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Friday, May 28, 2004
Safin on mooning crowd: 'What's bad about it?' news services

PARIS -- Marat Safin celebrated a particularly nifty shot at the French Open by mooning the crowd, which raised the question: What will he do if he wins the tournament?

The mercurial Russian advanced to the fourth round Friday by winning a two-day, 4½-hour marathon against Felix Mantilla, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 11-9. The match was suspended Thursday because of darkness at 7-all in the fifth set and ended 24 minutes after it resumed when Mantilla sailed a backhand long.

Afterward, Safin was still annoyed about being penalized a point for dropping his shorts early in the fifth set Thursday.

"I felt it was a great point for me," the former U.S. Open champion said. "I felt like pulling my pants down. What's bad about it?"

To celebrate a drop shot he hit for a winner, the 2000 U.S. Open champion grabbed his white shorts, tugged them to his thighs and leaned over, his long shirt providing cover. It appeared he wore underwear that remained in place. The crowd cheered and laughed.

"Nobody complained," Safin said. "Everybody was OK. It wasn't like really bad."

He hitched up his pants with a smile, but it disappeared when chair umpire Carlos Bernardes Jr. penalized Safin a point. The Russian argued in vain with Bernardes and ITF supervisor Mike Morrissey, then applauded the ruling facetiously before play resumed.

Safin said tennis officials discourage making the sport fun.

"They tried to destroy the match," he said. "All of the people who run the sport, they have no clue. It's a pity that the tennis is really going down the drain. Every year it's getting worse and worse and worse. There has to be a radical change, and I hope it will be really soon."

Grand Slam supervisors decided not to fine Safin for dropping his pants. He was fined $500 for abusing his racket earlier in the match.

Top women's player Lindsay Davenport, long a paragon of tennis etiquette, agreed with Safin that penalizing him a point was an overreaction.

"I thought it was a little uncalled for," she said. "He definitely wasn't doing it in a fit of anger. They're always telling us to lighten up anyway."

Grand Slam Committee administrator Bill Babcock said he understands concerns about keeping flavor in the sport -- while also noting that chair umpires need to keep matches under control.

"When it steps past passion, either to obscenity or unsportsmanlike conduct, the rules have to make a stand," Babcock said.

Safin, never shy about expressing his emotions on court or opinions off it, did assure everyone his sport will survive.

"No matter what happens, tennis is still tennis: You can see a lot of great matches, a lot of new people," he said. "It's doing well."

Safin, seeded 20th, finished with 101 winners but also had 117 errors, including 40 in the final set.

Mantilla had 36 winners and 40 errors.

"I tried to make it short," Safin said. "But I couldn't, because he was playing great. But I'm really satisfied that even in five sets I managed to win that match."

Safin reached the fourth round for the fifth time. He has yet to play in a French Open final.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.