U.S. Open champion Marat Safin
of Russia was toppled in Olympic tennis, falling
in the first round to his old enemy Fabrice Santoro of France.
The top-seeded Safin, who overwhelmed Pete Sampras in a stunning Open final this month in New York, was ambushed once again by the deceptive Frenchman, a master of disguise and change of pace, who took a 1-6 6-1 6-4 center court victory.
The stunning triumph over the world number two marked the 35th-ranked Santoro’s fifth career win without a loss against the strapping Russian.
“For sure, it’s a great win for me,” said the 27-year-old Santoro, ranked 35th in the world. “He won the Open two weeks ago and he is the leader in the ATP race. It is a big win.”
Angry at Himself
Said a disappointed Safin, who was in position to overtake Pete Sampras as world number one: “I couldn’t help my country and I’m angry at myself because I can’t fight for the gold medal and I can’t make the number one in the world.”
Five other men’s seeds fell today.
Tim Henman of Britain, the seventh seed, was ousted 6-3 6-2 by Karol Kucera of Slovakia, who fired passing shots by the net-charging Briton like a marksman.
Fellow Briton Greg Rusedski made an early exit as well, beaten 6-2 6-3 by France’s Arnaud Clement.
Tenth seed Franco Squillari of Argentina fell to Moroccan Karim Alami, 12th seed Marcelo Rios of Chile lost in three sets to Argentina’s Mariano Zabaleta, 14th seed Wayne Ferreira of South Africa was beaten by German Tommy Haas, and American 16th seed Michael Chang was ousted by Canada’s Sebastien Lareau.
Worst Possible Opponent
The 20-year-old Safin drew the worst possible opponent for his opening Olympic match in Santoro, and the Russian did not help his campaign any by his wearying schedule.
He had traveled straight from the Open to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he won the President’s Cup tournament on Sunday before making a trip of some 15 hours to Sydney.
The Russian, who arrived here at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, would not blame his defeat on fatigue. “I’m not old. I’m 20 years old,” said Safin. “I have enough energy to play.”
Safin, perhaps bolstered by the Open triumph, looked like he could beat his Santoro jinx in the first set. He overpowered the Frenchman with the ferocity of his groundstrokes and Santoro struggled to find his touch as he continually sliced balls into the net tape.
The tide turned in the second set as everything Santoro did clicked and Safin grew more and more frustrated, slamming his racquet against a drinks cooler during one changeover.
Safin held serve easily in the third set and kept threatening to break through against the Frenchman, squandering three break points in the first game and another in the fifth as Santoro slipped out of danger each time.
The Frenchman reached match point against Safin’s serve in the 10th game when the Russian sent an overhead shot long. Santoro then completed the upset when his return of serve clipped the netcord and Safin could do nothing more than set him up for an easy forehand put-away.
The women’s top seed had an easy time as Australian Open winner Lindsay Davenport launched her Olympic title defense by beating Paola Suarez of Argentina 6-2 6-2 to open today’s tennis program.
Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, seeded 14th, was the only women’s seed to fall, losing 6-0 7-6 (7-1) to Australia’s Jelena Dokic, a Wimbledon semifinalist.