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Safin settles nerves for shot at title

John Brock Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia – Marat Safin admits the pressure got to him the first time. Last year, he was exhausted for his final against Roger Federer, who went on to have one of the great years in tennis.

Now, Safin has a third chance to win the Australian Open. Only he will have an entire country against him Sunday when he faces Lleyton Hewitt at Rod Laver Arena.

Safin is hoping to add a second Grand Slam title to his 2000 U.S. Open crown. Hewitt is trying to become the first Australian man to win his national championship in almost three decades.

Hewitt advanced to his first Australian final Friday with a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over Andy Roddick. Safin upset top-ranked Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7 in 4 1/2 hours Thursday to reach his third Australian Open final in four years.

Safin, seeded fourth, blamed nerves for his loss in the final to Thomas Johansson in 2002, when he was heavily favored to beat the Swede. A year ago, Safin survived back-to-back, five-set matches against Roddick in the quarterfinals and Andre Agassi in the semifinals. The Russian lost in straight sets to Federer, the first of three major titles for the Swiss star in 2004.

“After I made the first final, I was just really nervous because I didn’t have so much experience,” Safin said. “I was supposed to be the favorite and win this title, and I couldn’t deal with the pressure at all. Last year, I just ran out of gas, and I couldn’t believe either that I was going to win.”

This time, he insists it’s different.

“I’ve had two bad experiences in the final, so I will be really careful,” said Safin, who celebrated his 25th birthday Thursday by defeating Federer.

Safin kept his temper largely in check as he ended the top-ranked Federer’s 26-match winning streak, clinching on his seventh match point.

Safin and Hewitt have split their 10 matches. Last year, Safin won on the carpet at the Paris Open after Hewitt triumphed on hardcourt in Cincinnati.

“You know he’s going to fight every single ball, and he will have the crowd behind him,” Safin said.

Hewitt is hoping to become the first Aussie to win this event since Mark Edmondson in 1976. The last Aussie to reach the final was Pat Cash, who lost to Stefan Edberg in 1987 and Mats Wilander in 1988, both in five sets.

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