Top seed Safin crashes out of first round at Monte Carlo

Tuesday, April 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) _ Top seed Marat Safin crashed out of the Masters Series Monte Carlo Tuesday after losing in the first round to Frenchman Arnaud Di Pasquale in under an hour.

Safin conceded five service games - three of them at love - on his way to losing 6-3, 6-1 in a 52-minute match that revived fears over the Russian's loss of form since injuring his back in March.

The 21-year-old U.S. Open champion grimaced with frustration and tossed his racket several times in trademark displays of anger as he made a string of unforced errors - including a double-fault that cost him the penultimate game. He struggled to adapt his shot-distance, placing balls wide and long - at one point sending an easy smash several meters (yards) beyond the baseline.

Unseeded Di Pasquale, 22, was similarly error-prone in the first set but remained in control for the crucial points.

The 2000 Olympic bronze-medalist streaked through the second set, alternating daring lobs and chip-shots that repeatedly wrong-footed the 1.93-meter (six-foot, four-inch) Russian.

The victory was a major boost for Di Pasquale, who is ranked No. 75 in the 2001 Champions Race and has only one career title under his belt.

Safin is ranked No. 1 in the ATP's rolling 52-week ranking system thanks to his strong performance last year, in which he won seven ATP titles. But he is No. 20 in the 2001 Champions Race, with no titles so far this season.

In March, Safin lost the final of the Dubai Open to Juan Carlos Ferrero after retiring in the second set due to a back injury. He pulled out of the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Sweden earlier this month because of the ailment.

Safin has lost in the first round in both previous appearances at Monte Carlo.

Earlier Tuesday, powerful Swede Magnus Norman downed French hopeful Nicolas Escude in their first round clash.

Despite weighing some 20 kilograms (45 pounds) more than his wiry opponent, Norman moved speedily on the red-clay surface to return Escude's shots with force, clinching the match 6-2, 6-2 in 59 minutes.

Norman, 24, is the No. 3 seed at Monte Carlo and has an impressive clay-court record that belies his big-hitting style. Last year he was runner-up to Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open and won a clay-court Masters title in Rome.

In other first round clashes, 2000 Olympic silver-medalist Tommy Haas of Germany blew away 1.96-meter (six-foot, five-inch) Belarusian Max Mirnyi 6-0, 6-1.

Big-serving Greg Rusedski of Britain, who recently split from coach Pat Cash, went down 7-6 (5), 7-5 to Romania's Andrei Pavel. The defeat was Rusedski's second straight first-round exit from Monte Carlo.

In an all-Spanish match, seventh seed Juan Carlos Ferrero defeated circuit veteran Sergi Bruguera 6-2, 6-1.