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Safin rallies to win first Aussie Open title

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Seeing somebody else unravel was
different for Marat Safin. So was winning the Australian Open.

After losing two of the last three finals at Melbourne Park,
Safin defeated Lleyton Hewitt 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Sunday night,
deflating a crowd hungering for an Australian winner. This was the
Russian's second Grand Slam tournament title, his other coming at
the 2000 U.S. Open against Pete Sampras in the final.

"It's psychological -- you start to have doubts, like really I
could do this or not," said Safin, a player known for his
racket-busting outbursts. "It's the third time, you get so
nervous, so uptight.

"I don't want to lose it," he added. "Nobody cares about the
(losing) finalist -- so it was just a kind of a relief. "

Safin, who defeated top-ranked Roger Federer in the semifinals,
was called the worthiest of champions by Hewitt.

"You knocked off the guy who's nearly been impossible," Hewitt
told Safin. "You thoroughly deserve it."

After the third-seeded Hewitt shanked a forehand on match point,
Safin was surprisingly subdued, making only one fist pump. Hewitt
told him, "Mate, too good."

Hewitt was hoping to be the first Australian man to win the
national championship since Mark Edmondson in 1976. And he seemed
in command and on his way in the first set, making only one
unforced error. He led 3-0 in the third set and Safin was on the
edge, smashing his racket into the court three times in eight
points.

But that seemed to clear his head while Hewitt lost his. The
Aussie became enraged at a line judge who called him for a foot
fault on a break point in the seventh game of the third set. Hewitt
saved the break point and then screamed at the line judge, pointing
his finger twice at his face. That earned Hewitt a code violation
from the umpire.

"I'm human and I'm disappointed -- to come that close, train so
hard to put yourself in a position -- it's hard to take at the
moment," said Hewitt, who will replace Andy Roddick at No. 2 in
the rankings. "Making a U.S. Open final, a Masters Cup final, and
now an Australian Open final, I'm obviously doing something right.
But would have been nice to get one of them."

Safin rose to No. 1 after winning the U.S. Open, then plunged to
86th after injuries in 2003. His comeback started last year in
Australia, where he played some marathon five-setters before losing
to Federer in the final. He finished No. 4 last year and has
credited his resurgence to new coach Peter Lundgren, who coached
Federer until the end of 2003.

"I never believed in myself before at all, until I start to
work with him," Safin said.

He said the Australian Open title was more important to him
because it proved he could win again. In 2000, he didn't expect to
win.

"It was against Sampras. Nobody really cared," he said. "Even
though if I would make it, lose three sets, they would say, 'Great
tournament, well done. You were great, you played great tennis, but
he's Pete Sampras.' So basically no pressure whatsoever."

"But now, I am 25. I'm playing against Hewitt," he added.
"You go there and you lose first set 6-1, then, you know, like you
start to think, 'I'm playing ridiculous.' You start to try and find
a way out, and I found it."

The fourth-seeded Safin completed a Grand Slam, of sorts, for
Russia. Russian women won the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open
last year. Safin made it four in a row for his country.

Serena Williams ended Russia's domination of the women's majors
a day earlier, winning her first Grand Slam final in 18 months and
her seventh overall with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory over top-ranked
Lindsay Davenport.

The looming obstacle at this tournament was Federer, who won 11
titles in 2004, including three Grand Slams. But Safin removed that
immense roadblock in the semifinals, saving a match point in the
fourth set before ending Federer's 26-match winning streak. He
played it cool that night, his 25th birthday. And he held it
together -- just -- in the final before Hewitt lost his temper.

"He's an awesome player," Hewitt said. "Even when I was a set
up, at no stage did I start thinking this is just going to carry
along."

Safin, who had received a good-luck text message from the only
other Russian to win a men's Grand Slam title -- Yevgeny Kafelnikov
at the 1996 French Open and 1999 at Melbourne Park -- thanked
everyone after his victory. And that included the crowd, "even
though 90 percent of you were for Hewitt."

Earlier Sunday, Australians Scott Draper and Samantha Stosur, a
wild-card pair playing together for the first time, won the mixed
doubles, defeating Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of
South Africa 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (6).

"For some reason, all the stars have lined up and we've had a
cracker tournament," tournament director Paul McNamee said. "This
was one out of the box. Just savor this, it's rarely like this."