Safin Squeaker Highlights Day 4

Thursday, August 30, 2001
Safin Squeaker Highlights Day 4
by Matthew Cronin

Trying desperately to regain the magic that surrounded him when he won his first Grand Slam title here last year, Marat Safin overcame a huge hurdle when he out-clutched dangerous Croatian Ivan Ljubicic, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), to move into the third round on Thursday.

Joining Safin in the early-day winner's circle on Thursday were No. 9 Tim Henman , No. 14 Thomas Johansson, No. 28 Hicham Arazi, No. 2 Jennifer
Capriati, No. 5 Kim Clijsters, No. 9 Nathalie Tauziat, No. 11 Elena Dementieva, No. 18 Sandrine Testud, No. 19 Barbara Schett, No. 25 Henrieta Nagyova , No. 28 Chanda Rubin and No. 30 Lisa Raymond.

There were some minor upsets on the day, when Australia's Alicia Molik beat No. 15 Magdalena Maleeva, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Canada's Jana Nejedly overcame No. 22 Iroda Tulyaganova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4; Belgium's Xavier Malisse took No. 21 Fabrice Santoro, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; and Chile's Marcelo Rios upended Romania's Andrei Pavel, 7-5, 6-4, 6-0.

Safin was in big-time trouble against Ljubicic, a huge-serving Croatian who often whaled in 120 mph second serves. But in the breakers, the big Russian exposed his opponent's forehand and made some important forays to the net.

"I was lucky on the tiebreaks," Safin said. "The last tiebreak was perfect. I served well.... I was a little bit scared, but I passed through. It was good. I feel more confident on the court. My tennis is coming back. I feel better and better. It was a good thing to have one match like this. You have to fight, you're struggling a little bit, but you win. It's perfect."

Safin has all but lost his elite status since taking down the mighty Pete Sampras in last year's final, falling prey to injury, losing his confidence and searching longingly for his once devastating baseline attack.

"I'm not so confident as I was last year," Safin said. "So I have to start from the beginning, go to the basics, try to do something , improve my shots, fight and be in the match every time. Because I'm not playing so great."

Last year, Safin won the event largely because he was able to collect his thoughts and keep his volatile temperament under control. Against Ljubicic,
Safin often smashed balls into the net and toward the sky in anger. He realizes that he will have to regain his composure if he is to win the event again.

"I can't compare myself with last year," he said. "Last year everything was perfect. I was playing unbelievable. But now I'm struggling.... These kind of matches are important. You can shout, throw rackets, do whatever you can to win them."

The 21-year-old is praying that the ethereal feeling he experienced last year on Ashe Stadium will return.

"Every time I go onto center court, I remember the time I beat Pete Sampras. That maybe this day is going to be my day, and I'm going to start anew, and I will get my confidence back. I will win here."