- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Roddick was gone by the time the crowd began serenading Marat Safin with “Happy Birthday.”

Roddick smashed his racket and headed off the court, losing his shot at an Australian Open title and his No. 1 ranking, too.

He was beaten 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (0), 6-4 yesterday by Safin in the quarterfinals, falling to a player ranked 86th who limped and winced, called for the trainer and needed a painkiller to make it through the match.

But Safin delivered an unmistakable statement on his 24th birthday: He is back on his game after upsetting the reigning U.S. Open champion.

“People think of Marat and they think of temperamental,” Roddick said. “He is all those things, but at the same time when it comes down to it, he wants to win and he’s competitive.”

The Russian’s performance was not lost on the stadium crowd, which admired his grit and heart and was in full voice after a victory that sent Safin into the semifinals against Andre Agassi.

“I can’t ask for anything else,” said Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion. “It’s probably the best birthday I ever had, especially when 15,000 people are singing.”

Agassi, the defending champion, practically had the day off. He advanced when ninth-seeded Sebastien Grosjean retired after 10 games with a recurring groin strain. Agassi was leading 6-2, 2-0.

On the women’s side, No. 32 Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia had it even easier. No.[4 Amelie Mauresmo, the 1999 Australian Open runner-up, forfeited to Zuluaga because of an injured back muscle.

She was in tears after hitting for 10 minutes and deciding she couldn’t play, missing a chance for a first Grand Slam tournament title. She will rise to a career-high No. 3 when the next rankings are released.

Zuluaga will meet top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, who beat fifth-seeded Lindsay Davenport 7-5, 6-3. Henin-Hardenne, the only woman left in the tournament who has won a major, improved to 2-5 against Davenport, including 2-for-2 at the last two Australian Opens.

Roddick was the first of the reigning Grand Slam champs among the men to exit the tournament.

Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and French Open champ Juan Carlos Ferrero now will compete for the No. 1 ranking. Federer, seeded second, faces David Nalbandian today in the quarterfinals, and Ferrero plays Hicham Arazi.

Today (last night EST), Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal, beating Lisa Raymond 7-6 (2), 6-3.

Schnyder, seeded 22nd, will face second-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium, who defeated sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (9).

“It’s enormous. I mean, I’m so happy to be here and to play semis [EnLeader] it’s hard to describe,” said Schnyder, who beat 12th-seeded Paulo Suarez in the third round and Nathalie Dechy in the fourth.

Raymond, a third-round winner over Venus Williams, is 0-5 in her career against Schnyder. The 30-year-old American had 44 unforced errors and only 24 winners.

Safin was the 2002 Australian Open runner-up, but he missed most of last year because of an injured left wrist. There was some question if he would ever return to tennis’ elite.

Yesterday, he appeared in trouble early as Roddick zipped through the first set in 26 minutes.

In the second set, Safin clutched his upper left leg after halfheartedly chasing a passing shot in the opening game. Safin was getting half his first serves into play and won only once on 11 second serves.

“I was just as confused as anyone,” Roddick said. “You know, I was thinking he was quick to call the trainer. He was stretching a lot in that one game. Then I guess he just decided he was going to play through it, you know, and suck it up.”

Coming back from the medical timeout, Safin was a new man. He raised his winning first-serve percentage to 82. He had winners eight of the nine times he went to the net, putting Roddick off his baseline game.

“I didn’t think about stopping,” said Safin, who said his strained groin was bothering him at the start.

“Then just when I was returning the serves, I pulled a little bit,” he said. “Then I took some painkillers, and that’s it.”

Roddick couldn’t tell how bad Safin was hurting, but he suspects the timeout helped.

“Maybe that relaxed him, maybe that let him play a little bit more carefree because he started hitting the ball great,” he said. “He was a lot better than me for that second and third set.”

Safin broke Roddick in the ninth game of the deciding set and then faced two break points serving for the match.

He saved one with an ace, Roddick dumped a return into the net, and Safin finished things off with an overhead.

“The most important thing is: I’m back,” Safin said.

Safin has spent more than 15 hours on court and disposed of four Americans in five matches - Brian Vahaly, Todd Martin, James Blake and Roddick.

Associated Press

Andy Roddick (right) was eliminated in the Australian Open quarters by Marat Safin, who limped his way through the match.

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