/ 28 February 2006

Marat Safin back with a bang at Dubai Open

Marat Safin returned to the ATP Tour after six months out with a career-threatening knee injury with an outstanding win over world number five Nickolay Davydenko in the first round of the Dubai Open on Tuesday.

The former world number one from Russia beat his compatriot 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 despite having felt ”lost” in the first set after such a long absence from competition.

It was not until the second game of the second set that Safin began timing his ground strokes with the characteristically devastating flat-hitting which has won him two Grand Slam titles.

But after that he controlled the match, revealed immense desire to survive, and, perhaps most important of all, ended the encounter without any evident discomfort to the troublesome joint.

”I thought I had no chance when I saw the draw,” Safin said.

”Nikolay has been playing very well for 18 months, and at the start I couldn’t really think I would make a set.

”I thought I would come out and play a few games: I didn’t expect to win the match. I was still a little bit scared. There were some balls I didn’t want to run for, and some movements were hard to make.

”But I think it was harder psychologically than physically, and I am surprised I won. He is a good player to beat. But I still have to climb some mountains.

”In the first set everything seemed to be coming very fast after being away so long. It was difficult to find each point what to do, and when you have to go to the net, put pressure, or stay back.

”I was a bit lost and tense. I knew I had a chance but sometimes the ball comes fast or with spin or slice and I had to take my time and get the rhythm.”

When Safin eventually managed to do that, it was remarkable how quickly the match changed. Davydenko was forced to contain his game and only infrequently was he able to move Safin about as he had for the first 40 minutes.

There was just one crisis, when Davydenko got Safin at love-40 on his serve at 1-3 in the second set. A break back then might have affected Safin’s self-belief and launched Davydenko towards victory, but Safin served one service winner and two aces to avert the danger spectacularly.

After that he broke Davydenko to love to complete the set, and then broke him again to love at the start of the final set, launching heavy returns and brilliantly struck ground stroke winners each time.

Safin next plays Olivier Rochus, the world number 31 from Belgium for a place in a quarterfinals. Two other Russians, Igor Andreev and Mikhail Youzhny, both have chances of facing him there. – Sapa-AFP