break, Safin dominates Haas
Friday, January 25
MELBOURNE, Australia -- A cooling rainstorm was just what Marat
Saying, "I had no chance to win if it didn't rain,"
Safin took advantage of a 50-minute delay in the Australian
Open semifinals Friday, winning 11 of the final 13 games against
Tommy Haas to advance to the final against Thomas Johansson.
The 2000 U.S. Open champion, whose 22nd birthday coincides
with the final, was trailing the seventh-seeded Haas two sets
to one when rain forced the suspension.
With the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed and the temperature
dropping from 95 degrees to 75, Safin used his booming serve
the last two sets to win 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-0, 6-2.
"Thank God it started to rain," said Safin, who
was leading 1-0 in the fourth set when the rain came. "I
needed the break and God gave it to me."
The semifinal lasted 4 hours, 28 minutes, including the interruption.
Safin's quarterfinal victory over Wayne Ferreira lasted just
28 minutes before the veteran South African quit with an abdominal
strain while trailing 5-2.
The Russian admits he doesn't like the heat. He held both
arms up in triumph when the semifinal was suspended.
"I didn't make any miracles," Safin said. "I
just didn't give him any chance after the break. I made the
break (of serve) straight away, because he wasn't warm enough.
I took this chance and I started to serve better and I started
to return -- I changed completely the game."
Haas agreed that the rain delay made all the difference.
"He picked up his game," Haas said of Safin. "The
roof was closed, it was a bit more like an indoor game. It
just didn't go my way.
"Mentally, I was totally there, (but) my legs weren't
there anymore. Once you're a step late to a shot, you're not
going to make them."
Added Haas, "I don't think the break helped me much.
I had to start all over again and he came out on fire. That's
just the way it is."
It was a good omen for Safin, who also got the benefit of
rain during his winning run at the U.S. Open two years ago.
He won the opening two sets of his third-round match against
Sebastien Grosjean, but wilted in the heat as the Frenchman
rallied to even it at two sets apiece.
He used a rain break then to shower and change socks, then
returned to oust Grosjean and went on to take the title.
Before the break Friday, Safin needed a medical timeout for
cramping and heat stress. He later needed treatment for blisters
on his hands.
In the first set tiebreaker, a forehand volley miss that left
Safin trailing 4-6. Haas then won it with a backhand down
Repeating the sequence of the first set, Haas broke first
in the second and then was broken back.
In the second, two double-faults by the German helped Safin
make it 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.
Haas saved a break point at 2-2 in the third set with a diving
forehand drop volley that left him sprawling over the Rebound
Ace hardcourt. He gained the key break for 4-2 by saving two
game points with backhand winners. He clinched it when Safin
sent a forehand return long.
Safin got a massage and changed his socks during the rain
delay. After the restart, he conceded just 11 points in the
fourth set, including five after he earned three set points
at 0-40 in the sixth game.
He won his opening serve in the fifth set before Haas held
serve to snap a seven-game losing streak.
But the German dropped his next service game to fall behind
3-1, and never caught up.
Safin, meanwhile, improved his serve game and fired his 17th
and 18th aces at 135 mph and 134 mph as he took a 4-1 lead.
He clinched it on a double-fault by Haas, whose best previous
result at a Grand Slam event was a semifinal appearance here
three years ago.
Safin returned from a back injury last year to make the quarterfinals
at Wimbledon and the semifinals at the U.S. Open, where he
lost to Pete Sampras. He reversed that loss to Sampras here.
The former world's No. 1 player had a 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6
(8) victory over Sampras, a 13-time Grand Slam event winner,
in the fourth round to assume the favorite's role for the
Johansson, seeded 16th, made an unexpected run to his first
Grand Slam final and benefited from a men's draw that was
devoid of stars because of injuries and upsets.
The Swede, who described himself in a news conference as "not
very interesting", met only two seeded players en route
to the final. He beat No. 21 Younes El Aynaoui in the third
round and No. 26 Jiri Novak in the semis. Novak never previously
advanced beyond the fourth round at a Grand Slam.
The 26-year-old Swede, who has won six ATP tour events in
eight years and had a career-high ranking of 14, admitted
he was almost shaking as it took him four match points to
seal his spot in the championship match.
He was helped by upsets in his half of the draw, which included
No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten, No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No. 5 Sebastien
Grosjean, No. 6 Tim Henman and Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.