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Tennis upset: No. 1 Federer loses
Serena beats Sharapova to gain Australian final with Davenport.
Published January 27, 2005
MELBOURNE, Australia - Marat Safin ended top-ranked Roger Federer's 26-match winning streak in a classic Australian Open semifinal, outlasting the defending champion 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7 in a dazzling 41/2-hour match.
Safin, seeded fourth and trying to regain the No. 1 ranking he held briefly after winning the U.S. Open in 2000, saved one match point in overcoming an unusually jittery Federer, who hadn't dropped a set in five previous matches here, including a quarterfinal domination of Andre Agassi.
Federer received treatment for elbow and back pain in the fifth set, then saved six match points before Safin broke him with a forehand into an open court as Federer watched from his knees. The rematch of last year's final ended Friday at 12:25 a.m. local time.
Safin, reaching the final at Melbourne Park for the third time in four years, next meets the winner of Friday night's semifinal between second-ranked Andy Roddick and No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt.
The women's final matches seventh-seeded Serena Williams against top-ranked Lindsay Davenport. Williams fended off three match points to avenge her Wimbledon final loss to No. 4 Maria Sharapova 2-6, 7-5, 8-6, stretching her winning streak here to 13 matches.
Davenport looked lethargic after playing more than four hours Wednesday, but rallied to hold off No. 19 Nathalie Dechy of France 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.
Safin vs. Federer was pure crowd-pleasing tennis between two of the game's most gifted all-around players. Every point was a struggle as they punished weak shots and swapped stinging groundstrokes and drop volleys.
"It's like a brain fight against ... Roger Federer," Safin said. "I think we played the best we could and I couldn't give any more than that."
Safin was exhausted going into last year's final - which he lost to Federer - after six matches that averaged three hours. Demonstrating the skills that took him to No. 1 after his only Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows, he was much fresher this time - and he needed to be.
"I'm not playing against just a simple player. He's No. 1 in the world," said Safin. It was his birthday on Thursday, and he planned a quiet celebration with a glass of champagne when he got back to his room in the early hours of Friday morning.
"It was one of the toughest matches of my life. I need time to recover," he said. "Five sets is a kind of lottery. Anything can happen."
While serving at 5-6, he mishit a forehand, then sent a backhand long to give Federer the first set. Frustrated, the mercurial Russian tossed his racket high in the air and missed the catch.
Federer then lost his first set of the tournament, showing the first real signs of tension in 11 days. Serving at 1-1 in the second set, he smacked an overhead wide, then hit a backhand into the net for the only break. Safin held serve the rest of the way.
Usually unflappable, Federer committed an uncharacteristic 14 errors in the set to just five for Safin. Clearly frustrated, he shouted at himself after missing opportunities and began charging the net more frequently than usual.
As in the first set, Federer broke with Safin serving at 5-6 in the fourth. Safin smashed his second racket of the tournament after one error, and sent a forehand way long.
The last time they met in a tiebreaker, Federer prevailed 20-18 at the Masters Cup. This time, Safin trailed 5-2 before running off the next three points. Federer made a stunning drop shot from the baseline to serve for the match at 6-5. Safin then won the next three points to force a deciding fifth set.
Federer called in trainer Paul Ness, who massaged his right forearm and elbow. Three games later, Ness returned to stretch out his back as he lay on the court.
Federer said he felt some pain in his right arm, from the shoulder to his fingers.
"It's not an injury - it's just something that was bothering me," he said.
Safin took a 4-2 lead in the deciding set as Federer committed his seventh double fault on break point. Federer got back on serve by saving two match points as Safin served 5-3, then held to get back on serve. Federer fended off another match point in the next game, another two while serving at 6-7 and a sixth at 7-8 before Safin finished it.
Williams, seeking her seventh Grand Slam title but first since 2003 after a series of injuries, had blamed her Wimbledon loss to Sharapova last year on nerves. She came out tight again Thursday, spraying balls all over the place.
"I was battling Maria and myself," she said.
The 17-year-old Sharapova, who also beat Williams in the season-ending WTA Championships, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and again at 5-4 in the third, when she wasted three match points.
Her powerful forehand finally under control, Williams broke to level at 5-5, then saved three break points while serving at 7-6.
After smacking a forehand down the line to finish off the match, Williams leapt three times in the air.
Williams, who missed last year's Australian Open with a knee injury, won here in 2003 after saving two match points in her semifinal against Kim Clijsters.
Sharapova was upbeat despite the loss.
"There's nothing negative - I'm 17 years old and I've made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open," she said.
Davenport is healthy after a bout of bronchitis just before the tournament, where she won her last Grand Slam title in 2000. But she was tight after a 21/2-hour quarterfinal victory Friday that was followed by more than 11/2 hours in doubles.
It showed. She finished with 48 winners and 52 enforced errors - but only 11 in the final set as she finally loosened up.
"It's been a long two days. I woke up this morning, I just felt pretty tight all over," Davenport said. "It wasn't my greatest day playing tennis - but I'll take it."