One day, one epic match: Safin - Mantilla (2nd round 2004)

 - Simon Cambers

Relive this incredible match between Marat Safin and Felix Mantilla at the 2nd round of Roland-Garros 2004.

Marat Safin and Felix Mantilla, second round at Roland-Garros 2004©FFT invites you to experience the 2020 tournament on the original dates by looking back at some of the most memorable matches from the past, round by round. Today, Thursday 28 May, we go back to a second-round match in 2004 which spanned two days and had everything, from outstanding shot-making to one of the more remarkable celebrations ever seen at Roland-Garros.

The context

Safin already had a Grand Slam title under his belt after his 2000 US Open victory and had reached the semi-finals in 2002 but missed most of 2003 with a wrist injury. He bounced back brilliantly by reaching the final at the Australian Open at the start of 2004 and had shown some good form on clay in the build-up.

Spaniard Mantilla was also a former semi-finalist in Paris and had won the biggest title of his career the previous year, in Rome. Though his ranking had fallen to No 93 as the tournament began, he was still a threat on clay even at 29. The two men had played each other three times before, with Mantilla leading 2-1, though Safin had won the most recent meeting and they had not played each other since 2000.

Safin against Mantilla during second round at RG 2004©FFT

The match

The match began on Wednesday on Court No 1, the famous “Bullring”. Safin, seeded 20, had the greater weapons and when they were firing, he was generally in control. But Mantilla was nothing if not dogged and though Safin twice led by a set, Mantilla continued to fight and as the afternoon turned to evening, he took the fourth to level the match at two sets apiece.

The fifth set went with serve to 4-3 when, with Mantilla serving at 0-15, a moment occurred that will live long in the memory. After a stunning rally, Mantilla thought he had won it with a drop volley but Safin, chasing forward, reached the ball just in time and flicked it across the Spaniard at the most acute angle for a winner.

Most players would have celebrated with an elaborate fist pump or with arms aloft but instead, Safin just leaned over and pulled his shorts down. It was a bizarre gesture and one that earned him a point penalty, having already received a warning earlier in the match. Instead of being up 0-30 on the Mantilla serve, the penalty point gave the Spaniard some breathing space and he held.

More drama was to follow. At 7-7, with the night drawing in, the match was held over to the following day. When they returned on Friday afternoon, Safin still looked angry but he held his temper and when the opportunity came, he got the break he needed to secure a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7, 11-9 victory.

What they said

''It just happened,'' Safin said. ''Nobody complained. 'Everybody was OK. It wasn't really bad. I don't understand why (he was penalised a point). The people, like the chair umpire and the supervisor on the court, they come and they destroy this just to show that they are there.

Mantilla agreed. ''I think he did it, but funny, not with a bad intention,'' he said.

Match stats

Safin hit 101 winners, which didn’t quite cancel out his 117 errors.

What happened next ?

Safin played another five-setter in the next round as he scraped past Potito Starace of Italy but he ran out of steam in the last 16 where he was beaten in four sets by Argentina’s David Nalbandian. He continued his rise back up the rankings, though, and would win his second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2005.

Mantilla reached the third round at Roland-Garros the following year but his career fizzled out and he retired in 2007 at the age of 33.

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