This Safin's reaction cost him a loss of point during the match with Felix Mantilla at the Roland Garros 2004.
The most interesting matches in Safin's career in my subjective view:
Davis Cup 1998 (1R, Atlanta): J.Courier 6-0 4-6 6-4 1-6 4-6
174th in the world, unknown teenager with black dyed hair, began the decisive rubber against former No. 1 with a sensational lead 6-0 *4:1 (after identical lead lost also a match 8 years later to Ramirez-Hidalgo in Rome)! The match lasted only 2 hours 46 minutes.
Roland Garros 1998, 1R: A.Agassi 5-7 7-5 6-2 3-6 6-2
Qualifier Marat beat on the Suzanne Lenglen court two-time former finalist and a player who won that tournament in 1999. It was Safin's Grand Slam's debut and just 4th tournament on the main level! "I wanted to beat Agassi, but I think I was really lucky playing so well in this match," Safin said. "I do not think I will beat Kuerten. I'm very tired.'' Two days later Marat beat defending champion Kuerten on the Centre Court, also in 5 sets!
Toronto 2000, QF: P.Sampras 6-4 3-6 7-6(8)
Safin was up 4:1 in the tiebreak before Sampras rallied. The American had match points at 6:5, *7:6 and 8:7. "He's only 20, he's a big, strong guy, and he's got all the tools," said the best player in the world from the 90's about the young Russian. After that match Sampras won 16 consecutive tie-breaks to set a new record, broken a few years later by Andy Roddick.
US Open 2000, 3R: S.Grosjean 6-4 7-6(3) 1-6 3-6 7-6(5)
Grosjean was a break up at the beginning of the fifth set. The match was interrupted by rain in the 5th set with Safin serving at 4:4 (30-15) for 1 hour 19 minutes. In the decisive tie-break Safin led *5:3 but lost the point and the rain came back! This time the rain delay lasted 1 hour 40 minutes. After second break, Grosjean won first point and both players were two points away from victory - both points won Safin and advanced to the 4th round. Grosejan won 14 points more (170-156). Four rounds later Safin won the tournament destroying Sampras (6-4 6-3 6-3) in the final after "the match of life". Sampras had only two break points - in the last game of the match.
Paris 2000, F: M.Philippoussis 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4 3-6 7-6(8)
One of the most dramatic indoor finals in history, finished with the longest 5th set tie-break in the final. The scoreline would suggest that Philippoussis wasted some setpoints or matchpoints but he didn't: Safin led 5:1*, 6:4 in the 1st tie-break and 6:3* in the 2nd one before won the title on 6th match point. The match had two crucial moments: first happened when Safin was 0-40 down on serve at 4:4 in the 2nd set and saved all breakpoints on 2nd serve (winning volley, passing-shot and lob!); second at 3:3* (30-15) for Safin in the third set when the Russian fell down and split right eyebrow with the frame of his racquet. After medical time-out Marat lost first point but won next three, and broke Scud's serve the only time in the match! The 3 hour 29 minutes final, was dominated by serves: Safin served 22 aces and 30 service winners, Scud 22 and 52 respectively. The Australian won 12 points more (165-153). Thanks to this amazing triumph Safin became the youngest No. 1 in the world at the age of 20 years 9 months (one year later the record was broken by Lleyton Hewitt).
US Open (2R)/Lyon (SF) 2001: I.Ljubo-Tie-Break-combo 7-6(5) 6-7(2) 7-6(5) 7-6(5) / 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 6-7(7)
They played 7 tie-break sets within two months, breaking each other only twice! At the US Open played first all-tie-break 4-setter since 1991, Safin wasn't forced to save setpoint in any of 3 winning tie-break sets. In Lyon, Ljubicic took a 4:1 lead in the third set and 3:0 in the tie-break but Safin had match point at 6:5 on serve! Safin won 3 tie-break sets in one match also at the Aussie Open '05 against Ollie Rochus (4-6 7-6 7-6 7-6).
Davis Cup 2002 (SF, Moscow): Safin/Y.Kafelnikov - L.Arnold/D.Nalbandian 4-6 4-6 7-5 6-3 17-19
It could have been 3x 4-6 but the Russians saved break point at 4:4 in the third set. Fifth set lasted 3 hours 3 minutes! Russians had break points on Nalbandian's serve at 8:8, 10:10 and 12:12. Nalbandian finally lost his serve at 16:16 and Safin was serving to win the match. Argentinians saved two match points and broke Safin's serve for the first time in the match! Two games later also Kafelnikov lost his serve at second match point and the match after 6 hours 20 minutes - the longest doubles match in tennis history so far! Despite Argies' unbelievable win, Russians advanced to the final thanks to Safin who defeated in 4 sets Nalbandian on Sunday in the 4th rubber.
Australian Open 2004, SF: A.Agassi 7-6(6) 7-6(6) 5-7 1-6 6-3
86th in the world Safin (suffered injuries in 2003) saved one set point at *4:5 in the first set, and setpoints at 5:6 in both tie-breaks! Safin slammed 33 aces, and not one double fault! Agassi lost first match in Melbourne after 26 wins in a row! Safin lost the final to Federer in straight sets but equalled Solomon's record (Roland Garros '76) given the most sets played during one Grand Slam tournament - 30 (Safin en route to the final defeated in 5 sets also Todd Martin and Andy Roddick).
Roland Garros 2004, 2R: F.Mantilla 6-4 2-6 6-2 6-7(4) 11-9
Safin was penalized a point by Carlos Bernardes for dropping his shorts at 4:3* (15-0) in the fifth set. Instead of 30-0 for Safin, was 30-15. Safin lost concentration and found himself 4:5, and match point down a moment later. Mantilla was serving to win the match also at 6:5 and 7:6! The match was suspended because of darkness at 7-all in the fifth set and lasted 24 minutes the following day before Safin converted his first match point.
In the next round Safin saved also match point on return at 1-2, 4:5 against Starace. Both Brad Gilbert (1992) and Greg Rusedski (1998) at the US Open won two consecutive 5-setters after match point down as well...
Houston-MC 2004, SF: R.Federer 3-6 6-7(18)
Safin had had 2 break points at 4:1 in the 2nd set, later 6:5 (30-0)... before lost 18-20 in the tie-break - equalled record of the longest singles tie-break in terms of points. One of the six longest tie-breaks but I think the most impressing one because was played by two great players at the peak of their careers, in the semifinal of a big tournament. The tie-break lasted 26 minutes and 38 seconds, and neither player had two-point advantage until the last point of the match! "I was nervous. I was under pressure. Everybody has these moments," said Safin who wasted 6 setpoints. "I was starting to get to his serve. I put too much pressure on myself trying to win that tie-breaker".
Here is the tie-break's progress from Safin's side: 0:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, 5:6, 7:6, 7:8, 9:8, 9:10, 10:11, 11:12, 13:12, 14:13, 15:14, 15:16, 17:16, 17:18, at 18:18 Safin made the only double fault of that set!
If there was the hawk-eye system, the tie-break should have finished 11-9 for Federer - Safin's forehand landed out at third MP for Roger.
Safin lost all three longest tie-breaks he played in career. The other two: 14-16 in doubles in Wolfsburg '98 (Challenger, teaming up with Vemic) and 15-17 against Ferrero in Hamburg 2007 (wasted 5 setpoints).
Australian Open 2005, SF: R.Federer 5-7 6-4 5-7 7-6(6) 9-7
Sweet revenge for the Houston's semifinal a couple months later. One of the best matches of this decade although first three sets were rather of poor quality. Both 4th and 5th set played on the highest level of tennis' technique and drama though. Federer led *5:2 in the tie-break, at 6:5 had match point on serve - Safin saved it with a lob (perhaps Federer played a ball with volley which would have landed out)! In the 5th set Safin led 5:2* (30-15) - Federer played tremendous backhand lob from very difficult position. At 5:3 Safin had two adv. match points - on both occasions missed backhands trying to play winners. In the 10th game, Federer saved another match point, this time at the net (Safin had empty court to play finishing passing-shot...) Then at 6:6 Federer had 30-0 on Safin's serve and break point - missed forehand. Safin leading 7:6 had double match point (fourth and fifth). Before the last game of the match, Federer changed his shirt into a white one (all previous games in this match had been playing in blue). Federer saved 6th match point with an ace but at 7th match point fell on the court reaching Safin's backhand down the line, hit the ball but Safin this time didn't miss the opportunity and finished the point with gentle forehand playing in the open court. "To come back and still fight to win, it's a little bit difficult because psychologically you're upset that you've already had your chances," said Safin who broke Federer's streak of 26 consecutive wins! Safin won the final against Hewitt and became 7th Australian Open champion who was one point away from defeat.
US Open 2006, 2R: D.Nalbandian 6-3 7-5 2-6 3-6 7-6(6)
Safin has become the first player in history who won 4 matches in the tie-break of the fifth set (beside mentioned matches against Grosjean and Philippoussis, beat also Kiefer 7-6 in the 5th set). Had match point before the tie-break, in the tie-break led 5:1 and 6:5* before converted 3rd match point. "I just had the match in control after two sets and I let him come back," Safin said. "I got a little bit scared because I was playing too well, then I started to think a little bit too much, I stop to attack, I change a little bit my game, then he started to play his tennis."
A couple months later Safin lost to Nalbandian 6-7 in the third set in Madrid after controversial/ridiculous situation in the 12th game when both players and the referee forgot the scoreline and Nalbandian won the game winning one point less than should have won!
Davis Cup 2006 (F, Moscow): J.Acasuso 6-3 3-6 6-3 7-6(5)
Safin's last very important win... This win in the 5th and decisive rubber, gave Russia second Davis Cup within 4 years. ''This is the best thing that's happened to me in the last two years,'' said Safin “I was under pressure and I was pretty scared. I didn't want to let this cup go away.”
Davis Cup 2008 (1R, Moscow): T.Berdych 6-7(5) 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4
Safin won first 5-set match being 0-2 down in sets and broke Berdych's perfect record in 5-setters (9-0). Safin saved 16 of 17 break points. "I think he has just showed that he's still a great player," Berdych said. "If somebody told me on the chair after the second set that it's going to be this way, I would not have believed it."
Roland Garros 2009, 2R: J.Ouanna 6-7(2) 6-7(4) 6-4 6-3 8-10
Safin led 3:1* in the fifth set, then saved match points at *4:5 and 5:6. "Christmas Day didn't come on December 25 for him, it came today. Hopefully I can forget this match" said Safin. After very similiar scoreline lost a Davis Cup rubber to Max Mirnyi, 5 years earlier (6-7 6-7 6-1 6-4 9-11).