"I was afraid," Safin admits

NEW YORK, Sept 3 2000 - US Open (Reuters)

Russian Marat Safin freely admits he was afraid. The 20-year-old Russian survived a 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 1-6 3-6 7-6 (7-5) heartstopper over Sebastien Grosjean of France in the third round of the U.S. Open on Sunday after squandering a two-set lead and going down a break in the fifth set of a match that took nearly 6 1/2 hours to complete.

The fifth-set tiebreaker was interrupted right at the end for a nervous hour and 40 minutes. "Like normal human beings, I was afraid," Safin said. "I had eyes bigger than my face."

Compounding the normal tension of a five-set match were two rain delays totalling about three hours. The second delay came with Safin leading 5-4 in the final-set tiebreaker. When they returned, they were on court for just five minutes before Safin secured his berth in the round of 16 against 12th seed Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.

"It was a question of two, three points. Who is going to be more lucky? It's a lottery," said Safin. "Finally I made it. I'm happy. I'm still nervous. I hope it will not happen to me again."


During the two rain delays, he showered ("I don't think the people would like it if somebody will smell on the court") and realised he did not have fresh socks or shorts. Jeff Tarango and Nicolas Kiefer came to his rescue.

"Everybody sponsored me today," he joked. The sixth seed, who has been on court for almost nine hours in his three matches, blamed a lack of concentration for allowing Grosjean to fight his way back into the match. Safin registered 25 aces but also was charged with 64 unforced errors, 25 more than his opponent.

"I went crazy," Safin said of his collapse. "I'm not playing so bad, so how is it possible that these things are happening to me?" The tension was severe for both men during the final rain delay.

"The second break was the most difficult," said the 22-year-old Grosjean, who was eliminated from last year's Open in another fifth-set tiebreaker, in the first round. "At 4-5 in the tiebreaker of the fifth set is a terrible spot to break off. After that it's really a bit of a crapshoot."

It was no easier on the winner. "You start to think all the time and you get nervous because you don't know what to do," Safin said. "It's better to be out there (on court) where you don't think about these things. "When you go to the court from the locker room you are scared. You think too much in the locker room. You can become too crazy like this."