SAFIN beaten in third round of French Open

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ Second-seeded Marat Safin was beaten in five sets in the third round of the French Open on Saturday, losing to France's Fabrice Santoro 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-1.

The 21-year-old Russian conceded the match by sending his last forehand wide, producing his 85th unforced error of the match.

``This afternoon is the greatest happiness, the greatest joy,'' Santoro said after the win.

The defeat was only the latest disaster for the reigning U.S. Open champion. Before the French, he had not advanced past the second round in his last five major tournaments. He has been hampered by a back injury since February.

Safin refused to attend a post-match news conference. Organizers said he would be fined dlrs 10,000 for the refusal.

Santoro next faces No. 13 Alex Corretja, who went through to the fourth round by eliminating Sweden's Magnus Larsson 6-0, 6-3, 6-4.

No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean also advanced. He beat French countryman Anthony Dupuis 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and will next play Galo Blanco.

Earlier Saturday, Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams beat qualifiers in straight sets and moved a step closer to a possible quarterfinal showdown.

Capriati, seeded fourth, defeated Croatia's Mirjana Lucic 6-3, 6-1 on a wind-swept center court to advance to the fourth round.

Minutes later, the sixth-seeded Williams downed Hungary's Zsofia Gubacsi. She had seven aces on her way to a 6-1, 6-2 third-round victory, her most impressive win by far in the tournament.

Conchita Martinez, last year's runner-up, made her earliest exit from Roland Garros in 14 years, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Zimbabwe's Cara Black.

Capriati has not gotten to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros since 1993. In 1990, she was the tournament's youngest ever semifinalist at 14. She reached the fourth round in 1999 but lost in the opening round last year.

Since then, Capriati has won the Australian Open, her first Grand Slam title, and risen to a career-high No. 4 ranking.

``I think my tennis has improved even since (the Australian Open),'' Capriati said Saturday. ``I feel stronger here. I'm in better shape.''

In the next round, Capriati will face her first seeded player, No. 16 Meghann Shaughnessy. She beat Slovakia's Janette Husarova 7-5, 6-4.

Williams is playing her first tournament since March. A knee injury prevented her from competing for two months and she looked shaky in her opening two matches at the French.

Martinez, seeded eighth, has reached at least the fourth round every year since 1988 when she started playing at the French. The former Wimbledon champion lost to Mary Pierce in the final last year.

Martinez, had the worst losing streak of her career this year, with four consecutive defeats after the second round of the Australian Open.

Her ouster left the tournament without a Spanish player in the fourth round for the first time since 1986. Fellow Spaniard and three-time French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was beaten in the second round on Thursday.

Black, ranked 37th in the world, next plays Italy's Francesca Schiavone, who upset No. 10 Amanda Coetzer 7-5, 6-4.

Safin made a comeback midway through the third set, taking 11 games in a row after trailing Santoro 4-2 and saving a break point at 4-3 down.

As coach and three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander looked on from the stands, Safin began to hit more winners and cut down on his mistakes.

The run ended when the Frenchman broke him to level at 1-1 in the final set. Safin once again produced a string of errors, each of which was loudly applauded by the crowd, and lost the next five games.

During the fifth game, the notoriously bad-tempered Russian spiked his racket after every point he lost, drawing jeers from the stands.

He saved the first match point with a stinging backhand service return, but exited the tournament on the next.