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Tennis

Safin drops shot, then his shorts

The outspoken Russian pulls down his shorts in jest and loses a point for it. He wins the two-day match regardless.

By Associated Press
Published May 29, 2004

PARIS - When Marat Safin is around, watch out! Not even he has any idea when he'll toss a racket, swat a remarkable 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.

On an afternoon when two of the top 10 women lost, including a semifinalist from last year, this rollicking major tried to resurrect a bit of normalcy. 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 - and must have loved his thoughts about how they're ruining tennis.

His match was suspended by 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 okay."

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.

"They tried to destroy the match," he said.

Davenport thought Safin's antics shouldn't have cost him a point.

"It was a little uncalled for," she said after beating Marissa Irvin 6-1, 6-4. "He definitely wasn't doing it in a fit of anger. They're always telling us to lighten up, anyway."

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

"All of the people who run the sport, they have no clue. It's apity that the tennis is really going down the drain," he said. "Every year, it's getting worse, worse and worse. I don't know where we're going to end up like this. It cannot go like this anymore. It has to be a radical change."

There were some other matches with interesting players as well, such as Potito Starace, the 220th-ranked qualifier who eliminated No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean to play Safin today. Or Zheng Jie, the first Chinese woman in a Slam's round of 16.

Or 17-year-old Maria Sharapova, who wasn't exactly in the shadows to begin with. Last year she matched the best showing by a female wild card at Wimbledon by getting to the fourth round. Now she's back at that stage in a major again after beating No. 10 Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).

Not everyone is thrilled with the topsy-turvy nature of this week, of course.

"This French Open is screwed up," said 2003 semifinalist Nadia Petrova, who lost to Marlene Weingartner, a woman she defeated 6-0, 6-0 the last time they played. "It's a very open draw this year. Anyone can be in the final."

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


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