over age as Safin reaches US Open final
YORK (AP) -- Slowly, methodically, Marat Safin broke down Todd
Martin's game, taking it apart one piece at a time. And when
he was finished Saturday, the 20-year-old Russian was in the
championship match of the U.S. Open.
Mixing his tactics magnificently, Safin displayed huge serves
and the savvy to throw in a changeup every so often. There was
a lob shot here, a drop shot there.
It all added up to a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) victory in the semifinal
and his first chance at a Grand Slam title on Sunday.
``It's nice to be in the final,'' Safin said. ``But something
is missing. I want to win.''
Safin, seeded No. 6, will meet either No. 4 Pete Sampras, seeking
to add to his record 13 major championships, or 19-year-old
Lleyton Hewitt, seeded No. 9, who met in Saturday's other semifinal.
Safin had Martin, 10 years older, gasping for air on a hot,
humid afternoon at the National Tennis Center.
``He played the big points better than me and he played the
little points better than me,'' Martin said.
``I was fighting an uphill battle all the way. I was tired.
But, gee, if I was at full speed the score could have been the
President Bill Clinton arrived after the match, too late to
see Safin's display of shotmaking that left Martin with little
The youngster won the first set easily. When Martin rallied
in the second, winning three straight games to get to 5-4, Safin
never blinked. He shrugged off set point, pushed it to a tiebreaker
and won it 7-4. Martin, the Open's marathon man, shed his baseball
cap for the third set but it didn't help. His energy just ran
out, his task complicated by Safin's lobs, drops and passes.
``I've been here for three weeks,'' Martin said.
``It's like renting a car. I'm going back to the airport empty.''
A finalist at the Open a year ago, Martin had flourished in
long matches, including a five-set, 4-hour, 17-minute victory
over Carlos Moya in the round of 16. Then there was a four-setter
against Thomas Johansson in the quarterfinals.
Back on center court two days later, Martin didn't have a lot
left in his tank against Safin, who is 6-foot-4 and a mirror
image of the 6-6, American baseliner.
Safin was simply younger, faster and stronger. He boomed serves
of up to 133 mph but also showed touch.
In the first set, Safin tossed in a gorgeous drop shot to get
to set point. It was a statement shot, a reminder that even
though he's young, his game is mature, capable of dealing with
Safin could not escape his reputation for having a short fuse,
though. When he was broken in the second set, he flung his racket
in anger. Last year, he broke 48 of them but he had not tossed
one at the Open since his first-round victory over Thierry Guardiola.
Safin recovered the racket, used it to win the next point and
then decided it was in no shape to go on and switched to a new
one. It was just as effective as the original.
In the third set, with Martin's shirt and shorts soaked in sweat,
Safin kept him cornered. In one game, he sent a lob over Martin's
head that kissed the back line and then found the sideline as
he dashed for a return.
It added up to another break that Martin couldn't afford. In
the third set, Safin sent a shot whistling over the net, forcing
Martin to duck. It was the appropriate reaction against a player
who had more firepower and knew how to use it. To his credit,
Martin was tenacious.
Serving to stay in the match, he won a crucial third-set game,
forcing Safin to stay on the court for an extra few games.
The set went to a tiebreaker that Safin won 7-1, and he ended
it aptly with his 13th ace and his fastest serve of the day
-- 133 mph.
``I was tight. I was very nervous,'' Safin said.
``I saw 133. That was enough.''