Safin made 33 unforced errors

Updated: March 27, 2005, 11:51 PM ET
Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Marat Safin threw, kicked and cursed his racket, then later conceded the problem was operator error.

Bedeviled by his game just two months after winning the Australian Open, the volatile Russian lost 7-6 (6), 6-1 to Dominik Hrbaty in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

Safin, ranked fourth, became progressively more discouraged as his match progressed Sunday. He made no move to return Hrbaty's final shot, an ace down the middle.

"When I'm playing bad, I'm playing really bad," Safin said. "There's nothing I can do. Serve doesn't work. Backhand doesn't go the way it should be. And of course the forehand struggles. With this kind of game, it's difficult to beat anybody."

Safin committed 33 unforced errors and hit just 11 winners. He's the only player to beat Roger Federer in the past seven months, but since earning his second Grand Slam title in January, Safin has played three tournaments and failed to put together back-to-back victories at any of them.

He's accustomed to spring swoons, and at Key Biscayne his career record is a modest 6-7.

"Normally this month I never play well," he said. "So for me it's nothing new."

No. 13 Ivan Ljubicic, a hero in Croatia's Davis Cup victory over the United States three weeks ago, edged American Vince Spadea 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (3).

Ljubicic is 26-7 this year and has already reached four finals. He was startled shortly before the match to open his locker and discover French player Michael Llodra inside -- naked.

"He said, 'I'm trying to get positive energy from you. You're winning a lot of matches this year,'" Ljubicic said. "Now when I open my locker, I'm opening really slowly. I don't know what I'm going to find in there."

Former No. 1-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero reached the fourth round by sweeping Igor Andreev 6-4, 6-3. Fifth-seeded Carlos Moya lost to No. 25 Thomas Johansson 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2. Fernando Verdasco, who eliminated Roddick, lost to fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-2.

The elimination of Safin left the tournament without three of the top four players in the men's rankings. No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt withdrew before the event with a toe injury, and No. 3 Andy Roddick lost his opening match.

Against Hrbaty, Safin fought a losing battle to keep his composure. He buried his face in his hands after one error, and when Hrbaty took a 6-5 lead in the tiebreaker, Safin slammed his racket to the hardcourt.

After inspecting the racket and finding it intact, he smacked a 135-mph service winner. But two points later he pushed a tentative backhand wide to lose the set, then booted the racket across the concrete.

"It's difficult to deal with the situation when you are playing bad and you are losing," Safin said.

Hrbaty, seeded 26th, has seen the act before. He's 7-6 against Safin.

"He showed a lot of frustration," Hrbaty said. "You can't say he didn't fight. But he just played really bad."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE