Safin Talks His Way to Victory

ReutersSafin faces Tommy Robredo in the next round after ousting Ferrero Saturday.
PARIS -- Cap backward, his dialogue with himself rarely pausing, Marat Safin negotiated around danger once more in his zigzag path through the French Open for a shot at a second straight Grand Slam title.

He didn't break a racket or even throw one. He kept his cursing to a mild mutter.

"It's a one-man conversation," he said. "Nobody's answering, which is good."

Down in each of the first two sets and thrashed in the third, the Russian escaped each time by calling on his full range of shots -- serves in the 190-kilometer-per-hour range; punishing, two-fisted backhands; exquisite touch for a big man on lobs and drops; and more volleys than in the past -- to post a 7-6 (5), 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (2) victory Saturday over 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.

"It was a great match. I will remember it; I will get it on video," said Safin, who spent much of his youth in Spain and still trains there part of the year. "A few years ago we were newcomers. Now we are 25, and we have spent a lot of time here. It's becoming a classic between us."

The third-seeded Safin, reaching the round of 16 along with last year's runner-up and No. 8 seed Guillermo Coria, has been squeezed into the background the first week of the tournament by No. 1 Roger Federer's bid for a career Grand Slam and 18-year-old phenomenon Rafael Nadal's quest for a title in his French debut.

But the immensely talented, if sometimes tempestuous 1.93-meter-tall Safin should not be overlooked as he tries to add the French title to the Australian he won in January when he beat Federer in the semis and Lleyton Hewitt in the final, and the U.S. Open he won in 2000 when he downed Pete Sampras in a straight-sets final.

Safin and Ferrero have known each other since they were 14, practicing together at times, then playing against each other in the juniors.

As pros, they've now split 10 matches. Each has been No. 1 in the rankings briefly, and each has had ups and down because of injuries and illnesses.

This was their first match to go past three sets, and it featured fine shot making by both players.

Ferrero, the No. 32 seed, won three more total points but lost key points when he was ahead in the first two sets.

Serving for the first set at 5-4, Ferrero held off two break points before yielding when a backhand drifted long by about half an inch.

In the tiebreaker, Safin took a 6-5 lead on a brilliant point that finally ended when Ferrero tried a backhand drop shot, Safin scooped it up, Ferrero tossed up a lob and Safin drilled an overhead that hopped into the stands behind the Spaniard.

Safin rarely stopped talking to him throughout the match, especially after errors.

"It's because you really feel the moment, where you can make mistakes and where you cannot, the important moments and the not important moments. You say to yourself whatever you think about yourself. ... Just a little bit of desperation."

Those little one-man conversations seemed to help Safin keep his temper in check here as he did in the Australian Open.

"You don't want to waste any energy," he said.

"Of course, I get [angry], and sometimes I will explode during the match. But definitely I try to stay as calm as I can. Every single point is really important here."