Fourth-seeded Pete Sampras will compete for his fifth U.S. Open title after outlasting 19-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets today in the men’s semifinal match.
Sampras’ win came on the 10th anniversary of his first U.S. Open championship victory against Andre Agassi. Now, Sampras will attempt to win a record 14th Grand Slam title.
Sampras, 29, worked his serve and volley brilliance on the lightning quick ninth seed to score a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) triumph and reach a U.S. Open final for the sixth time.
There he will face 20-year-old Russian sixth seed Marat Safin, who disposed of a fatigued Todd Martin 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1), in the day’s first semifinal.
Sampras takes a daunting 13-2 record in Grand Slam finals into the championship match against the young Russian.
Safin Downs Martin
In the day’s earlier match, Safin displayed huge serves and a light touch on big shots to break down a weary Martin to become the first Russian to advance to a U.S. Open final.
“It’s nice to be in the final,” he said. “But something is missing. I want to win.”
Safin had Martin, 10 years older, gasping for air on a hot, humid afternoon at the National Tennis Center.
“I was tired,” Martin said. “But, gee, if I was at full speed the score could have been the same.”
The youngster won the first set easily. When Martin rallied in the second, winning three straight games to get to 5-4, Safin never blinked. He shrugged off set point, pushed it to a tiebreaker and won it 7-4.
Martin, the Open’s marathon man, shed his baseball cap for the third set, but it didn’t help. His energy just ran out, his task complicated by Safin’s lobs, drops and passes.
A finalist at the Open a year ago, Martin had flourished in long matches, including an emotional five-set, 4-hour, 17-minute victory over Carlos Moya in the round of 16. Then there was a four-setter against Thomas Johansson in the quarterfinals.
Back on center court two days later, Martin didn’t have a lot left in his tank against Safin, who is 6-foot-4 and a mirror image of the 6-6, American baseliner.
Safin was simply younger, faster and stronger. He boomed serves of up to 133 mph but also showed touch.
Racquet Tossing Returns
In the first set, Safin tossed in a gorgeous drop shot to get to set point. It was a statement shot, a reminder that even though he’s young, his game is mature, capable of dealing with every situation.
Safin could not escape his reputation for having a short fuse, though. When he was broken in the second set, he flung his racket in anger. Last year, he broke 48 of them, but he had not tossed one at the Open since his first-round victory over Thierry Guardiola.
Safin recovered the racket, used it to win the next point and then decided it was in no shape to go on and switched to a new one. It was just as effective as the original.
In the third set, with Martin’s shirt and shorts soaked in perspiration, Safin kept him cornered. In one game, he sent a lob shot over Martin’s head that kissed the back line and then found the sideline as he dashed for a return. It added up to another break that Martin couldn’t afford.
To his credit, Martin was tenacious. Serving to stay in the match, he won a crucial third-set game, forcing Safin to stay on the court for an extra couple of games.
The set went to a tiebreaker that Safin won 7-1, and he ended it aptly with his 12th ace and his fastest serve of the day — 133 mph.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.