Safin upset with opening round loss in U.S. Open

Howard Fendrich and Howard Fendrich

Marat Safin grabbed his racket with both hands, leaned forward, and cracked it to the court three times, as if chopping wood with an ax.It was a brief show of anger, a tiny indication that he cared whether or not he lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, the tournament he won four years ago. Neither his play nor his words lent much insight Tuesday.Just like at Wimbledon two months ago, Safin exited at the earliest stage in the year’s last Grand Slam, bowing meekly to Thomas Enqvist 7-6 (5), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.”Believe me, I’m trying,” Safin said, a grin creeping across his face. “If I would lie to myself, I would say it’s Thomas’ fault. But I don’t want to lie to myself. A huge part of it is my fault, because I let him play well.”The 13th-seeded Russian was broken twice while serving for the first set, waved lazily at shots down the stretch and kept his usual muttering to a minimum.Compare that effort to No. 5 Tim Henman’s. His poorest Slam results have come at the Open, so he can’t call on past success to help, the way Safin could if he wanted.But battling a bad back that kept him off the practice courts for three days, Henman withstood 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic’s 39 aces and toughed it out for more than 3 1/2 hours in a 7-6 (3), 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.”It really just made me sort of very, very clear in my mind that I wasn’t going to get frustrated if he was going to serve aces or stuff, because it saved me doing the running,” Henman said. “I felt like I kept my head about me pretty well throughout the whole match.”A sentiment Safin isn’t ever likely to express, although you never know what he’ll come up with.At the French Open, he caused a stir by dropping his shorts to celebrate a terrific point. At Wimbledon, he said he was fed up with trying to win there and took the time to point out that tennis doesn’t belong in the Olympics.He’s been fined for all sorts of things, on and off the court: swearing at a chair umpire, berating a tournament sponsor for not replacing the courtesy car he crashed, failing to show enough effort in a first-round loss to a qualifier at the 2000 Australian Open.John McEnroe is a big fan of Safin’s, which should surprise no one, praising him for expressing whatever he feels or thinks. Yet McEnroe was critical of the former No. 1’s showing Tuesday.”An unbelievably disappointing result for Safin. Very disappointing to watch that effort,” McEnroe said, calling the match on USA Network. “To go out and seemingly not be into it at the U.S. Open doesn’t speak well for the sport — someone who really could have made a mark at the Open.”Safin was the biggest name to fall through yesterday afternoon’s action. Indeed, other than Henman, few seeded players were troubled at all, though No. 11 Rainer Schuettler blew a 2-0 lead in sets and lost in five to Italian qualifier Andreas Seppi, while No. 24 Ivan Ljubicic quit with an injury.No. 10 Nicolas Massu, a double gold medalist at the Olympics, advanced, as did No. 15 Paradorn Srichaphan, No. 18 Tommy Robredo, and No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty.Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne found herself in a shred of trouble, trailing 15-year-old Nicole Vaidisova 4-1 in the second set. But the top-ranked Belgian won the last five games to close out her 6-1, 6-4 victory.Past winners of Slam titles Lindsay Davenport (who stretched her winning streak to 18 matches), Anastasia Myskina and Mary Pierce all won in straight sets, as did No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 14 Nadia Petrova, No. 20 Chanda Rubin, No. 21 Amy Frazier, and No. 26 Elena Bovina. Two lower-seeded women lost: No. 24 Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi and No. 25 Elena Likhovtseva, Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Juan Carlos Ferrero — major champions, all — were scheduled to play last night.Safin’s year began so promisingly, with victories over Roddick and Andre Agassi en route to the Australian Open final.But he’s rarely allowed his immense talent to shine through since, and he didn’t sound all that heartbroken when discussing his latest loss.”I am terribly disappointed. I really am,” Safin said in a monotone, as though he were trying to convince himself. “I had a lot of expectations for the tournament. I feel bad, yeah. To be honest, I’m feeling not really happy with myself. But it’s already past, so I cannot change it.”