Safin bids farewell to Wimbledon

Marat Safin of Russia reacts while playing Jesse Levine of the United States during their first round singles match at Wimbledon Tuesday.<BR><I>AP?photo</I>

WIMBLEDON, England - It seemed fitting, somehow, that two-time major champion Marat Safin's always-turbulent relationship with Wimbledon would end this way.

A first-round departure.

Against the unheralded Jesse Levine, a 133rd-ranked qualifier from Boca Raton, Fla., who began Tuesday with an 0-2 tour-level record in 2009.

And with a mangled racket and plenty of kicking and screaming, including a couple of arguments with the chair umpire, then a postmatch parting shot at a line judge Safin called "a little bit too blind."

Safin used to rant about disliking tennis on grass, and he once complained about the high price and low quality of food at the players' restaurant at the All England Club. Well, he doesn't have to worry about any of that again after bowing out in his final Wimbledon with a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 loss to Levine.

After confirming this would be his last appearance at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament - Safin has vowed to retire at season's end - he was asked how he feels about being done with Wimbledon.

"Relieved," the 29-year-old Safin replied. "Pretty much relieved."

He's a former No. 1 player who won the 2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open, but a series of injuries slowed him recently. Still, Safin came to Wimbledon ranked 24th and seeded 14th, and had to be considered quite a favorite against Levine, who never had defeated anyone ranked better than 67th.

The 21-year-old Levine, who was born in Canada and moved to Florida at age 13, found Tuesday's experience "surreal."

"He's an amazing player, and I'm still kind of feeling weird right now that I just beat Safin, because I've always watched him play on TV," said Levine, who briefly played at the University of Florida before turning pro in 2007. "I just kind of went out there with nothing to lose and played some good tennis."

Levine wasn't the only U.S. qualifier to pull off a surprise Tuesday: 17-year-old Melanie Oudin of Marietta, Ga., won a Grand Slam match for the first time, beating the 29th-seeded woman, Sybille Bammer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

On a day that set a tournament attendance record of 45,955, everywhere you looked around the sun-soaked grounds, it seemed, someone or another from the United States was playing - and, for the most part, losing. No. 6-seeded Andy Roddick did beat Jeremy Chardy of France 6-3, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3 with the help of 21 aces, but six other U.S. men in first-round action all exited the tournament: Robert Kendrick, Robby Ginepri, Bobby Reynolds, Wayne Odesnik, Kevin Kim and Rajeev Ram. American men went 3-2 on Monday, when No. 17 James Blake was the tournament's first seeded player to lose.

Taylor Dent - at Wimbledon for the first time since 2005 after two back operations - stuck around at least until Wednesday, because his match was suspended by darkness.

Twenty-two Grand Slam tournaments have come and gone without an American man taking home the trophy, dating to Roddick's victory at the 2003 U.S. Open, a drought that is the country's longest in the 41-year Open era.

U.S. women have no such drought, thanks to the Williams sisters. Venus Williams, seeking a third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall, beat Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-3, 6-2.

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