Rain helps Safin advance to second round at French Open

When rain forced players off the French Open courts after less then two hours of play Sunday, Marat Safin was the only person with a spot in the second round.

Safin, a two-time Grand Slam champion, played through light rain at the end of his match to beat Fernando Vicente of Spain 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.

Safin hit two aces in his opening service game en route to taking eight straight games, before Vicente broke in the third game of the second set.

“It’s tough to play with this weather because it’s raining, it’s not raining, it’s windy, and then it’s very rough conditions because everything depends on the weather,” said Safin, who has not won consecutive matches since March.

The 22nd-seeded Russian converted eight of 14 break points, and his confidence showed in the first game of the third set. He attempted a drop shot that was too short, giving Vicente an easy winner. But instead of trying to retrieve the shot, Safin turned his back and walked away — knowing he could afford to concede the point.

“I think I can manage to pass two rounds,” Safin said. “Then I’ll be dangerous.”

In other men's matches, Potito Starace of Italy beat Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (5), and Janko Tipsarevic defeated Dusan Vemic 7-6 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in an all-Serb match.

Safin, who lost in the first round last year but reached the semifinals in 2002, won on Vicente’s second double-fault.

Vicente, a 30-year-old veteran who has been hobbled by injuries, has lost 12 straight tour matches and had to go through qualifying to reach the men’s draw.

“It was difficult for him to play at a good level in order to beat me,” Safin said. “But you have to give him credit. To pass the qualies and to make sure and stick around when you are 30 years old ... it’s pretty tough.”

Safin will play the 80th-ranked Tipsarevic in the next round, the AP reports.

Safin, playing in his ninth French Open, looked impressive against the 133-ranked Vicente and wrapped up his centre court win in just 84 minutes hitting 43 winners to the Spaniard's 14.

"They were very tough conditions, it was raining, then it wasn't and it was very windy," said Safin who refuses to write off his chances of winning a French Open title despite the likely domination of the tournament by defending champion Rafael Nadal and world number one Roger Federer.

"This is still my favourite surface. The courts here are great, the bounce is good. It's my place. If I can get through a few rounds I can be dangerous."

The former US and Australian Open winner has endured a mediocre season so far with a best performance of a semi-final run at the Las Vegas event in March where he lost to Lleyton Hewitt.

It was also the last time the unpredictable Russian managed to win consecutive matches at the same tournament.

On Sunday, the 27-year-old, who had lost to Vicente in St Petersburg in 2003 in their only previous encounter, was never in trouble unleashing his big, double-fisted backhand to devastating effect.

Once he had enjoyed three comfortable breaks in the first set, which was wrapped up in only 25 minutes, Safin was cruising.

In stark contrast, Serena Williams was struggling against Pironkova, the world 91.

The 25-year-old Australian Open champion slipped 2 5 down before the Bulgarian allowed her opponent to claw back to 5-5 having squandered two set points.

Later Sunday, Justin Henin, bidding for a third successive French Open title and a fourth in five years, was scheduled to open her campaign against Russia's Elena Vesnina, the AFP reports.

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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