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
"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
"He showed a lot of frustration," Hrbaty said. "You can't say
he didn't fight. But he just played really bad."
Marat Safin threw, kicked and cursed his racket but couldn't make it behave, and he lost 7-6 (6), 6-1 to Dominik Hrbaty in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.