Suffering Safin struggles with clay confidence

Marat Safin admitted he was still struggling with his confidence despite battling to a first-round win over Italian qualifier Fabio Fognini at the Estoril Open on Tuesday.

The former world number one suffered a debilitating knee injury last year that kept him out of the game for seven months.

“I’m here, I’m trying to play and win as many matches as possible,” said the 26-year-old after overcoming the world number 314, 6-1, 6-4 on the Portuguese clay.

“There was so much wind, it was tough to play good tennis,” said Safin.

“I was lucky to win in straight sets. I’m having trouble getting my confidence back.
But I’m working hard and trying to do it.”

Safin, once top of the world rankings and with Grand Slam titles at the US Open and last year’s Australian Open to his credit, currently stands 49th in the world and next faces eager compatriot Nikolay Davydenko, the second seed.

“I hope to at least have a good match.” said a low-key Safin, who was joined in the second round by compatriot Dmitry Tursunov, the fifth seed who ousted Gaston Elias of Portugal 6-2, 6-1.

Top seed David Nalbandian hit the court running 24 hours after arriving from Argentina and fought through into the second round over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 7-5.

Nalbandian’s last trip here ended with a title against Finn Jarkko Nieminen in 2002. He next faces a lucky loser from qualifying.

Former champion Carlos Moya eased to an opening-round victory over Flavio Saretta 6-3, 6-4 before singing the praises of his all-conquering Spanish protege Rafael Nadal.

The Spanish veteran, who paved the way for his country’s current tennis armada with the 1998 French Open crown, 14 other clay court titles and world number one status in 1999, has been in poor form recently.

After losing in the first round in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, the 29-year-old hopes his game is back on track after several bumps. But as happy as he is with his own improving form with the French Open approaching, Moya is more impressed with the rocketing fortunes of his teeange fellow Mallorcan world number two.

“Nothing about Rafa surprises me any more,” said Moya, the 2000 Estoril Open winner. “After he won Canada on hardcourt last summer and then Madrid [indoors], we can expect anything from him.

“I don’t say that he cannot lose, but anyone would have to be playing 100% to beat him now. He’s young and hungry for titles. But he has to focus on the big events, which I think he’s doing.”

Moya said that his own game is coming on strong after getting over the embarrassment of his defeat last week, to 150-ranked Russian Evgeni Korolev, in the heartland of the Spanish game, Barcelona.

“That loss was especially bad for me,” he confessed. “I wasn’t originally going to play here. But I’ve been practising well and I wanted to play matches. I got through a tough one today, with the conditions. I have great memories of this tournament.”

Moya was the first of the big names to take to the court at the Estadio Nacional.

French teenager Gael Monfils, who lost two of his first three clay matches this year, got on track with a win over Romanian Razvan Sabau 6-1, 6-2.

In the women’s WTA draw, second seed Gisela Dulko of Argentina started with a win over China’s Zi Yan 6-4, 6-4 while Spanish third seed Lourdes Dominguez Lino advanced over Magail De Lattre of Portugal 6-1, 6-2. - Sapa-AFP

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