RUSSIAN Marat Safin claimed his second tennis Grand Slam with a four-set victory to shatter Lleyton Hewitt’s Australian Open dream here yesterday.
It was Safin’s first Australian title after losing in two finals here over the last three years and prevented third-seeded Hewitt from becoming the first home winner of the Australian Open in almost three decades.
The 25-year-old Russian fourth-seed won 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours 45 minutes to add the Australian title to the 2000 US Open crown when he beat Pete Sampras in straight sets.
Safin was desperate not to become the ninth man in the professional era of tennis (post-1969) to lose three consecutive Grand Slam finals and surged home after looking out of it in an error-ridden opening set.
Safin lost to Roger Federer in straight sets in last year's final and was upset by Swedish 16th seed Thomas Johansson in the 2002 final.
But Safin was the favourite to win this year's first Grand Slam after his sensational five-set victory over the world number one Federer after saving match point in their showpiece semi-final.
Safin admitted he was paralysed with fear in the opening games of the final.
“The first set, you couldn’t really call it tennis. I was just trying to stay in the match I was so nervous,” Safin said.
“The pressure was so much, especially after going close to winning two times before. I tried to calm down but I couldn’t.
“I was getting depressed. I started to think it was happening all over again, but then I started to believe.
“In the second set I was able to relax more and started making some shots.”
It was the fourth Russian victory in a Grand Slam and second at the Australian Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s victory here in 1999. Kafelnikov also won the 1996 French Open along with Safin’s 2000 US Open.
Former Wimbledon and US Open champion Hewitt was seeking to become the first Australian since Mark Edmondson in 1976 to win the Australian Open, but came up short after beginning strongly in the final.
“I didn’t feel like I played that badly out there he was just too good. I gave it everything I had,” said Hewitt.
“In a few days I’ll probably sit down and look at the past two weeks and be proud of what I’ve achieved over the past two weeks.
“But right at the moment, I’m human and I’m disappointed. To train so hard and to put myself in a position to win ... it’s hard to take.” – AFP
Men's singles: Marat Safin (Rus) bt Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Mixed doubles: Scott Draper-Samantha Stosur (Aus) bt Kevin Ullyett-Liezel Huber (Zim-Rsa) 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (10-6).
Boys' singles: Donald Young (US) bt Kim Sun-yong (Kor) 6-2, 6-4.
Girls' singles: Victoria Azarenka (Blr) bt Agnes Szavay (Hun) 6-2, 6-2.