Safin ends his Kremlin Cup jinx

Marat Safin, the US Open champion, finally broke his Kremlin Cup duck yesterday when he beat Rainer Schuttler, of Germany, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round. The top-seeded Russian had failed to survive the opening round in his three previous appearances in the Moscow tournament.

Marat Safin, the US Open champion, finally broke his Kremlin Cup duck yesterday when he beat Rainer Schuttler, of Germany, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round. The top-seeded Russian had failed to survive the opening round in his three previous appearances in the Moscow tournament.

Safin fired down seven aces in his confident win. "The first match is always the toughest one, especially playing at home," he said. "You always feel nervous in front of so many home fans rooting for you, and Schuttler is not an easy guy to play against. Last year I didn't have a chance against him, losing 6-1, 6-4."

It was a different story this time as Safin broke the German in the opening game to take the first set, then made a decisive break in the seventh game of the second to clinch victory in 72 minutes.

Safin, who needs to reach the final to displace the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten at the head of the ATP Champions' race, meets the Italian Gianluca Pozzi in the next round.

Another strong server, the fourth-seeded Marc Rosset of Switzerland, twice a Kremlin Cup winner, sent down 13 aces in a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of the Russian Andrei Cherkasov.

Lars Burgsmuller, of Germany, who came in as a qualifier, was outplayed as Martin Damm won the first set of their match 6-2, but the Czech was forced to retire with a twisted knee a game into the second set.

The only upset of the day in the men's section saw the unseeded Vladimir Volchkov, of Belarus, beat the seventh-seeded Spaniard Fernando Vicente 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

The eighth-seeded Jiri Novak, of the Czech Republic, outplayed Goran Ivanisevic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Croatian, who was the 1996 Kremlin Cup champion, took the first set in 25 minutes, but was unable to cope with Novak's baseline cross-court drives in the second and third sets and also hit 15 double-faults.

In the women's event, the fifth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, of France, thrashed the Australian Jelena Dokic 6-1, 6-4 inside an hour. "I feel like I have totally recovered from a lower back injury which troubled me on and off this year," said Mauresmo. She now faces the American Lisa Raymond, a 7-6, 6-3 winner against the Belarusssian qualifier Tatyana Poutchek.

"My game wasn't really there today," said Dokic, a semifinalist at the Olympics. "I didn't move well. I didn't use my head. I was just rushing things."

The Olympic silver medallist, Elena Dementieva of Russia, survived a tough test against the Romanian Ruxandra Dragomir. After losing the first set tie-break 8-6, the seventh seed had to battle to stay in the second, but, after winning it 7-5, she took the third set easily, 6-1.

Lindsay Davenport has been named in the United States Fed Cup team for the four-day competition which will be held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas from 21 to 25 November. Belgium, Spain and the Czech Republic are the other competing nations, with the United States facing Belgium and Spain playing the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.

Davenport won both of her matches in last year's Fed Cup final against Russia and has a 23-2 career record in the competition, including 18-2 in singles. "As usual, I'm really excited to represent my country and try to retain the Fed Cup title," she said. "I love playing Fed Cup and I'm looking forward to a great match-up."

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