NEW YORK: US Open fans were treated to a pleasant surprise tonight when the mercurial Russian Marat Safin crushed Austria’s Jurgen Meltzer 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.
Australia’s normally steady Lleyton Hewitt was not so impressive, turning in a lethargic performance against Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela, falling 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
It was a stunning turnaround for both men, as Safin, who had vowed to retire at the end of this season, had sleepwalked through most of 2009, winning only a handful of matches and openly proclaiming his distaste for life on the ATP Tour.
Hewitt, on the other hand, had returned from hip surgery in late-2008 and was seemingly determined to earn a seeding for the final major of the year. The Australian had actually succeeded in doing so just in time for the Open, where he was seeded No. 31, making his exit all the more perplexing.
Onlookers were visibly surprised by the behavior of both men, as Hewitt grew impatient during routine rallies, at one point shattering his racket and earning a point penalty.
Safin, by contrast, was focused throughout his match, pumping his fist and shouting after hard-fought points. It’s not been confirmed, but we’ve been told that his favorite catchphrase of the evening roughly translates from Russian into “Come on!”
Several witnesses also reported Safin taking out a bright necklace from under his shirt during changeovers, rubbing it while mumbling in an unconfirmed language (most believe it to be Latin) and then tucking it back inside before anyone could ask him about it.
During his post-match press conference, the Russian announced that he is changing his mind and no longer plans to leave the game at the end of this year.
“Now that I have this body…I mean, since I have this talent, why would I want to walk away now? Marat has…I mean, I have barely begun to use my potential,” the Russian said, using uncharacteristically good grammar.
Safin then offered to enlighten reporters as to his new fitness regime and the on-court drills he has been practicing.
Hewitt, by contrast, was mostly indifferent to his loss during his post-match interview.
“I played terrible,” he said. When asked what he did wrong, he listed “the serve, the volleys, the groundstrokes…I guess that’s everything.
“Mostly I’m just glad it’s over,” he added. He then proceeded to ask if any of the reporters had seen Safin recently.
“He’s been borrowing something of mine I’d kind of like to get back,” Hewitt said.
A necklace similar to the one spotted on Safin was reportedly seen being worn by David Nalbandian, whom sources say has lost 15 pounds and is eager to return to action. Curiously, Andy Roddick recently gained 15 pounds and withdrew from the Open with a hip injury.
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