|Safin Survives Tough Test
Safin Survives Tough Test
By Richard Pagliaro
tiebreak is tennis' tug of war and tensions tightened four times
today before Marat Safin pulled through with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-7
(2-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) triumph over Ivan Ljubicic in an
exhausting second round encounter that spanned three hours and
27 minutes today.
It was the ninth straight U.S. Open victory for the defending
U.S. Open champion who fought a familiar foe and faced his own
fears in emerging with the first U.S. Open victory in four tiebreaks
since Derrick Rostagno defeated Jakob Hlasek 6-7, 7-6, 7-6,
7-6 in the third round of the 1991 U.S. Open.
"I've known him for seven years. We first played when I
was 14 and he's a very tough guy to play," Safin said.
"It was very tough. But I was luck on tiebreaks. I was
Fear fueled Safin's aggressive play in the final set tiebreak.
With the score deadlocked 4-4, Safin slammed a 134 mph ace down
the middle and followed by stepping up to the service line and
firing a flat forehand winner crosscourt that landed inside
the sideline to reach match point at 6-4. Two points later,
Safin sealed the match with his 16th ace down the middle then
celebrated by bashing a ball into the stands.
"To keep staying on the baseline and wait for his mistakes
is a little bit stupid," said Safin of his decision to
attack in the final tiebreak. "I decided to do something
and put him under pressure because the guy was struggling a
little bit with the forehand. I tried to go to the net. I think
it's a good thing to have one match like this, very difficult.
You have to fight."
A year ago, Safin fought through a similar match in the third
round against Sebastien Grosjean. Two points from defeat in
the fifth set tiebreak, Safin rallied after a rain delay and
stormed back to earn a 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) victory.
That match inspired Safin, who dropped only one set the rest
of the tournament. Safin is quick to dismiss comparisons to
his breakthrough at the 2000 U.S. Open and insists he is not
nearly as confident as he was then.
"I can't compare myself with last year," he said.
"Last year I played and everything was perfect. I was playing
unbelievable. I feel comfortable on the court and it was a great
feeling to play. But now, I'm struggling. It's very difficult
to play. It's very difficult to fight because you don't have
While his confidence may be waning, Safin's concentration deserted
him in the second set as he let a 4-2, 40-15 lead dissipate
and watched Ljubicic come back to win the set and even the match.
"I lost my opportunity, it was like a joke," Safin
said. "I just completely lost my concentration. I just
went out of the match. I mean, I was completely lost. It was
very difficult to come back, really."
Earlier in his career, Safin may have responded to the frustrating
mental lapse by smashing his racquet, but instead the man who
once led the ATP in broken racquets rallied by rushing the net
and knocking off a forehand volley winner to take a 6-4 lead
in the third set tiebreak. When Ljubicic lofted a backhand that
landed long by four inches Safin seized the third set. In a
match that featured only two service breaks, one from each player,
Safin's superior play on the big points proved to be pivotal.
"The whole match was so equal," said Ljubicic, who
surrendered the first set when he double faulted on set point.
"It could go either way. I don't think there is any difference
actually. He served unbelievable."
The third-seeded Safin meets Moroccan Hicham Arazi in the third
round. Safin said his conquest of Pete Sampras in last year's
final was a once in a lifetime effort he doesn't expect to duplicate,
but he's still striving to regain the rhythm he had last year.
"It was too perfect," Safin said. "It can happen
once in my life, last year. If you come back and try to win
again it's an unbelievable, beautiful feeling because you have
an unbelievable reason to have a huge party with your friends.
That's why I'm coming here. I want to win again because it's
a nice feeling."