|Last updated: 6/26/04 3:33 PM|
|Last updated: 6/26/04 3:33 PM|
Published: Wed, Jun 23, 2004
Serena Williams likes the role of defending champ.
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) Marat Safin has an aversion to the grass at Wimbledon. In fact, he hates it so much he wants no part of the place.
"I give up on Wimbledon," Safin said after losing to fellow Russian Dmitry Tursunov in the first round. "This is definitely not the tournament for me."
Safin's disdain for Wimbledon was in sharp contrast with the sentiments of Serena Williams, the two-time defending champion who beat China's Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-1 in her opening match Tuesday on Centre Court.
"The most special thing is coming back as a champ," Williams said. "Win, lose or draw, it's just a great feeling to be defending champion at Wimbledon. I don't get that feeling at any other Grand Slam. I just get it here at Wimbledon."
Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, one of Safin's biggest fans, came to watch him on Court 2. He left after Safin lost four straight games to drop the second set.
From then on, things only got worse for Safin. He smashed his racket, swore at the umpire and put in little effort near the end of the 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (1) defeat.
"After a while, I just get bored," he said. "I lost complete motivation, and I give up."
It was a startling admission from a player who is no stranger to controversy. At the French Open last month, Safin pulled down his shorts during a second-round victory over Felix Mantilla.
Has enjoyed success
Safin, 24, is considered one of the most talented and physically imposing players in the game. He won the U.S. Open and reached No. 1 in the rankings in 2000. He got to the Australian Open final twice (2002 and 2004) and the French Open semis in 2002.
But Wimbledon has always been Safin's least favorite Grand Slam. He reached the quarterfinals in 2001, but failed to advance past the second round in three other appearances.
Tuesday's loss marked the first time he's been knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam event since the 2000 Australian Open.
While the swaggering 6-foot-4 Safin would seem to have the physique and booming shots to win at Wimbledon, he insists he just can't deal with the footwork and low bounces.
"I don't feel like I'm moving," he said. "I cannot move there. Every time, I don't know how it's going to bounce. It's like a real nightmare for me."
Part of the adjustment to grass is mental. Safin admits that's not his strong suit.
"You have to be really focused in your mind, but it's not my territory," he said.
Safin didn't say he won't be back at Wimbledon, only that, from now on, he won't bother showing up early to practice on grass or play in warm-up events. Instead, he'll just arrive a couple of days before the tournament starts.
"I hate this, I hate this," he said. "I'll just practice a couple of days, then I play. I'm not going to waste my time on that knowing I will not play well."
Yeltin's presence didn't help some other top Russian players either.
Also upset in the first round was sixth-seeded Elena Dementieva, the French Open finalist, who lost 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 to Sandra Kleinova of the Czech Republic. No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova was ousted by France's Virginie Razzano in three sets.
The nation's fixation with the Euro 2004 soccer championship in Portugal has taken some of the spotlight off Britain's other sporting obsession: Tim Henman and his annual quest to become the first homegrown Wimbledon men's champion since 1936.
Henman, who has lost in the semifinals four times, survived a big scare before overcoming Spanish grass-court novice Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2.
"I definitely sense with the way things are going in Portugal, there's a buzz about the general public now," he said. "It was good to have their support ... and I'm sure I'm going to get it throughout the tournament, and I hope it's for two weeks."
The tournament was disrupted by rain for the second straight day. With play called off in early evening, 14 matches were suspended and 31 never started. Thunder, hail and strong winds were forecast for today.
Second-seeded Andy Roddick and No. 3 Guillermo Coria were due to resume suspended matches. Roddick was up 4-2 against Taiwan's Wang Yeu-tzuoo on Centre Court. Coria, the French Open runner-up, has already played over two days. He was two points away from victory against Wesley Moodie when play was stopped at 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (3), 5-3.
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