Sunday, February 1, 2004

Federer wins Australian Open



By John Pye
The Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia - Roger Federer put a quick end to Marat Safin's exhausting run in the Australian Open.

The Swiss star won his second Grand Slam title and solidified his No. 1 ranking Sunday, beating Safin 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2.

"What a great start to the year for me, to win the Australian Open and become No. 1 in the world," Federer said. "To fulfill my dreams, it really means very much to me."

Federer, also the Wimbledon champion, won the match in 2 hours, 15 minutes when Safin - who tied a Grand Slam record by playing 30 sets - hit a forehand long on championship point.

"I'm really sorry, I just ran out of gas today," said Safin, in the first stage of a comeback from wrist and other injuries that limited him to 13 tournaments last year.

"(Safin) had to battle. He's been longer on the court than me, way longer," Federer said. "It's really nice to see him back. He's a great guy and a great player."

The 22-year-old Federer, who clinched the top spot in the rankings with a semifinal victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero, hasn't lost a set in his two Grand Slam final appearances. He beat Mark Philippoussis in straight sets at Wimbledon last year.

Safin beat top-seeded Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals and ended Andre Agassi's 26-match Australian Open winning streak in the semifinals.

"I would like to say congratulations Roger, first of all for becoming No. 1 player and beating me today," the Russian said. "It was really impressive tennis during these two weeks and well done.

"I'm actually very glad to be in finals again. I'm really glad to play my best tennis after the injuries I had last year."

Federer, 4-1 against Safin, had 40 winners and 28 unforced errors, and Safin had 19 winners and 41 unforced errors.

Safin twice slammed his racket into the court to vent his growing frustration.

"I was out of energy, my legs were just too tired," Safin said. "I was a little too tired to keep up with him. I felt that I was missing just a little bit. Against Roger, you have to do better than that. I'm not playing a yo-yo. He knows how to play tennis."

The Russian had 123 aces in six previous matches, including 31 against Agassi without a double-fault. But he had just three aces against Federer and five double-faults.

With the roof open at Rod Laver Arena, the match was played under mostly overcast, wind-free conditions.

Part of Safin's plan was to attack Federer's second serve, and that helped him break in the third game of the opening set.

The pair traded breaks twice and got back on serve to take the first set into a tiebreaker, which Federer dominated.

Loud music could be heard throughout the match from a rock concert at a nearby park. Early in the second set, chair umpire Mike Morrissey of Britain told both players that it would likely continue for the duration of the match.

At 2-2 and on serve in the second set, Safin was broken when he hit two backhands into the net. For the first time in the match he showed some emotion, yelling into a towel and then swinging wildly as if he was going to smash his racket to the court.

Two games later, an increasingly frustrated Safin succeeded in smashing his racket when he double-faulted to set up break point. Morrissey gave Safin a code violation for racket abuse, and Federer's long forehand put the game back to deuce.

Safin held with his second ace of the match.

Federer held to go up 5-3. With Safin serving to stay in the set, the Russian again double-faulted, yelling loudly to himself as he fell behind 15-30. Safin eventually fought off two set points and, later in the same game, lined up on the ad side of the court instead of the deuce to serve. Both players smiled at the mistake.

Safin saved another set point in the ninth game before holding on a service winner. Federer then held on his own serve to take the 40-minute second set.

Safin matched American Harold Solomon's record of 30 sets for a Grand Slam tournament set in the 1976 French Open. Solomon lost the final at Roland Garros in four sets to Adriano Panatta.

Safin was injured most of last year and did not win a match after May. His ranking slipped to 66, the first time since 1997 that he finished outside the top 50.




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