Weathering the challenge

Safin catches fire after rain delay, rallies to down Haas

Marat Safin moved within one victory of his second Grand Slam title, rebounding after a rain delay to beat Tommy Haas 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 Friday and reach the Australian Open final.

On Sunday, on his 22nd birthday, Safin will meet 16th-seeded Thomas Johansson, who outlasted unseeded Jiri Novak 7-6 (5), 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 Thursday night.

Safin had beaten Pete Sampras for the 2000 U.S. Open title and ousted him here in the fourth round, but made too many errors in the early stages against Haas.

Then, after a 50-minute rain delay with Safin leading 1-0 in the fourth set, Haas slumped and won only 11 points for the rest of the set.

Safin stepped up the pressure and broke for 3-1 in the final set on three Haas errors and a spectacular backhand crosscourt serve return.

He broke again in the final game, setting up match point with a dipping forehand crosscourt that Haas volleyed into the net. Haas served the sixth of his double faults to end the match of 4 hours, 28 minutes, including the rain delay.

At the start, a forehand volley miss that left Safin at 4-6 proved costly in the first-set tiebreaker. Haas finished by drawing him in with a drop shot and hitting a backhand down the line.

In both of the first two sets, Haas broke first, and then was broken back.

In the second, two double faults by the German helped Safin rebound to 3-3. The ninth-seeded Russian gained a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker with two winners and cashed in his second set point with a heavy serve.

No. 7 Haas, however, saved a break point at 2-2 in the third with a diving forehand drop volley. He gained the key break for 4-2 by saving two game points with backhand winners, drawing a Safin miss after a self-defense serve return, and then forcing another error with a good forehand crosscourt.

The rain came after an afternoon when the temperature climbed to 95 degrees, and a refreshed Safin played impeccable tennis the rest of the way.

Safin, rebounding from a back injury early last year, was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon and semifinalist at the U.S. Open, where he lost to Sampras. Lleyton Hewitt beat Sampras in the final.

In 19 previous Grand Slam tournaments, Haas had been past the fourth round only once, when he reached the Australian Open semifinals in 1999.