Johansson was able to raise his game in the second set, and although making little impression on Safin's service, was managing to hold his own delivery comfortably.
The turning point of the match came in the ninth game, where Johansson saved two break points, before a backhand winner by the Russian set up a third. The Swede then doublefaulted to hand his opponent the break, and Safin served out to love to build up a two sets lead.

As the crowd in the stadium began to find its voice, so Safin managed to keep up the pressure. After surviving two deuces on his serve to level at 3-3, he then capitalised on a second break point in the following game, where a fierce backhand return brought an error from the Swede.

Three games later the match was over and it was fitting that the Russian should complete his 2 hour 16 minute victory with his 11th ace.
Afterwards Safin admitted that Russia's victory over Switzerland had helped prepare him for this tie: "At the beginning of the match I felt that Thomas was not yet ready to play on clay. It is difficult to move on the surface if you haven't played on it for a while. I have already experienced it this year against Switzerland, and know how to play on clay as I grew up on the surface in Spain. Thomas is better on fast courts so I went into the match with a lot of confidence.

"Today I tried to remain focused as he's a top ten player and you can never relax. However I didn't give him a chance from the beginning, and managed not to focus on my errors."
Johansson cited Safin's serve rather than the court surface as the difference between the two players today. "Marat served very well, especially in the second and third sets. I started really badly but I played better and better as the match went on. I kept having chances at 15-30, 30-30, but he managed to serve his way out. It was too bad I couldn't have taken the second or third sets."

The Swede agreed that the Russians benefited from home advantage. "They are playing at home and made the right decision to play on clay, as both players have won titles on that surface. However it is a little quicker indoors and I think I had a chance today."