Safin Beats Vik in U.S. Round 1

ReutersSafin hitting a backhand in his match against Roben Vik in the first round of the U.S. Open in New York on Wednesday.
NEW YORK -- As recently as six years ago, the question everyone had for Marat Safin was, "Just how many Grand Slam titles will you win?"

When he routed Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final, Safin was 20, the possessor of a powerful serve and a 1.93-meter frame. But something happened on the way to greatness, perhaps due to his taste for the nightlife and propensity for injuries. He did win the 2005 Australian Open, but like Serena Williams, his ranking fell out of the top 100 and he's not seeded in this year's U.S. Open.

"Nobody's scared of you anymore," Safin said of his situation. "It's not the same situation it used to be."

Never far from controversy, during the course of his 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Robin Vik of the Czech Republic, Safin -- as only he can -- challenged a fault call on one of his third-set serves. When video replay confirmed the ball was out, Safin questioned that, too.

Later, he said of the new system, "I don't think it's 100 percent."

And of course there was the obligatory smashed racket and dark mutterings under his breath.

Nothing if not opinionated, Safin offered his thoughts on a wide range of subjects after the match: "Go there and see how depressing that place is," he said of the Cincinnati Masters in Ohio, and when asked about people's predictions early in his career that he would dominate the sport he observed: "The people -- they were wrong."

Safin was not the only former champion who won through the first round at Flushing Meadows but whose stock has fallen in recent years.

There was Williams, unseeded but overpowering her opponent, then quoting supermodel-turned-reality-TV-star Heidi Klum.

And there was Martina Hingis, down a set but coming back by using all of her guile and working every angle on court, including smacking one volley left-handed.

For Williams, it was her first Grand Slam match since January; Hingis was playing at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2002.

Williams, who won the Open in 1999 and 2002, missed this year's French Open and Wimbledon -- six months in all -- with a left knee injury, so she needed a wild card to get into the field.

But, perhaps thanks to a week with esteemed coach Nick Bolletieri, Williams had no trouble at all on Wednesday, beating Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain 6-1, 6-2. She quoted "Project Runway" star Klum with the motto: "Some days you're in. The next, you're out."

That's sort of what happened to Hingis, who won the 1997 Open and four other major titles, but went into retirement after a series of ankle and foot problems. She's back now at 25, a fan favorite everywhere she goes.

Against a barrage of fierce strokes Hingis mixed speeds and cut off shots, winning 22 of 26 points at the net. That included her slick switch from right hand to left when she realized she wouldn't be able to reach a volley with her backhand. The lefty shot was something she picked up at age 7, when she broke her right pinkie shortly before a local tournament.