I'm not a cheat, insists marathon man Safin

Published on May 30, 2004 02:10 PM IST

Marat Safin was forced to launch a passionate defence of his reputation as a sportsman after he won a controversial five-set marathon to beat Potito Starace.

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PTI | ByDave James (AFP), Paris

Russia's Marat Safin was forced to launch a passionate defence of his reputation as a sportsman after he won a controversial five-set marathon to beat Italy's Potito Starace 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 and clinch a place in the fourth round of the French Open.

The 20th seed was booed off the Philippe Chatrier Court at the end of his 4hr 25min clash after calling for medical treatment to his blistered and bloodied hands when his 202-ranked opponent was serving for the match.

Safin, two sets to one and 4-5 down, had just saved two match points when he took a medical time-out to have his hands treated.

When play resumed, Potito's concentration was shattered, Safin levelled the match and went on to take the tie and earn a fourth round meeting with Argentinian eighth seed David Nalbandian.

"I have eight blisters, there is no skin on them," said Safin as he held up his hands at a news conference to justify his decision to call for help at deuce in the 10th game of the fourth set.

"I could not hit from the backhand. I had to call the doctor and I showed my hands to Starace to show him I was not fooling around. I am not that kind of player and never have been.

"I know that some of the crowd were definitely thinking I was taking my time but I had to take the treatment. Why should I suffer and lose a match after I have been running around for three hours on court?

"Why should I not ask for a doctor?"

Safin, mixing up brilliant, piercing groundstrokes with foolish volleys, had also called for treatment at 15-30 in the first game of the fourth set as his game was falling apart and his mindset looking increasingly fragile.

"I hope the crowd will understand when they find out what happened. When the doctor saw my hands, he said he had never come across blisters like them before.

"Starace didn't say anything about the incident to me. He may be thinking I'm an arsehole but I have to take care of myself."

Safin, a former world number one and US Open champion as well as a semi-finalist here in 2002, is now fighitng a fitness battle ahead of his fourth round match with Nalbandian on Monday.

"I can't hold a racquet. I will get some treatment here on Sunday and try and recover but I will probably have to get the hands taped.

"If the blisters are covered, I won't be able to feel them. I don't want to retire from the tournament."

Safin, a maverick talent at the best of times, has never been far away from controversy at Roland Garros this year.

He won another five-setter against Spain's Felix Mantilla in the second round and was docked a penalty point for dropping his shorts to celebrate a winning point.

He escaped a hefty fine for the incident but was forced to cough up 500 dollars for a racquet abuse incident earlier in the match.

Starace, who had to come through the qualifiers to make the main draw, said he was disappointed not to have converted his match points and added that Safin could have taken his medical time out at a different time.

"He was trying to upset me," said the Italian. "Everyone gets blisters but maybe he could have stopped earlier."

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