Back in the lead

Safin wins St. Petersburg title, takes lead in points race

November 12, 2000 ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP)

Russia's Marat Safin rallied to beat Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the St. Petersburg Open on Sunday, despite hurting his hand when he broke his racket in an angry outburst.

Down 40-15 in the first game of the second set, Safin smashed his racket to the court in frustration, drawing a warning from the umpire.

A splinter from the racket apparently lodged into Safin's hand and a three-minute injury time-out was called. Safin apologized to Hrbaty for the delay but said smashing rackets had its advantages.

"I'm sorry about that. I was just nervous and angry," said Safin, who has a penchant for smashing his rackets. "But breaking rackets sometimes helps to get rid of negative energy. It helps you calm down."

The outburst indeed seemed to help Safin, who had played listlessly in the first set. He lost his serve in the fourth game of the second set but then took control, breaking back and winning the sixth game at love. He broke Hrbaty again in the seventh, and held serve to win the set 6-4.

Hrbaty, seeded third in the tournament, said the change in Safin's play in the second set was obvious.

"In the second set, he seemed to relax and got me out of rhythm with his shots," Hrbaty said. "He started hitting the ball so hard that I lost my timing. I just couldn't keep the ball in front of me."

Safin, the top seed, kept to the baseline in the final set and broke Hrbaty in the third game, comfortably serving out the match. He had 14 aces to Hrbaty's five.

The win in St. Petersburg moved Safin into the lead in the 2000 ATP Tour Champions Race, ahead of Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, who lost Friday in the quarterfinals at the Lyon Grand Prix in France.

It was Safin's sixth title of the season. In September, he got the biggest victory of his career by winning the U.S. Open.