DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- No. 2 seed Marat Safin was beaten 7-6, 6-4 by Germany's Nicolas Kiefer in the opening round of the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.
Playing his first match since winning the Australian Open,
the Russian Safin never found his rhythm against an opponent who also
won their previous meeting at the Toronto Masters last year.
Kiefer, who often came to the net, mixed aggression and a
deft touch to frustrate his opponent and although Safin served
well at times it was not enough to give him any advantage.
Neither player managed to earn a break point as the first
set went to a tiebreak, which Kiefer dominated.
The German Kiefer then maintained his momentum as the second set
got underway, breaking to love as Safin struck his first
double-fault of the match to fall behind 1-0.
A second double-fault allowed Kiefer to break again to lead
5-2 but he failed to serve out the match, putting a forehand
wide down the line on break point.
When the German served for the match a second time he was
able to seal victory with his eighth ace of the match.
"I couldn't get comfortable on the court," said Safin, who
refused to blame his defeat on the 10-day break he took after
claiming his second grand slam title last month.
"I found the court was a little bit too fast so I couldn't
really time the ball. I was missing a lot and wasn't comfortable
at any moment," added the Russian.
"He's a tough one. All of a sudden he makes a couple of
mistakes and he plays again and there is no rhythm at all. It's
very difficult to find your game against him."
Wind had covered the court with a fine layer of sand and
Kiefer said that made the surface faster, to his liking.
"I didn't expect to play this good," he said. "I've been
here since Wednesday and was playing well but the last two days
I lost a little bit of my concentration, my focus.
"But I'm very happy with the way I played. I was fighting.
It's all about confidence, and this win was pretty important for
me. I've had tough draws the last few weeks and I was close but
I never made it."
Kiefer said nerves also played a part as he struggled to
close out the match.
"I think it's quite normal that you get a little nervous,"
he said. "I just tried to focus on my game. I didn't serve so
well in the beginning but I could get through the games and that
is very important, especially against these players."
Third seed Tim Henman survived a match point before
overcoming fellow Briton Greg Rusedski 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Henman, who went into the match with just four wins in his
previous six visits to Dubai, dropped the first set and faced
four break points at 5-5 in the second.
But in a high-quality battle between two serve and
volleyers, Henman played his way out of trouble. He held off a
match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak before claiming it 9-7.
A single break of serve then decided the third set, as
Henman broke to lead 4-3 and a frustrated Rusedski received a
warning for hurling his racket to the ground.
Spain's Feliciano Lopez lined up a second round clash with
Andre Agassi by beating Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan.
Lopez, who took Roger Federer to three sets in the 2004
Dubai final, often looked the more eager competitor as he
claimed a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
He discouraged Paradorn from the start, breaking to lead 1-0
after the Thai had led 40-0 and held four game points. Paradorn
then failed to convert two more game points in the fifth as the
left-handed Spaniard broke again to lead 4-1.
Lopez paid the price for failing to take advantage of a
break point at the beginning of the second set, however.
Paradorn held and his aggressive serve and volley tactics
paid off when he earned the only break of the set to lead 5-3
with a crosscourt forehand that clipped the net cord.
Lopez now faces Agassi remembering that when they last met
in 2002, the Spaniard played the match of his life in front of
an ecstatic home crowd before losing 7-6, 6-7, 7-5 in Madrid.
"I'm really looking forward to the match because the stadium
will be full of people," said Lopez. "It's one of the matches
that you always wanted to play.
"I'll have to serve very good, and he's always fighting for
every point so I have to be there concentrating on every point.
That is the most important thing."
In other early matches, former champion Fabrice Santoro of
France was beaten 6-3, 6-0 by sixth seeded Russian Nikolay
Davydenko, and Igor Andreev, also of Russia, defeated Swiss
qualifier Marco Chiudinelli 6-3, 7-5.
A third Russian, seventh seed Mikhail Youzhny, overcame
Thomas Johansson of Sweden 7-6, 6-1.