Marat Safin advances into semifinals of U.S. Open

FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- Marat Safin today went from Grand Slam outcast to first-time semifinalist.

Safin, the sixth-seeded Russian, advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 victory over No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer of Germany, rallying from a break down in the first and third sets.

The volatile 20-year-old Safin played so listlessly in his first-round match against Grant Stafford at the Australian Open in January, he was fined for tanking -- a first in a Grand Slam event.

But Safin has turned his season around, winning three titles and reaching his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open.

Now in his first Grand Slam semifinal, Safin will play the winner of tonight's match between 30-year-old Todd Martin of the United States and Sweden's Thomas Johansson.

Already logging more than 10 hours in order to reach the quarterfinals, Safin fell behind 2-5 in the first set before reeling five straight games. But the Russian lost his serve at love in the 10th game of the second set as Kiefer evened the match at a set apiece.

With both players bludgeoning their groundstrokes, Kiefer broke his opponent's serve in the eighth game of the third set. He hit an excellent forehand lob on break point which Safin tracked down and attempted the risky between-the-legs shot, but the ball went long.

However, Kiefer could not hold on, losing his next service game, and the set eventually moved into a tiebreak. After hitting a backhand into the net to fall behind 2-3, Safin hit two service winners and gained a mini-break when Kiefer hit a forehand volley into the net.

Although Kiefer closed to 4-5 with a service winner, Safin nailed a crosscourt backhand winner to reach set point. Kiefer made a backhand volley but lost the set when he sent an inside-outside forehand wide.

In the fourth set, the players remained on serve until the sixth game when Kiefer fought off a break point and held three game points before hitting two forehands into the net to give Safin the game and the break.

Kiefer saved one match point in his next service game but the Russian was not to be denied, winning his next service game at Love, capped by his 16th ace and a pair of service winners -- the last at 131 miles per hour.

Safin is the third Russian to reach the semifinals here. In 1993, Alexander Volkov -- working with Safin at this event -- lost to Pete Sampras in the semifinals and Yevgeny Kafelnikov reached the last four last year only to lose to Andre Agassi.

The strapping Moscow native's form over the last two weeks on hard courts should come as no surprise after he won his first Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto, beating Sampras in the quarterfinals, and a runner-up finish at Indianapolis.

September 7, 2000
By Dale Brauner SportsTicker Staff Writer