Safin outlasts Kiefer in marathon

Wills, cramps tested amid Slam-record 7 retirements

U.S. Open

August 28, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- By the time No. 2 seed Marat Safin and Nicolas Kiefer reached the tiebreaker for the fifth set in their U.S. Open first-round match, they had already played more than four hours, and both men were near the end of their ropes.

Two wheelchairs sat off stage near the players' locker room -- just in case. It might have seemed an overreaction, but already in this Open seven men have retired from play, a Grand Slam record for first-round retirements and tying the Open record for retirements through a whole tournament.

Safin, the 2001 Open champ, was not feeling well. He had called a trainer to make sure it was safe for him to play on. He also had destroyed four of his five rackets by that point and had been told to cool it by the chair umpire. Kiefer was fighting his own war against cramps in both his legs.

"When I was down a mini-break at 3-2, I thought it was the end for me," said Safin, who survived, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) in the 4-hour, 28-minute marathon. "I couldn't serve well. I was really scared. I didn't want to lose and I was choking. He was cramping. When he fell down [at 6-3 of the tiebreak], I prayed he would quit. It was a terrible match -- but a good way to start. It's OK."

Of course, it was Safin who won. For Kiefer, it was torture, though he said he never considered quitting.

"I was playing for four hours, 15 minutes, 4 1/2 hours," he said. "It was 6-all in the fifth set, only five or 10 minutes to go. I try to put all in this five, 10 minutes, to focus just on these five minutes. It doesn't matter how ... I also had my chances in the tiebreak. It's not easy when you cramp and you have to serve. You don't get any power from your legs. I didn't think about quitting. I wanted to finish it."

Many others wanted to play on as well. But so far, Mario Ancic retired with leg cramps, Andrea Gaudenzi with a headache, Julian Knowle with lower back pain, Richard Krajicek with a left heel injury, Attila Savolt with a right elbow, Rainer Schuettler with a left leg strain and Mark Philippoussis with a left knee problem.

For Philippoussis, it was particularly crushing. He is coming back from double knee surgery, playing on a knee that doctors were unsure would ever be strong enough to compete on at this level.

Yesterday, he seemed on his way to pulling off an upset, but in the fourth set, Philippoussis went up for an overhead and came down awkwardly, rolling his foot and twisting his knee while falling.

After a trainer was called, Philippoussis went back on court but played badly. "I'm scared," he told the trainer on the next changeover. He played on but retired at 3-5, and Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands took the win, 6-7 (1), 4-6, 6-3, 5-3.

Philippoussis will have a magnetic resonance imaging today.

Capriati has a say

After blowing 17-year-old Bethanie Mattek off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court last night, 6-0, 6-0, Jennifer Capriati got riled up, not by her opponent, but by Richard Williams.

Williams, father of No. 1 Serena and No. 2 Venus, told Inside Tennis Magazine that Capriati should stop cursing on court and should listen to her father more.

"You can see how ignorant that sounds and how disrespectful that sounds," she said. "[But] he gets away with it. It's too bad. It's no class. ... I've never said anything personal, just about the game itself. But, you know, I could say things about them, but I'm not going to because I'm not going to lower myself to that."

Capriati also said she likes hearing that she has the best chance to disrupt an all-Williams Open final.

"It's a good thing to hear," she said, "but maybe I'm not the only one."

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