Safin Blows Past Pete in Four
Monday, 21 January, 2002
Master blaster Marat Safin was the last man into the 2002 Australian
Open quarter finals, after a gripping 6-2 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(8)
victory over Pete Sampras on Rod Laver Arena, Monday night.
This was billed as a battle of heavyweights, as Safin and Sampras
were the only Grand Slam champions. But for the first two sets,
it appeared Pete was fighting way, way above his weight. The
193cm Safin intimidated Sampras with a fearsome first serve,
which the American fended off his chin on a few occasions. The
Russian also tore into Sampras at the net with passing shots
of terrifying pace. Even more impressive than Safin's gob-smacking
power was his composure and the desperation with which he chased
down every ball, even diving at the baseline a few times after
As Cyclone Safin blew through to 6-2 6-4 3-1, Sampras, the winner
of a record 13 Grand Slams, was helpless. It was reminiscent
of the straight-sets drubbing Pete had copped in the 2000 US
Open final against the Russian. He'd won just a handful of points
at the net. At the change of ends, he studied his blistered
feet. Sampras even had uncharacteristic exchanges with a heckling
The all-time great showed a lot of heart to get back in the
contest. Also, the cyclone abated. At 4-3, Safin fell behind
15-40 with three loose errors. A rare missed backhand pass put
Sampras back on even terms and, as Marat later reflected, changed
the whole complexion of the match.
Sampras won three straight games to take the third into a tiebreak.
There, he led the whole way, seizing his chances on Safin second
serves to pull it out 7-5. The crowd, thrilled to see Sampras
back in the hunt, erupted. Safin, growing visibly frustrated,
engaged in lively discussion with the umpire. But he did little
wrong in the tiebreak, apart from missing a couple of first
By the fourth, Sampras had his teeth well into the match and
looked increasingly dangerous. He fought back from 0-40 to hold
serve in the second game, had break chances on two separate
Safin games and retrieved a 0-30 deficit to take the set to
another tiebreak. Both players were visibly tiring after more
than three hours on court, going blow for desperate blow like
heavyweights in the final round.
Leading 4-2 in the tiebreak, Sampras dumped an achievable forehand
volley into the net. The look of anguish said it all. He dropped
a set point at 6-5 on Safin's serve, overcame a match point
with a courageous net raid, then saw another set point go begging
as Safin hit a brave double-fisted backhand for a winner. On
his second match point on the Sampras serve, Safin charged across
court and nailed a desperate forehand pass down the line at
"Tough one to lose," said a subdued Sampras. "I
felt like the momentum was going my way and the crowd definitely
got me more into the match. I was one point away from tying
it all up there (in the fourth set tiebreak). I played the match
points a little bit conservatively. But I've gotta give him
credit. He played phenomenal the first couple of sets - it reminded
me of the (US) Open final a couple of years ago. When he gets
going mentally, he's one of the best out there. Mentally he
can be a little fragile but today he was strong. He kept his
composure when he needed to and played a great match."
Agreed Safin: " I was tough today. I stayed there. I fought.
I didn't expect I could put the forehand down the line (on the
final point). And I made it." The motivation as he made
that final lunge?: "You never want to play fifth set against
Pete. I saw him for (over) three hours - it's enough for me.
He's too big, too dangerous."
Safin next faces South African veteran Wayne Ferreira, who overcame
Albert Costa 9-7 in the fifth set. "Great player, very
experienced, very talented," Safin says. "Definitely
it's going to be very tough." But Safin enters the quarter
finals with the freshest legs, having conceded just one set
thus far. He is also the only man in the field to lift a Grand
The towering Russian, who turns 22 the day of the men's final,
is closing on his 2000 form, when he won the US Open, six other
events and came within a whisker of ending the year as No.1.
The reason, says Safin, is he is more mentally together. "Everything
is organised. I had great preparation for this year. Last year
I got injured. I had problems and couldn't find my game. I got
nervous, I was a little bit lost. So I needed to stop and for
two months I just prepared for this year. I'll be dangerous
this year, for sure."
After tonight's performance, who would argue?