Safin bellies up Down Under

Sydney, Australia - 20 September 2000

2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin probably learned a valuable lesson at the Olympic Games this week -- next time skip your scheduled appearance in Uzbekistan.

The big Russian, playing his seventh singles match in three countries over a 10-day span, suffered a stunning opening-round setback against Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in the first round in Sydney.

On September 10, the 20-year-old Safin shocked Pete Sampras in straight sets to claim his first-ever Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in New York.

Three days later, the high-flying star played and won his first- round match in Tashkent, Uzbekistan while most of his fellow Olympians were preparing for the Games by avoiding pre-Olympic tournaments.

Safin played five straight days in Tashkent, eventually claiming his second title in as many weeks with a President's Cup championship match victory against unseeded Italian Davide Sanguinetti, Safin's fifth opponent in five days and sixth opponent in eight days in two.

Following the victory in Uzbekistan, Safin flew to Australia, where he was installed as the top seed.

Safin took to Centre Court at the Olympic tennis complex on Wednesday (Sydney time), with Santoro hoping to meet a weary opponent. I believe that's what he got.

The Russian rolled in the first set before running out of gas in a surprising 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 setback. Maybe it wasn't so surprising, as Santoro is now a perfect 5-0 against the super Safin, including 3-0 this season, the Russian's breakthrough one on the tour.

Santoro was not originally slated to play in the Games, as he took the place of countryman Sebastien Grosjean, who withdrew before the tournament due to injury.

Safin, No. 1 in the ATP's Champions Race and No. 2 in the Singles Entry System (a.k.a. the world rankings), was barely in Australia for 24 hours before getting bounced from the premier sporting event on the planet. The wear and tear over the last month, particularly the last two weeks, caught up to the Sampras slayer.

So Marat, elevated by many, including your's truly, to be the next tennis superstar, the next time the President's Cup event is sandwiched between the U.S. Open and the Olympic Games, pull out with a phantom injury.