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Archive for Saturday, May 29, 2004

Safin a winner in France

Russian drops his opponent, and his pants

May 29, 2004

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— When Marat Safin's around, watch out. Not even he has any idea when he'll toss a racket, swat a miraculous shot, go off on a rant or ... lose a point for mooning the crowd?

Yes, Safin did all that and more on his circuitous route to the French Open's third round, somehow managing to both embellish and upstage his two-day, 41/2-hour victory over Felix Mantilla that closed Friday with an 11-9 fifth set.

Four leading contenders won in straight sets to reach the round of 16: No. 3 Guillermo Coria, 1998 champion Carlos Moya, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 5 Lindsay Davenport.

Safin, though, kept everyone on their toes, including tournament officials who debated whether to fine him for two offenses.

His match was suspended because of darkness Thursday night at 7-7 in the final set. Early in that set, he and Mantilla engaged in a fantastic exchange that ended with both near the net. Safin claimed the point by scooping over a drop shot at a seemingly impossible angle. To celebrate, the 2000 U.S. Open champion grabbed his white shorts, tugged them to his thighs and leaned over, his long shirt providing cover. It appeared he wore underwear that remained in place.

The Russian drew laughter and applause from a standing-room-only crowd.

"This point really deserved that," Safin said. "Nobody complained. Everybody was OK."

Everybody, perhaps, except chair umpire Carlos Bernardes Jr., who earlier warned Safin for throwing a racket (which drew a $500 fine Friday) and now penalized him a point (no fine, though). Safin argued, then sarcastically applauded the ruling.

When Mantilla sailed a backhand long to fix the final score at 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 11-9 after 24 minutes of play Friday, the opponents hugged at the net.

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