Marat Safin falls in Ericsson Open opening round

MIAMI (Reuters)

For the second consecutive week a sore rib cage helped place second seed Marat Safin of Russia on the sidelines after his opening match.

Safin, clearly still suffering the effects of a rib cage injury he sustained in the Dubai semifinals last month, did his best to survive a second-round encounter with Juan Balcells, but was upset by the Spaniard 4-6 6-4 6-3.

The ailing U.S. Open champion was a first-round loser to Swede Thomas Johansson at the Tennis Masters Series-Indian Wells last week.

The injury started to affect his left hip and during the match against Balcells, Safin called the ATP trainer on court to complain that his right hip hurting as well.

After winning the first set, Safin looking stiff and unable to move without difficulty and the big Russian was unable to sustain his early momentum.
The 68th-ranked Balcells, who won his first career title at Bucharest last year, was able to exploit Safin's mobility problems by running the second seed around the court.

Known for his serving prowess, Safin had to satisfy himself with simply putting the ball in play, giving Balcells an easy target.

Safin ended up winning only 40 of the 77 points in which his first serve went in and just 16 of 32 points second-serve points.

Still, Safin managed to hang on, splitting the first six games of the final set before getting broken at love in the seventh.

After Balcells held serve for 5-3, Safin struggled to try to save his serve in the ninth game, but his aching body betrayed him in that final game.
Safin survived one match point when Balcells hit a backhand return of a second serve into the net.

Four points later, Balcells took advantage of a second match point on Safin's serve with an exquisite backhand crosscourt passing shot for the victory.