Safin puts feet up

Russia’s Marat Safin is enjoying taking things easy as he targets a second straight Australian Open final appearance.

Russia’s Marat Safin is enjoying taking things easy as he targets a second straight Australian Open final appearance.

Safin was on court for more than 21 hours during the championships last year, playing a record-equalling 30 sets in two weeks before losing out to Roger Federer.

The fourth seed is finding things considerably more straightforward in 2005, dropping just three games in his opening match and easing past Bohdan Ulihrach in straight sets in the second round today.

The 24-year-old, who completed a 6-4 6-1 6-3 victory with his 10th ace, will take on Croatian Mario Ancic in the last 32. Ancic, who beat Tim Henman in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, beat Germany’s Bjorn Phau in the second round.

Safin is enjoying his best start to a grand slam after finally putting into practice everything he has learnt from his erratic career.

“I think this is my best start. I am playing well I worked hard in pre-season and I am ready,” said the former US Open champion, who was ranked 86th in the world at the start of last year’s event after an injury-plagued 2003.

“Also I get older a little bit, I have more experience, I know what to do. I try to be a little bit more focused on what I’m doing and it’s working.

“I have a good coach (Peter Lundgren) and I’ve been learning from my mistakes for a long time and now is the time to take advantage from it.

“Last year I was coming from the injury and had a lot of time off and I was fresh, nothing to lose and no pressure whatsoever.

“This year it’s a different story because we finished the year late in December and we only have one month to rest. Basically I am continuing from last year.”

Eighth seed Andre Agassi was expected to face a tough test against Germany’s Rainer Schuettler, the man he beat to win his last grand slam title here in 2003.

The 34-year-old American had been hampered by a hip injury in the build-up to the championships but made light work of the world number 40, running out a 6-3 6-1 6-0 winner.

Earlier in the day Germany’s Tommy Haas crashed out after blowing a two-set lead against Karol Beck.

Haas, the 16th seed in Melbourne, looked set for a place in the third round when he took the first two sets in searing heat on the Rod Laver Arena.

But as the temperature reached 95 degrees, Haas wilted under a relentless onslaught from his Slovakian opponent, who eventually recorded a 5-7 2-6 6-2 7-6 6-3 victory in three hours 32 minutes.

Another seed to fall was Croatian Ivan Ljubicic, the 22nd seed beaten in four sets by Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

Elsewhere there were wins for seeded trio Tommy Robredo, Dominik Hrbaty and French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, but former world junior number one Gael Monfils was sent packing by Belgium’s Olivier Rochus in straight sets.

In a hugely entertaining evening match on Rod Laver Arena, Federer needed his full repertoire of shots to see off Japanese qualifier Takao Suzuki.

The world number one and top seed, unbeaten since the second round of the Olympics in Athens, had to recover from a break down in the opening set in a 6-3 6-4 6-4 victory.

Suzuki pushed Federer harder than anyone had expected, the defending champion’s reaction to another superb passing shot on match point proving how tough a contest he had faced.

“It was a fantastic atmosphere and a fantastic match,” said the 23-year-old, who fired 35 outright winners and just 10 unforced errors. “I had a lot of fun tonight.

“Thanks to the way Takao played it was very entertaining and I’m already looking forward to the next time I play him.

“I had to play a good match to win as usual. Just good enough is not enough these days...even from me!

“He was up a break in the first set and I had to play a great point to break back. Who knows what would have happened if he kept playing so well? I could have ended up losing the set and maybe the match.”

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