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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Qualifier Gives Safin a Fright in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- Defending champion Marat Safin of Russia struggled past French qualifier Cyril Saulnier in a tough three-setter Tuesday to reach the second round of the $975,000 St. Petersburg Open.

Second-seeded Safin, who is still seeking for his first title this season, won 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (2-7), 6-3.

Safin stands third in the ATP Champions Race and needs to reach at least the final here to secure a birth at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup next month in Shanghai.

"I expected the match to be long and tough today," Safin said.

After trading breaks early in the opening set, both held to force a tiebreaker, which Safin won.

In the second set, the Frenchman broke Safin in the third game, but Safin evened it when Saulnier double-faulted in game 6. In the decisive game 12, Saulnier saved two matchpoints on his serve and then prevailed on a tiebreaker to stay in the match.

In the fifth game of the third set, the Frenchman came back from love-40 only to make a double fault and give Safin a break. Safin then held at love and made another break in game 9 to close the match in 2 hours and 17 minutes.

Andre Agassi is top-seeded in St. Petersburg and was to play on Wednesday. He and Lleyton Hewitt have already qualified for Shanghai.

"I would like to play him [Agassi] here with pleasure. I'm not afraid of him. We can play tennis too," said Safin. "But we both have yet to reach the final."

Also Tuesday, fifth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov was 5-4 down on lucky loser Michael Kohlmann's serve in the first set, but broke back to prevail in a tiebreaker and downed the German 7-6 (7-4), 6-0.

In early first-round action Tuesday, ninth-seeded Andrei Pavel of Romania needed just 53 minutes to breeze into the second round past Georgian qualifier Irakli Labadze 6-1, 6-3. Argentina's Gaston Gaudio, seeded seventh, eliminated another qualifier -- Alexander Shvec of Belarus -- 7-5, 7-5.

Karol Kucera of Slovakia came back from one set down to beat Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-2, while Tuomas Ketola, a qualifier from Finland, disposed of another Spaniard -- Alberto Martin -- 6-2, 6-3. Andrei Stoliarov, Russia's Davis Cup team substitute and a wild-card entry, struggled into the second round past France's Anthony Dupuis 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2).