Australian Open: Safin survives stubborn Sela

Shahar Pe'er is too good for Tu; Ram and Erlich in action today.

Dudi Sela 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Dudi Sela 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Dudi Sela came tantalizingly close to defeating former world No. 1 Marat Safin at the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday morning. The Israeli, who is ranked 202nd in the world, led by two sets to one and was up 6-5 in the fourth set when rain started to fall at 30-30 in the 12th game. The match had to be stopped for 15 minutes with Sela just two points away from a shocking victory. The heavens opened at an ideal time for Safin (27), allowing the Russian to regain his composure during the short break and take seven straight games to win the match 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-0. "I played very good tennis today, but the momentum shifted dramatically in the end due to the rain break," Sela said on Wednesday. "I leave this game encouraged because I know I did myself justice and understand that I was even better than Safin at certain stages of the match." Sela, 21, got off to a great start and broke the Russian in the first game of the match. Sela held his serve in the fourth game of the set and opened a 3-1 lead. However, Safin, who won the Australian Open in 2005, worked his way into the match and reeled off five straight games to take the first set 6-3. Sela held his serve at the start of the second set, but was broken in the third game as the Russian began to exert his authority on the match. At 5-4 to Safin, the Israeli broke his opponent's serve and also won the subsequent game after saving four break points. Safin was stunned, and Sela broke the Russian's serve once more in the 12th game of the set to even the match at one set apiece. After splitting the first six games of the third set - with each player breaking his opponent twice - Sela held his serves and broke Safin's serve in the 10th game to take the set 6-4. Both players continued to struggle with their serve in the fourth set and the score was tied at 5-5 after each player broke his rival three times. The Israeli held his nerve and serve in the 11th game and after splitting the first four points of the following game was within two points of a famous victory. However, light rain began to fall and Safin took full advantage and headed straight to his chair despite the chair umpire's initial reluctance to close the stadium roof. Fortunately for the Russian, the shower quickly turned into a downpour and the roof was closed, allowing Safin to regain his focus. "I was struggling on my serve, couldn't return his, and he was making passing shots all the way around the court and was full of energy. I just couldn't find the key," Safin said after the match. "Then the rain came and changed everything. I don't think I would have won if the rain hadn't come. I was lost." Safin took two consecutive points after the short rest and sent the set into a tiebreaker. The Russian dominated and forced a fifth set. There was no stopping Safin in the decisive set and he cruised to a 6-0 win and advanced to the third round after 3 hours 20 minutes. "Safin took advantage of his experience and put me off my game," Sela said. "Nevertheless, I'm sure that I will continue to progress from here onwards. I had a great tournament and proved to myself that I can compete at the highest levels." Pe'er advancesto third round Shahar Pe'er (17) continued her impressive start at the Australian Open on Wednesday morning, crushing Meilen Tu (90) 6-3, 6-0, to advance to the third round. The Maccabim resident opened up an early 3-0 lead and closed out the first set with a love service game. The second set was all Pe'er and she wrapped it up in a mere 29 minutes. "I played well and once more felt excellent," the Israeli said after the match. "Tu is a pretty good player, but I played better than her. "She didn't reach a single break point during the match." Pe'er's next opponent will be Tatiana Golovin (23) of France, who defeated Czech Zuzanz Ondraskova 6-2, 6-0, on Wednesday. "Everybody knows that Golovin is a player of the highest level, one of the best on tour," Pe?er said. "The match is wide open and I hope to avenge my defeat to her at the Orange Bowl when we were 12 years old." Pe'er is the only Israeli woman remaining at the year's first Grand Slam after Tzipi Obziler (121) lost 6-3, 6-4, to Vera Zvonareva (24) of Russia in their postponed first-round match. Despite being the obvious underdog, the 33-year-old Israeli forced a tight match and only barely succumbed to the Russian's superior quality. Anna Smashnova's tournament also came to an end on Wednesday, after she lost together with Estonian partner Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, to Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Meghann Shaughnessy in the first round of the women's doubles. Pe'er and French partner Marion Bartoli will be in action in the doubles on Thursday morning when they face Italian pair Tathiana Garbin and Roberta Vinci. No. 7 seeds Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich play Thomas Johansson of Sweden and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland in the first round of the men's doubles on Thursday.