-- Russian Marat Safin found himself at the center of controversy in the late stages of a five-set match once again at the French Open on Saturday.
This time, it wasn't over dropping his pants; it was for raising his badly blistered left hand to call for medical attention at a critical juncture in his third-round match against Italian qualifier Potito Starace.
Safin eventually won the match, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, to advance to the round of 16. But he was booed and jeered off the court by fans who apparently viewed the timing of his request as gamesmanship against Starace, ranked No. 202 in the world and the tournament's only remaining Italian in the men's draw.
The interruption came with Safin trailing 5-4 in the fourth set. Safin had fended off the second of two match points against him, hitting a forehand crosscourt winner to even the score at deuce, and walked to the chair umpire, extending his left hand to reveal raw, blistered flesh. He showed the wounds to Starace, as well, as the crowd whistled its displeasure.
"I couldn't hold the racket from the backhand," the right-handed Safin explained to reporters afterward. "I had to call the doctor just to put something [on it]."
Play resumed after the trainer administered a salve and bandaged the open wounds, and Safin went on to break Starace's serve and win the set, 7-5, to force a fifth and decisive set. Safin won that, as well, to win the match in 4 hours 24 minutes.
"We're not here playing junior tennis! It's like a professional tour," Safin sniped, asked if he had been aware of breaking Starace's concentration. Safin counted nine blisters on his hands and presented his open palms to reporters as evidence.
A crestfallen Starace appeared more troubled by the fact that he'd let two match points slip away than by Safin's tactics. Asked about the timing of the interruption, he said: "He certainly did it to take some time and try to upset me, but I still played well after that."
V. Williams Crushes Pierce
Venus Williams had no trouble in her potentially tricky third-round match with 2000 French Open champion Mary Pierce. Williams eased through, 6-3, 6-1, to earn a spot among the final 16 for the sixth time in eight appearances here. She has not lost a set in three matches.