Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Marat Safin to face Radek Stepanek in Paris Masters final


Sixth-seeded Marat Safin of Russia overcame a twisted ankle Saturday to reach the final at the Paris Masters for the fourth time in six years and will meet qualifier Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic for the championship.

Safin, who won in Paris in 2000 and 2002, defeated 13th-seeded Guillermo Canas of Argentina 6-2, 7-6 (5). Stepanek came back to beat qualifier Max Mirnyi of Belarus 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4.

Safin, who also won the Madrid Masters two weeks ago, is looking to equal Boris Becker's record of three titles in the French capital.

The Russian also made the 1999 final, but lost to Andre Agassi.

Stepanek is looking to become the first qualifier to clinch a Masters title since Albert Portas won in Hamburg in 2001 and is playing in his first career ATP final.

He has met Safin only once previously, last month at Moscow's Kremlin Cup, and won that second-round match 7-6 (8), 4-6, 6-3. The crowd was behind Safin that day and will be again at Bercy's indoor arena -- where he is enormously popular with French fans.

"I'm used to that, but maybe I can get the crowd on my side in the end," said Stepanek, who is ranked 63rd in the ATP entry rankings and has five quarterfinal losses this season.

Canas, a Toronto Masters winner in 2002 and seeking his fourth ATP title of the season, surged in the second set, breaking Safin with an exquisite lob, and then holding for a 3-1 lead.

Safin broke Canas to pull within 3-4 and then held to even the set, eventually sending it to the tiebreak.

At 5-5, Canas lost his temper after a Safin shot was initially ruled out, only for the umpire to overrule and ask for the point to be replayed.

Canas screamed in disbelief at Italian umpire Romano Grillotti, swiped his racket into the ground and then promptly lost the replayed point with a long forehand to give Safin match point, and he wrapped up the match on his serve.

"You need to play a very, very high level to beat Marat," Canas added. "I think he didn't make a mistake. He was serving very well and always returns well."

Mirnyi, who knocked out top-seeded Andy Roddick of the US earlier in the competition, started strongly and immediately broke Stepanek to move ahead 2-0 and take control of the opening set.

He looked largely untroubled in the second, which headed to a tiebreak after both players held serve throughout.

Stepanek, taking more risks than his opponent, raced to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak, effectively breaking Mirnyi's resistance.

He carried that momentum into the decider, where he broke in the third game and then held to pull ahead 3-1.

Mirnyi saved one match point, but Stepanek closed out the match after hitting a clean volley across court .

Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France advanced to the Advanta Championships final after reigning Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova of Russia withdrew from their semifinal match with a strained right shoulder.

Mauresmo will take on sixth-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who defeated seventh-seeded countrywoman Nadia Petrova 6-3, 7-6 (2) later Saturday.

"I'm very disappointed I am not able to continue my play in Philadelphia," Sharapova said.

Abigail Spears of the US and Martina Sucha of Slovakia will play for the US$170,000 Bell Challenge title today.

Spears topped Alina Jidkova of Russia 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) Saturday at Club Avantage Multi-Sports de Quebec, while Sucha beat Maria-Emilia Salerni of Argentina 6-7 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (6).

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