Third time lucky for Marat Safin

Agence France Presse

Melbourne, January 30:

Russian Marat Safin won his second tennis grand slam with a fighting four-set victory over home hope Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open final here on Sunday.

It was Safin’s first Australian title after playing in two losing finals here over the last three years and ended third-seed Hewitt’s dream of becoming the first home winner of the Australian Open in almost three decades.

The Russian fourth-seed won 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hrs 45 min to add the Australian title to his 2000 US Open crown when he beat Pete Sampras in straight sets.

Safin was desperate not to become the ninth man in the Open era (post-1969) to lose three consecutive grand slam finals and powered home after losing an error-ridden opening set.

Safin was the favourite to win this year’s first grand slam after his sensational five-set victory over the world number one Roger Federer after saving match point in their semi-final.

Safin made a nervous beginning, winning only three points in the opening three games as Hewitt scooted to a 3-0 lead before the Russian held serve.

Safin was making plenty of unforced errors as Hewitt hit the ground running and he broke the Russian a second time in the sixth game to have the opening set in his keeping at 5-1.

But the three-times finalist found more depth on his groundstrokes in the second set and had Hewitt under pressure on his serve. He raised his first break points at 15-40 in the fourth game and made a powerful forehand service return to take a break and a 3-1 lead.

Hewitt was finding Safin more of a handful and was down set point on his service in the eighth before a fortuitous net cord enabled him to hold serve at 5-3.

But Safin raised his second set point when a Hewitt forehand was long and he served and volleyed for the set to level the final.

Hewitt fought off two break points in the first game of the third set but he played a tremendous point when he ran down a drop shot for a winner to bring up

break point in the next game and got two more break points before a wayward forehand forced the break. Safin broke Hewitt’s service in the game with a forehand and a backhand. He broke Hewitt a second time in the next service game during which he was foot-faulted a second time by another line judge.

Safin was looking more lethal with his deep forehands and took the set with his second set point when Hewitt’s backhand was wide. Safin broke Hewitt’s service for a third consecutive game to start the fourth set and the Australian had to fight off a break point in the fifth game to stay in the match at 3-2.

But Safin finished too strong for the tenacious Aussie before his cheering home crowd and got to three match points in the 10th game and raising his arms in victory after Hewitt sent a forehand long.