Open-Safin wins match but loses hearts
Sat 29 May, 2004 22:02
By Francois Thomazeau
PARIS, May 29 (Reuters) - Long and loud boos on centre court after his five-set epic against Italian qualifier Potito Starace on Saturday gave a perfect illustration of the emotions provoked by Marat Safin's uncompromising and erratic character.
Only 24 hours earlier, the Russian had been the Parisian crowd's darling after his thrilling five-set victory over Felix Mantilla.
In the four hours 25 minutes of his 6-7 6-4 3-6 7-5 7-5 third-round victory against Starace, the former world number one managed to overturn a seemingly desperate situation but, in the process, to turn 15,000 centre court fans against him.
Safin had made headlines the day before by pulling down his shorts during his win against Mantilla, then criticising officials for spoiling the show by giving him a penalty.
On Saturday, he was the one who spoiled an exciting contest, using old tricks in the hope of denting his young opponent's confidence.
The former U.S. Open champion undoubtedly had eight blisters on his left hand, which hampered his two-handed backhand.
But he did not necessarily need to receive treatment just after saving the first of two match points against him in the fourth set.
"I'm not the kind of person who calls the doctor but then I could not hold the racquet," Safin said.
"I have eight blisters and it was killing me. I showed them to the guy (Starace) because probably he could not believe it."
The crowd did not seem convinced. They jeered and booed for most of the fifth set after the incident.
"It was difficult to explain and to show to everybody that I was injured. But I had to take the break. Why do I have to suffer and lose the match after spending so many hours on court?.
"It makes me sad that people cannot understand such simple things. I hope everybody could see my hands," Safin said.
On disputed and crucial points, Safin pre-empted the umpire's decisions, twice returning to his corner before calls had been made.
Safin was unapologetic about his behaviour.
"He's not a junior," he said of Starace. "We're in the professional ranks. He has to be aware of it. He can do it too."
After more than nine hours on court in three days, the Russian needed six match points to finally wear out the gifted and ice-cool Starace.
But he made it, narrowly avoiding a fourth successive day of action.
The match ended as dusk was falling on centre court and only minutes before another third-round match between Albert Costa and Xavier Malisse was halted because of poor light.
Safin goes on to meet Argentine David Nalbandian for a quarter-final place, probably hoping to make it shorter this time, and win back some hearts.
"At the end of the day, I ended up winning the match. If the crowd understand, great. If not, I'll be here in the next match anyway," he said.
The epidemy of players calling the trainer when their opponents are serving for match continues...