Safin still strong
U.S. Open champ wins first match in Tashkent

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - Thursday September 14, 2000

Newly crowned U.S. Open champion Marat Safin knew all eyes would be on him as he took the court for his first-round match Wednesday at the $525,000 President's Cup hardcourt tennis event. He did not disappoint.

Safin, seeded second, was victorious in his first match since claiming his first career Grand Slam title in New York on Sunday. The 20-year-old Russian defeated Tashkent resident Oleg Ogorodov, 6-4, 6-4, but admitted he was not completely focused on Wednesday's match.

"It was quite tough," Safin said. "But I was expecting it after this long flight. It was very difficult to be ready for this match."

Safin became the first Russian to win the U.S. Open with a dominant straight-sets victory over 13-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras. He knows the expectations are high for him to do well this week.

"You have to show people you are the winner of the U.S. Open, and they [fans] expect a lot from you," Safin said. "It's very important for me [to do well]."

The 20-year-old Safin is tied with four others for the ATP Tour lead with four titles. He also won at Barcelona, Mallorca and the Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto. His win on Sunday put him third on the ATP Champions Race 2000 leaderboard and No. 2 on the entry system rankings.

Next up for Safin on Thursday will be Michel Kratochvil of Switzerland, who advanced to the second round on Tuesday.

In second-round play, Russia's Andrei Stoliarov posted the lone upset of the day as he outdueled fifth seed Greg Rusedski of Britain, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-5.

Two Frenchmen joined Stoliarov in the quarterfinals. Sixth seed Jerome Golmard of France dumped Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, 6-4, 6-0, and Julien Boutter downed Jonathan Erlich of Israel, 6-4, 6-4. Golmard and Boutter will square off on Friday.

Later Wednesday, qualifier Anthony Dupuis will attempt to become the third Frenchman to secure a quarterfinal berth when he meets George Bastl of Switzerland. The winner will take on Stoliarov for a spot in the semifinals.

First prize is $70,000.