Safin Squares off against Boutter

Feb 28, 2001

On Wednesday, at the Dubai Tennis Championships, No. 1 seed Marat Safin faces Frenchman Julien Boutter in a first-round encounter.

Despite his No. 1 seeding, the Russian New Balls Please campaign star has struggled to a 5-5 record in the new year, suffering a first-round exit last week at the hands of Belarus' Max "the Beast" Mirnyi at Rotterdam.

Boutter, on the other hand, is off to one of the best starts of his career. After a second-round finish at the Australian Open, the Frenchman unleashed at Milan, with his best-ever finish as a finalist against the red-hot Roger Federer.

Boutter followed up his performance against Federer with a quarterfinalist showing at Marseille.

In pursuit of his goal of securing a place in the Top 20 by the end of the summer, Boutter has already scored impressive victories against Goran Ivanisevic at Doha, Jan-Michael Gambill and Greg Rusedski at Milan, and even knocked off defending champion Marc Rosset at Marseille.

Though it may seem Safin, a winner of seven titles last year, en route to a No. 2 finish the inaugural ATP Champions Race, may be under-achieving in 2001, his year-bests include a fourth-round finish at the Australian Open, losing to Dominik Hrbaty, and a tough loss to Rusedski in the quarterfinals at Milan.
Safin may have suffered early-round defeats in the new year, but to players like Hrbaty, currently at No. 6 in the Champions Race, and Rusedski, whose return to health has landed him at No. 15 in this year's Race. Mirnyi, too, has been on-fire of late, knocking off Magnus Norman, the No. 2 seed at Marseille, and even Boutter en route to his year-best of a semifinalist performance at the Open 13.

Going into Wednesday's match-up against Boutter, Safin maintains a 1-1 record, after posting a grass court victory against the Frenchman at Queen's last year. Boutter posted his first win against the Russian on the hard courts of Marseille in 1999.

At Dubai, their hard-court showdown, featuring a confident Boutter playing against Safin, a player in pursuit of establishing his confidence in the new year, proves a showcase for Wednesday's Match of the Day.