Today’s U.S. Open men’s final pits a 29-year-old veteran against a 20-year-old Grand Slam novice in what promises to be a showcase of missile serves and aggressive volleys.
Ten years after winning his first U.S. Open championship, Pete Sampras will attempt to win his fifth today when he faces Russian Marat Safin, who is making his Grand Slam debut.
Sampras also is attempting to capture his 14th Grand Slam title after winning a record 13th at Wimbledon. Safin’s previous best showing in a Grand Slam tournament was reaching the quarterfinals in this year’s French Open, but don’t expect the 6-foot-4 baseline bomber to succumb to jitters against the No. 4 seed Sampras.
“It’s nice to be in the final but something is missing, I want to win here,” said the sixth-seeded Safrin.
Safin methodically broke down 30-year-old veteran Todd Martin, banking on big serves and line-gripping shots to beat Martin 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1), improving his record against Americans to 9-5. He is 1-1 lifetime against Sampras, having defeated him in their last match in Montreal this year.
Sampras eliminated 19-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt on Saturday 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) to reach his sixth U.S. Open final. His one win against Safin was in straight sets at the 1998 U.S. Open.
Sampras is a serve-and-volley specialist who is tough on hardcourt, though not unbeatable. He lost in the U.S. Open semifinals against Australian Patrick Rafter in 1998 and hasn’t made an appearance in the final in four years.
He is matched against a tough returner and superb server in Safin, whose demeanor is a sharp contrast to Sampras’. The Russian is known for his racquet-throwing tantrums during matches — he broke 48 racquets last year alone — while the normally calm and collected Sampras caused a buzz with his tears and emotions after winning Wimbledon in July.
That fiery attitude, Safin insists, is a secret of his success.
“I fight. I fight,” he said. “I never used to fight. I didn’t know what it was. If I’m playing good, I was playing unbelievable tennis. When I was playing bad, I couldn’t win … I couldn’t beat my mother.”
Is Sampras Unstoppable?
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the only Russian to have won a Grand Slam title, having captured the 1996 French Open and the 1999 Australian Open. And Safin, who won his match against Martin on a 133 mph serve, will have a tough time making history with Sampras staring at him from across the net.
The four-time U.S. Open champ is playing aggressive tennis, zipping in shots for winners and relying on his signature blistering serve. He tallied 59 winners against Hewitt in their semifinal match and had 18 aces.
Sampras also is fresher than Safin, having dropped just one set in six rounds of tennis. Safin, in contrast, went five full sets against two opponents and has dropped six sets in the tournament.
Playing Sampras will indeed be a challenge, and Safin wasn’t anxious to talk about playing the favorite.
“I don’t want to think about this,” he said. “Everybody is gonna be against me.”
Reuters contributed to this report.