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Safin on mooning crowd: 'What's bad about it?'

5/28/2004

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.