Russian Marat Safin out-served, out-returned and outplayed Pete Sampras, beating the four-time champion in straight sets to become the newest U.S. Open men’s singles champion.
The 20-year-old beat Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 , showing the same serving firepower and pinpoint ground strokes that propelled him through the tournament and into Sunday’s final.
The fourth-seeded Sampras, appearing lethargic and flat-footed during much of the match, failed in his bid for a fifth U.S. Open crown and a record 14th career Grand Slam singles title. The No. 6 seed Safin, playing in his first career Grand Slam singles final, became the first Russian to win the U.S. Open.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is Safin’s only other countryman to have won a Grand Slam title. He captured the 1996 French Open and the 1999 Australian Open.
After winning, a beaming Safin kissed the court and — in what has become a tradition with champions since Wimbledon — climbed into the stands to celebrate the moment with friends and family.
The win gives Safin a 2-1 lifetime record against Sampras, having defeated him in their last match in Montreal this year. Sampras won their first contest in straight sets at the 1998 U.S. Open.
Sampras Started Strong, Then Faded
Sampras got off to an strong start by opening the match with an ace and a love service game. Safin answered by holding serve for 1-1.
After holding for 3-3, Safin grabbed the first service break with some sizzling passing shot winners for a 4-3 lead. The Russian claimed the game with a brilliant forehand service return winner that flew past a stunned Sampras. It was only the fifth time in the entire tournament that Sampras had lost his serve.
Safin later won the first set when Sampras’ forehand sailed long.
The Russian then took away Sampras’ bread and butter by breaking the vaunted Sampras serve twice in the second set. Sampras lost the set on a double fault after Safin had hit a perfect topspin backhand lob winner at deuce.
Road to the Final
Safin methodically broke down 30-year-old veteran Todd Martin in the semifinals Saturday, banking on big serves and line-gripping shots to beat him 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1).
Sampras eliminated 19-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) to reach his sixth U.S. Open final.
Prior to Sunday’s match, Sampras had dropped just one set to Safin’s six in the tournament.
Reuters contributed to this report.