Safin, Kiefer make quarters at Countrywide Classic

Updated: July 19, 2007, 2:19 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Marat Safin advanced to the quarterfinals of the ATP Countrywide Classic with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory over George Bastl Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.

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Safin, the No. 3 seed, got past the second round of the $525,000 tournament for the first time in four tries and is on course for a possible semifinal meeting with No. 2 seed James Blake.

They are the highest seeds remaining following No. 1 Fernando Gonzalez's loss to Zack Fleishman Tuesday night.

A former No. 1, the 27-year-old Safin finally took control of the match midway through the final set. He got a service break to take a 4-3 lead, then fought off three break points and held serve with a 130 mph ace to go up 5-3. He got the win when Bastl, of Switzerland, hit a forehand return long.

Safin was joined in the quarterfinals by Nicolas Kiefer, who continued his comeback from wrist surgery with an efficient 6-3, 6-2 win over Igor Kunitsyn. It was just Kiefer's second hardcourt match in more than a year.

In the quarterfinals on Friday, Kiefer will face fellow German Michael Berrer, who advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 win over qualifier Ricardo Mello of Brazil.

Also through to the quarterfinals is Korea's No. 1 player, Hyung-Taik Lee, the No. 7 seed. He beat Wesley Moodie, who retired with a back problem while trailing 6-2, 3-0. Lee had won seven games in a row at that point, and had lost just one point in the second set.

Berrer advanced to his first career quarterfinal earlier this year and moved into the top 100 in the rankings just before Wimbledon. He opened the tournament Monday with an upset of No. 8 seed Amer Delic and now is 6-6 in 2007.

Kiefer is 4-3 on the year and 2-0 on hardcourts, a surface he hadn't played on since mid-March of 2006. The German star fell on his left wrist at the French Open later that year, and was idle from June 2, 2006, to June 11 of this year while undergoing two surgeries and a lengthy rehabilitation.

Kiefer said there were "good parts and bad parts" to his time off. To offset some days when he was "very down and depressed," he found inspiration in working with seriously ill children and the organizations that assist them.

"I helped them raise some money, but they helped me much more," said Kiefer, 30, who was No. 4 in the world in January, 2000. "I could see how bad they are and I had only my wrist injured. So I knew it could take one year, it could take two years, but I could play again."

Kiefer played three grasscourt events before getting a wild card into the Countrywide Classic, where he lost to countryman Tommy Haas in the 2004 final, and so far he is happy with his results. Against Kunitsyn, who upset No. 4 seed David Nalbandian in the first round, Kiefer won 29 of 33 first-serve points and did not face a break point in nine service games.

"Today I played much better than on Monday," he said, referring to his opening-round win over Teimuraz Gabashvili. "That's what I try to do the whole time, just improve day by day, do everything I can do out there. All I can do is go out and fight for every ball and try to find my rhythm."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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