Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Safin overcomes Stepanek to win the Paris Masters

AP , PARISAP, VILLANOVA, PENNSYLVANIA

Sixth-seeded Marat Safin of Russia comfortably beat Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to win a record-equaling third Paris Masters title on Sunday, putting him level with Boris Becker.

Safin had 16 aces against Stepanek, who was appearing in his first ATP final and struggled with Safin's brutal backhand passing shots.

Safin, a former US Open champion, has 14 career titles and will play in the Masters Cup in Houston later this month. He won the Paris Masters in 2000 and 2002, and was runner-up in 1999. Becker won in 1986, 1989 and 1992.

"I played solid, a pretty good level of tennis this week," Safin said. "I will have a couple of days off now and go back to Moscow. No tennis. Just private stuff."

The former world No. 1 has won five Masters titles, including the Madrid Masters last month. He controlled Sunday's match from the outset, breaking Stepanek immediately to move ahead 3-0 in the first set, which he wrapped up in 35 minutes.

Safin said he felt he could "break Stepanek at any time" in the first set, but overconfidence affected his concentration in the second.

"I could not focus," he said. "I started to believe it would be easy and almost paid the price."

Stepanek was hoping to become the first qualifier since Albert Portas at Hamburg in 2001 to win a Masters trophy. He rallied in the second set, switching to a more aggressive form of serve-and-volley, and Safin was temporarily knocked out of his smooth rhythm.

The gritty Czech, trailing 2-1 in the second set, broke Safin and then produced a faultless love service game to move ahead 3-2. Safin, serving under pressure at 15-40, saved two break points to prevent Stepanek from moving further ahead.

Advanta

Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France shook off a slow start and beat Russia's Vera Zvonareva 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to successfully defend her Advanta Championships title for her fifth tournament victory of 2004.

Mauresmo seems poised to make a splash in next week's season-ending WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles. The Frenchwoman has won two straight tournaments, including in Austria last week.

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