Safin saves three match points to win in Paris
PARIS (Reuters) - Former world number one Marat Safin, in his final tournament before retiring, squeezed past French qualifier Thierry Ascione 6-4 4-6 7-6 in a Paris Masters first-round match on Monday.
The gifted but erratic Russian, who has been hampered by injuries in recent years and has dropped out of the top 50, was made to work hard against a player ranked 168th in the world.
The 29-year-old Safin, who has lifted the Paris Masters trophy three times but is without a tournament win since the 2005 Australian Open, saved three match points with aces at 5-4 down in the final set.
He eventually went on to take the tiebreak 7-3 with a forehand volley on the first match point to seal victory after an hour and 52 minutes of relatively dull tennis.
"The tennis I'm playing at the moment is not the best of my career," Safin told reporters. "I always came here to win but this time, frankly, I don't think I can do that.
"I'll just try to finish on a high note and say goodbye to everybody."
One of the world's most spectacular players when on song, Safin faces a tough task in the second round against U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.
"The way I'm playing right now I don't think I stand a chance but I'll fight," Safin said.
Dressed in black, Safin broke in the fifth game before winning the first set in 29 minutes.
The pair traded breaks early in the second before the Russian dropped his serve in the 10th game, losing the set by hitting a forehand long.
Both men looked equally clumsy in the deciding set until the unseeded Safin stepped up a gear in the closing stages.
Earlier, former champion Tomas Berdych recorded a 6-3 7-6 victory over another French qualifier, Vincent Millot.
Czech Berdych, who won the indoor event in 2005, struggled at times against an opponent ranked outside the top 200.
The world number 20 next plays Spaniard Tommy Robredo, seeded 14.
All the top 10 players bar Andy Roddick are competing in Paris where the last two places for the November 22-29 World Tour Finals in London are up for grabs, with Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco first in line.
Both will be in action on Tuesday.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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