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A Surly Safin Exits Early at Wimbledon

On a dreary day, Russian complains about grass surface, surrenders to countryman Tursunov.

June 23, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — The day was unpleasant -- dank and gray and worthy of producing grouches and grinches.

So maybe Marat Safin's mind and body were swallowed up by the ugliness of the weather. If there is another explanation for a world-ranked tennis player abandoning his pride and bailing out on a final point while being featured on a show court at Wimbledon, then whining about the difficulty of dragging his cranky self around the grass courts of Wimbledon, it might be best not to learn about it.

Safin, 24, winner of one U.S. Open title and twice an Australian Open finalist, most recently in January, was summarily dismissed by 21-year-old Russian countryman Dmitry Tursunov, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), in a first-round surrender Tuesday.

Tursunov, 21, is no slouch, having upset Gustavo Kuerten at last year's U.S. Open, but he ranks only 70th in the world and is called "Surfer Dude" by his fellow Russians because he lives in Roseville, Calif., near Sacramento. This isn't a geography contest, after all, and the lack of surf in Roseville isn't common knowledge in Moscow.

Safin's incomprehensible squandering of talent, however, has become widely known.

On match point, Tursunov sent a whistling forehand passing shot skimming over the net and easily past an unmoving Safin, who shrugged, then walked away, a first-round loser where he has been a quarterfinalist.

"I didn't feel like playing," Safin said. "I don't like to play on this surface. I don't feel like I'm moving. Every time, I don't know how it's going to bounce. So after a while, just, I get bored. I lost completely motivation and I give up."

There was an antidote for Safin's surliness and the uninviting weather, which left play suspended early and such stars as second-seeded Andy Roddick and third-seeded Guillermo Coria with unfinished business. Roddick was up, 4-2, over Taiwanese qualifier Yeu-Tzuoo Wang, and Coria, into the second day of his first-round match against Wesley Moodie, was up, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (3), 5-3, 30-30.

Mark Philippoussis was the day-brightener. Last year's unseeded finalist arrived here without having won a match in five months. Still, Wimbledon's seeding committee put him 11th, and after his emphatic 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 pounding of Belgium's Christophe Rochus, a qualifier, Philippoussis was reverential in his appreciation of the moment.

"If you're not going to switch on at this tournament, then there's no use playing," he said. "Might as well put the rackets in the closet."

Tim Henman, trying for the 11th time to win his home country's title, lost the first set to Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo, a 26-year-old Spaniard who had never won a Grand Slam match, and was down two set points in the second.

But "Our Tim" righted himself and pleased partisans packed into Court 1 and the thousands of others waving Union Jacks and sitting on the damp grass of Henman Hill, watching a big-screen television. Henman recovered and won, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2.

And Sandra Kleinova, a 26-year-old Czech journeywoman who had been 0-6 here, burst into tears before she reached the net to receive congratulations from her upset victim, sixth-seeded French Open finalist Elena Dementieva.

Kleinova called her 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 victory "my best life moment because this is the best tournament."

There were more than the usual number of first-round upsets in the women's draw, which usually provides none. Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded eighth and another rising Russian who had won a Wimbledon warmup Saturday, was knocked out by 118th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4. And 17th-seeded Chanda Rubin, playing in her 12th Wimbledon, squandered a 5-0 first-set lead and lost to Marion Bartoli of France, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Defending women's champion Serena Williams wasn't threatened with a loss in her 6-3, 6-1 win over Jie Zheng of China, but she wasn't dominant either. Williams whacked 24 unforced errors, faced 10 break points and grew testy when asked about her untidy performance.

"I'm going to come in here, you guys are going to coach me now?" she said. "You're going to talk about unforced errors?"

That's the problem with 24 of those mistakes. Someone always notices.

But Williams redeemed her reputation by speaking enthusiastically about England's soccer team, which has advanced to the quarterfinals of the European Championships.

Williams' exuberant waves and smiles, as well as her big serve, one of which was clocked at 121 mph, swallowed up the petite Jie, who bowed politely to acknowledge Williams and the cheers of a crowd eager to help the underdog.

Disputing criticism of her play, Williams said, "Honestly, I think this is one of the few times I did pretty decent. I'm working on different things, and I think it's important to get that in the first round, as opposed to trying to work on them in the quarterfinals or semifinals."

Among those who advanced through the rain Tuesday were ninth-seeded Carlos Moya and Americans Mardy Fish, seeded 14th, and Jan-Michael Gambill. American Meghann Shaughnessy, the 32nd seed, also made it to the second round.

And a record was set when South African Wayne Ferreira upset 28th-seeded Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-2. This made 55 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments played by Ferreira, beating by one the record of Stefan Edberg.

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