Kiefer's aggression and touch has Safin in a spin
By Barry Wood
23 February 2005
Marat Safin was beaten 7-6, 6-4 by Germany's Nicolas Kiefer in the opening round of the Dubai Championships here yesterday. Playing his first match since winning the Australian Open, the Russian No 2 seed never found his rhythm against an opponent who had also won their previous meeting at the Toronto Masters last year.
Kiefer, who often came to the net, mixed aggression and a deft touch to frustrate his opponent and although Safin served well at times it was not enough to give him any advantage.
Neither player managed to earn a break-point as the first set went to a tie-break, which Kiefer dominated. The German then maintained his momentum as the second set got underway, breaking to love as Safin struck his first double-fault of the match to fall behind 1-0.
A second double-fault allowed Kiefer to break again to lead 5-2 but he failed to serve out the match, putting a forehand wide down the line on break point. When the German served for the match a second time he was able to seal victory with his eighth ace of the match.
"I couldn't get comfortable on the court," said Safin, who refused to blame his defeat on his 10-day break after winning in Melbourne last month.
"I found the court was a little bit too fast so I couldn't really time the ball. I was missing a lot and wasn't comfortable at any moment," he said.
"He's [Kiefer] a tough one. All of a sudden he makes a couple of mistakes and he plays again and there is no rhythm at all. It's very difficult to find your game against him."
Good from Marat
Wind had covered the court with a fine layer of sand and Kiefer said that made the surface faster, to his liking.
"I didn't expect to play this good," he said. "I've been playing well but the last two days I lost a little bit of my concentration, my focus. But I'm very happy with the way I played. I was fighting."
Kiefer said nerves also played a part as he struggled to close out the match.
"I just tried to focus on my game," he said. "I didn't serve so well in the beginning but I could get through the games and that is very important, especially against these players."