U.S. Open champ Safin storms into President's Cup final

September 16, 2000 TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN

U.S. Open champion Marat Safin claims he is not playing his best tennis this week at the President's Cup tennis event. Don't tell George Bastl that.

Safin extended his winning streak to 11 matches today by dumping the 1999 runner-up from Switzerland, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to the final of the $525,000 hardcourt event.

Seeded second, Safin will seek an ATP Tour-leading fifth title of the year when he meets unseeded Davide Sanguinetti of Italy in Sunday's final.

Sanguinetti, who upset top seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the second round, will get a chance to eliminate the No. 1 Russian player in the final after struggling past Frenchman Julien Boutter, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4).

Safin has won 23 of his last 25 matches, capturing his first Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto and first career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last week. His straight-sets win over Pete Sampras on Sunday put him third on the ATP Champions Race 2000 leaderboard and No. 2 on the entry system rankings.

Despite suffering from jet lag, Safin has dropped only one set en route to the final.

"I still cannot find my game," said Safin, who will vie for his sixth career title on Sunday. "Of course I'm not very fresh. But I'm fit enough to do that (win the title). I'm looking to be No. 1 and I want to be there."

After Sunday's final, the 20-year-old Safin will travel to Sydney, Australia to play singles and doubles at the Olympics. He is the top seed in the men's draw.

Sanguinetti has been a fixture on the Challenger circuit this season, winning in Ecuador. On the ATP Tour, the 28-year-old's best showing prior to this week was the semifinals at the Stella Artois Championships in June.

This will be Sanguinetti's second appearance in an ATP Tour final. He was runner-up at Coral Springs, Florida in 1998.

This will be the first meeting between the two finalists.

No gold for Safin?

SYDNEY, Sept 16 2000 (Reuters)

Marat Safin was sublime in beating Pete Sampras for the U.S. Open tennis title this month, but rival Magnus Norman believes the Russian will fall flat in the Olympic tournament.

Norman, seeded third in the chase for gold that begins on Tuesday, predicted that the top-seeded Safin's hectic schedule would keep him from producing his top form.

While many competitors in the 64-player singles field were already out on Olympic Park practice courts, Safin was still in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where on Friday he reached the semifinals of the President's Cup.

"I don't think he is going to be a big threat," the 24-year-old Swede said Saturday after practice on centre court. "Traveling from Tashkent will be very difficult.

"If I had to do that, I'm sure I'd feel terribly tired and weaker."

Downplaying Safin's chances in Sydney does not mean Norman underestimates the ability of the Russian, who made the great Sampras look sadly outclassed in an overwhelming straight sets victory in the Open final.

"I believe he's been playing great tennis for a long time and he is a very good player," said Norman, winner of three titles this year and a runner-up this season at the French Open. "I think I'm going to see a lot of him for the next few years."

Norman said that, besides getting better organized, the 20-year-old Safin needed to mature and curb a temper that has led him to destroy as many as 50 racquets in a season.

"He still has to improve his head," said Norman. "He crushes too many racquets."