Safin stuns Federer; Serena, Davenport in final

Agence France Presse

Melbourne, January 27:

Marat Safin gave himself the perfect birthday present by scoring a stunning upset over world number one Roger Federer to reach the Australian Open final here on Thursday.

Swiss ace Federer, the overwhelming tournament favourite, saw his hopes of a third consecutive grand slam title dashed as Russian fourth seed Safin twice fought back from a set down to win 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7.

Safin, celebrating his 25th birthday, will now play either second seed Andy Roddick or Australian hope Lleyton Hewitt in Sunday’s final after securing a thrilling victory in 4hr 28min on the Rod Laver Arena. It was a dream performance from Safin, who had been trounced in straight sets by Federer in last year’s final, and was also a losing finalist at Melbourne Park in 2002.

The Russian saved a match-point in the fourth set tie-break and then put his fans through the shredder when he squandered six match-points amid unbearable tension in a marathon fifth set. But Safin finally clinched a sensational win on his seventh match-point, when an exhausted Federer stumbled out wide leaving the Russian to send an easy forehand into an open court to win. The Russian’s victory ended Federer’s 26-match winning streak, a run stretching back to his defeat in last August’s Athens Olympics.

The rollercoaster men’s semi-final mirrored action in the women’s draw earlier, where former world number one Serena Williams and top seed Lindsay Davenport both came back from the brink of defeat.

Williams pulled off an extraordinary escape to defeat fourth-seeded Russian teenager Maria Sharapova, saving three match-points to win 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 in 2hr 39 min. Top seed Davenport, meanwhile, was made to work just as hard before she finally overcame French 19th seed Nathalie Dechy 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 in a nerve-jangling encounter on Rod laver Arena.

In the end, the experience of Williams and Davenport, who have nine grand slam titles between them, was to prove crucial.

For Williams, it was history revisited. Her undulating match bore a striking resemblance to her 2003 Australian Open semi-final with Kim Clijsters, when she saved two match points before going on to win.

Williams leads Davenport 9-4 in head-to-heads. But Davenport has the better recent record, having beaten Williams on the two occasions they met last season. Yet the experienced 28-year-old will want to make a sharp improvement after toiling desperately against Dechy before finally staggering over the line.

She amassed 52 unforced errors, 10 double-faults and it might have been a different story had Dechy kept her composure when leading 4-1 in the second set tie-break. Instead, she buckled and Davenport fought back to square the match, going on to clinch victory in the decider.