Safin-Federer Rematch Set For Aussie Third Round

MELBOURNE, AustraliaMarat Safin arrived in Australia a few weeks ago sporting cuts and bruises from a Moscow fight.

He appears to have recovered from his wounds, moving into the third round of the Australian Open and a match against the man he beat en route to his 2005 title, Roger Federer.

With the dark bruise under his right eye now a distant memory — he gave few details on his rumble in Russia other than to say he won the fight — Safin beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday.

Four years ago, Safin beat Federer in five sets in the Australian Open semifinal, saving one match point and prevailing 9-7 in the fifth. Safin, one of only four players to beat Federer that year, went on to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the final for his second career Grand Slam title after the 2000 U.S. Open.

Federer beat another Russian, Evgeny Korolev, in the second round Wednesday, setting up a Melbourne Park rematch against Safin, who, plagued by knee ailments over the past two years, has said this will likely be his last season on tour.

Federer has defeated Safin in 9 of 11 meetings, with the Russian's win on carpet in Moscow in 2002 the only other time outside Australia he's beaten the Swiss star.

"We know each other pretty well — he knows how to play against me, I know how to play against him," Safin said. "Unfortunately I haven't won a lot of matches against him. I'm going to go for it. Whatever comes, comes."

Safin's personal life might be explained along the same lines. He's always had a colorful offcourt persona, seen frequently in the company of blonde female friends, and more frequently than not, seems in party mode.

On court, he's been pinged for racket throwing and uttering obscenities, fines which might be more frequent and more costly if chair umpires and Grand Prix supervisors understood the language he was speaking.

He did nothing to alter that image when he arrived in Perth, Western Australia on Jan. 3 for the Hopman Cup mixed teams tournament, representing Russia with his sister, Dinara Safina.

With cuts on his arms and face and a shiner under his eye, he looked like he'd just been in a fight. And he had.

After Russia's opening match, he first joked in an on-court television interview that the facial injuries came from "working out hard," but then elaborated, slightly: "I got in trouble in Moscow."

At a later press conference, Safin admitted getting into a fight a week earlier in the Russian capital.

"It's OK, I can survive," Safin said. "Just some small problem that I wasn't in the right place at the right time. Yes, I won the fight. I'm good, I'm OK."

He and Safina played well but lost the Hopman Cup final to Slovakia. A few days later he pulled out of an exhibition tournament at Kooyong in Melbourne.

Safin, who beat another Spaniard, Ivan Navarro, in straight sets in the first round, says the neck and shoulder soreness which forced him out of Kooyong is no longer bothering him, setting him up nicely for the Federer rematch.

After that, he finally won at Melbourne Park in his third trip to the final.

"That probably gave me the opportunity to win the second Grand Slam," Safin said as he reminisced about his 2005 win over Federer. "I had to go through a lot. I was lucky that he got a little bit scared probably in the fifth set. He didn't go for a lot of shots that he should have gone for.

"Every time I play against him, I have very close matches. So I was very close, but never could make it."

Safin's memory is good. In those nine losses to Federer, two came at Wimbledon the past two years, both straight-set losses involving tiebreaker sets. In 2004, they played a second-set tiebreaker at the Tennis Masters Cup that Federer won 20-18, giving him the match.

Federer said Wednesday that he and Safin have "fought some battles."

"We had the epic in 2005," he said on court following his second-round win, and when the crowd reacted to his comment, added "don't remind me."

"I think it's going to be a great match," said Federer, regretting it had to be in the third round. "I guess it's a pity in some way, but we've got a chance to play some great tennis."

Safin was asked to compare how their lives have changed since 2005, and it's hands-down in favor of Federer. He's won nine of his 13 Grand Slam singles titles since; Safin has none.

"His life changed, didn't go too bad," Safin says, smiling slightly at the understatement.

"He won a couple of Grand Slams ... and me, I got injured. I had to recover from the injuries, so we went in different ways. I want to be in his shoes."

He'll have another crack Friday.

"I'm looking forward," Safin said. "It's another chance. I have nothing to worry about."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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