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 who was born in Ottawa but now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and plays under the American flag.
With a mangled racket and plenty of kicking and screaming, including a couple of arguments with the chair umpire, then a post-match 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.
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, who began play Tuesday with an 0-2 tour-level record in 2009.
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.”
Levine called the whole 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 the 21-year-old Levine, who moved to Florida at age 13.
“I just kind of went out there with nothing to lose and played some good tennis.”
Levine, who briefly played at the University of Florida before turning pro in 2007, will play Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay in the second round.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s Daniel Nestor and Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic opened their men’s doubles title defence with a win over Italians Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi, who retired while losing 4-2 in the second set.
The second-seeded Nestor and Zimonjic won the first set 6-2.
In singles play, Stephanie Dubois of Laval, Que., lost 7-5, 6-2 to Sara Errani of Italy in her first-round match. On Monday, fellow Canadians Aleksandra Wozniak and Frank Dancevic were also eliminated.
Safin is 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 favourite against Levine, who never had defeated anyone ranked better than 67th.
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.
Taylor Dent — playing at Wimbledon for the first time since 2005 after two back operations — managed to stick around at least until Wednesday, because his match was suspended by darkness. Dent, though, trailed Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain 2-1 in sets.