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Safin loses final match at Wimbledon

MARAT Safin's final match at Wimbledon took place on cozy Court 18, tucked in a corner of the All England Club, closer to the exit than to the court where trophies are handed out.

That was appropriate, because Safin always seemed to have one foot out the door at Wimbledon. Playing his final year on the tour, the mercurial Russian lost in the first round yesterday to American Jesse Levine, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Safin smiled when asked how he felt to be done at Wimbledon.

"Relieved," he said.

The two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 never really took to grass, although he came to accept it as a brief, necessary annoyance at the start of each summer.

His best Wimbledon run came last year, when he reached the semifinals before losing to Roger Federer. But he won only 16 of 26 matches at the All England Club, and could recall only two where he played well - against Goran Ivanisevic in a loss in 2001, and in a win over Novak Djokovic last year.

"That's it," he said. "Not much."

So while Levine's victory was an upset, it wasn't really a surprise - not to Safin, at least.

"I knew that he's a talented lefty, tough player, fast, has nothing to lose, going to go for it," Safin said. "This is the toughest ones."

Levine, a qualifier from Florida ranked 133rd, earned his first tour-level victory this year and his first win ever over a top-50 player.

"Marat's a great player, and I've watched him play growing up," said Levine, 21. "So it's a pretty surreal experience to be his last match at Wimbledon."

The upset gave U.S. men a 2-6 record on the second day of the tournament. The other winner was two-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick, who beat big-swinging Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3.

On the women's side, American Melanie Oudin pulled off a surprise in her tournament debut, beating No. 29-seeded Sybille Bammer 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. The 17-year-old Oudin, who is from Marietta, Ga., earned her first win in a major event.

No. 13 Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, saved two match points to beat Lucie Hradecka 5-7, 6-2, 8-6. Also advancing was this year's winner at Roland Garros, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and top-ranked Dinara Safina.

No. 3 Andy Murray began his bid to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936 by beating American Robert Kendrick 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4. That match took place on Centre Court, where the new retractable roof remained open for the second day in a row.

Warm, sunny weather helped Wimbledon draw a crowd of 45,955, largest in tournament history. There were plenty of spectators even on the remote courts, and as always, Safin put on a show.

The 29-year-old Russian tossed his racket when mad at himself, and shouted at the umpire when a linesman's call went against him in the tiebreaker.

"Thanks for the guy who made the call," Safin said later. "I want to say hello to him. Too bad that he was a little bit too blind today. But anyway, that's tennis."

By turns carefree and combustible, Safin has long been labeled an underachiever. He said every player could win more than they do, but conceded his total of two Slam titles - the 2000 U.S. Open and the 2005 Australian Open - could have been more impressive.

"I should probably have won a couple of more, but I'm pretty satisfied with what I did," he said.

He noted that thanks to his run at Wimbledon last year, he reached the semifinals at every major event.

"There's not so many of us," Safin said. "Thanks to Wimbledon, I have this achievement."

One major tournament remains for Safin: The U.S. Open, where he drubbed Pete Sampras in the final as a precocious 20-year-old. He never faced Sampras at Wimbledon, instead losing to such players as Martin Damm, Olivier Rochus, Dmitry Tursunov, Feliciano Lopez and, finally, Levine.

"Not the perfect thing," Safin said. "Not the way to finish Wimbledon story. But anyway, it's OK. That's life."


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