Outclassed Safin Ousted From Nasdaq

APRussia's Marat Safin reacting Sunday after losing a point to Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia during the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne.
KEY BISCAYNE, Florida -- Marat Safin threw, kicked and cursed his racket but couldn't make it behave, and he lost 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 to Dominik Hrbaty in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open on Sunday.

The combustible Safin, ranked fourth, became progressively more discouraged as the match progressed, and he made no effort to reach the Slovakian's final shot, an ace down the middle.

"It's difficult to deal with the situation when you are playing bad and you are losing," Safin said. "When I'm playing bad, I'm playing really bad. There's nothing I can do. Serve doesn't work. Backhand doesn't go the way it should be. And of course the forehand struggles. With this kind of game, it's difficult to beat anybody."

Safin committed 33 unforced errors and hit just 11 winners. He's the only player to beat Roger Federer in the past seven months, but since earning his second Grand Slam title in January, Safin has played three tournaments and failed to put together back-to-back victories at any of them.

"Normally this month I never play well," Safin said. "So for me it's nothing new."

Late March usually brings out the best in three-time defending champion Serena Williams, but she needed 90 minutes to beat 17-year-old Israeli qualifier Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-3. The scrappy Peer delighted the stadium crowd by repeatedly chasing down shots.

"She was really gutsy," said Williams, seeded third. "I wasn't used to playing a person like that. It was a totally different game for me. She gets a lot of balls back, and she doesn't hit with a lot of pace."

On another humid afternoon with 29-degree Celsius temperatures, the top women were impressive. No. 1-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, No. 2 Maria Sharapova, No. 8 Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne all won in straight sets.

No. 13-seeded Ivan Ljubicic, a hero in Croatia's Davis Cup victory over the United States three weeks ago, edged American Vince Spadea 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (3).

Ljubicic's record is 26-7 this year and he has already reached four finals.

Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former top-ranked player, reached the fourth round by sweeping Igor Andreev 6-4, 6-3. Fifth-seeded Carlos Moya of Spain lost to No. 25 Thomas Johansson of Sweden 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2. Fernando Verdasco, who eliminated No. 3 Andy Roddick, lost to fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-2.

The No. 19-seeded Henin-Hardenne, playing in her first tournament since the U.S. Open, needed just 58 minutes to beat Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain 6-3, 6-2. Henin-Hardenne, a three-time Grand Slam champion, had been sidelined by a virus and knee injury.

Mauresmo defeated Anna Smashnova of Israel 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova beat Marissa Irvin of the United States 6-2, 6-0. Clijsters won her 10th match in a row, sweeping No. 12 Nathalie Dechy 6-0, 6-2. No. 7 Alicia Molik rallied past No. 29 Gisela Dulko of Argentina 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

No. 6 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the U.S. Open champion, and No. 4 Yelena Dementyeva also advanced in straight sets. No. 11 Patty Schnyder lost to Colombian qualifier Catalina Castano 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

The elimination of Safin left the tournament without three of the top four players in the men's rankings. No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt withdrew before the event with a toe injury, and Roddick lost his opening match.

Against Hrbaty, Safin fought a losing battle to keep his composure. He buried his face in his hands after one error, and when Hrbaty took a 6-5 lead in the tiebreaker, Safin slammed his racket to the hardcourt.

After inspecting the racket and finding it intact, he smacked an 85-kilometer-per-hour service winner. But two points later he pushed a tentative backhand wide to lose the set, then booted the racket across the concrete.