Marat Safin wins Australian Open
Russian Marat Safin claimed his second tennis grand slam with a four-set victory to shatter Lleyton Hewitt's Australian Open dream on Sunday.
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 2hrs 45min 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.
Safin made a dreadful beginning, winning only three points in the opening three games as Hewitt hit the ground running with a 3-0 lead before the Russian held serve.
Safin brought groans from the crowd with his litany of unforced errors and Hewitt broke the misfiring Russian a second time in the sixth game to have the opening set in his keeping at 5-1.
But the three-times finalist found more depth on his groundstrokes in the second set and put Hewitt's serve under pressure.
He raised his first break points at 15-40 in the fourth game and made a powerful forehand service return to take a break.
Hewitt was now finding Safin a handful and was down set point in the eighth before a fortuitous net cord enabled him to hold to 5-3.
But Safin claimed the set when a Hewitt forehand was long and he served and volleyed to level the final.
Hewitt played a tremendous point when he ran down a drop shot for a winner to bring up break point in the next game and got two more break points before a wayward forehand forced the break.
Safin flung his racquet to the court in frustration as Hewitt held serve for 3-0, but the match turned in the seventh game after Hewitt was foot-faulted at break point just before he won a marvellous rally.
Hewitt's instinctive reaction was to berate the line judge for the earlier footfault call and he received a code violation from the chair umpire.
Safin twice broke Hewitt's service and was looking more lethal with his penetrative forehands as he took the set when Hewitt's backhand was wide.
He broke Hewitt's service for a third consecutive game to start the fourth set as he began to get on top.
Safin finished too strong for the tenacious Aussie before his urging home crowd and clinched victory on the first of three match points when Hewitt's forehand was long.