Safin ends Federer's grand dream
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Talk of the grand slam is over, for this year at least. The Australian Open will have a new name on the trophy after Marat Safin defeated Roger Federer 5-7 6-4 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 9-7 on Thursday in an absorbing contest that saw both men have match points and play tennis of sublime quality.
In the end, it was Safin's power and determination that ended Federer's unbeaten run that stretched back to last summer.
The fifth set looked to have swung back Federer's way after Safin was broken serving for the match at 5-3. Federer survived a match point with a net-cord and Safin pushed several shots long or wide to gift his opponent the break back. But after that, the Russian stepped up the pressure, putting Federer down 0-15 in three consecutive service games, before finally sealing the match with a forehand winner.
The match had promised to be a close affair. It was a repeat of last year's final, but this time Safin was comparatively rested - in 2004 he played three five-set matches to get to the last round. The match also had the added spice of Federer's old coach, Peter Lundgren, now in Safin's corner.
In the women's draw, an all-US final between Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport will be played on Saturday after two tight semi-finals were played on Thursday. Williams was down in all three sets against the Russian Maria Sharapova, but managed to win 2-6 7-5 8-6. Saving three match points, Williams showed glimpses of her reign of dominance when she held all four grand slam titles.
Davenport will be looking for her first major since the Australian Open in 2000. For someone who was contemplating retirement only months ago, she has stepped into the vacuum at the top of the women's game and is making the most of her chances. Both her quarter final and semi were close, but the relative inexperience of her opponents, Alicia Molik and Nathalie Dechy told in the end. Williams will start the final an overwhelming favourite.
In the first grand slam of the year the men's seedings have been a reliable guide. A tournament of few surprises meant that the biggest names in tennis lined up head-to-head in the semi-finals: Federer  v Safin , Andy Roddick  v Lleyton Hewitt .
Andy Roddick has moved through the draw quietly and ruthlessly, much like at Wimbledon last year. He has dropped one set (against Greg Rusedski) and had an easy match with Nikolay Davydenko. Contrast his opponent, home favourite Lleyton Hewitt. An epic night match against David Nalbandian of Argentina was decided 10-8 in the fifth set. Tiredness may be a major factor for Hewitt, who is at last showing signs of making an impact at his home major.
One of the themes of this event has been the brutal honesty of some players and delusions of others. Tim Henman, after his disappointing defeat to Davydenko of Russia, used a phrase earlier used by Elena Baltacha and said that he had his "arse kicked". Hewitt was spot-on after his struggle with Rafael Nadal when he said "it's amazing how many matches I've been able to win throughout my career by giving a hundred percent out there…Yet again today, it gets me through another big match."
But reality seems to have deserted the Williams sisters. Venus claimed after her loss to Alicia Molik that "when I'm playing well, I feel like I'm the best". This is puzzling given that she hasn't won a grand slam since the 2001 US Open and last year her best showing was a quarter final in Paris. Her appetite for tennis must be questioned given the tame losses that have been the feature of her recent career and her ambitions in the fashion world.
Her sister Serena has more to be cheerful about, and her match with Sharapova could define her 2005 season. Had she lost, the Williams aura might have been gone for good. However, her earlier comments after her second-round match that "People always assume that I'm number one, and I never correct them in any way," sounded like something her father would say. But given that she is in the final, perhaps a return to the top is not out of the question.
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