PARIS - Marat Safin leaned forward in an interview chair just far enough to get his face near a microphone, moving his lips languidly above a dashing goatee.
There's no question about the number of blisters that pained him throughout a 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 loss yesterday to Argentine David Nalbandian. He counted them for a room filled with reporters.
Six on the left hand, five on the right. Not quite sushi grade, but raw enough to leave a few viewers cringing.
"The hands, I don't care about actually anymore because I'm just a little bit frustrated. It was another opportunity for me to fight for a title. Just to waste this opportunity this way, it's a pity," Safin said.
It wasn't a good day for Russians, but it was another splendid day for the Argentines - Nalbandian, the No. 8 seed, and unseeded Gaston Gaudio, who ran through Safin's countryman, Igor Andreev, to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open.
The two victories kept alive the greatest sports saga in South America right now, that four Argentines could fill the four slots in the semifinals. Tournament favorite Guillermo Coria and another compadre, Juan Ignacio Chela, had ascended to the quarters Sunday.
And so today Coria, seeded third, will play the last Spaniard in the draw, No. 5 Carlos Moya, for one of those semifinal spots while Chela takes on No. 9 Tim Henman of Britain, the first serve-and-volleyer to get this far since Patrick Rafter in 1997.
Nalbandian will get his opportunity to make the final four tomorrow against three-time French winner Gustavo Kuerten, who defeated Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. And Gaudio faces Lleyton Hewitt, the 12th seed, who beat Xavier Malisse, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Safin had his moments in this match, and Nalbandian said Safin was smacking the ball every bit as hard as he did in their previous four matches, all of which were won by Safin.
Nalbandian was hardly brilliant, until the fourth set, but he was ecstatic that he and Gaudio had pulled to within one round of reaching the semifinals. "It's incredible," he said of the prospect of a quartet of Argentines in the final four.
It would be the first time in French Open history that four players from the same country accomplished this feat, and the fourth in Grand Slam history.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Gustavo Kuerten (28) def. Feliciano Lopez (23), 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Gaston Gaudio def. Igor Andreev, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Lleyton Hewitt (12) def. Xavier Malisse, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (6). David Nalbandian (8) def. Marat Safin (20), 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3.