Safin Starting to Feel at Home on Grass

WIMBLEDON, England -- An ominous development for the rest of the men's field at Wimbledon: Marat Safin is beginning to find his footing on grass.

The mercurial Russian overcame his career-long aversion to lawn tennis on Monday and beat Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

A first-round victory by a two-time Grand Slam champion might seem like no big deal. But Safin has advanced beyond the second round at Wimbledon only once, and after a first-round loss last year he said he was done with trying to win on grass.

Even when Safin won the Australian Open in January, he was unsure whether he would play at Wimbledon. Now he lurks as a threat to claim his second major title this year.

"After what I've seen, it looks like he's getting more comfortable on the surface," said 2003 runner-up Mark Philippoussis, who will play Safin in the second round on Wednesday. "He's definitely finding his game a little more out there."

Against Paradorn, the No. 5-seeded Safin moved well despite a knee injury that has hampered him in recent weeks and prompted him to plan a monthlong layoff after Wimbledon. He had 46 winners and just 13 unforced errors, lost just 11 points on his first serve and was broken only once.

Safin, who has battled a slump on all surfaces in recent months, judged the performance his best since Australia.

"I felt really comfortable, actually, and really confident," he said. "I wish I could play this level of tennis every day. I'm trying."

With a rueful smile, Safin acknowledged that he still hates grass. He said he was trying to change that with the help of coach Peter Lundgren, who has encouraged Safin to play more aggressively on the surface.

There were signs of progress at the grass event two weeks ago in Halle, Germany, where Safin won four matches before losing a three-set final to two-time and defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer.

"I felt really, really comfortable for some reason," Safin said. "That helped me to get the confidence, because it's really important to get into the grass and to Wimbledon with something on your back."