SAFIN, Henman, Clijsters advance at U.S. Open

Thursday, August 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Defending champion Marat Safin downed Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) Thursday in one of the most thrilling matches of the U.S. Open so far to advance to the third round of the year's final Grand Slam tournament.

Earlier, ninth-seeded Tim Henman shrugged off a peculiar odd-year Open jinx, defeating Fernando Meligeni 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, while Kim Clijsters continued her early day excellence with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Allison Bradshaw, then withdrew from doubles because of a strained quad muscle.

Jennifer Capriati took her center-court match against Australian Eve Dominikovic in just 5-1 minutes, beating the Australian 6-2, 6-0.

After winning the first-set tiebreak, Safin was up 3-0 in the second when Ljubicic took an injury timeout. ATP trainer Juergen Dess massaged his lower back as the Croatian player lay face down on center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The treatment worked. Ljubicic recovered and the two men traded serves of over 130 mph (208 kph). Each player managed just one break and their huge serves produced a combined 37 aces, 21 for Ljubicic and 16 for Safin. Ljubicic made 65 unforced errors to 38 for Safin.

The end of the marathon match came on Safin's third match point after he had often been frustrated by mistakes that left him with his head hanging. There were moments when he smashed balls in anger after missed points.

``I'm like this,'' he said after winning in 3 hours and 27 minutes. ``I cannot change myself and be quiet on court. I get angry on court. I still win matches. It's a good thing for me.''

``I can't compare myself with last year,'' hours and 27 minutes. ``Last year, everything was perfect, I was playing unbeliavable tennis. Now I'm struggling, it's very difficult to play, to fight, because I don't have enough confidence.''

Henman, a semifinalist at Wimbledon, has lost in the first or second round of every Open he's played in an odd-numbered year since his debut here in 1995. Now he's in the third round after Thursday's victory.

He won the first two sets, then drifted through the third before putting Meligeni away.

Henman shrugged off 38 unforced errors and won 44 of 55 first-serve points.

Capriati, winner of the Australian and French opens and a semifinalist at Wimbledon, pushed her Grand Slam record for the season to 21-1. She did a textbook job on Dominikovic, winning 13 of 16 first-serve points and dominating with a 100-mph (160-kph) serve from start to finish.

``I haven't won a tournament since the French Open,'' Capriati said. ``I'm eager. It's hard not to get fired up, especially here. ''

Opening the day's play for the second straight time, Clijsters shook off Bradshaw quickly to advance to the third round of America's Grand Slam.

Playing in half-empty Louis Armstrong Stadium _ the tennis crowd doesn't usually arrive in full force this early _ Clijsters kept Bradshaw on the run and completed the victory in 45 minutes.

She played with her right thigh tightly wrapped following an injury that forced her to withdraw from last week's Open warmup in New Haven, and shortly after eliminating Bradshaw, she withdrew from doubles because of the injury.

``I like to use my legs a lot,'' Clijsters said. ``I've got strong legs. It's a bit of a stupid injury to have at this stage. That's what makes it tough. That's what scares me at the moment.''

Clijsters and Ai Sugiyama were seeded fifth in women's doubles.

Bradshaw broke Clijsters in both sets but could not capitalize on the advantage. Each time, Clijsters broke right back to escape any real trouble.

With boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt watching from courtside, Clijsters sprayed a variety of shots all over the court, and took advantage of 28 unforced errors and five double faults by the 20-year-old American to grab control of the match.

``I really had to make her make mistakes,'' Clijsters said. ``I didn't hit many winners but I moved the ball around and I made sure that she made mistakes before I did.''

In other matches, former No. 1 Marcelo Rios defeated No. 22 Andrei Pavel 7-5, 6-4, 6-0; No. 19 Barbara Schett downed Selima Sfar 6-4, 7-6 (5); and Alicia Molik defeated No. 15 Magdalena Maleeva 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Also on Thursday's schedule were Jennifer Capriati and Andre Agassi, both seeded No. 2. The night schedule had defending champion Venus Williams and No. 10 Pete Sampras on center court.