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Safin downs Federer in classic to reach final

Last updated on: January 27, 2005 19:35 IST

Marat Safin brought Roger Federer's Grand Slam streak to a shuddering halt, beating the seemingly invincible world number one 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7 in a heart-stopping semi-final at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Safin, runner-up in two of the last three Australian Opens including last year when Federer beat him, twice came back from a set down and saved a match point in the fourth set tiebreak before winning one Melbourne Park's greatest battles.

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"When it's coming the moment, it's a little bit choking," Safin said.

"It's like a brain fight against each other. It's Roger Federer, so already psychologically it's really difficult."

Safin, whose only Grand Slam title was at the US Open in 2000, will now play the winner of Friday's second semi-final between Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt in Sunday's final.

The women's final, to be held on Saturday, will be an all-American clash between Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport after they also clawed back from the brink of defeat to win their semi-finals on Thursday.

Williams saved three match points before beating Russian teenager Maria Sharapova 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 while Davenport came within two points of losing before she wore down Nathalie Dechy of France 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.

"Those are always the best wins, when you're down match point because you can't give up at any," Williams said.

"She has a fighting spirit and I think that's gotten her to where she is today...but I'm still the top fighter out there."

Davenport was a bundle of nerves in her match with Dechy but regained her composure when it mattered to reach her first Grand Slam final since 2000.

"I'm ecstatic to be back. It seems like forever for me," she said. "I was pretty despondent about the chances of getting back to a final. I haven't been in one in almost five years but I'm ready."


Federer had not lost a match since last year's Athens Olympics in August and was chasing his fourth Grand Slam title in 12 months after winning last year's Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns.

He had also won his last 24 matches against players ranked in the top 10 and was the hottest favourite in a century to win the Australian Open after romping through his first five matches without dropping a set.

Everything seemed to be going according to script when he won the opening set but the first hint of a boilover came when Safin won the second.

Federer appeared to have regained control when he won the third and held match point in the fourth but Safin produced a perfect lob to stay alive.

Federer saved six match points in the final set but his resistance finally snapped after four 1/2 hours when Safin celebrated his 25th birthday with a victory that brought the capacity crowd to their feet.

Williams lost last year's Wimbledon final and the season-ending tour championship to Sharapova and seemed destined for a third defeat when the 17-year-old Siberian won the opening set and served for the match in the second and third sets.

But the former world number one broke back both times in a struggle reminiscent of her semi-final against Belgian Kim Clijsters in the 2003 Australian Open when she saved two match points before reaching the final and winning the title.

There was no hiding Sharapova's disappointment but she still managed to put on a brave face.

"Of course I'm sad, and obviously it's a tough one to lose but I've got a long way ahead of me," she said.

Davenport also needed to draw on her wealth of experience to beat Dechy, who was appearing in her first semi-final in a decade as a professional.

Davenport had her left thigh heavily strapped, is struggling with a hip strain and got off to a sluggish start, gifting Dechy the first set in only 24 minutes with a string of uncharacteristic errors.

Dechy was two points away from winning the match but Davenport won the second set decider 7-5 on a double fault and then finally sealed the match when the Frenchwoman surrendered her serve to love in the final game.

"I'm a little perplexed," Davenport said. "I don't think I'm playing well but I'm in the final. I got lucky but I'll take it."

It will be the first time two Americans have contested a women's Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2003 when Serena beat older sister Venus as she had done at the Australian that year.

Russians have won the last three Grand Slam women's tournaments.

Simon Cambers
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