MELBOURNE, 28 January 2004 — Top seed Andy Roddick and Marat Safin collided head on at Melbourne Park yesterday and after five riveting sets the American bounced off an impregnable wall of Russian brawn and out of the Australian Open.
Safin’s lowly world ranking of 86, due to a year of injuries, proved irrelevant as he won their quarterfinal meeting 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4.
“Thank you everyone,” the popular Russian grinned to the crowd on his 24th birthday. “Thanks for all your support.”
World No. 1 Roddick was stunned. “He played well, he played great tonight...I have to just suck it up and give credit to him,” he said.
Safin’s reward is a semifinal against Andre Agassi after a groin strain to his French opponent Sebastien Grosjean had earlier allowed the defending champion to advance with the score at 6-2, 2-0.
France’s misery was complete with Grosjean’s withdrawal.
Women’s fourth seed Amelie Mauresmo had earlier been forced to admit she could not play her match against Colombia’s Fabiola Zuluaga because of a back injury.
The Frenchwoman was inconsolable and the tears flowed freely throughout the morning.
Zuluaga got a walkover through to the semis — a first for any Colombian, man or woman — where she will meet top seed Justine Henin-Hardenne tomorrow.
The Belgian’s superior fitness, patience and self-belief lifted her past a sluggish Lindsay Davenport. Having taken an early 4-0 lead, American Davenport wilted under the Melbourne sun, losing 7-5, 6-3.
Although Safin is a former world number one and reached the final here in 2002, his victory over US Open champion and top seed Roddick ranks as the upset of the tournament so far.
Safin has said he wants to finish the year ranked number one, but he has been very much an unknown quantity since missing much of last year.
Yesterday his ability and power was there for all to see.
“I started to miss tennis actually, that’s why I’m playing so good,” he said. “But I’m back now, that’s the most important thing.”
That fact will not be lost on Roddick who appeared stunned by the defeat and left the court with cheers for Safin ringing in his ears.
“I actually think I was lucky to win the fourth set but was better in the fifth,” Roddick said. “He just took his chances and that was the difference.
“People think of Marat and they think he is temperamental, and he is those things...but he wants to win, he is out there trying as hard as he can.”
Agassi’s progress was far less noteworthy, a factor he freely acknowledged.
“You know, it’s not a good way for anything to end,” said the fourth seed after extending his unbeaten run at Melbourne Park to 26 matches.
“I would have preferred to finish the match, no question. You just don’t want any match to end that way.”
France’s Mauresmo was heartbroken after being forced to pull out.
A finalist here in 1999, she practiced early yesterday morning under the roof to test a back muscle injury.
All had looked good as she rallied from the baseline with a hitting partner but, when she approached the net to volley, she suddenly winced in pain, holding her side.
As Mauresmo left the court soon afterward she broke down in tears, burying her head in her towel. She wept again as she was consoled by tournament chief Paul McNamee at courtside.
“It’s such a big disappointment for me,” the 24-year-old said after informing the organizers she would not play Zuluaga.
Her lips quivering and her eyes watering, she added: “I felt I was playing some good tennis and felt I had some opportunities in this tournament.”
While benefiting, Zuluaga sympathized with the Frenchwoman.
“It feels good, but I didn’t want it to be like this the first time, I would have preferred to play,” the 25-year-old said.
Davenport opened her quarterfinal with a flourish, racing through the first four games on Rod Laver Arena center court.
But she did not have the fitness or the belief to close it out.
“Being up 5-3 and serving for it...to not win the first set is disappointing. I had the opportunities and wasn’t able to take them,” Davenport said.
As the match wore on Davenport became increasingly leaden-footed and had to rely on all-or-nothing winners. It was a high-risk approach that ultimately failed.
“Lindsay was playing unbelievable at the start of the match and I just wasn’t ready for that,” Henin-Hardenne said.
“But I was able to stay in it. Keep in the rallies and I also did a lot of winners today. I made sure she had no easy shots.”